Hank Bauer was not only a great ballplayer, but a great American. Born on July 31, 1922 in East St. Louis, Illinois as the youngest of nine children. He had a tough life growing up and was actually forced to wear clothes made out of old feed sacks. One of his brothers described hank as "a real dead-end kid who always was going around with a bloody nose." That not only helped shape his tough, no-nonsense attitude on the field, but during his time serving our country in World War II.
One month after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Bauer enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps. Bauer spent nearly three years of World War II in the South Pacific as a combat platoon leader, where he contracted malaria on 24 occasions, but recovered to earn 11 campaign ribbons, two Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts in 32 months of combat. His second injury came during the Battle of Okinawa, when he commanded a platoon of 64 men. Only six survived the brutal siege, with shrapnel hitting Bauer in the thigh and sending him home.
After the war, he joined the local pipefitter's union. During a stop in a local bar, a Yankees scout signed him to a tryout with the Yankees' farm team in Quincy, Ill. The scout remembered Bauer from a pre-war stint with Oshkosh in the Class D Wisconsin State League (an affiliate of the Chicago White Sox.) He later signed for $175/month, a $25 raise should he make the team and a $250 bonus. He did well in Quincly, hitting .300 and two years later, he was called up to the Yankees late in the 1948 season at age 25.
Hank broke in quickly as the Yankees right fielder, stroking singles in his first three at-bats. He proved he was there to stay. Bauer managed to get into 103 games in 1949, belting 10 HR and 45 RBI to a .272 clip, splitting time with Joe DiMaggio (injuries limiting his time at age 34, including the first 69 games of the season),
Gene Woodling and
Cliff Mapes. The Yankees would go on to win the World Series in five games over the Brooklyn Dodgers, the first World Series of nine that Bauer would play in with the Yanks, and the first championship of seven. Bauer only managed one hit in six at-bats and would actually struggle in his first four series (1949-52), batting only .105 (7-for-57) with 5 RBI in 20 games. That would drastically change later in his career as he became known for World Series excellence. In fact, Bauer became accustomed to winning World Series and more importantly, the bonus checks that went along with them.
Whitey Ford recalled how Bauer did not take kindly to young player's after hours entertainment, saying, "He pinned me to the wall of the dugout one day and said, 'Don't mess with my money.'"
For now, however, he did not struggle in the regular season. In 1950, he improved to 13 HR, 70 RBI and a robust .320 average, good for 10th in the AL while still sharing the three outfield spots among the same three players. 1951 saw a drop in his offensive numbers (10 HR, 54 RBI, .296 AVG), but his rock solid defense, powerful arm and ferocious style of play was more important in a four man outfield rotation that now included a young
Mickey Mantle as well as
and the consistent
Gene Woodling. Red sox shortstop said of Bauer, "When Hank came down the base path, the whole earth trembled." Bauer's outlook was, "It's no fun playing if you don't make somebody else unhappy. I do everything hard."
Once again with the Yankees in the World Series, Bauer struggled at the plate, but that's not to say there wasn't a highlight. In the sixth and ultimately deciding game, Bauer slammed a bases loaded triple in the bottom of the sixth off Giants starter Dave Koslo to break a 1-1 tie. The three runs that scored on the triple provided all the cushion they would need as they would go on to win 4-3. It was only one of three hits for Hank in the series and he made it count. However, while also giving the Yankees the lead with his bat, he also helped protect it (along with the series win) with his glove, making a diving catch of a line drive for the game's final out with the tying run on base.
With the retirement of
Joe Dimaggio after the 1951 season, the Yankees decided to go with a traditional three man outfield starting in 1952 and Bauer won the full-time job in rightfield. He responded with his finest offensive season to date with 17 HR, 74 RBI and a .293 AVG and his first selection (of three in his career) to an all-star game. He also finished 10th in the AL in doubles (31), 10th in runs scored (86), 10th in hits (162), 6th in total bases (256 - second on the team to
Mantle) and 6th in extra-base hits. Defensively, he also contributed 16 outfield assists.
His next six years were the model of consistency for Bauer. He would average about 16 HR, 60 RBI 79 runs scored and a .272 AVG from 1953 to 1958, with two more all-star appearances in 1953 and 1954. He would also finish 12th in the AL voting for MVP in 1953 (finishing behind Yogi Berra (2nd place) and Phil Rizzuto (6th). Better yet, he'd finish 8th in MVP balloting in 1955, including one first place vote. 1956 saw his career high marks in HR (26) and RBI (84), and he'd lead the AL in triples in 1957 with 9.
Off the field, Bauer was involved in the infamous Copacabana incident. A group of Yankees players, accompanied by their wives, became involved in a confrontation with another group of patrons at the nightclub in Manhattan. One patron, a Bronx delicatessen owner, sued Bauer, accusing him of punching him. The man lost the lawsuit after catcher Yogi Berra testified, "Nobody never hit nobody." Although, various sources over time have claimed that Bauer did indeed throw and land a punch.
While there was a slight decline in his offense output after 1956, Hank's World Series play reached another level. He would hit .429 in a losing effort in the 1955 series, but with a 2-for-5 performance in Game One of the 1956 World Series, Hank began a streak of hitting safely in a record 17 straight World Series games. In the 1956-58 World Series, Hank would hit .287 with 17 RBI in 21 games. In his final World Series, a 7-game victory over the Milwaukee Braves, Hank went out in style, hitting at a .323 clip with four HR and eight RBI and six runs scored. In Game Three, with the Yankees down 2-0 and returning to New York, Hank drove in all four runs of a 4-0 win with a two-run single in the 5th and a two run home run in the 7th, backing Don Larsen and Ryne Duren who combined on the shutout.
Once again, Hank got the Yankees going in Game Six. Down 3 games to 2 and back in Milwaukee, Hank slammed a solo HR in the top of the first inning off future Hall of Famer Warren Spahn to give the Yankees an early lead and his fourth HR of the series. The Yankees would go on to win a nail-biter in 10 innings by a tally of 4-3, forcing a seventh game, won by the Yankees 6-2, thanks to a late 4-run rally in the eighth inning, punctuated by a Bill Skowron 3-run blast.
1959 would be a down year not only for the Yankees, but Bauer as well. At age 36, he slipped to 9 HR, 39 RBI and a .238 AVG. On December 11th, the Yankees decided it was time to get an infusion of youth into right field and after 12 years, dealt Hank along with fellow World Series hero Don Larsen, Norm Siebern and Marv Throneberry to the Kansas City Athletics for Joe DeMaestri, Kent Hadley and new right fielder and future hero...Roger Maris. Bauer would complete his Yankee career with 158 HR, 654 RBI, 703 runs scored, 1,326 hits and a .277 average in 1,406 games.
Hank spent two seasons in Kansas City where Hank settled back into a part-time role. In late 1961, Bauer retired from playing and replaced the fired Joe Gordon as A's manager. It was a lousy 100-loss team and Bauer could only manage a 35-67 record from the talent deprived team. He stayed on as manager for the 1962 season, but after another 9th place finish, despite an "improvement" to 72-90, Bauer left after the season to become a coach for the Baltimore Orioles.
In 1964, Hank took over as manager after the off-season firing of Billy Hitchcock. Despite 97 wins, the Orioles finished third in a close three way race for the AL pennant with the Yankees and White Sox. However, Bauer was named A.L. manager of the year. 1965 followed with another successful year (94-68) that included a young rookie named Jim Palmer. However, the 94 wins were again only good for 3rd place.
1966 saw Hank hit paydirt once more. Not only did his 97-63 record win him another A.L. Manager of the Year award, but this time accompanied an A.L. Pennant and World Series victory in four games over the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Orioles never trailed in any inning, and after Lou Johnson scored on a Jim Gilliam bases loaded walk in the bottom of the third of game one, the Dodgers would not score another run in the series. It would be Hank's 8th World Series Championship overall.
The O's weren't as successful in 1967, falling to 76-85. In 1968, despite a 43-37 start, the Orioles trailed Detroit by 10.5 games in the standings and Hank was fired and replaced with Earl Weaver. He would catch on as manager of the Oakland A's in 1969, but again despite a strong showing (80-69) with a young, upstart team featuring Reggie Jackson and Catfish Hunter, Bauer was fired with 13 games left in the season and replaced by John McNamara.
Hank would remain retired until his death due to cancer on February 9, 2007 at the age of 84.
On September 29, 1948, Hank belted his first Major League home run off Dick Fowler of the Kansas City Athletics.
October 10, 1951: Hank's bases-loaded triple in the bottom of the sixth propels the Yankees to a 4-3 win and their 3rd straight championship. Hank also makes a diving grab for the final out of the series with the tying run on second.
May 10, 1952: Hank goes 5-for-6 in an 18-3 romp over Boston. The Yanks score 11 runs in the 7th inning.
August 12, 1953: In a 22-1 Yankee victory over the Washington Senators. The Yankees exploded for 28 hits, 2 hits shy of the AL-record 30. Rookie Steve Kraly, relieving Whitey Ford, gives up a run to avert the largest shutout win in history. Ford has 4 hits and Yogi Berra and Billy Martin each have 5 RBIs while Hank Bauer scores 5 runs.
September 30, 1953: In the first inning of Game One of the 1953 World Series, Hank slams an RBI triple to plate Joe Collins with the first run of the series and the first of four in the inning. Bauer would later score on Billy Martin's bases loaded triple, all off the ineffective Carl Erskine who would be removed for a pinch hitter in the top of the second inning. The Dodgers would eventually catch up, tying the game at 5-5 in the top of the seventh on a Carl Furillo RBI single off reliever Johnny Sain. A Joe Collins solo HR off Clem Labine broke the tie for good in the bottom of the seventh. The Yankees would add three more in the eighth on a two-run double by Sain and an RBI single by Collins to go on to win 9-5.
September 16, 1955: The Yankees trailing the Indians in the standings by one game with 11 left to play open a critical series with the Red Sox. The Yankees take a 3-0 lead after 5 innings but Yankee starter Whitey Ford can't hold the lead and the Yankees go to the bottom of the 9th trailing 4-3. Bill Skowron fouled out to start the 9th
but Hank Bauer follows with a game-tying HR off Sox reliever Ellis Kinder. After a Gil McDougald pop-up to short, Yogi Berra hits an inside the park game-winning HR to win it 5-4. When Detroit beats Cleveland 3-0 the Yanks move into first place and never trail again, eventually winning the division by three games.
Lewis K. from The Villages, FL wrote: [Hank] owned a hamburger joint and when he hit a home run, the patrons all got free burgers! I met him in the bathroom at Mickey Mantle's restaurant and we talked briefly.
Doug R. from Plano, TX wrote: I had the pleasure of meeting Hank Bauer at a small Boat Show at an Emporia, KS mall. This would have been in the late 70s, I believe. He was just exactly how I thought he would be: very kind, down to earth and very friendly. Mr. Bauer had all the traits of great men: strength of character, will, determination and drive. He was kind enough to sign my copy of the book
DYNASTY, which of course was all about the New York Yankees from 1948 through 1964. God Bless you Hank!