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Pinstripe Alley Top 100 Yankees: #69 Tom Tresh

Tom Tresh was a consistent, multi-positional player who thrived during a transitional period for the Yankees.

New York Yankees v Boston Red Sox Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Name: Thomas Michael Tresh
Position: Shortstop, Outfield
Born: September 20, 1938 (Detroit, MI)
Died: October 14, 2008 (Venice, FL)
Yankee Years: 1961-69
Primary number: 15
Yankee statistics: 1,098 G, .247/.337/.413, 166 2B, 33 3B, 140 HR, 116 wRC+, 21.4 rWAR, 22.7 fWAR

Biography

Tom Tresh was a multi-positional All-Star and World Series Champion who embodied what it meant to be a team player. He was a model of consistency despite the frequently changing environment around him, one who bridged the gap between the powerhouse Yankees and a team in transition. Despite a mishandled injury that ultimately ended his career, Tom Tresh put together a successful career for a man who grew up around the game. His offensive consistency and ability to flourish in both the infield and outfield lands him at #69 on our list of Top 100 Yankees of all time.

All In The Family

When we talk about the start of a baseball career, we often refer to classic milestones of a player, such as being drafted or signed. For Tom Tresh, his baseball career likely started the second he could pick up a baseball. Tom’s father Michael spent over a decade as a big league catcher for the Chicago White Sox. He amassed over 1,000 games in the majors and was named an All-Star in 1945. The baseball framework for Tom was set at a young age, as exposure to the clubhouse and the major league lifestyle was engrained into the impressionable youth. Learning to bat in Comiskey Park must have been a dream scenario for a kid. “My dad and I would go out to the center-field fence and he’d pitch to me…we used the fence as a backstop” Tresh once stated.

Tresh was born in Detroit, Michigan right at the start of his father’s MLB career, and despite the family time spent in Chicago growing up, Tresh would ultimately attend high school in the Detroit area. Something that seemed much more common back then, Tresh was a three-sport athlete in high school. His accomplishments on the baseball field at Allen Park High School caught the eyes of scouts, including the Yankees, but his parents convinced him that college was the proper route for him.

Tresh spent a year as the shortstop for Central Michigan, but a $30,000 offer from the New York Yankees was enough for Tresh to convince his parents to put his education on hold. Keeping his word to his parents, Tresh would eventually finish his college degree at Central Michigan. But now, Tresh was a member of the New York Yankees.

NY Yankee Outfielder Tom Tresh at Yankee Stadium

Big League Taste

After signing with the Yankees in 1958 at the age of 19-years-old, Tresh got off to a hot start with the Class D St. Petersburg Saints. His .316 average over 126 games earned him a late-season call-up to Double-A ball. The promotion may have been premature, as Tresh struggled. Tresh returned to lower-level baseball in 1959, but continued his move up the Yankees farm system in 1960, playing 133 games with the Binghamton Triplets in A-ball. Despite hitting only .241 in 1960, Tresh was promoted to Triple-A Richmond in 1961. The move paid off for the Yankees, as Tresh took full advantage of his promotion to the highest level of the minors—slashing .315/.380/.428 in 141 games at shortstop—winning International League MVP honors.

The methodical rise of Tresh through the minor league system coincided with a stretch of winning by the New York Yankees at the major league level. That also meant they had a prominent shortstop in the name of Tony Kubek. However, when the rosters expanded in September of 1961, the Yankees rewarded Tresh for his strong Triple-A season and promoted him to the majors. He was the only minor league call-up that season.

Tom Tresh made his major league debut as a pinch-runner on September 3, 1961, and collected his first major league hit on September 26th against the Orioles. Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle battled for the home run record that season and the Yankees went on to win the World Series. Tresh only appeared in nine games for the Yankees, none in the World Series.

Tresh had gotten a taste of big league play in 1961, but no one could have predicted what happened in 1962.

Baseball Greats Posing with Baseball Gloves

Thrust Into Action

In 1962, Tony Kubek’s National Guard Unit was called for active duty. The Yankees needed a shortstop, leaving an open competition between Tresh and Phil Linz for the starting job. Tresh’s ability as a switch-hitter played a role—a skillset that often drew comparisons between him and Mantle at the early stages of his career. The Yankees put their faith in Tresh and he did not disappoint, leading to one of the more surprising seasons in Yankee history. Tresh went on to hit .286 with 20 HRs. His 119 wRC+ earned him an All-Star selection and Rookie of the Year. He formed an impressive middle infield combination with mentor Bobby Richardson.

Tresh’s time at shortstop would be short-lived, as Kubek was discharged and returned to the team in August of that same season. The question then remained of how the sensational rookie would find playing time. Manager Ralph Houk had a plan—he would move Tresh to left field to play alongside his childhood idol and now outfield companion, Mantle. Like Richardson in the infield, Mantle took Tresh under his wing during his transition to the outfield. Mantle once stated, “I’ve played alongside a lot of left fielders, and Tresh rates as the best one.”

Tresh proved his worth as a valuable asset to the Yankees that regular season, including his willingness to be selfless in his transition to the outfield. He’d prove his worth again on the biggest stage. The Yankees won the pennant and played the San Francisco Giants in the World Series, and Tresh would go on to lead the Yankees in hits and average during the seven-game thriller.

With the series tied 2-2, and with Game 5 tied 2-2 in the eighth inning, Tresh came to the plate after back-to-back singles from Kubek and Richardson. Tresh proceeded to launch a three-run blast into the right field seats at Yankee Stadium, securing a Game 5 victory. The homerun invoked tears of joy from Tom’s parents, who were in attendance for their son’s big moment.

Tresh’s running catch in left field on a Willie Mays line drive in Game 7 likely saved a run for the Yankees, who went on to win the game 1-0 and earn a World Series Championship.

Consistent Amongst Change

Tresh followed up his outstanding rookie season with another All-Star campaign in 1963. His 141 wRC+, including 25 home runs, earned him an 11th-place finish for MVP. Tresh showed his versatility again, taking over center field duties for Mantle when he was lost for two months due to injury. Anything the Yankees needed Tresh to do, he did, which led the Yankees to a World Series appearance again in 1963. Tresh homered off of Sandy Koufax in Game 1 but the Yankees only managed to score four runs the entire series, which ended up being a four-game sweep at the hands of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Despite another World Series appearance in 1964, the Yankees were changing. Yogi Berra took over as manager, and the Yankees needed 11 straight wins in September to secure the pennant. Tresh’s average dipped to .246 that season, but he was still an above-average offensive player with a 111 wRC+. Despite his two home runs in the World Series, including one off of MVP Bob Gibson, the Yankees fell to the Cardinals in the World Series.

Berra was fired after the 1964 season and replaced by Johnny Keane (who was the manager of the same Cardinals team that beat the Yankees in the World Series the season prior). Tresh played every outfield position in 1964 and did the same in 1965. The new manager kept Tresh in the outfield and he went on to win a Gold Glove for the first time in his career. At the plate, he smacked 26 home runs and finished with a 136 wRC+. It was a bounce-back season for Tresh, but the Yankees freefell to a sub-.500 record for the first time in 40 years. This would be a sign of things to come for the remainder of Tresh’s Yankee career.

1966 saw the Yankees drop to last place, ultimately leading to the firing of Keane in May. Houk took over and moved Tresh to third base. Amongst the chaos of a managerial and position change, Tresh remained steady at the plate, knocking a career-high 27 home runs and amassing a 5.2 fWAR.

Tom Tresh Posing with Baseball Bat

Career Altering Injury

An injury to his knee during the second spring training game of the 1967 season left Tresh with a “sprain.” That play—a cross-body throw from the left field corner—changed his career forever. The sprain would later be diagnosed as torn cartilage, but the Yankees told Tresh to continue to play on the battered knee.

That decision sent Tresh into a steep decline that would ultimately end his career. Tresh had surgery at the end of the season, another stinker for the Yankees, but the damage had already been done—Tresh’s knee was destroyed. A return to shortstop in 1968 did not work out and Tresh hit .195. His knee and his play continued to get worse in 1969 and with his career and health in question, he requested a trade to the Tigers to be closer to home. The Yankees dealt Tresh on June 14th, ending his Yankee career.

Tresh finished the remainder of the season with the Tigers and tried to give it a go again in 1970. After an additional knee surgery that offseason, Detroit offered Tresh a rehab stint in the minors. At that point, Tresh decided to call it a career.

A Full Life

Tresh remained in Michigan after his playing days with his wife and four children. His son, Michael, was given the nickname “Mickey” after Tresh’s idol, turned teammate, turned friend when he was born in 1964.

Post playing days Tresh became an assistant baseball coach for 14 years at his alma mater Central Michigan. Tresh’s recognition as a Yankee served him well, often appearing at card shows and baseball events like Yankees Old-Timers’ Day. He passed away from a heart attack in October 2008, less than a month after the final game at the ballpark he once called home.

Tom Tresh was a versatile force at the plate and in the field. A strong contributor in both good times and bad for Yankees baseball, his professionalism despite an ever-changing environment around him should be celebrated. A World Series Championship, a Gold Glove, 3 All-Star appearances, and a Rookie of the Year award lands Tom Tresh at No. 69 on our Top 100 list.

Tom Tresh Hitting a Home Run Ball

Staff rank: 69
Community rank: 77
Stats rank: 61
2013 rank: 57

References

Appel, Marty. Pinstripe Empire: The New York Yankees from Before the Babe to After the Boss. New York: Bloomsbury, 2012.

Baseball Reference

BR Bullpen

Eng, Bernie. “Former CMU player and coach dies,” The Saginaw News, 17 Oct. 2008.

FanGraphs

Goldstein, Richard. “Tom Tresh, a Two-Time Yankees All-Star, Dies at 70,” New York Times, 16 Oct. 2008.

Halberstam, David. October 1964. New York: Open Road Media, 1994.

Leavy, Jane. The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Childhood. New York: HarperCollins, 2010.

Wancho, Joseph. SABR Bio

Pinstripe Alley

New York Times

Previously on the Top 100

70. Ben Chapman
Full list to date