Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Filling the void in Rudy York's card legacy, Part 1

As I sat down at the computer this morning to work on this posting I pulled yesterday's page off my chihuahua-a-day desk calendar and noticed today is the 15th anniversary of my father's death.

It's fitting that my completion of a pair of Rudy York "cards that never were" comes on that anniversary because York was my dad's favorite ballplayer. He is one of the big leaguers of the 1930s and 1940s of whom my dad often spoke when we talked baseball while watching the Braves or the Cubs on the "superstations" of the 1980s.

As is my wont, I'm not going to regale you here with York's life story or baseball career; there are lots of places on the internet where you can find that information. You can't do better than Terry Sloope's extensive entry in the SABR Baseball Biography Project: .

I will, however, point out a couple of my favorite York career highlights.
  • York’s single in the bottom of the second inning of 1945 World Series Game 3 kept the Cubs’ Claude Passeau from a no-hitter.
  • Between 1939-46 York missed only nine of his teams’ 1,087 games. He appeared in every game in 1940, 1941 and 1945.
  • In 1937, York set a major league record by hitting 18 home runs in the month of August. Babe Ruth had previously held the record with 17. York’s mark was bested in June, 1998, by Sammy Sosa – whether you chose to accept that as valid is up to you.
  • In May, 1938, he set the record for most grand slam home runs in a month (3). That record has since been tied eight times. 
  • On July 27, 1946, York hit two grand small home runs in the same game off Tex Shirley of the St. Louis Browns. He also doubled and walked in that game, which the Red Sox won 13-6. York had 10 RBIs.
  • After he left the Tigers, Briggs Stadium became a jinx ballpark for York.In 12 games there with the Red Sox in 1946, York was 3-for-43 at the plate (.070) with 16 strikeouts and no home runs. In 1947 with the White Sox he hit .156 (5-for-32) there in eight games with one home run and five strikeouts. He played in just two games there with the Athletics in 1948; he was 0-for-5, striking out once.
  • York was selected to the American League All-Star team seven times between 1938-47; in the five games in which he played he batted .308.
  • During his career he was in the Top 5 in the American League in home runs nine times and in RBI's seven times.
  • In the 1946 World Series, York hit home runs in Games 1 and 3. The homers were hit with one of Hank Greenberg's bats, which had been sent to Ted Williams as part of an on-going good-natured ribbing between Greenberg and Williams. 
For as big a star as Rudy York was in the late 1930s and early 1940s, he seems to have been given short shrift from the baseball card companies in his playing days. It's true that his major league days began at the tail end of the great bubblegum card era of the 1930s, and that his career was over by the time Bowman and Leaf revived the genre in 1948.

He is among the 24 players in the 1938 Goudey Heads-Up set, and is included in both versions of the 1939 Goudey premium photos. 

York is also in the Exhibit Supply Co. "Salutation" series of 1939-46. In 1940 Wheaties included him in the 1940 "Champs" of the U.S.A. box-back set.

Certainly the scarcest career-contemporary Rudy York card is found in the 1940 Michigan Sportservice large-format team set of 21 Detroit Tigers. 

After he was traded to Boston, York was included in the 1946 and 1947 Red Sox team picture packs.

However, he was completely ignored by Play Ball in its 1939-41 sets. I have to wonder why Gum, Inc. snubbed York in those sets. There were 162 players in the 1939 set, 240 in the 1940 issue (albeit including a couple of dozen "old-timers") and 72 in the 1941 set. At a time when major league rosters comprised just 400 players, it's a mystery why York was omitted.

Similarly, York didn't make the cut for the 75-card (130 different players) 1941 Double Play set.

My custom creation of a 1940 Play Ball-style Rudy York card helps fill one of those gaps. I've also finished up a 1941 Play Ball-style card that I'll show you tomorrow.

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