Kid Elberfeld was one of the first stars of the Yankees’ franchise. The team, then known as the Highlanders, acquired Elberfeld in a mid-season trade in 1903. It was the team’s first season in New York after playing 1901 and ‘02 in Baltimore. Elberfeld came in and immediately established himself as the starting shortstop.
He was known for his temper, evidenced by the fact that his nickname was “The Tabasco Kid”. Elberfeld feuded with teammates. The trade to New York came about because Detroit Tigers’ manager Ed Barrow suspected that Elberfeld was not trying his all and was trying to engineer a trade to the St. Louis Browns. Barrow traded him to the Highlanders instead.
With the Highlanders in the 1907, Elberfeld was once again suspected of playing poorly to force a trade to the Washington Senators. There were rumors that Elberfeld had ambitions to manage and wasn’t sure he would get them in New York. He was benched, and the news of this led to applause from the New York fans. Elberfeld later apologized and was brought back into the team. He was also given a new, improved contract in the offseason.
All that previous baggage made what happened in 1908 an odd move.
The 1908 Highlanders got off to a decent start, moving between first and second for the first two months of the season. After a 2-0 win over the Red Sox on June 1st, they held a one game lead over both the Tigers and the Philadelphia Athletics. That would be the last time they were in first place.
The Highlanders lost the next five games and slipped all the way to fifth in a tightly packed American League. After a three game winning steak, they proceeded to lose 13 of their next 14. They had gone from being one game up to 10 games back in just over three weeks.
Manager Clark Griffith was completely disheartened and resigned in late June. Despite all that had happened in his career, and even the previous season, Kid Elberfeld was given a chance. On June 25th, Elberfeld, who hadn’t played much due to an injury he suffered after getting spiked, was elevated to manager.
Things started off okay. The Highlanders split a doubleheader on Elberfeld’s first day. In his first four games, the Highlanders went 2-2. Things then went downhill in a hurry.
New York then lost their next six games. After just one solitary win, the Highlanders went on an eight-game losing streak. In just two weeks, they had lost another seven games in the standings, and were now 17 back of first place in early July. Somehow that wasn’t even the worst losing streak of Elberfeld’s tenure.
In the second game of a July 21st doubleheader, the Highlanders won to snap a three-game losing streak. It was then followed by a 12-game losing streak.
There were literally no bright spots in Elberfeld’s managerial reign. An anonymous player was quoted as saying "We are playing under the direction of a crazy man.” Hal Chase, who was one of the teammates Elberfeld had feuded with earlier in his Highlander career, just up and left the team in September.
The Highlanders ended the season on one last losing steak, this one lasting five games. They finished with a 51-103 record, 39.5 games out of first place. Elberfeld’s record as manager was 27-71. That .27
6 winning percentage is the worst of any Highlanders/Yankees’ manager ever.
Shockingly, Elberfeld was replaced as manager before the 1909 season. He reluctantly stayed on as a player. After the 1909 season, he was sold to the Washington Senators. After playing 1909 and ‘10 there, he played and managed a couple seasons in the minors. The Brooklyn Robins briefly brought him back to the majors as a utility player in 1914.
Though his major league managerial run failed, he did later get a good reputation as a minor league manager, and was was said to have done a nice job helping develop younger players. He died of pneumonia in 1944.
In the current baseball climate, it’s very unlikely that the controversial, hot-tempered player who feuded with teammates will ever become manager in the middle of the season. That’s probably a good thing.