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The story of the three Yankees born in the UK

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With the Yankees soon to make a foray over to Britain, here’s a look back at some players who were born in the UK.

London2012 Lights up London Landmarks Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

Thursday saw news break that the Yankees and Red Sox were going to play two games in London next season.

Baseball actually has a fairly large amount of baseball players born in the UK with 47 major leaguers. The vast majority played from the late 1800s through the 1910s, but there have been a handful since then. The most recent was Chris Reed, who played two games for the Marlins in 2015. Admittedly, the story with him appears to be that his father was working in the UK when he was born and they moved to California not long after.

As an organization, the Yankees have some history related to the UK. Several former Yankees (technically Highlanders in this case) were born there. None of them spent very long with the team, but here are their stories.

The first person from the British Isles to play for the team was Irish McIlveen in 1908. Born in Belfast in 1880, his family emigrated sometime after that and he eventually ended up playing at Penn State. There, he was picked up by the Pirates. He made his debut in 1906, getting five at-bats across five games. He got two hits for Pittsburgh, but didn’t play again for the team after that.

He was released by the Pirates in April 1907 and spent the next year playing in the minors. The Highlanders picked him up in August 1908, and he became a semi-regular down the stretch. McIlveen hit .213/.277/.266 in 169 at-bats. They brought him back the following season, but after four hitless games, his major league career was over.

McIlveen’s time with the Highlanders overlapped for one game with Jimmy Austin.

Austin was born in 1879 in Wales. His shipbuilder father left for the US in 1885, and worked until he could bring his family over, including Jimmy, two years later. Austin did not actually see a baseball game until he was 14-years old, but got into the sport pretty quickly after that.

Austin would break into minor league baseball in 1904, playing several years for the Dayton Veterans and the Omaha Rourkes. He put up high stolen base totals in his minor league career, eventually catching the eye of the Highlanders.

In 1909, the Highlanders signed Austin, and he made his debut on April 19th. Austin was already 29 by this point, but he still went on to have a long career in the majors.

Austin was good on the basepaths, finishing 9th in the league in stolen bases in his first season. However, he was below average at the plate in two seasons in New York. George Stallings, the Highlanders’ manager who took a liking to Austin, was replaced. After that, Austin was no longer wanted in New York and was shipped off to the St. Louis Browns.

He went on to play another 16 years in St. Louis, playing his final game in 1929 at age 49. He had three separate stints as a player manager. Later in his life, he was mayor of Laguna Beach before dying in 1965.

The third and final Yankee born in the UK was Klondike Smith. He was born Armstrong Frederick Smith (which is also good) in London in 1887. It’s unclear when Smith came over to the US or when he picked up baseball, but he shows up in minor league ball some time in 1910.

After two seasons with the Brockton Shoemakers and one with the Rochester Hustlers, the Highlanders picked him up near the end of the 1912 season. With the team going nowhere that year, they let Smith play the final seven games of the season.

Smith got a hit in his first game, but didn’t do a ton. He went 5-for-27, drawing no walks in those seven games. He wouldn’t play in the majors again, but played a further four seasons in the minors.

None of these players really had any sort of real success with the Yankees. The closest was Austin, but he is much more known for his time with another team. However, unless these London games go well and baseball becomes of some interest in the UK, they’ll probably be the only members on this list for a while.

Sources

https://www.baseball-reference.com/bio/United-Kingdom_born.shtml

https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/m/mcilvir01.shtml

https://www.baseball-reference.com/leagues/AL/1909-batting-leaders.shtml

https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/a/austiji01.shtml

https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/a7f56a47

https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/s/smithkl01.shtml