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The unlikely comeback of Ralph Buxton

Very few players get a second chance after spending a decade out of the majors.

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

Ahead of the 1949 season, the Yankees hired Casey Stengel as manager. While he had managed in the majors before, in the years prior to his hiring, Stengel was in charge of the Oakland Oaks in the Pacific Coast League.

Presumably because of that, several players with PCL experience from the prior few seasons made their way through New York in 1949. None of them had quite as weird a trajectory as Ralph Buxton.

Buxton first shows up in minor league stats in 1934. The Canadian played for various minor league teams, including the PCL version of the Los Angeles Angels, before the Philadelphia Athletics picked him up October 1937.

He spent much of the 1938 season in the minor leagues, before making his major league debut at the age of 27 on September 11th. Buxton made five appearances that September. After a rocky debut where he gave up four runs in 3.1 innings, he allowed one run across six more innings that year.

Despite the fine results, Buxton was sent back to the PCL after the season, and he would be there a while. Buxton played for the Oaks from 1939 to 1948, with a two-year break thrown in there, presumably due to military service.

With the Yankees holding a slight lead in late July, Stengel decided to bolster the pitching staff. To do that, he went out and got Buxton, who had last pitched in the majors nearly 11 years prior to that. It makes some amount of sense considering how he had played for Stengel in Oakland. His seasons in the PCL were almost all pretty good as well.

He made his Yankees’ debut on July 30th, allowing a run in 2.1 innings. In total, Buxton made 14 appearances for the Yankees that year. He did somewhat shore up the pitching staff, as he had a 4.05 ERA in 26.2 innings, which was right around average.

Buxton returned to the minor leagues after that season, and played through the 1952 season. His gap between major league games isn’t even a Yankee record, as Paul Schreiber went over 20 years between appearances. However, Schreiber was used in an emergency, and he was already around and on the Yankees’ payroll. Buxton was a deliberate acquisition.

While someday there may be some heart-warming story of someone making it back to the majors after 10 years in the minors, it’s unlikely. In this case, Buxton had his connections to thank.

Sources

https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/b/buxtora01.shtml

Turbow, Jason, and Michael Duca. The Baseball Codes: Beanballs, Sign Stealing, and Bench-Clearing Brawls: the Unwritten Rules of Americas Pastime. Anchor Books, 2011.

Keisser, Bob. Baseball in Long Beach. The History Press, 2013.