This Annotated Week in Baseball History: March 18-24, 1965by Richard Barbieri
March 23, 2007
On March 22, 1965 Glenallen Hill was born. Thirty-five years, four months and two days later, he played his first game for the New York Yankees, beginning a hot streak that has stuck with Richard to this very day.
If you follow baseball closely enough for long enough, you eventually come upon players on hot streaks. These run in many varieties, from guys who seem to slap a pair of singles every time out to those who apparently are being served nothing but belt-high fastballs and hanging curveballs to drive over the wall.
I’ve seen a handful of those hot streaks, and nearly every type in between, but I have never as a fan seen a player with a hotter streak than Glenallen Hill had in the summer of 2000 after his arrival in New York.
Hill was acquired in late July as part of the Yankees’ continued efforts to punch up a lineup that was slumping at a number of positions. The addition of David Justice was a key move (and one far better remembered) but it was Hill who came from the Cubs seemingly followed by a trail of flames.
In his first game in New York on July 24, Hill was the designated hitter and batted cleanup. In his first at-bat, Hill hit a home run, helping lead the team to victory. In his fourth game with the Yankees, Hill went up as a pinch-hitter with the bases loaded and the game tied at five. Facing Twins reliever Bob Wells, Hill crushed a grand slam, giving the Yankees a four-run lead.
Remarkably, this was not the first time he had hit a pinch-hit grand slam; Hill had also managed the feat in the National League, becoming just the sixth player to achieve it in both leagues.
On Aug. 3, Hill again homered for the Yankees, this time in front of the home fans at Yankee Stadium. Not only had Hill now hit a home run in his first, fourth and eighth Yankee games, but his home runs were typically monstrous shots. Fans would not have to wait for Hill’s 12th Yankee game for his fourth home run, which would come just two days later. Facing the A’s, Hill hit his fifth home run. Hill would go two-for-four, but without a homer on Aug. 11.
On Aug. 12, Hill homered in his only at-bat (he walked in his other plate appearance) but would not appear in a game again until Aug. 17. The time off did not harm his swing: Hill again homered. He followed that up with probably his best day as a Yankee, going three-for-five with two home runs in a losing cause against the Angels. Hill would go homerless the next game, but then slug home runs in back-to-back games the following two days.
Now playing regularly, Hill went just two-for-nine (both singles) the following two days, but on Aug. 24, the one-month anniversary of his time with the Yankees, Hill went three-for-five, hitting a home run and driving in three runs. Over his first month in pinstripes, Hill hit .429 and had a slugging percentage of an even 1.000. Despite starting just 17 games, Hill hit 12 home runs and had 23 RBIs, nearly matching second baseman Chuck Knoblauch’s season total. Not surprisingly, he was named American League player of the month for August.
There was more than just his numbers, however. Hill’s home runs all seemed to be monsters. He hit what is still the longest home run I have ever seen in person, about halfway up the black seats in dead center in Yankee Stadium. This was nothing new for Hill, whose power was well known. During his tenure with the Cubs, Hill was one of the first, if not the first to hit a ball onto the rooftops across Waveland Avenue from Wrigley. Hill’s strength was such that he was said to have broken a bat on a check swing without having made contact with the ball.
Now, as hot as Hill was, I don’t want to give the impression he was some sort of superstar. He had his flaws. Even when things were going well, Hill almost never walked. During his first month in New York he drew just four walks—and three of those were in a single game. He also struck out a lot, 15 times in the course of his hot streak.
Worst of all, Hill was an absolute butcher defensively. Stories of his fielding ineptitude are legendary. One-time Mariners pitching coach Bryan Price supposedly once said that Hill’s defense was “akin to watching a gaffed haddock surface for air.” Some wit nicknamed Hill “The Juggler” for his trouble actually holding onto a ball when he did manage to track one down and catch it.
That is why he saw defensive action in only 77 innings for the Yankees. (It is one of the unfortunate elements of Hill’s career that he spent the better part of it with the Giants and Cubs, National League teams forced to stick poor Glenallen in the outfield.)
Hill was also something of an odd duck. He famously suffered from intense arachnophobia. This was so severe that Hill once injured himself attempting to flee from spiders in a nightmare. It’s a shame that Hill didn’t play in a more nickname-inclined era, because the combination of arachnophobia and sleepwalking injuries would have created some dandy nicknames.
Unfortunately for Hill, his hot streak with the Yankees was more or less the end of his tenure as a really effective ballplayer. Predictably, he was unable to keep up his hot hitting for the rest of the season and by the playoffs was relegated to a pinch-hitting role.
It was Glenallen Hill who was waiting on deck, perhaps fancying his chances of being a hero, when Luis Sojo bounced his two-run single up the middle to give the Yankees the lead in Game Five of the 2000 World Series.
Perhaps impressed by his performance while facing them the previous year (Hill had an OPS of 2.126 in six games), the Angels acquired Hill for the 2001 season. He saw action in just a handful of games, however, and never played in the majors thereafter. He then began a career as a minor league manager and coach and this season will return to the majors as the first base coach for the Rockies. Perhaps as he watches balls fly out of Coors Field, Hill will remember his glory days socking everything thrown at him as a member of the Yankees.
Questions, comments and thinly veiled threats can be mailed to Richard on the back of a twenty dollar bill or e-mailed to him at RichardBarbieri@yahoo.com
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