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Pinstripe Alley Top 100 Yankees: #65 Vic Raschi

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"The Springfield Rifle" was one of Casey Stengel's most trusted weapons in his '50s dynasty rotation.

1990 Baseball Wit card

Name: Victor Raschi
Position: Starting pitcher
Born: March 28, 1919 (West Springfield, MA)
Died: October 14, 1988 (Groveland, NY)
Yankee Years: 1946-53
Primary number: 17
Yankee statistics: 120-50, 3.47 ERA, 3.58 FIP, 207 GS, 1,537 IP, 832 K, 99 CG, 24 SHO, 88 ERA-, 93 FIP-, 15.9 rWAR, 23.3 fWAR

Biography

Just a few posts ago, starter Eddie Lopat was added to the Top 100 Yankees at #68. It seems fitting that he should be followed not long after by one of his closest friends and teammates on Casey Stengel's Yankees, Vic Raschi. Whereas Lopat plied his craft with a remarkable repertoire of breaking pitches, Raschi was a no-nonsense master of the fastball, blazing it past hitters of his era. He was so overpowering that at one point, the legendary Ted Williams remarked, "Vic Raschi is the best pitcher alive. There just can't be anyone as good."

Priorities

The third of Egyzia and Massimino "Simon" Raschi's four children, Victor John Angelo Raschi was born on March 28, 1919 in West Springfield, Massachusetts, home of the U.S. Armory's famous rifles. By the time he was 10 years old, he was already drawing attention to the humble family, as he won a state-wide marbles tournament. The Italian immigrants' son was a natural athlete though, excelling in baseball, football, and basketball at Springfield Tech High School.

Raschi's favorite sport was basketball, but baseball scouts from the Indians, Cardinals, and Yankees paid careful attention to his skills on the diamond. A Yankees scout named Gene McCann saw the 16-year-old Raschi "throwing bullets" as a freshman with a very fluid pitching motion and knew that he could become something special. He knew that Raschi's carpenter father was old and ailing from his years on the railroad though, and that his younger brother Eugene, who barely survived his surprising birth 11 years after Vic, had health problems too due to a batted ball that smashed his eye when he was just seven. Despite only being in high school, Vic Raschi was destined to soon become the head of the household.

So when the Yankees successfully arranged a meeting with the Raschi family, they assured Vic that they would pay for his college education and give him spending money as well. He had to give up football, but Raschi felt that this was an opportunity that he couldn't turn down. After unsuccessfully attempting to enroll in Manhattan College past the deadline, the Yankees arranged for Raschi to attend the College of William & Mary down in Virginia, and he began his schooling there full-time in 1938. It was during his early education there that he met another student named Sally Glenn, who became his wife a few years later.

Raschi was angered when after an All-State basketball season, the Yankees told him that he had to give up that sport that as well. They knew that his potential on the mound was too great to possibly be wasted due to a basketball injury. During his sophomore year, he dominated his competition and William & Mary won the conference championship. Although Raschi was not finished with his degree, the Yankees told him that he had nothing left to prove as a collegiate pitcher and gave him orders to report to the Class C Amsterdam Rugmakers during the summer of 1941. Raschi would eventually finish his degree part-time on the Yankees' dime, but he did not graduate until 1949.

In his first professional season, Raschi was steady with a 3.68 ERA over 142 innings that looked a lot better when accompanied by his 10-6 record. Amusingly, his follow-up campaign with the Class B Norfolk Tars in '42 was considered a bit of a disappointment due to his 4-10 mark even though he had a superior 2.71 ERA. His fastball became slowly more difficult to hit as well, as his H/9 dropped from 10.6 in '41 to 6.8 in '42. That would be the last organized baseball he would play for awhile though, as he enlisted for World War II with the Army Air Force, where he put his collegiate studies in physical training to use by serving as an instructor for three years.

Upon his return to baseball in 1946, Raschi rocketed through the system. He had a 3.16 ERA over 168 innings in Binghamton, earning him a promotion to the well-respected Newark Bears. It was on this team that he met the odd-looking fellow who would become his catcher for most of the next decade, Yogi Berra. Newark's manager was former Yankee ace Lefty Gomez, and after only five games, the future Hall of Famer told GM George Weiss that Raschi was ready for the majors.

The Springfield Rifle

On September 23, 1946, Raschi made his MLB debut at Yankee Staidum, older than most rookies due to the war at age 27. With Berra behind the plate, he went the distance against the Philadelphia Athletics for interim manager Johnny Neun, winning his debut and notching his first career single, too. A few days later at Shibe Park, he took down the A's again with an even better performance, allowing just five hits and one run over seven innings of work in a shortened complete game 2-1 victory.

Since he had such a terrific year in '46, Raschi expected to make the Yankees' Opening Day roster in '47, even with new manager Bucky Harris at the helm. However, pitching coach Charlie Dressen was not particularly impressed with him, so he advised the Yankees to send him back down. The Yankees told him to report to the Pacific Coast League's Portland Beavers. Raschi was absolutely furious and refused, returning to his home with Sally in New York instead. The Yankees threatened to have him banned from baseball for life, but his wife assuaged his concerns and told him that it would be a fascinating experience to live out west for a little while.

The 28-year-old accepted the assignment and upon entering Lucky Beavers Stadium in Portland, he was introduced to the manager, Jim Turner. The demotion turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to Raschi in baseball, as he and Turner formed a close bond. He was a fine pitcher in '46, but Turner told him that he was not aggressive enough. Due to the injury that crippled his younger brother's life, Raschi was hesitant to back hitters off the plate, out of the fear that his fastball might do the same to them. The normally mild-mannered Turner made his point clear:

"You have to crucify those sons of bitches, Vic. Murder them, crucify them, kill them."

Turner's subtle advice encouraged Raschi to become more intimidating on the mound. On gamedays, no one could even approach him since he took to having an angry scowl face the entire time.

Raschi notched a 2.75 ERA in 85 innings, and when the Yankees needed a spot starter in mid-July, Turner told Harris and Weiss to recall Raschi. On three days' rest, he pitched 6 1/3 innings of three-run ball in the second game of a doubleheader on July 13th against the White Sox, earning the win. It was the Yankees' 14th victory in a row, and incredibly, they stretched the streak to 18 in time for Raschi's next start. If the rookie could win, the Yankees would tie the American League record with a 19-game winning streak. Sure enough, Raschi was up to the task, allowing just six hits and two runs in a 7-2 complete game victory over the Indians. The record lasted 55 years, and the team went on to win the 1947 World Series over the Dodgers, Raschi's first championship.

Although the Yankees finished in third place in '48, leading to Harris's firing, Raschi became a menace on the mound with 222 2/3 innings, 18 complete games, and six shutouts, leading to the first of four All-Star appearances. He teamed with 1947 acquisition Allie Reynolds and new Yankee Eddie Lopat to form the "Big Three" that would anchor the team's rotation for the next five years.

Casey Stengel was the unlikely choice for Yankees manager, but it did not take long for him to notice that he had about as good a starting rotation as he could ever dream. Raschi's old manager Turner became his pitching coach, and he helped all of Raschi, Lopat, and Reynolds become versatile, reliable arms. Raschi in particular was the man who Stengel trusted the most, according to teammate Jerry Coleman. Stengel said, "I thought Raschi was the best pitcher I had on the team for nine innings... Boy, he was the best on the club in the eighth and ninth inning."

Sure enough, Raschi tossed 66 complete games and 13 shutouts from 1949-52 while posting a 116 ERA+ and averaging 253 innings per season. He was named an All-Star three more times, earned AL MVP votes in five seasons, led the AL in games started twice, and paced all starters with 164 strikeouts in 1951. Like clockwork, the Yankees won the pennant every year and followed up a terrific season by taking down the National League champions in the World Series.

Raschi saved some of his best pitching for when the season was on the line. In '49, the Yankees were tasked with winning the last two games of the season against the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium to steal the pennant from them. They won the penultimate game behind relief ace Joe Page and sent Raschi to start the potential season finale against Ellis Kinder. Raschi, who had worked hard with Berra all year long to get him to trust Raschi's pitch calls over Stengel's, was as intense as ever and came up big for the team, tossing shutout ball through eight and finishing his five-hitter in the ninth to clinch the pennant.

In 60 1/3 innings of World Series play, Raschi excelled with a 2.24 ERA and pitching the game of his life in the opener of the 1950 Fall Classic. The upstart Phillies, nicknamed the "Whiz Kids," had won the NL pennant over the Dodgers on the season's last day with a 10th inning homer by Dick Sisler at Ebbets Field. Undeterred, Raschi quieted them with a two-hit shutout, and the Yankees went on to sweep them away. His teammate Lopat stole the show in '51, but Raschi had a 0.87 ERA over two starts in that series against the Giants as well, then notched a 1.59 ERA with two victories in the '52 World Series victory over Brooklyn. When his fastball was on, the "Springfield Rifle" was overpowering.

A dynasty subsides

By 1952, Raschi was so well-regarded that he was the highest-paid pitcher in Yankees history at $40,000. Like Lopat and Reynolds though, his heavy workload from Stengel's use led to injuries though, and a surgery to remove torn cartilage in his knee sustained running the bases following the '51 season did not help. His rate statistics were roughly the same, but he was no longer capable of making his customary 30+ starts and over 200 innings.

Not long after the Yankees closed out their record fifth consecutive championship in '53, Weiss sent him a contract for 1954 that called for his salary to be cut by 25 percent. Angered by the slight, he chose to hold out until spring training. To his shock though, when he reported to St. Petersburg for spring training, he learned from the press that Weiss that he had been sold to the St. Louis Cardinals for $85,000.

Raschi was determined to prove that his old team made a mistake by letting him go, but regrettably, there just wasn't much mileage left in his right arm at age 35. He spent two more seasons putting up mixed results with the Cardinals and Kansas City Athletics before calling it a career.

Raschi retired to his upstate New York home by the Conesus Lake, where he owned a profitable liquor store for several years. He was also vital to the growth of Geneseo State College's athletics program, where he helped provide vital conditioning for both baseball and basketball players. In 1975, the college dedicated its baseball and softball field in his honor, and to this day, SUNY Geneseo is still the home to Victor J. Raschi Field.

Time healed the wounds between Raschi and the Yankees, and he would often return for Old-Timers' Day. He maintained strong friendships with Reynolds, Lopat, Berra, and many more teammates who remembered how kind and affable he was off the field. Pitching was clearly an entirely separate aspect of his character. On the eve of the 1988 World Series, Raschi passed away suddenly at age 69 on October 14th due to a heart attack. Appropriately, one of the first people to call his widow Sally was Eddie Lopat's wife.

Andrew's rank: 64
Tanya's rank: 64
Community rank: 54.5
WAR rank: 70

Season Stats

Year Age Tm W L ERA FIP G GS GF CG SHO IP H R ER HR BB SO HBP BK WP ERA- FIP- rWAR fWAR
1946 27 NYY 2 0 3.94 1.95 2 2 0 2 0 16 14 7 7 0 5 11 0 0 0 90 90 0.0 0.5
1947 28 NYY 7 2 3.87 4.01 15 14 0 6 1 104.2 89 47 45 11 38 51 1 0 2 91 91 0.4 0.9
1948 29 NYY 19 8 3.84 3.46 36 31 2 18 6 222.2 208 103 95 15 74 124 3 0 5 106 106 2.3 4.2
1949 30 NYY 21 10 3.34 3.94 38 37 0 21 3 274.2 247 120 102 16 138 124 6 1 10 121 121 3.0 3.5
1950 31 NYY 21 8 4.00 3.73 33 32 1 17 2 256.2 232 120 114 19 116 155 3 6 6 108 108 2.9 4.5
1951 32 NYY 21 10 3.27 3.47 35 34 0 15 4 258.1 233 110 94 20 103 164 5 1 8 117 117 2.6 4.0
1952 33 NYY 16 6 2.78 3.26 31 31 0 13 4 223 174 78 69 12 91 127 6 0 5 119 119 2.7 3.0
1953 34 NYY 13 6 3.33 3.47 28 26 2 7 4 181 150 74 67 11 55 76 1 0 1 111 111 2.0 2.7
NYY (8 yrs) 120 50 3.47 3.58 218 207 5 99 24 1537 1347 659 593 104 620 832 25 8 37 111 111 15.9 23.3

Stats from Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs

References

Appel, Marty. Pinstripe Empire: The New York Yankees from Before the Babe to After the Boss. New York: Bloomsbury, 2012.

BR Bullpen

Deadball Era

Gittleman, Sol. Reynolds, Raschi, and Lopat: New York's Big Three and the Yankee Dynasty of 1949-53. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2007.

Golenbock, Peter. Dynasty: The New York Yankees, 1949-1964. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, Inc., 1975.

SABR

Other Top 100 Yankees