Back on December 21st, during the press conference officially announcing Aaron Judge’s return to the Yankees, he was officially named the team’s captain. It was expected once the news broke that he was set to re-sign with the Yankees, but the confirmation was another notch on his belt in his place in franchise history. After all, especially in recent decades, being named Yankee captain has been a rare event. It’s taken a combination of great player and beloved status to have received the honor.
The coverage of Judge being named captain featured plenty of looks at some of the other Yankee legends who had been bestowed with the status. That included tweets like this one from the YES Network, showing who Judge joined on the list.
Everyone beginning with Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig on the list should be known to every Yankee fan. While some of the ones before the Yankees started winning championships aren’t quite as well-known, most of them were still fairly notable names for their era. However, there’s one on the list that is confounding to me, even as someone who has read and written a lot about Yankees history.
Who on earth is Rollie Zeider?
Born in Indiana in 1883, Zeider didn’t appear in the major leagues until 1910 after several years in the minors. We don’t have a complete history of his minor league stats, but of the ones available, they’re not that impressive. In 1909, he was purchased by the Chicago White Sox and made his MLB debut for them the next April.
In his first year in Chicago, Zeider quickly established himself as one of the fastest players in the league, stealing 49 bases in his rookie year. He played all over, though mostly the infield across his first four years in the majors with the White Sox, never hitting much. Then in 1913 came a moment that would stick with him arguably for the rest of his career.
In a game against the Tigers, Zeider was spiked by either Ty Cobb or Sam Crawford (sources differ on who it was) during a play. Zeider had a bunion on his foot, and the spiking ended up causing a bout of blood poisoning. The incident gave Zeider the unfortunate nickname of “Bunions,” which would come into further prominence after a trade to New York that happened a few weeks later.
Over in New York in 1913, the Yankees were in their first season under manger Frank Chance. While Chance had been a World Series winning manager with the Cubs, he was having a hard time with the Yankees. A large source of his frustration was coming from star Hal Chase.
Chase was often the target of game-throwing accusations over the course of his career, and was a bit of a handful to deal with, even if he had been completely innocent of game fixing. He would often stand behind Chance, who was deaf in one ear, and mock his manager’s instructions. Eventually, after a 12-2 loss to the A’s where Chase was alleged to not have given it his all, Chance and the Yankees decided they’d had enough. They next day, they traded their former star to the White Sox in exchange for Rollie Zeider and Babe Borton.
It’s unclear exactly how or why, but at some point after the deal, Zeider was named captain of the Yankees, actually replacing Chance, who had appeared as a player-manager a couple times during the year. Whatever the reason was, Zeider got that distinction as the Yankees tried to salvage something out of the 1913 season.
That did not happen. The Yankees ended up with a 57-94 record for the year, avoiding last place in the American League by just one game. Zeider hit .233/.341/.245, which was worth a well-below-average 72 OPS+. With Borton struggling even worse, sportswriter Mark Roth balked about the previous trade, remaking that the Yankees had traded Chase for “a bunion and an onion.” Making matters worse, Chase experienced a resurgence in Chicago.
Putting the cherry on top of everything, after the year Zeider jumped to the newly-founded Federal League, joining the league’s Chicago Chi-Feds. When that league eventually went belly up, the Chicago Cubs purchased him.
Go back and look at that list of captains again, and know that alongside Gehrig, and Thurman Munson, and Derek Jeter is a guy nicknamed “Bunions.”
“Legendary Locals of Auburn” by Chad Gramling
“Hal Chase: The Defiant Life and Turbulent Times of Baseball’s Biggest Crook” by Martin Donell Kohout