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Yankees History: The Ultimate Bench Guy

Jack Reed was quite the statistical anomaly when it comes to playing time.

New York Yankees v Chicago White Sox Photo by Kidwiler Collection/Diamond Images via Getty Images

While rule additions in recent years have curbed it somewhat, September is often a time of bench guys. From back of back of the bullpen arms to designated pinch runners, September can be a month that really messes with you when trying to remembers players from a given year. One of the most famous Yankees of that type in recent years was Rico Noel. In 2015, Noel was the designated pinch runner as the Yankees battled for the division and a playoff spot. He appeared in 15 games that season, but ended up making just two plate appearances.

Noel is far from the only Yankee who’s had more games played than plate appearances over the years. However, most of them are either A.) pitchers, who especially since the advent of the DH, rarely get hitting opportunities or B.) only played in a handful of games, like Noel. There are a few exceptions though, and the most notable, and arguably the ultimate bench guy from Yankees’ history is Jack Reed.

A multi-sport athlete, Reed played on all of the baseball, football, and track and field teams in college at Ole Miss. He would go on to be one of just a handful of players to take part in both a major college football bowl game and a World Series, which he would achieve with the Yankees. As for the football half of that, he helped Ole Miss to an appearance in the 1953 Sugar Bowl, where they fell to eventual co-national champion Georgia Tech.

Later in 1953, Reed turned professional in baseball and signed a contract with the Yankees. He spent the next couple years putting up solid numbers in the minors, but the Yankees weren’t exactly lacking in the outfield department in that era. After missing the entire 1956 and ‘57 seasons while serving in the military, Reed returned to the Yankees’ system and would spend another couple seasons in the minors.

In 1961, Ralph Houk was named the new Yankees manager, which would be good news for Reed. While Houk had spent the previous couple seasons on the big league coaching staff, he had previously managed in the Yankees’ minor league system and knew the players in it well. Houk had a liking for Reed, who would make the Opening Day roster for the Yankees in ‘61. He would make his major league debut in the eighth game of the season, coming in to play center field for Mickey Mantle in the eighth inning of a 4-1 loss to the Orioles.

That’s the role Reed would spend much of the season in, as he had a prime seat for Roger Maris, Mantle, and the rest of that historic season. While he would play in 28 games in 1961, Reed only started three of them and made just 14 plate appearances on the year. In the World Series that year, he came in to play center field in the ninth inning of three Yankees wins, and was on the field as the Yankees won the series-clinching Game 5.

Next year would see Reed play a similar role, although he did record his first and only big league home run, a pivotal one in an absolutely wild game. On June 24th against the Tigers, Reed hit the go-ahead and eventual game-winning homer in a 22-inning victory, the longest game in Yankees history. He would also collect another World Series ring in ‘62, although he wouldn’t appear in the series this time.

In 1963, Reed would appear in a career-high 106 games, which was actually more than either Mantle or Maris. However, again, his role was as a bench guy, and he still got way fewer trips to the plate than either. The Yankees would fall in that year’s World Series, with Reed again not making an appearance in the series.

Having not come up to the bigs until he was already 28, Reed’s MLB career would end up a short one. He returned to the minors next year and did play 77 games, but he took on a player-coach role. He then spent a couple seasons managing in the minors before returning back to his home town to manage the family farm.

For his career, Jack Reed appeared in 222 games as a Yankee. In them, he made just 144 plate appearances, having hit .233/.308/.326, good for a 76 OPS+. The fact that he was an outfielder and often came in for Mantle got him the nickname “Mantle’s Legs” a la Samuel Byrd being called “Babe Ruth’s Legs.” Not counting pitchers, 222 games is by far the most amount of games played by a Yankee who didn’t averaged 1 PA per game.

As mentioned, players that usually happened to didn’t stick around for very long. Reed did, and that’s because he clearly had something about him that teammates and coaches appreciated, making him the ultimate bench guy.

Sources

https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/Jack-Reed/

https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/r/reedja01.shtml

https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/Ralph-Houk/