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Pinstripe Alley Top 100 Yankees: #53 George Selkirk

The man doomed to be known as Babe Ruth’s successor turned out to be a pretty fine player himself.

George Selkirk
Bettmann/Getty Images

Name: George Alexander Selkirk
Position: Outfield
Born: January 4, 1908 (Huntsville, ON, Canada)
Died: January 19, 1987 (Fort Lauderdale, FL)
Yankee Years: 1934-42
Primary number: 3
Yankee statistics: 846 G, .290/.400/.483, 131 2B, 41 3B, 108 HR, 128 wRC+, 22.1 rWAR, 23.7 fWAR


Imagine that you're George Selkirk. You've fought your way through the minor leagues, survived four years with the same minor league team, and after a couple more seasons, you finally get a chance in The Show. It took until you turned 26, but you play well in 46 games in your debut.

Then the New York Yankees ask you to replace Babe Ruth.

It was an impossible task, and Selkirk never made any attempt to try to be the same monumental figure. He just wasn't. What Selkirk was though turned out to be good enough for Joe McCarthy's Yankees, who won four World Series in a row with him in the outfield. He thrived in the role and became one of the more underrated Yankees to grace the field.

Finding the right team. Literally.

A Canadian by birth, Selkirk was born on January 4, 1908 to mortician George Selkirk and his wife Margaret in Huntsville, Ontario, about 150 miles north of Toronto. They lived there until George, Sr.'s retirement, at which time they crossed the border and moved to Rochester, New York. George had two siblings around to help keep him active, but he was very involved in sports at school as well. He attended Rochester Tech, where he caught on the baseball team and wrestled.

The local minor-league team, the Rochester Tribe, took notice, and quickly signed Selkirk after his graduation in 1927. He only played four games though, and then was claimed by the Eastern Shore League's Cambridge Canners. His targeted first game with them turned into complete confusion that could only happen in this random era of minor-league baseball.

Cambridge's opponent that day was the Crisfield Crabbers, and Selkirk walked into the visiting locker room by mistake. Manager Mike Pasquella was very confused, as by coincidence, he had sent for an outfielder to provide help, and there was Selkirk in his catcher's gear. Pasquella told him that they didn't need a catcher, but not wanting to disappoint, Selkirk insisted that he could play the outfield. So he went ahead and started that day for Crisfield, not receiving any chances in the outfield, but getting a pair of hits. After the game, everyone was confused by the new player, especially Selkirk himself. Selkirk did end up with Cambridge eventually, with whom he hit .348 with a .455 slugging percentage in 35 games from the left side of the plate.

The next year, Selkirk was signed to a contract by the Jersey City Skeeters of the International League. He would be on that club for the next four years, fully transitioning to the outfielder's role and gradually getting better at the plate. At age 22 in 1930, he hit .324 with 16 homers and a .506 slugging percentage in 154 games, and though he fell a little shy of those marks in '31, it was evident that Selkirk was ready for a bigger challenge.

It was easy for the Yankees to scout nearby Jersey City, and general manager Ed Barrow decided that Selkirk was worth a look. The only problem was that there wasn't much room on the major-league squad. The outfield was stacked with Ruth, Earle Combs, and Ben Chapman. Even the extras on the bench were pretty good in Dixie Walker and Samuel Byrd.

So Selkirk was stuck roaming the system until he had a chance. He played in Newark, Columbus, Toronto, and even back in Rochester for a little while, waiting for the right time. It came along with the untimely end of a Hall of Fame career (though not the one that first jumps to mind).

Twinkletoes Time

Selkirk card WikiCommons - public domain

Selkirk's Play Ball card

It was a mid-July game in St. Louis where everything changed for Selkirk. The Cooperstown-bound outfielder Combs darted back on a fly ball and unceremoniously crashed into the concrete left field wall. He fractured his skull, broke a shoulder, ended his season, and was never the same again. It was an awful break for the Yankees, but though the circumstances could have been better, it was just the break that Selkirk's career needed at age 26.

Within a couple weeks, Selkirk was up at the MLB level. In fact, his MLB debut foreshadowed what was soon to happen, as he entered mid-game on August 12th to replace Ruth during the star's final game at Fenway Park. Although the Yankees couldn't quite chase down the Tigers for the AL pennant, Selkirk acquitted himself well in his rookie campaign. He had been hitting .357 in Newark and was more than ready, batting .313/.370/.449 with five homers in 46 games down the stretch.

Manager Joe McCarthy took notice, as did his new teammates, who nicknamed him "Twinkletoes" for the odd way in which he ran around the bases. The front office knew he was no joke though. In February, they shocked the sports world by parting with the legendary Ruth shortly after his 40th birthday. He was not the same player he once was, but he had still belted 22 homers with a .537 slugging percentage the year before.

Nonetheless, the Yankees felt ready to move on, giving the job to Selkirk. He even took on Ruth's old number, embracing the challenge. It was a tough move to make, but it turned out to the correct one. Ruth played in just 28 more games with the Boston Braves before calling it a career. After a vote of confidence from McCarthy, Selkirk took the job running, going on a tear by almost exactly replicating the fine numbers in the smaller sample from the year before. He hit .312/.372/.487 with a 123 wRC+ in 128 games. Detroit again beat them out for the pennant, but Selkirk had their future looking brighter.

In 1936, another young outfielder took New York by storm, one even better than Selkirk: Joe DiMaggio. The "Yankee Clipper" put together one of the greatest rookie seasons of all-time and combined with Lou Gehrig to help lead the Yankees back into the World Series. They didn't do it alone though, and Selkirk was a pivotal member of the core around the two icons. He was sensational, named to the All-Star team for the first time and batting .308/.420/.511 with 18 homers and a 131 wRC+.

The '36 Fall Classic against the New York Giants was Selkirk's October debut, and it turned out to be his best. In his first World Series at-bat, he crushed a homer to deep right field off Hall of Famer Carl Hubbell to put the Yankees in front, though it was their only score on the day and they fell, 6-1. Selkirk had hits in each of the next three games as the Yankees won each of them to surge ahead in the series, three games to one.

Selkirk homered again in the extra-innings Game 5 loss, and finished the series with hits in every contest thanks to a multi-hit finale in Game 6, notching a 1.095 OPS in total. He tripled in front of Jake Powell's two-run homer, and with the strength of a seven-run ninth, the Yankees captured their fifth World Series title. He would have been a World Series MVP contender if the award existed.

Selkirk homer

The Yankees defended their crown in '37 and '38 as Selkirk continued to produce for them, despite being limited by a broken collarbone and sore right wrist in each respective season. He was terrific in game action, hitting .286/.395/.504 with 28 homers in 177 games between the two years. The Yankees beat the Giants in five games in the '37 series and swept the Cubs in '38. Selkirk's performance was impaired, but he did provide big RBI hits in both series openers and a two-run double in Game 2 of the '37 series.

Selkirk returned to the All-Star team in '39 with a career year. He belted a personal best of 21 homers, scored 103 runs, drew 103 walks, and peaked at 5.4 rWAR. The Yankees needed that kind of presence in the lineup with Gehrig's tragic decline due to the disease that now bears his name, and Selkirk (among others) was able to step up. The Yankees romped to their fourth straight championship with 106 wins and a sweep of the Reds in the World Series. Improbably, Selkirk now had as many Yankees World Series rings as Ruth.

Veteran becomes a veteran

Although Selkirk's batting average dipped in 1940, he was otherwise quite good at the plate. He registered his fourth season with an over-.400 OBP, bashed 19 homers, and put up 3.1 WAR. Due to slight declines throughout the team though, the Yankees could not win a fifth straight pennant. The Tigers returned to the top, beating the Yankees out by two games.

1941 was only Selkirk's eighth year in the majors, but he already fighting Father Time. The Yankees' early '30s outfield crowd forced him to wait over 26 and a half years to debut, and now he was 33. So Selkirk's decline in '41 was unfortunate, but hardly surprising. On a lesser team, he might have appeared in more games despite missing most of July, but the Yankees had the surging Tommy Henrich and Charlie Keller to pick up the slack alongside DiMaggio. He was still a highly respected figure in the clubhouse, and a man who McCarthy would often reference as a fine example.

Selkirk might have only had two at-bats in the World Series that year, but the Yankees got him his fifth World Series ring anyway with a five-game victory over the Brooklyn Dodgers. They won the pennant again in '42 with Selkirk in a reduced role, but fell to the St. Louis Cardinals.

When Uncle Sam came calling, it spelled the end of Selkirk's career. He was approaching his 35th birthday, wasn't the same player he once was, and had already achieved many highlights, winning five World Series, smacking 108 homers, and making two All-Star teams. It was time to go. His final MLB at-bat came in a pinch-hit role in Game 5 of the '42 World Series on October 5, 1942.

Selkirk served in the Navy in World War II, becoming an aerial gunner while leading recruits in shooting drills. When he returned to the Yankees after the war, the team gave him his release, but wanted to keep him in the organization. So he joined the team for which he once played, the Newark Bears. He even appeared in 31 games in a player-manager role in '46 with an .872 OPS at age 38 before officially ending his playing career.

Selkirk spent the next seven years watching a plethora of talent flow through his ranks, whether he was managing in Newark, Binghamton, or Kansas City. Future Hall of Famers Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, and Whitey Ford were just a few of the several remarkable names to spend time with Selkirk before going on to championship glory with Casey Stengel's dynasty.

A dispute with management led Selkirk to leave the only organization he'd known in 1953 after 21 years. He managed minor clubs for the Milwaukee Braves for three years before the Kansas City Athletics asked him to join their front office in 1957. Selkirk spent the next 13 seasons with the A's, Orioles, and Senators in various roles until Washington let him go in early 1969.

Selkirk spent the rest of his days with his wife Norma in Florida. When the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame was created in 1983, he was among the six chosen for the inaugural class. Four years later, he passed away due to an illness on the morning of January 19, 1987, not long after his 79th birthday.

The man was given a tall task in filling the shoes of a legend, but he held up his end of the bargain. Instead of shriveling, Selkirk became a valued member of a dynasty team and served the Yankees in a number of roles after retirement, too. Plus, he hit 69 homers in Yankee Stadium, the nicest stat of all. That's certainly a career worth commendation.

Andrew’s rank: 48
Tanya’s rank: 52
Community rank: 63.5
WAR rank: 53.0

Season Stats

1934 26 NYY 46 192 176 23 55 7 1 5 38 1 1 15 17 .313 .370 .449 .819 116 79 1.1 1.1
1935 27 NYY 128 541 491 64 153 29 12 11 94 2 7 44 36 .312 .372 .487 .859 125 239 3.9 3.9
1936 28 NYY 137 593 493 93 152 28 9 18 107 13 7 94 60 .308 .420 .511 .931 132 252 4.3 4.6
1937 29 NYY 78 293 256 49 84 13 5 18 68 8 2 34 24 .328 .411 .629 1.040 156 161 3.2 3.6
1938 30 NYY 99 406 335 58 85 12 5 10 62 9 4 68 52 .254 .384 .409 .793 99 137 1.1 1.4
1939 31 NYY 128 537 418 103 128 17 4 21 101 12 5 103 49 .306 .452 .517 .969 148 216 5.4 5.7
1940 32 NYY 118 470 379 68 102 17 5 19 71 3 6 84 43 .269 .406 .491 .896 135 186 3.1 3.2
1941 33 NYY 70 195 164 30 36 5 0 6 25 1 0 28 30 .220 .340 .360 .700 86 59 0.2 0.4
1942 34 NYY 42 95 78 15 15 3 0 0 10 0 0 16 8 .192 .330 .231 .561 60 18 -0.2 -0.1
9 Yrs 846 3322 2790 503 810 131 41 108 576 49 32 486 319 .290 .400 .483 .883 127 1347 22.1 23.7

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.

BR Bullpen

Detroit Free Press. "Selkirk Also Began as Catcher," 13 Dec. 1936.

Jonathan Eig. Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005.

New York Times. "Obituaries: George Selkirk," 20 Jan. 1987.


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