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Good But, Not Great- Part Two

The Off-Season: Good But, Not Great- Part Two

By Tim Kabel

January 24, 2022

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Last week, I began a series of articles based on Yankees’ players who were good but, not great. These players were not Hall of Famers. However, they were key components of their teams. In many cases, they were the backbone of World Series championship teams. I started off with Bernie Williams. For my second player, I will stay in the outfield but, I will go to a different era.

Henry Albert Bauer was born in 1922 in East Saint Louis, Illinois. He was the youngest of nine children. He was the son of an Austrian immigrant who was a bartender. His father had lost a leg earlier in an accident at an aluminum mill. Because his father had a limited income, Hank was forced to wear clothes made out of old feed sacks, which probably led to his tough, hard-nosed approach to life. He suffered permanent damage to his nose playing basketball in high school. Bauer was once described as having a face that looked like “a clenched fist.” Tommy Lasorda once said that Bauer’s face could hold two days of rain. He started his career as a baseball player in 1941 with Oshkosh of the class D Wisconsin State league.

Bauer’s baseball career was interrupted by a little thing called World War Two. He enlisted in the Marines shortly after Pearl Harbor. As a Marine, he earned 11 campaign ribbons, two bronze stars, two purple hearts and the Navy Commendation Medal. He achieved the rank of Sergeant and was wounded for the second time at the battle of Okinawa, where he was in command of a platoon of 64 Marines. Only six of the 64 Marines survived, and Bauer was wounded by taking shrapnel in his thigh. The wounds were severe enough to send him back to the United States to recover. Yet, he was able to resume his baseball career. Somewhere, Jacoby Ellsbury just passed out from merely reading about the injury.

Bauer had a 14-year Major League career. Twelve of those years were with the Yankees. He was a member of seven World Series Championship teams. His career batting average was .277 and he hit 164 home runs, with 703 RBI. Bauer’s most productive year was 1956, when he hit 26 home runs and drove in 84 runs. Think about it, Hank Bauer was a key player in seven World Series Championship teams in 12 years as a Yankee.

Again, he was not a superstar, and he was not a great player but, he was the solid contributor the Yankees needed to win those championships. Perhaps his most memorable performance came in the 6th and final game of the 1951 World Series, where he hit a three-run triple. He also saved the game with a diving catch of a line drive off the bat of Sal Yvars for the final out.

After the 1959 season, Bauer was traded by the Yankees to the Kansas City Athletics in the trade that brought them Roger Maris. This deal is often cited as one of the worst examples of the numerous lopsided trades between the Yankees and the Athletics during the late 1950s that caused many people to describe the Athletics as a Yankees’ farm team. In 1961, Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth’s home run record while Hank Bauer was named the player-manager of the Athletics on June 19th. He retired as a player a month later. Bauer enjoyed success later on as a Major League manager, leading the Baltimore Orioles to their first World Series championship in 1966.

Hank Bauer had a reputation as a tough guy and once pinned Whitey Ford up against the dugout wall because he thought Ford, Mickey Mantle, and some others were carousing too much, which might have jeopardized Bauer’s World Series money. He was also involved in the incident at the Copacabana night club in 1957, which resulted in Billy Martin’s banishment from the team. Legend has it that Bauer may have been the one who slugged the drunken bowler who was hurling racial slurs at Sammy Davis, Jr.. However, Yogi Berra said, “nobody did nothing to nobody”, which according to my friend Roger, is a tremendous legal argument. There was another incident in which Bauer almost went into the stands after someone who was yelling racial slurs at Elston Howard. Bauer’s explanation for the incident was, “Ellie is my friend.” When Bauer was asked about the four years he lost to military service, his response was simple. “I guess I knew too many great young guys who lost everything out there to worry about my losing part of a baseball career.”

Hank Bauer was not a great ballplayer. He will never be in the Hall of Fame. He will most likely never be in Monument Park. However, he played a major role in Yankees’ history and should not be forgotten. On top of that, he sounds like a man of character and integrity. He is worthy of admiration and someone I would have liked to meet. He is another one of the good but, not great Yankees who were a major part of their success.

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Previous Articles in This Series:

Good But, Not Great- Part One (Bernie Williams)

#HankBauer

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