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Joseph's start makes him second Franklin-born player to play in majors

It took almost 69 years for a baseball player born in Franklin to have another chance to record a hit in a Major League game. Franklin’s Corban Joseph accomplished that feat in Cleveland on May 13 going 1-for-6 in a doubleheader while wearing a New York Yankees uniform. But Joseph is not the first Franklin-born player to don a Major League uniform.

On Oct. 1, 1944, Harry Leon Sweeney wore a Pittsburgh Pirates uniform, appearing in the second game of a season-ending doubleheader against the Philadelphia Phillies.

The 28-year-old rookie from Franklin was hitless in two at-bats in Philadelphia's Shibe Park. Sweeney did handle 10 chances at first base for a 1.000 fielding percentage. The Pirates split the doubleheader, winning the opener 9-1 but dropping the nightcap 7-1. Sweeney would never play in another Major League game.

Joseph, 24, has been with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre all season and actually put on the Yankee pinstripes earlier on April 30. The left-handed batter was called to Yankee Stadium to replace an injured third baseman Kevin Youkilis that was assigned to the disabled list. Joseph was told about his call up to the Big Apple in the RailRiders clubhouse surrounded by his coaches.

“My manager, Dave Miley, called me into his office and told me I was going to the Big Leagues,” Joseph told the Williamson Herald. “This was my first experience in New York. I went into the clubhouse to see how the Yankees did everything. I was really excited. My adrenaline was pumping. I got to meet Derek Jeter and A-Rod (Alex Rodriquez) who were on the disabled list. It just felt great to realize I finally made it.”

Joseph was in New York for two games, but did not appear in any of the Yankees’ victories over the Astros. He was sent back to Scranton when the Yankees acquired in a trade Colorado’s third baseman Chris Nelson. In his second call up, Joseph joined the Yankees in Cleveland’s Progressive Field for an afternoon doubleheader.

New York manager Joe Girardi gave his young prospect a surprise welcoming.

“I didn’t know if I was going to play or be a backup,” Joseph said. “Joe Girardi told me I was going to play first base in the first game. I was shocked a little bit because I had only played four games in my entire career at first base. I was nervous and excited with all these emotions flowing through me. I was trying to do what I could for the team.

“In my first at-bat I dug into the box, and looked up at the pitcher (Justin Masterson). I was trying to relax and get a feel for how it was in a Major League game. I walked on four straight pitches. In my second at-bat, I struck out. I really didn’t get to swing. He threw me three really good pitches. The adrenaline starts pumping when you get up there. I worked so long to get there. I was trying not to do too much, but it is hard to control that adrenaline.”

Joseph went 0-for-2 in the first game as Masterson pitched a complete game shutout for an Indians’ 1-0 win. He moved over to his regular position at second base for the second game. Joseph was hitless until leading off in the seventh inning. Cleveland pitcher Trevor Bauer started the second game.

“The entire game Bauer started with me and a lot of lefties with a change-up on his first pitch.” Joseph said. “I faced Bauer in Triple-A. I was fairly familiar with him. I was sitting on the pitch, and he threw the first pitch right where I was looking for it. I was fortunate to put a good swing on it and drove the ball to left field. I was rounding first trying to be aggressive with no one out. I felt positive I could get to second and the throw was off and fortunately I was safe.”

Joseph scored the first run for the Yankees in a six-run rally. New York gained a spilt of the twin bill, winning 7-1. After the double, the ball was tossed into the Yankees’ dugout for safekeeping. After the game Joseph gave the souvenir to his mother for a Mother’s Day gift. Joining his mom for the Major League debut were his grandmother, his wife and her parents.

“It was awesome,” Joseph said when he entered the Yankees dugout. “All the guys were giving me high fives and hugs and showing their excitement. I’m sure it brought memories when they got their first hit. I was relived to get that first one out of the way. It was one of the more memorable times being on a baseball field for me. I always dreamed about it as a kid and it finally happened.”

After the long day, Joseph was sent back to Scranton. Joseph benefited from a new rule that enabled an extra roster spot for doubleheaders only. Through the first 34 games at Scranton, Joseph is batting .261 with four home runs and 11 RBIs. Joseph joins the all-time roster of the storied and historic New York Yankees that includes Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and Reggie Jackson.

After his senior year at Franklin High School, Joseph was selected by the Yankees in the fourth round (140th overall) of the 2008 Major League Baseball Draft. Baltimore selected his older brother Caleb, in the same draft (seventh round, 206th overall) after his junior season at Lipscomb University. Caleb currently plays first base for the Double-A Bowie Baysox.

Sweeney began a Minor League career in 1937 in Paducah of the Kentucky-Tennessee League, aka the Kitty League. He bounced around Minor League cities for several years until Pittsburgh called him to the big league club. Sweeney had his best season in 1944 with York (Interstate League) where he batted .334 (162-for-485) with 14 home runs in 129 games. Those numbers gave him a chance to wear the Pirates uniform.

Sweeney was sent back to the minors in 1945 and played his last game in 1946 for Montgomery (Southeastern League). He died in 1980 in Columbia at age 64 after retiring from the Monsanto Chemical Plant as yard foreman. Sweeney played for the Monsanto Maulers, his company’s amateur baseball team. The left-hander, in nine Minor League seasons, played in 689 games, batted .288 (738-for-2,566) with 40 home runs.

According to “Baseball Reference” prior to the 2013 season there have been 17,934 men to play Major League baseball going back to 1871. 

Now two were born in Franklin, Tenn.

Bill Traughber is a researcher and writer of Nashville sports history. He has written four books and his weekly Nashville baseball history stories can be found on www.nashvillesounds.com, “Looking Back.” Traughber can be reached at WLTraughber@aol.com.

 

Posted on: 5/20/2013

 
 

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