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The divergent paths of the 1924 Yankees’ rookies

Some players go on to hall of fame careers, others get one at-bat.

Detroit Tigers v New York Yankees - Game One Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

This season has seen the Yankees play a lot of top prospects over the course of the year. Some, like Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez, had played before this season, but have really entrenched themselves in the lineup for the future. Others haven’t quite locked down a future major league spot, but are still young and have time.

In 1924, the Yankees had several notable rookies. On one hand, there were people like Lou Gehrig and Earle Combs.

Gehrig had gotten some at-bats the previous season, but was still technically a rookie in 1924. He got just 12 at-bats, and picked up hits in half of them.

Combs got 35 at-bats in the first year of what would end up being a hall of fame career. He ended the season with an OPS over 1.000, and ended up being a fixture in the Yankees’ lineup for the next 11 years.

Some of the other Yankees’ rookies went on to have 10+ year career but weren’t quite on the same level. Milt Gaston and Harvey Hendrick started their careers with the Yankees before both went on to play several years for other teams. George Pipgras and Benny Bengough, meanwhile, went on to each win several World Series’ titles as members of the Yankees.

Then there’s the randoms. Many players make their debut every year and go on to have short and mostly anonymous careers. The Yankees had several of those players in 1924. Because it’s the 1920s, some of the stories are strange.

One of them was Ben Shields, who nearly made his debut in the 1923 World Series, didn’t, and then had his career cut short after getting hit by a Babe Ruth batting practice line drive. There was Ben Paschal, who was still technically a rookie that year, despite being 28. Paschal made his major league debut over nine years before that with Cleveland. He didn’t surpass the traditional rookie status limits until the following year, a full decade after his first appearance.

Two Yankees made their debuts and only got one career at-bat with the team.

Mack Hillis came in for Aaron Ward late in a game against the White Sox. He went 0-1 in his only at-bat, but is still credited for scoring a run. Presumably, he reached on a fielder’s choice and came all the way around to score. That would be Hillis’ only game as a Yankee, but he later resurfaced with the Pirates four years later. He finished with a .806 OPS in 36 at-bats, but didn’t play again in the majors after that.

Chick Autry also only got one at-bat as a Yankee, but his ended far more painfully. In the late innings of an April game, Autry came in as a replacement for catcher Wally Schang. When he came up to the plate, Autry was hit by a pitch. He did not play another major league game until September that year, but even then he didn’t get another at-bat.

Autry finished his season with a 1.000 OPS and a divide by zero error for both batting average and slugging percentage. He did make it back to the majors with Cleveland two years later, and played parts of five more seasons with them and the White Sox.

One other rookie for the Yankees that year was Shags Horan.

Horan received comparisons to Babe Ruth, but considering most people haven’t heard of him, that was inaccurate. He played in 22 games and got 33 at-bats, collecting nine hits, but only one for extra bases.

His most notable moment came from him tweaking a hall of famer. In a late season game against the Tigers, the Yankees were in need of a win in a tight race for the American League. At one point Horan flung dirt at Ty Cobb, trying to goad him into a fight. Cobb, who was player-manager for the Tigers, just threatened to acquire Horan and send him to the minor leagues. The dirt flinging didn’t work as the Tigers won the game, and the Yankees finished in second, two games behind the Senators.

Horan didn’t play in the majors again after 1924. Cobb and the Tigers didn’t acquire him, but he did end up coming out on top between the two.

Some of the Yankee players who made their debut this year might not end up amounting to much, but that’s the case with all rookie classes. It’s unlikely in the year 2017 that one of them will fling dirt at a hall of famer, trying to start a fight.

Sources

https://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/NYY/1924.shtml

https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/p/paschbe01.shtml

https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/h/hillima01.shtml

https://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/CHA/CHA192409130.shtml

https://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/WS1/WS1192404200.shtml

https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/a/autrych02.shtml

https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/h/horansh01.shtml

https://www.baseball-reference.com/leagues/AL/1924.shtml

Stanton, Tom. Ty and the Babe: baseballs fiercest rivals: a surprising friendship and the 1941 Has-Beens Golf Championship. New York, Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martins Griffin, 2008.