Sunday, July 25, 2010

'56 of the month: Hank Bauer

This is my one-and-only Yankee 1956 card. Up until Saturday, I had none.

I bought it at a card show yesterday, mostly because there were a couple of loud Yankee fans hovering behind me and I thought, "I'll be damned if they take every Yankee card. This one's mine."

It's difficult tracking down Yankees where I live. Like I said during my first '56 Topps post, the cards that my brothers and I received from my dad's friend were devoid of Yankees, most likely because my dad's friend was a Yankee fan.

So, having one in my possession is a milestone and worth charting on the blog.

I've always appreciated Bauer, because he was one of those seemingly rare folks in New York who don't go out of their way to draw attention to themselves. He just played. And he did it well. He did a lot of things well. I mean this was a guy who could say he was both a "World Series Hero" and a "World War II Hero."

Damn. ... Modern players suck.

Bauer's back history is fairly well known, but here's a list for those who need to catch up:

  • Born the youngest of nine children, his dad was an Austrian immigrant who lost a leg in a mill accident.
  • A brother described him as "a real dead end kid who was always going around with a bloody nose."
  • An elbow during a basketball game permanently damaged his nose.
  • After graduating from high school, he repaired furnaces in a beer-bottling plant.
  • He put his fledgling baseball career on hold to join the Marines after Pearl Harbor.
  • He was a platoon combat leader in the South Pacific, suffered 24 attacks of malaria, and sustained shrapnel wounds on Guam and in the Battle of Okinawa.
  • He received two Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts.
  • After the war, he returned to pipe-fitting, until he was signed by the Yankees.

Bauer's appearance seemed to add his reputation for toughness. His face was described as "a clenched fist," and Tommy Lasorda reportedly once said Bauer's face looked like it "could hold two days of rain."

Bauer's baseball feats are among the best in Yankees history. He won seven World Series titles as New York's primary right fielder and was known for his strong arm. He once held the record for the most homers in a single World Series (since surpassed by Reggie Jackson). He holds the record for longest World Series hitting streak at 17. His performance in the '51 World Series, in which he snared the final out in the 9th while the Giants had the tying run on base in the decisive Game 6, was credited for winning the Yankees that Series.

But poor Hank couldn't win the 1955 World Series could he? Even after hitting .429. Hmm, wonder who won that year?

Bauer is known for a couple of other baseball moments. He was involved in the trade to the Kansas City A's that brought the Yankees Roger Maris, perhaps the most famous of the lopsided trades conducted between the A's and Yankees. Bauer became a player-manager soon after as his skills were in decline.

He was also the manager of the Baltimore Orioles when they won the 1966 World Series against the Dodgers (boooo!). The Dodgers were 8-5 favorites to win the Series that year. Bauer responded by saying, "The guys who make those odds never played baseball. Anything can happen in a World Series. Usually the guy who doesn't do anything has the big series. I know; it happened in my case."

The Orioles swept the Series.

Bauer returned to managing the A's under owner Charlie Finley in the late 1960s. Bauer and John McNamara were the only managers with the honor of being fired twice by Finley. In an AP article, Bauer said once of Finley:

"Managing for Charles O. Finley is quite an experience. He calls you day and night, 24 hours. He wakes you up in the middle of the night with some hair-brained suggestion. He calls you in the dugout with the game in progress. A man who can survive that can survive anything."

In his early days, Bauer seemed to be the foundation for the Yankees' dynasty of the late '40s and 1950s. Mickey Mantle said Bauer "taught me how to dress, how to talk and how to drink."

Bauer died three years ago at age 84. His birthday would have been this Saturday.

Bauer is my kind of Yankee. No, not a dead one. A quiet one, who knew how to behave, how to work, and how to live.

Glad to have you aboard in the '56 collection, Hank.


  1. Top notch post, Night Owl. I picked up an autographed card right after Bauer's passing. After reading your post I'm even more pleased to own it.

  2. Something about Hank Bauer and the way he showed up and did his job day in and day out made him the personification of those 1950s Yankees teams.

    In the great 1973 Boyd/Harris book The Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading and Bubble Gum Book, there was a bit about how Bauer looked strange in an A's uniform after he was traded.

  3. Love this series! Bauer was an underrated player in the dynasty years.

  4. Nice! I didn't realize that Bauer had lived in my hometown of Overland Park, KS. It's cool to see it listed in a Topps card from 1956.