The Yankees Way? A Brief Look At How The Championship Teams Were Built, Pt. 8: 1949-1953
In this article, our first new installment, we continue to look at how each of the Yankees’ championship teams were assembled. This article, focusing on the 1949-1953 teams, is part eight in the series.
Because this article covers a five year period, it is our most challenging installment yet (due to the many changes in personnel.) Please note that Mike Whiteman also contributed to this article.
Here are the previous installments of this series:
The statistics I will share in this exercise are the typical counting stats of the time – batting average/home runs/runs batted in (and for pitchers, wins, losses, ERA). These will serve as a quick guide to see how that player performed over those years. (I used Baseball-Reference.com to determine all these stats and the transaction data. Some other information came from the SABR Biography Project.)
Please note that this is not an exhaustive study, it is only a start. More and deeper research is welcome.
The 1949-53 Yankees
1949: First Place (97-57) 1 game over second place Boston. Defeated the Brooklyn Dodgers in the World Series.
1950: First Place (97-57) 3 games over second place Detroit. Defeated the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series.
1951: First Place (98-56) 5 games over second place Cleveland. Defeated the New York Giants in the World Series.
1952: First Place (95-59) 2 games over second place Cleveland. Defeated the Brooklyn Dodgers in the World Series.
1953: First Place (99-52) 8.5 games over second place Cleveland. Defeated the Brooklyn Dodgers in the World Series.
Catcher – We begin with a simple position, catcher. From 1949-1953, this position was primarily manned by one player – future Hall-of-Famer Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra. In 1949, Berra played in 116 games. After that, he was in the line-up almost every day (for a catcher, at least). His games played each season from 1950 to 1953 were 151, 141, 142, and 137. Berra was the MVP in 1951 when he hit .294/27/88 and played stellar defense. Over this five period, Berra hit .294/132/509. He earned MVP votes in every season. (Berra actually earned MVP votes in every single season from 1947 through 1961 which might be one of the most remarkable facts about his career.) Yogi Berra was home-grown Yankee being signed by the franchise in 1942. He came up through the minors before becoming one of the Yankees’ most legendary stars.
First Base – In this period, first base was somewhat of a mixed bag. It was manned by a host of players as follows:
Tommy Henrich (1949) – “Old Reliable” was originally Cleveland Indian property but was released by Commissioner Judge Landis, when Henrich appealed to him that he was being treated unfairly after not receiving a Spring Training invitation in 1937. The Yankees outbid the New York Giants for the outfielder’s services, offering him a $20,000 bonus. By 1949, Henrich’s career was winding down. This was the first season where he almost split his time 50/50 between first base and outfield appearing in 52 games at first and playing 61 games in the outfield. In 1950, Henrich played in 73 games, mostly as a pinch-hitter (41 games in that role and 34 games at first base) to close out his career. In 1949, Henrich batted .287/24/85. In 1950, he hit .272/6/45. As a pinch-hitter in 1950, Henrich batted .267/3/13.
Dick Kryhoski (1949) – Little known or remembered Dick Kryhoski helped man first base in 1949, his only Yankee season. He played in 54 games batting .294/1/27. Kryhoski was originally signed by the Yankees in 1946. After the 1949 season, he was traded to the Tigers for Dick Wakefield who would play all of three games (in 1950) for the Yankees.
Joe Collins (1950-53) – The primary first baseman in this era was Joe Collins, a left-handed hitting and fielding player who was a minor star. Collins was an outstanding glove man who was also a solid fielder. In this period (1950-53), Collins hit .271/52/179 for the Yankees. He was signed by the Yankees in 1939, came up through the ranks, and reached the big leagues in 1948.
Johnny Mize (1950-52) – By the time he reached New York, Johnny Mize was already a star. A future Hall-of-Famer, Mize was the type of player the Yankees seemed to acquire in this period, a great player nearing the end who would help put the Yankees over the top. The Yankees acquired Mize in 1949 in a straight cash purchase. He would play on all five of the Yankees’ World Championship teams of this era, albeit in a limited role. He hit .264/44/179 as a Yankee to close out his career. Mize epitomizes one of the ways that the Yankees used their financial power to acquire players who would help them win championships.
Don Bollweg (1953) – In 1953, Bollweg, who the Yankees had acquired from the St. Louis Cardinals in 1951 (in a trade for Billy “The Bull” Johnson), batted .297/6/24 as a first baseman and pinch hitter. He was part of an eleven player trade with the Kansas City A’s after the 1953 season.
Second Base – For the first half of these championship years, 1949-51, Jerry Coleman manned second base. In 1952 and 1953, the main second baseman was Billy Martin because Coleman was serving as a pilot in the Korean War. Jerry Coleman served the USA in both World War II and Korea and was the only MLB player to see combat in both wars. Coleman was a lieutenant colonel in the United States Marines where he won a plethora of medals including the Distinguished Flying Cross (which he won two times). Gil McDougald, who played a variety of infield positions throughout the 1950’s also saw some time at second base.
Jerry Coleman – Between 1949 and 1951, Jerry Coleman played 402 games as a Yankee batting .273/11/154. He was signed by the Yankees before the 1942 season as an amateur.
Billy Martin – In 1952 and 1953, the ever-scrappy Billy Martin manned second base. He batted .261/18/108 over 258 games those two seasons. The Yankees purchased Martin (along with Jackie Jensen) from Oakland in the Pacific Coast League in October 1949. While in Oakland, Billy had played for Casey Stengel, the Yankees’ manager.
Gil McDougald – In his career, all with the Yankees, from 1951 to 1960, Gil McDougald played 599 games at second base, 508 games at third base, and 284 games at shortstop. In the years 1951-53, McDougald batted .282/35/224. He was also signed as a amateur by the Yankees.
Shortstop – Phil Rizzuto became the Yankees’ shortstop in 1947. Beginning in 1948, he would be so important to the team that he would earn MVP votes in six consecutive seasons. Rizzuto won the MVP in 1950. Rizzuto was signed by the Yankees and played his entire career with them. In this period, Rizzuto, a future Hall-of-Famer, hit .281/18/271. His last year as a starter was 1954. His career ended when the Yankees acquired Enos Slaughter, another National League great at the end of his career who the Yankees’ acquired to strengthen their pennant chances.
Third Base – Bill “The Bull” Johnson was signed by the Yankees organization back in 1936. He slowly made his way to the Major Leagues arriving in 1943, but then not returning again until after the war in 1946. A right-handed hitter, Johnson shared third base with Bobby Brown (a left-handed hitter) in 1949 and 1950. He hit .255/14/96 for those seasons. In May, 1951, he was traded to the Cardinals for the aforementioned Don Bollweg.
Bobby Brown – These Yankees teams were filled with a host of interesting and notable players. Brown famously became a cardiologist after his playing days. A highly respected individual, Brown also became the President of the American League. Brown played third base through the 1951 season. In this period, he hit .273/16/149. He was signed originally by the Yankees. Brown missed time to also serve in Korea as a doctor where he served at Tokyo Army Hospital among other locations. Brown’s service in the armed forces lasted for nineteen months.
Gil McDougald, mentioned above, also saw time at third base in these years.
Left Field – In 1949, Johnny Lindell shared the duties in left field with Gene Woodling. Lindell was signed by the Yankees off the campus of the University of Southern California. He was originally a pitcher and he did appear as a pitcher in 23 games for the Yankees in 1942. Still, he never quite made it as a successful big league pitcher and was converted to an outfielder where he would play until 1950. In 1949, Lindell hit .242/6/27. He was sold to the St. Louis Cardinals in May 1950. Of note – Johnny Lindell then resumed pitching in the Pacific Coast League after the 1950 season., winning the MVP of that league in 1952 and making it back to the Major Leagues in 1953, as a pitcher, with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Lindell’s is a story worth looking at closer one day.
Gene Woodling (1949-53) – The primary left fielder of this era was Gene Woodling who was a five time World Champion. Woodling was acquired by the Yankees when they purchased his contract from the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League. Woodling played in 601 games between 1949 and 1953 batting .291/48/296. His last season as a Yankee was 1954. After that season, he was part of a huge trade with the Baltimore Orioles that included a host of players and netted the Yankees Don Larsen and Bob Turley, among others.
Center Field – Joe DiMaggio – The Yankee Clipper was purchased for $25,000 and five players, but was coming off of a knee injury in the 1934 season. After his knee proved solid in 1935, he arrived in New York in 1936. Joe DiMaggio was one of baseball’s greatest players. He missed a good deal of time in 1949, and his return to the lineup is stuff of legend as he helped the Yankees edge out the Red Sox. The great Joe D. starred for the Yankees through the 1951 season. Over his final three seasons, DiMaggio batted .298/58/260. DiMaggio is an inner-circle Hall-of-Famer.
The Yankees’ right fielder in 1951, and their center fielder there after, was a kid from Oklahoma named Mickey Charles Mantle. Many would say that over the course of his career Mickey Mantle was an even better player than DiMaggio. In this era, the Mick was just getting started. From 1951-53, Mantle hit .295/57/244. He was a lifelong Yankee who was signed by the club as an amateur in 1949. Mantle, of course, is enshrined in the Hall-of-Fame.
Right Field – Tommy Henrich split time between right field and first base in 1949. Henrich was outlined above. The other primary right fielder of this era (except in 1951 when Mickey Mantle played this position) was another war veteran, former US Marine Hank Bauer.
Hank Bauer – A tough Marine, Bauer won a Bronze Star and Purple Heart fighting in the Pacific Theater in World War II at Guam and Okinawa. He was signed by the Yankees in 1946, after the war. He arrived with the Yankees in 1948 and was a star for them for many years. Between 1949 and 1953, Bauer, another five time World Champion, hit .298/60/300.
Yankee money was crucial in bringing both DiMaggio and Heinrich to the Bronx. Ed Barrow’s willingness to take a risk on DiMaggio’s health was a franchise changing decision. The Yankees’ deep pockets also allowed the to sign a number of players from the Pacific Coast League (in addition to DiMaggio) who helped in this period including Gene Woodling and Billy Martin. Yankees’ cash also helped them acquire Johnny Mize. The rest of the starting players were all signed by the Yankees and came up through their farm system before arriving in the Bronx.
Allie Reynolds: After five seasons with the Cleveland Indians, Allie Reynolds was traded to the Yankees after the 1946 season. That trade was a big one as the Yankees sent future Hall-of-Famer Joe Gordon to the Indians in order to acquire Reynolds. Reynolds didn’t disappoint and was a most important Yankees pitcher for eight years. From 1949 to 1953, Reynolds won 83 games and saved 28 games. He was always ready to pitch in a big game as a starter or reliever. Reynolds did pitch primarily out of the bullpen (41 games with only 15 starts) in 1953.
Vic Raschi: Vic Raschi came up from the minors in 1946 and by the late 1940’s was one of the Yankees’ ace pitchers, along with Allie Reynolds and Ed Lopat. From 1949 to 1953, Raschi went 92-40, 3.36.
Ed Lopat – Steady Eddie Lopat was acquired by the Yankees from the Chicago White Sox for Fred Bradley, Aaron Robinson, and Bill Wight in what was a steal for the Yankees. Lopat was the lefty pitcher, a junk baller, that complimented Reynolds and Raschi. Lopat went 80-36, 2.97 over these five championship years.
Other Yankees starters of this period included:
Tommy Byrne (1949-51) a 15 game winner in 1949 and 1950. He was originally signed by the Yankees and was traded to the Browns in 1951.
Tom Morgan (1951-52) pitched in 43 games between in those two years. He was signed by the Yankees originally.
Jim McDonald (1952-53) pitched in 53 games in those two years. He was acquired from the St. Louis Browns in a trade for Clint Courtney.
Edward “Whitey” Ford (1950 and 1953) the future “Chairman of the Board” was originally signed by the Yankees. Before and after his military service, Whitey Ford went 27-7. His Hall-of-Fame career was just beginning.
Joe Page: The fireman, Joe Page was one of a number of relief pitchers who might all be consider the closers of this period. His greatest season was 1949 when he appeared in 60 games. He went 13-8, 2.59 that season. Page appeared in 37 games for the Yankees in 1950 to basically end his career. He did pitch seven games for the Pirates in 1954.
Joe Ostrowski was relief pitcher on the 1950-53 Yankees. He appeared in 75 games as a Yankee, with all but eight coming in relief. The Yankees traded for Ostrowski acquiring him (and two other players including Tom Ferrick (see below)) from the St. Louis Browns in a trade that sent four players (including Snuffy Stirnweiss) and $50,000 to St. Louis.
Fred Sanford was another depth piece who was also acquired from the Browns for players and cash. From 1948 to 1951, he pitched in 66 games for the Yankees.
Bob Kuzava came to the Yankees in a trade with the Washington Senators (in June 1951) with New York sending three players (including Fred Sanford) to D.C. for Kuzava. Kuzava pitched for the Yankees from 1951 to 1954 appearing in 104 games.
Tom Ferrick pitched for the Yankees in 1950 and 1951. He came over in the trade that also netted the Yankees Joe Ostrowski.
Tom Gorman a free agent signed as an amateur by the Yankees appeared in 52 games between 1952 and 1953.
Johnny Sain, the great National League pitcher who was part of the famous Milwaukee Braves pitching staff (“Spahn and Sain and pray for rain”) was acquired by the Yankees in August 1951 to help with the stretch drive. (The Yankees sent Lew Burdette to the Braves in order to get Sain. Burdette would later win three games against the Yankees in the 1957 World Series helping Milwaukee defeat the Yankees.) Sain would pitch with the Yankees until 1955. He was an important pitcher for the Yankees appearing in 130 games over his five seasons in pinstripes.
Conclusion – While there were some home grown stars (Berra, Mantle, Ford, Rizzuto, and others), these Yankees teams were also propped up by the teams willingness to spend money and trade players in order to secure important pieces to their championship ambitions.