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The Least Among Them: Harry Hanson

The following passage comes from my (yet) unpublished manuscript, “The Least Among Them.” This book details the history of the Yankees, but told in a unique way. This groundbreaking and original manuscript is being queried for publication. Literary agents and/or publishers that are interested in the work can reach out to this author through the CONTACT link above or through our e-mail address..

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HARRY HANSON:

In the early 1900’s the Highlanders, later named the Yankees, did not meet much success on the baseball diamond. The franchise was one with middling success never finishing higher than second place (which they did three times between 1903 and 1912), but more often placing in the bottom have of the league.

As shall be seen, 1913 was a watershed year for the franchise although at the time this wasn’t recognized because the results on the field did not change dramatically. As a baseball team, this squad was not very good. The 1913 Yankees earned only 57 wins – good enough for a seventh place finish in the eight team league. There were two “Least Among Them” Yankees who played for the 1913 squad, and, interestingly, they played within eleven days of one another. The first is a man was a catcher by the name of Harry Hanson, an unknown player who set a Major League record that still stands today.

Harry Hanson was among a handful of New York Yankees players who appeared in just one game in the Major Leagues. He had his one opportunity to play Major League Baseball as a seventeen year old on July 14, 1913. Hanson was signed by the Yankees (the name they adopted permanently in 1913) because the team was suffering through a period when they lacked depth at the catcher position. It was said that the Yankees manager Frank Chance took Hanson, a Chicago schoolboy, until his “backstopping staff” could get back on its feet. It seems that Hanson was signed while the team was in Chicago during its three game series against the White Sox from July 9 through 11, 1913.

It was just three days after the team left Chicago, on July 14, that Harry Hanson played in his only professional baseball game. When he appeared in the game, Harry Hanson, at 17 years old (and 178 days) became the youngest player to ever appear in an American League game as a catcher. (The second youngest catcher to appear in an American League game was the eventual Hall-of-Famer Jimmy Foxx who appeared as a catcher for the Philadelphia Athletics on May 26, 1925. Foxx was 17 years, 216 days old at the time.)

Harry Hanson’s baseball opportunity did not come in New York, rather his game came as the Yankees continued their road trip in St. Louis against the lowly Browns. In 1913, there was only team that finished below the Yankees in the standings. That squad was the Browns, an unremarkable team that finished in last place after winning only 57 games against 96 loses. (It must be noted that he 1913 Yankees also won only 57 games, but they ended the season with two fewer losses, and as a result, finished above the Browns in the standings.)

There were not many players of note on the 1913 Browns. The only Hall-of-Famer was Bobby Wallace who, by this point in his career was a reserve player who hit only .211 for the season. One of the Brown’s most proficient batters was Del Pratt a sophomore second baseman. Pratt hit .296 in 1914 while leading the league in games played for the first of four consecutive years. Del Pratt would have his own impact of Yankees history.

Del Pratt was traded to the Yankees in January 1918 along with legendary pitcher Eddie Plank in exchange for five players including Urban Shocker (who would win 20 or more games in four consecutive seasons for the Brownies before returning to the Yankees in 1925). Eddie Plank never suited up for the Yankees and instead retired from baseball to his home in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. But it was Pratt who brought some legitimacy to the pre-Babe Ruth Yankees. In fact, sportswriter Fred Lieb first called the Yankees lineup “Murderers Row” after they had acquired Pratt an able batsman who was an important part of what Lieb called “the greatest collection of pitcher thumpers today.” Pratt helped take the Yankees franchise from doormats in the league to a team that began contending, if eventually falling short, of the American League title. Pratt remained a Yankee until after the 1920 season when he was traded to the Red Sox, in General Manager Ed Barrow’s first ever trade. In that deal, the Yankees received Wally Schang and Waite Hoyt, two key contributors to the Yankees dynasty of the 1920’s.

The 1913 Yankees also were not an overly very talented squad, but there were some players of note on the roster. Their shortstop, Roger Peckinpaugh was playing in his first of nine years as the Yankees shortstop. Peckinpaugh would be named Yankees captain, and, a year later, would manage the team, albeit for only 20 games.

In addition, a part time third baseman on that squad, Fritz Maisel, would, in 1914, set the Yankees single season record for the most stolen bases with 74. This record lasted until 1985 when it was eclipsed by Rickey Henderson. Henderson remains the only Yankees player to ever steal more bases in a single season than Fritz Maisel. Henderson bettered Maisel’s mark three times: in 1985 with 80 stolen bases; in 1986 with 87 stolen bases; and finally, in 1988 with 93 stolen bases – each in success becoming the Yankees all-time record.

Also on the 1913 Yankees was pitcher Russ Ford, playing in his final season with New York. Ford, earlier, had some brilliant seasons, winning more than twenty games in both the 1910 and 1911 seasons.

The Yankees manager in 1913 was Frank Chance he also was a part-time player. Chance, the first baseman in the legendary poem, Baseball’s Sad Lexicon (which is better known as “Tinker to Evers to Chance”) was in the first of his two seasons managing the Yankees. The Yankees lack of success under Chance, a four time pennant winner and two time World Series manager with the Chicago Cubs, helped to prematurely end his managerial career. After being fired by the Yankees in 1914, Frank Chance had only one other Major league managing opportunity – with the 1923 Red Sox – a team who finished in last place.

The ball game between the visiting Yankees and the Browns on July 14, 1913 was not much of a contest. The Browns had their way with the Yankees winning easily 11-1. Harry Hanson played as the Yankees catcher for three innings. In his time behind the plate, Hanson recorded one assist and one putout against no errors. The assist came when he threw a runner out who was trying to steal a base. As a hitter, Hanson batted twice, but recorded no hits, although a game account shares that he hit the ball solidly in both of his at bats.

After the 11-1 loss to St. Louis, Hanson’s Major League career was over. It is unclear why Harry Hanson did not play in another Major League game nor go to the Minor Leagues. The records seem to indicate that his only professional baseball playing came during his one game in the Major Leagues.

Sports fans tend to compare their favorite players to heroes. Ordinary men can become regarded as larger than life based upon their exploits on a playing field. Harry Hanson truly was a hero, but his legend came away from the baseball diamond on two of the biggest stages in world history – World War I and World War II where he served with the United States Army. During his 37 years of military service, Harry Hanson rose to the rank of Colonel. His career involved working with infantry and tank divisions.

Colonel Harry Hanson died on October 5, 1966. He passed away while enjoying a round of golf at the Savannah Golf Club. He was 70 years old.

Around the Horn:

1913 was a watershed year for the Yankees franchise in a number of ways as three changes took place that, in their own ways, defined the organization going forward.

First, it was in 1913 that the Highlanders moved out of Hilltop Park. By 1912, this team began playing some of their home games at the Polo Grounds, the home of the National League New York Giants. In 1913 the move became permanent. This precipitated the second big change that shaped the franchise.

Since the team was no longer playing atop a small rise in upper Manhattan, the name Highlanders no longer seemed appropriate. Almost since the team’s inception, the Highlanders at times had been known by various other names including the New York Americans and the New York Yankees. With the move out of Hilltop Park, the team became known only as the Yankees. Within a year, Hilltop Park was demolished. The eventual path to the construction of Yankee Stadium had begun.

Finally, the Yankees made a modification in the uniform design for 1913 that remains today. Interestingly, the long lasting change was not the advent of pinstripes on the home uniform. In fact, the 1912 Yankees home uniform, with pinstripes and the interlocking NY on the right breast was almost identical to the Yankee uniforms of today. For 1913, the Yankees actually eliminated the pinstripes. (The pinstripes returned in 1915 and have remained a staple of the Yankees home uniform ever since.) The uniform change from 1913 that still lasts today, was in regard to the away threads. It was in 1913 that the Yankees, for all intents and purposes, initiated, the kept, the grey road uniform with the words “NEW YORK” in capital letters across the front as their design. This idea had been used on occasion in 1911, but from 1913 forward it was, except for a four year period from 1927-1930, the standard Yankees “away” uniform design.

Thus, while the 1913 Yankees were not a successful team on the field, it was this squad that brought them their name, their away uniform, and in a few short years, their own stadium. One might say that the Yankees were truly born during that 1913 season.

Resources:

Savahhah Morning News 10/6/1966

Roster of the Illinois National Guard and Illinois Naval Militia

Baseball-reference.com

SABR Baseball Biography Project

Baseball Uniforms of the 20th Century

#HarryHanson #TheLeastAmongThem

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