Name: Allie Reynolds
Born: February 10, 1917 (Bethany, OK)
Died: December 26, 1994 (Oklahoma City, OK)
Yankee Years: 1947-54
Primary number: 22
Yankee statistics: 131-60, 3.30 ERA, 3.74 FIP, 295 G, 209 GS, 1,700 IP, 967 K, 96 CG, 27 SHO, 40 SV, 85 ERA-, 97 FIP-, 19.8 rWAR, 21.0 fWAR
The best of Casey Stengel's dynasty "Big Three" alongside Vic Raschi and Eddie Lopat, Allie Reynolds was a ferocious competitor and one of his skipper's most valuable assets. He was an All-Star in a primarily starting role, he was an All-Star in a primarily relief role, and he alternated between the two on a consistent basis. He could throw a World Series shutout one day and come out of the bullpen to close it out Madison Bumgarner-style just a couple days later.
Reynolds is the lone member of that triumvirate to be enshrined in Monument Park, and it would be difficult to pick a better representative. In addition to having success on the field, thousands of Native American children looked up to Reynolds, and he led the kind of exemplary life that made him worth being a role model. He was absolutely a phenomenal pitcher, teammate, and person.
Ditching the javelin
Born just outside of Oklahoma City in February 1917 to Nazarene preacher and his wife, Reynolds faced several limitations in sports growing up. The doctrine did not permit ball on Sundays, when sandlot and semipro games took place, and Reynolds had to settle for softball for many years. He was a terrific all-around athlete though, playing numerous position in football for Capitol Hill High School while also becoming a local star in track and field.
Reynolds was an excellent quarterback and guided his team (unfortunately named the Redskins; Reynolds had family ties to the Muscogee Creek Indians) to the national championship for high school football. However, he was quite undersized and did not garner much collegiate interest. His salvation came from Oklahoma State University, which was then known as Oklahoma A&M. They were so taken by his abilities in track that they offered him a scholarship, and with the help of a loan linked to his Creek family, he was on his way to Stillwater.
At Oklahoma State, Reynolds first just ran track and played football. He only played baseball with his fraternity, but at one track practice, coach Hank Iba (more well-known for basketball, another sport he tried to get Reynolds to play) happened to see him throw a javelin 190 feet. The Aggies' baseball team was running some drills on a nearby field, so Iba asked if he would throw to them to get a gauge on his arm. Iba told him to warm up.
Reynolds replied, "I don't need any warmup."
He struck out half the Aggies' lineup. Iba immediately recruited him.
Reynolds continued to excel at all sports while earning a degree in education, playing semipro ball in Colorado between summers, and eventually showing enough at halfback on the gridiron for the New York Giants to draft him in 1938. They offered him $100 per game, which was extremely tempting for Reynolds. He had married his high school girlfriend Dale Jones three years prior and the young family already had two children. The Depression didn't make matters easy for his mother and father, either.
Iba offered Reynolds some advice. At this point, he was good at baseball that he felt a closer tie to it. Iba encouraged him to stay on the diamond, and he had some insider information as well--the Cleveland Indians were closely scouting him. The gamble paid off, as Cleveland scout Red Alexander offered him a contract with a $1,000 bonus prior to the 1939 season. Reynolds jumped at the opportunity and his road to the big leagues began.
Impressing the right person
Reynolds did not experience the easiest road to the majors. He was adequate but not overly impressive in his first two years in the minors with Class C Springfield and Class B Cedar Rapids. His ERA hovered around 3.60 with high WHIP and walk rates, and he faced prejudice based on his Native American heritage, too. He threw hard but often exhausted himself, rendering him unable to complete games. He was called a "yellow Indian," "the Vanishing American," or worse by fans as he left the mound; sometimes, even reporters mocked him.
1941 was rock bottom for Reynolds, as he posted a 4.71 ERA, saw his WHIP jump to 1.65, and struggled to justify his career given how much he missed his family. He now had a third child and had just three games above Class B ball at age 24. This was a crossroads. Fortunately, he stepped his game up in 1942 with a sparkling 1.56 ERA in 231 innings that paired nicely with an 18-7 record. It was enough to instill confidence in his game, and to receive his first cup of coffee in the major leagues at the very end of '42 with two games in Cleveland.
The next few seasons offered an opportunity for Reynolds, who was not a draft prospect for World War II given his three children and football injuries. The results were hit-and-miss. He led the American League in strikeouts during his first full season in '43 with 151, and his 3.16 ERA was right around league-average during those wartime years. He still battled control problems though, even leading the AL in walks in 1945 with 130. He had about two WAR per season, which was okay but not overwhelming
When the rest of the big-league talent returned from the war in 1946, it was a rude awakening for Reynolds. He fell to an 85 ERA+ in 183 1/3 innings, and more importantly for the time, saw his record dip to 11-15. Cleveland lost confidence in Reynolds and sought to deal him in the off-season. Second baseman Joe Gordon also had an off-year in '46 for the Yankees, and an opportunity emerged. Cleveland wanted Gordon and told the Yankees that they could have him for either Reynolds or Red Embree, another somewhat disappointing starter in his late twenties.
The Yankees went to perhaps their most trusted source for the answer: Joe DiMaggio. The legend replied that Reynolds was the best starter that Cleveland had aside from future Hall of Famer Bob Feller, which was a bit of a surprising statement given his '46 growing pains. Reynolds had held DiMaggio to a .522 OPS in 21 plate appearances though, so something was working. He said, "Take Reynolds. I'm a fastball hitter, but he can buzz his hard one by me any time he has mind to."
So the deal was made on October 11, 1946--the middle of the World Series no less (Alex Rodriguez would be proud). It turned out to be a win/win for both teams, as Gordon returned to form and helped Cleveland win the 1948 World Series, but eventual five-time champion Allie Reynolds was a Yankee.
Ace in the hole
The Yankees immediately set about making Reynolds a better player. Former MVP pitcher Spud Chandler took Reynolds aside and lectured him on the finer arts of pitching, insisting that he didn't need to blow people away with his fastball or "rising fastball" (Yogi Berra later called it a modern-day cutter). He promptly threw shutouts in each of his first two career starts in pinstripes, blanking the Senators and the defending AL champion Red Sox.
Manager Bucky Harris put his faith in Reynolds, who ended up throwing 17 complete games and 241 2/3 innings for the Yankees as they won the AL pennant. Reynolds posted career-bests in several categories, earning some down-ballot MVP votes in the process. He set the tone for his World Series career by firing a complete game in his playoff debut, beating the Brooklyn Dodgers 9-3 in Game 2. He faltered in Game 6, but the Yankees finished Brooklyn off the next day anyway, and Reynolds had his first World Series ring.
Harris was unable to defend the Yankees' pennant and found himself fired at the end of the '48 season. It was a big year in another sense for the team though, as it was the first that saw Reynolds in the same rotation as both Eddie Lopat and Vic Raschi. The three became close friends pitching alongside each other and remained that way for the rest of their lives.
Now under Casey Stengel's management, Reynolds was named an All-Star for the first of five times in '49 and the Yankees just narrowly edged out the Red Sox for the pennant on the last day of the season. Reynolds started the World Series opener and locked horns with Brooklyn's Don Newcombe in a tense scoreless game. The man Stengel called "Superchief" emerged victorious when Tommy Henrich belted the first walk-off homer in World Series history to win the game in the bottom of the ninth, 1-0.
In typical Stengel fashion, he brought Reynolds back in relief three days later to throw 3 1/3 frames of perfect ball with five strikeouts to save a 6-4 victory. The Yankees took home the crown again. In 1950, Stengel did almost the same thing after securing another pennant. Reynolds went 10 innings to beat the Phillies in Game 2 by a score of 2-1, and this time just two days later, Reynolds returned to the mound in Game 4, this time in relief of a rookie named Eddie Ford. The right-hander fanned Stan Lopata to secure the World Series sweep:
Over the last four years of his career, Stengel continued to use Reynolds in a hybrid starter/reliever role, as he averaged 22 starts and 14 relief outings per year. (Keep in mind that in those days, good relievers usually went multiple innings.) Reynolds took to it quite well, and the rest of the league knew just how dominant he was in that role, too. Stengel once said "Reynolds was two ways great, which is starting and relieving, which no one can do like him. He has guts and his courage is simply tremendous."
He finished third and second in AL MVP voting in '51 and '52, respectively. That '52 season was truly triumphant, as he also led the AL in ERA (2.06) and strikeouts (160).
The Yankees kept taking home titles those years, and one of the reasons was the excellence of emerging catcher Yogi Berra. Reynolds, Raschi, and Lopat took it upon themselves to mentor him in how to handle a pitching staff, not relying so much on Stengel himself for the signs. Thanks in part to their efforts, Berra became a three-time MVP and the most respected catcher in the game.
A superb playoff pitcher, Reynolds had a 2.79 ERA in 15 career World Series games, and that was even including a poor showing in his '53 World Series finale. Nonetheless, he was there for all of the record five straight World Series titles, cementing his spot in Yankees history.
By the '54 season, Reynolds was growing weary of the game. He was 37 years old and unhappy with how the Yankees treated his good friend Raschi, dealing the veteran away rather than paying him a little more money. He stuck around to see if the team could win one more pennant, but his old teammates in Cleveland won a then-league record 111 games to snatch the title away despite the Yankees' own 103 victories.
As if that wasn't enough, Reynolds also hurt his back in a crash in Philadelphia when the team bus hit an overpass. Everyone was fine, but his back was never the same. So he called it a career just before the beginning of the '55 season and went on to find success in the industry.
Reynolds was also deeply committed to causes. He was a former American League player representative and helped negotiate a pension for the players, something badly needed, especially in the days before free agency. He was involved in Native American heritage programs and dedicated himself to improving YMCA programs and was so well-liked that his alma mater, Oklahoma State, named their baseball stadium in his honor. The Yankees gave him an honor too, enshrining him in Monument Park in 1989.
Although Reynolds passed away at age 79 on the day after Christmas in 1994 due to complications related to lymphoma and diabetes, he will always be fondly remembered in Yankees history. He was essential to some of the greatest seasons the Yankees have ever had.
Andrew's rank: 56
Tanya's rank: 65
Community rank: 43.9
WAR rank: 66
|NYY (8 yrs)||131||60||3.30||3.74||295||209||70||96||27||40||1700.0||1500||695||624||111||819||967||40||4||46||85||97||19.8||21.0|
Stats from Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs
Appel, Marty. Pinstripe Empire: The New York Yankees from Before the Babe to After the Boss. New York: Bloomsbury, 2012.
Creamer, Robert W. Stengel: His Life and Times. New York: Simon & Schuster Inc., 1984.
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.
Halberstam, David. Summer of '49. New York: HarperCollins, 1989.
Smith, Claire. "Allie Reynolds, Star Pitcher For Yankees, Is Dead at 79," New York Times, 28 Dec. 1994.