Joe Garagiola, who partnered with Kubek for several years in the broadcast booth, once said of Tony: “He’s the Will Rogers of baseball: he never met a shortstop he didn’t like.”
When Kubek earned his way onto the Yankees in 1957 as a 21-year old, he was in competition with two other young middle infielders for playing time: Gil McDougald and Bobby Richardson. What Casey Stengel did was rather unusual, he played Kubek all over the place: at short, third, and even left field. Kubek had a good season and won Rookie of the Year honors. The next season he was Stengel’s starting shortstop and an All-Star. Kubel was an All-Star three times in his first four years as a shortstop, and in 1960 when he hit 14 home runs, Kubek finished 11th in MVP voting.
With McDougald at second base, Kubek formed an excellent double play combo for the Yankees, the team winning pennants in seven of Tony’s first eight years in the league. Kubek had mixed success in the World Series, struggling at times in the field and the plate. In the 1960 Series in Game Seven, Kubek was hit in the throat when a groundball took a freakish hop. The force of the blow left him unable to talk, and Kubek was on his way to the hospital when his team lost the game on Bill Mazeroski’s famous walkoff home run.
By 1963, injuries were seriously impacting Kubek’s ability to perform, especially back troubles. Late in 1964, as the Yanks were winding up their drive to a fifth straight pennant, Kubek punched a wall in the dugout after striking out and badly injured his hand. He missed the World Series and never had the chance to play in another. After suffering through a miserable year in 1965, Kubek saw specialists at the Mayo Clinic who told him he had damage to the nerves near the top of his spinal column, most likely caused by a prior injury that hadn’t properly healed. Doctors advised that Kubek should not play sports for fear that one bad move might cause paralysis. Kubek retired at the age of 29.
In 2009, Tony Kubek received the Ford C. Frick award, which is presented annually to a broadcaster for “major contributions to baseball.”