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The most unfortunate debut in Yankees’ history

One Yankee pitcher did not get his career off to a great start in 1946.

New York Mets v New York Yankees - Game Two Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images

Karl Drews is not going to be a name that goes down in Yankees’ lore. He managed to have an eight-year MLB career, most of which came with the Phillies. However, he came up with the Yankees and had a couple years with the club, taking part in the 1947 World Series winning team.

However, before any of that, he had maybe the most unfortunate debut in Yankees’ history.

Born and raised in Staten Island, Drews signed with the Yankees out of high school after impressing at a tryout came 1938. Despite possessing a notable splitter, it took him several years to finally break through into the majors. He especially struggled with walks, issuing at least 5.7 per nine in his first four seasons in the minors.

Drews missed the entire 1943 season after attempting to enlist in the military, but getting rejected due to a heart murmur. After spending the season back on Staten Island working on the docks, he returned to baseball in ‘44. From there on, he seemed to get better about the walks, and had breakthrough seasons in 1945 and ‘46. Those couple years saw him finally get to the majors, eights years after he first signed, as the Yankees called him up in September 1946.

On September 8, 1946, he was given the start as the Yankees took on the Senators. Fittingly, after his minor league control issues, he walked the first batter he ever faced. A single and a hit-by-pitch the loaded the bases before Drews had record a single major league out. He got that first out in the next at-bat, but it came on a groundout that scored a run.

A double right after that scored another run before Drews issued an intentional walk to try and set up a double play. He then induced a pop fly for the second out, reaching the verge of escaping his first major league inning without the damage getting too bad. However, in the next at-bat, he made some sort of error without the ball being put in play, allowing a run to score and the other runners to both move up. After another intentional walk, he issued a regular base on balls, scoring another. Manager Bill Dickey removed him then, ending his debut at just 0.2 innings.

Two of the runners Drews left on base also came around to score. His final line for the day stood at six runs allowed on two hits and four walks in 0.2 innings. Eighteen Yankees’ starters have allowed at least six runs in their major league debuts. The next shortest outing belongs to Jake Westbrook in 2000, and he went 1.2 innings.

Also, weirdly, the game only lasted eight innings due to darkness, despite the fact that lights had been installed nearly a decade prior.

Drews appeared in two more games out of the bullpen that year, and then spent most of 1947 with the team in the majors. He didn’t put up great numbers in a swingman role, but pitched in the World Series, allowing one run in three innings.

After starting the 1948 season with the Yankees, he was purchased by the St. Louis Browns that August. He wasn’t great there, and was eventually purchased by a minor league team. While playing there in 1950, a freak incident while covering first base led to him to get hit in the temple by a baserunner’s knee, causing a gruesome injury. Luckily, he ended up being okay and got back to pitching a couple months later.

According to him at least, the injury also seemed to help his pitching. He said after suffering it, he took his time more on the mound and it helped his control. Drews impressed after that, and reappeared with the Phillies in 1951 and played four more major league seasons. While he still was by no means an ace, the walks which had plagued his early career dwindled. In the first half of his MLB career, he walked 5.6 hitters per nine innings. In the last four years of his career, that number was just 2.4. He played in the minors through the 1960 season before retiring.

Karl Drews lasted eight years in the majors, which is pretty good. The fact that he did so after a complete nightmare of a debut is nothing to scoff at.


Baseball Reference Stathead

New York Times, September 9, 1946