Classic Yankees: Hank Bauer

new york yankees hank bauerIn my previous profile on Moose Skowron, I profiled someone with a crew cut and an instantly recognizable mug.

I figured the logical follow up would be someone else with a crew cut and an instantly recognizable mug, one described as “resembling a clenched fist.”

Hank Bauer was an ex-Marine. If you didn’t know that, you could figure that fact out quite quickly. Wikipedia states that Bauer’s father lost a leg in an aluminum mill. Bauer himself suffered permanent damage to his nose due to an errant elbow during high school competition.

Bauer entered the Marines soon after Pearl Harbor. He was just 19, and only had an eighth grade education. He contracted malaria while serving at Guadalcanal. Talk about a war hero, Bauer, later known as the “Fightin’ Marine,” received 11 campaign ribbons, 2 Bronze Stars, and 2 Purple Hearts. He served 32 months (over 2 ½ years) of combat. The second time Bauer was wounded was during the Battle of Okinawa, when he was one of only six Marines who survived the Japanese attack. This, from Wikipedia: Only six of the 64 Marines survived the Japanese counterattack, and Bauer was wounded by shrapnel in his thigh. His wounds were severe enough to send him all the way back to the United States to recuperate.

After all that, competing in a World Series had to be child’s play to Bauer.

After all, here is a guy who served at the Battles of Guadalcanal, Guam and Okinawa. Hank Bauer was a “man’s man” if there ever was one.

Bauer didn’t make it to the big leagues until 1948, at the age of 26. He got into 19 games and hit .180 with a HR and 9 RBI. OPS+ 51.

Bauer got regular playing time beginning in 1949, and from then through 1959 played in at least 100 games each season for the Yankees. He was subject to platooning with Gene Woodling, something that neither of them cared for.

Bauer, the righty hitter in the platoon, hit .272-10-45, OPS+107 in 1949 as the Yanks won the first of their record five consecutive World Series Championships. Bauer went 1 for 6 in the Series.

We have seen players who have struggled in the postseason. With the law of averages, if a player makes enough postseasons, sooner or later he is bound to have a good one. Nick Swisher hasn’t had good postseasons with the Yankees so far, but hopefully he has one soon where he can carry a team. We saw that with A-Rod in 2009. He finally had a good postseason. Another who struggled for a while was Barry Bonds—up until 2002.

Bauer was one who struggled in the World Series, then became a postseason beast. In his first four World Series, Bauer went 7 for 57, a .123 batting average, with no HR and 5 RBI.

In 1950, Bauer hit a career-high .320 with 13 HR and 70 RBI, OPS+ 118. He went just 2 for 15 in the World Series.

1951 saw the arrival of Mickey Mantle, and between Mickey and Gene Woodling, it saw more of the Casey Stengel platoon. When Mickey played RF, Bauer and Woodling would platoon in LF. It was Bauer who replaced Mantle when Mantle suffered his devastating knee injury in Game 2 of the 1951 World Series.

Bauer hit .296-10-54 in 1951, OPS+ 126, and it was another World Series in which he struggled, going just 3 for 18. One hit was a big one however, a bases-loaded triple in Game 6 that broke a 1-1 tie and put the Yanks up 4-1. In the 9th, the Giants rallied for two runs, and had the tying run on second with two out. PH Sal Yvars hit a liner to RF, and Bauer raced in and made a sliding catch to end the World Series.

In 1952, Bauer hit .293-17-74, OPS+ 131 and was named to the first of his three All-Star teams (they were consecutive, 1952-1954). He finished 21st in the MVP voting. He had his worst World Series though, going just 1 for 18.

In 1953, Bauer hit .300 for the second and final time in his career, hitting .304. He had 10 HR, 57 RBI and an OPS+ of 129. He finished 12th in the MVP vote. Finally, a better World Series. 6 for 23, 1 RBI. It was a foreshadowing of what was to come.

1954 saw Bauer named to the All-Star team for the third and final time. He hit .294-12-54, OPS+ 127 and was 23rd in the MVP voting.

1955 brought .278-20-53, OPS+ 121 and his only top 10 MVP finish as he finished 8th. Bauer, a righty hitter, lost HRs to Death Valley, much like his crew-cut buddy Moose Skowron (see Skowron’s profile) did. In the World Series, Bauer went 6 for 14 with an RBI.

Bauer hit a career high 26 HR in 1956, despite a .241 B.A. He drove in a career high 84 runs, and had an OPS+ of 102. He finished 23rd in MVP voting, the last time he’d receive consideration. He finally hit his first World Series home run, going 9 for 32 with that HR and 3 RBI. He also started a streak. He had a hit in all seven World Series games, but he was just heating up.

1957 saw Bauer lead the league in triples with 9. Bauer wasn’t known for his speed, usually going something like 5 for 8 in SB over the course of the year. Yankee Stadium’s dimensions however, were conducive to triples. That year Bauer hit .259-18-65, OPS+ 111. He also made headlines off the field.

In May of 1957, the Yanks were out celebrating Billy Martin’s 29th birthday and their last stop was the Copacabana club to see Sammy Davis, Jr. perform. A group of bowlers at another table were celebrating (league championship?) a bit too much and were heckling Davis. Some of it was getting over the top and racial. A few Yankees protested, Bauer being one of them, defending Davis and also mentioning that wives were present. One bowler said, “Don’t press your luck, Yankee.” Long story short, soon afterward a bowler was knocked out in the cloakroom. Headlines, scandal, lawsuit. It was (and is) unknown who threw the punch or punches. Billy? Bauer? A bouncer? Yogi Berra stated “nobody did nothin’ to nobody.” Mickey Mantle saw someone on the floor who landed at his feet. He thought it was Billy, picked the guy up, saw it wasn’t and dropped him back down. As Mickey described it, “It looked like Roy Rogers rode through the Copa with Trigger and Trigger kicked the guy in the face.”

Bauer was acquitted by a jury on a charge of felonious assault. As for Martin, GM George Weiss was looking for a way to get rid of him, believing Martin was a bad influence on the Mick. This was his excuse. Martin was soon traded to KC.

Later in life, Martin lost a few bar fights, especially those in 1985 and 1988, when he was in his late 50’s. But in 1957, it didn’t take much to lose a fight to Martin…or Bauer for that matter.

Bauer always claimed he didn’t hit the guy. So did Billy. What happened will remain a mystery.

As for Bauer defending Sammy Davis, Jr., it wasn’t the first time Bauer defended a black man. Elston Howard joined the Yankees in 1955 as their first black player. Early on, Howard was the victim of racial prejudice. On several occasions, Bauer would crawl on top of the Yankee dugout and search the stands, looking for a fan who was shouting racial slurs at Howard. When asked why, Bauer explained simply, “Ellie’s my friend.”

In the 1957 World Series, Bauer once again had a hit in all seven games. He went 8 for 31 with 2 HR and 6 RBI. My father was at Game 6 (he also was at Larsen’s perfecto, Game 5 in 1956, a game in which Bauer drove in the 2nd run in the 2-0 victory; my dad was an ex-Marine himself), and it was Bauer’s HR off the foul pole that was the deciding blow, breaking a 2-2 tie and giving the Yanks a 3-2 win.

1958 would be Bauer’s last decent season. He turned 36 in the middle of that year, and hit .268-12-50, OPS+ 106. In the WS, he tied the then-record of 4 HR in a World Series (since broken by Reggie Jackson and Chase Utley with 5 each). Bauer went 10 for 31 with 4 HR and 8 RBI. In Game 4, Warren Spahn shut the Yanks out 3-0 on a two-hit shutout. Bauer didn’t get a hit. It snapped a 17 game WS hitting streak by Bauer, which remains the record. That victory put the Milwaukee Braves up 3-1 in the Series, but the Yanks came back to win it. Derek Jeter had a 17 game postseason hitting streak, but there was no ALDS and ALCS in Bauer’s time.

Bauer played in 9 World Series, and the Yankees won 7 of them. In those games, he hit .245-7-24 in 53 games.

Bauer suffered through a subpar 1959, his last with the Yankees. He slumped to .238, with 9 HR and 39 RBI. OPS+ 90. After the season he was dealt to KC—in the very deal that landed the Yankees Roger Maris.

Bauer was a platoon player for the KC A’s in 1960. He hit .275 with 3 HR and 31 RBI, OPS+ 88. In 1961, Bauer was hitting .264-3-18, OPS+ 90 in mid-summer when he was nearing 39 and his baseball career took a different path.

That summer, Bauer retired as a player. Upon his retirement, Bauer had a .277 lifetime average with 164 HR. His OPS+ was 113.

In his period as a regular (or semi-regular, what with the platooning) player for the Yanks from 1949-1959, Bauer’s average season was 126 games (out of 154), .278-14-59. OPS+ 116.

In the summer of 1961, Bauer retired to become manager of the KC A’s. This turned out to be Bauer I under Charlie Finley. After taking over, Bauer went 35-67 for the rest of the season as the KC A’s finished 9th.

One thing you have to remember about the KC A’s. In their history, 1955-1967 (came from Philly, went to Oakland) the KC A’s NEVER had a winning record.

In 1962, Bauer managed the KC A’s to a 72-90 record. 9th again, and he was fired.

Bauer became a coach for the 1963 Orioles. One day, the Orioles were playing the Yanks. Ford had pitched the day before, and Mantle had broken his foot in June 1963. After Mickey was activated in August, the Mick was used sparingly down the stretch as the Yanks tried to get him ready for the WS. With Mick being used sparingly and Ford having pitched, the two of them went to a friend’s place and tied one on. The next day, Bauer, their old teammate who was now an Orioles coach, saw the condition they were in. Late in the game, Mantle was sent up to PH. Bauer warned the manager about Mantle’s condition, just so Mickey wouldn’t get hurt. Somehow, with a hangover, Mickey hit a HR. Go figure.

Bauer became the Orioles manager in 1964. The Yanks won the pennant with 99 wins. The White Sox finished 2nd, one game back (that Chi sox team had Moose Skowron). Bauer’s Orioles finished third, two games back.

In 1965, Bauer finished 3rd again, with 94 wins. But in 1966, Bauer hit the jackpot. The Orioles won 97 games and won the pennant, only the second in franchise history (as the St. Louis Browns, they won the 1944 pennant). The Orioles swept the WS, and the first World Championship in Browns/Orioles history (last Browns team 1953, first Orioles team after the move 1954) was theirs.

The Orioles suffered through a tough year in 1967. Frank Robinson got hurt and Baltimore dropped to 7th, with just 76 wins. In 1968, the Orioles were 43-37, in 2nd place, halfway through the year, when Bauer was fired for Earl Weaver.

Charlie Finley brought Bauer back to his A’s (now in Oakland) in 1969. Bauer II. He was 80-69, in 2nd place, when Finley fired him.

Bauer never managed again in the majors. His managerial career saw the one pennant and WS title, 594-544, .522 pct. .522 x 162 is an 85-77 average year.

Bauer managed Tidewater, the Mets’ AAA team, in 1971 and 1972. He retired to become a scout in the KC area for the Yanks and KC Royals. He also owned a liquor store.

Bauer was tough. In those days before free agency, every dollar counted. World Series checks were precious “bonus” money. Bauer was known to go up to a slacking player and say, “Don’t mess with my money.”

Tommy Lasorda said, “Bauer was tough. He had a face that looked as if it could hold two days of rain.”

Bauer is most famous for wearing #9 from 1952-1959 (right before Maris, for whom it is retired). Bauer wore #25 from 1948-1951.

Bauer was good friends with the Mick, and was one of Mantle’s pallbearers.

Bauer died of lung cancer in 2007. He was 84.

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2 Responses to Classic Yankees: Hank Bauer

  1. jim p says:

    Thanks for this series. It is one of the most enjoyable reads on baseball I've seen since the season ended. It is amazing how many great players, or at least players with a great run, the NY Yankees have had over the years.

    Sort of pleasing, too, how regularly references to World Series has popped up through the careers of all these greats covered in the series.

  2. neil says:

    Hank was a great man. You could easily say he was a regular guy, but his courage and his integrity put him high above regular. We have so few men like him left. Men that are unselfish, dedicated to their friends even when it is the unpopular thing to do. He was a great everyday player, a great clutch player, and a loyal teammate. He served his country, his team, and his friends like Elston Howard who he befriended at a time when integration was not a popular theme. I feel so lucky that I got to see my favorite player of all time play the greatest game of all.