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Pinstripe Alley Top 100 Yankees: #55 Hank Bauer

Bauer provided grit and discipline to the 1950s Yankees, and his tangible leadership kept the locker room unified.

Hank Bauer Photo by Photo File/Getty Images

Name: Henry Albert “Hank” Bauer
Position: Right field
Born: July 31, 1922 (East St. Louis, IL)
Died: February 9, 2007 (Lenexa, KS)
Yankee Years: 1948-59
Primary number: 9
Yankee statistics: 1,406 G, 5,373 PA, .277/.347/.444, 211 2B, 56 3B, 158 HR, 116 wRC+, 26.1 fWAR

Biography

Our Top 100 list is littered with Yankees of the legendary Fifties and Sixties teams, and Hank Bauer was a vital part of their stories. Bauer was the grit-and-grind heart and soul of those teams, and contributed to seven World Series championships.

The son of Austrian immigrants, Hank was the youngest of nine children. His father was a laborer and instilled a blue collar attitude into a young Hank. Two of his older brothers made forays into pro ball before Hank — Herman Bauer was transcendentally talented and was rocketing up the Chicago White Sox minor league ladder. He used his connections to get Hank a tryout in 1941, and at the age of 18, he successfully hooked on with the Oshkosh Giants.

Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941, and in an instant, everything changed. Herman, on the cusp of the big leagues, enlisted in the armed forces and Hank followed him in. Herman was tragically killed in action in France. Hank faced intense combat in the Pacific Theater and was wounded in action at Guadalcanal. He’d later receive two Bronze Stars and three Purple Hearts during more than two years of continuous service. Then a sergeant, Hank led a platoon of Marines at the Battle of Okinawa and suffered a shrapnel wound in his thigh. It was severe enough that he was ordered to return to the States and recover.

Bauer found work in St. Louis as a pipe fitter, at which point the pinstripes came calling. He connected with Yankees scout Danny Menendez, who’d seen Bauer play before the war, and signed a contract for $175 a week.

Bauer, who turned 23 during his first full season of pro ball, dominated the minor leagues for three seasons while the big league team won the World Series in 1947. Bauer finally cracked the major league roster as a September call-up in 1948, and hit three singles in his debut.

A New Era

When Bauer came up, it was a time of mourning — Babe Ruth died on August 16, 1948 after a painful battle with cancer. Bauer was overmatched for the most part in his first cup of coffee, but in 1949, Casey Stengel took the helm, bringing better fortunes for both Bauer and the team.

In a signature Stengel move, Bauer fit into the Yankee lineup as a platoon player in his first full season, with Gene Woodling his counterpart. That combination continued for several years. The right-handed hitter Bauer compiled a 108 wRC+ in 1949, proving he belonged at the big league level. He also hit 10 home runs, the first of 158 in his Yankee career. He had the power for more, but Yankee Stadium’s infamous cavernous “Death Valley” left field nullified that somewhat.

1949 was a major return to form for the entire team. Yogi Berra contributed one of his finest years as a Yankee. As a whole, this was a team that relied on its superb pitching staff. Led by Eddie Lopat, Vic Raschi, and Allie Reynolds, Yankees hurlers allowed the fewest hits of any team in the AL, and the team finished with 97 wins.

Joe DiMaggio, the unquestioned clubhouse leader, fought through a debilitating foot injury, returning with a vengeance after missing the first half of the season, and by August the team was humming. They entered the final two games of the season one game behind the Red Sox for the American League lead. As fate would have it, those two games were against Boston at home. Stengel’s squad took advantage, winning both and snatching the pennant from the Sox in a deft lunge across the finish line. In the World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers, Bauer only got six at-bats. The Yankees won in five games, and Bauer tallied the first of seven championships as a Yankee.

World Series Heroes
Bauer, Jerry Coleman, Whitey Ford, and Stengel

In 1950, Stengel showed his faith in Bauer by giving him a steadily increasing role. Bauer met the challenge, hitting .320 in 458 plate appearances. The Yankees would end up winning 98 games and Phil Rizzuto stepped up as a key cog in the lineup, but DiMaggio struggled mightily.

The 1950 World Series was a show of force to begin the decade for the Yankees. They swept the Philadelphia Phillies without breaking a sweat. Bauer went just 2-for-15 in the series, but the Yankees picked up the slack. It was at this time Bauer’s reputation for toughness began to take shape. He was pragmatic in his approach, never afraid to hold his teammates to a high standard no matter who they were. Others brought more talent, but Bauer made himself indispensable in the locker room as well.

“He helped a lot of people get used to that New York environment. He was a tough person. Thank God he wasn’t mean. When he walked onto that field, business started.” — Don Larsen

The next year, Mickey Mantle set the baseball world ablaze. The rookie from rural Oklahoma made his mark immediately, and it’s no coincidence he shared an apartment with Bauer in the early years. Mantle always gave credit to Bauer as a role model and a leader. Their dynamic, though, was complicated, and they could indulge the worst impulses in one another.

In the latter half of ‘51 the Yankees once again stormed past their competition, this time Cleveland, with days to go in the season. They finally surged into first place after a September 17th victory over Bob Feller and company, in which Rizzuto dropped a stone-cold walk-off suicide squeeze to score DiMaggio. Bauer contributed heavily at multiple spots in the lineup, batting a consistent .296 with another 10 home runs, and patrolled right field.

The World Series featured the Yankees against the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” New York Giants, led by Bobby Thomson, Willie Mays, and Monte Irvin. The Yankees won in six games, and when Vic Raschi finished a dominant Game 6 performance, Bauer and the Yankees had their third consecutive World Series crown. The 29-year-old tripled in the go-ahead run in the finale and made a nice catch to close out the championship.

After another tough year, DiMaggio retired at the end of 1951, ending one era of dynastic excellence and starting another. Bauer and his teammates were ready to keep the good times going, even without their star.

The Roaring Fifties

1952 started inauspiciously, with the Yankees just 18-17 at the end of May. Once again, though, Stengel’s club found a way to bounce back, and finished with 95 wins and another pennant. The individual accomplishments piled up: Berra became the first AL catcher to hit 30 bombs in a season, and Mantle followed up with a strong sophomore season. Among it all, Bauer continued to hit and play a solid right field, turning in his best season yet. He finished with 3.9 fWAR and 17 home runs, netting his first AL All-Star selection. The Yankees met up with the Dodgers in the World Series, and it was an instant classic. Bauer played in all seven games but only collected one hit. He was relatively quiet in his first few years of postseason action outside of the ‘51 finale, but he’d more than make up for it later on.

In 1953, Bauer received a promotion to leadoff hitter and put up another All-Star season, hitting .304 with 3.2 fWAR setting the table for Berra and Mantle. He knew his role and saw an uptick in on-base percentage. According to Stengel, he was the “guy who happens to do everything right in any tough situation.” Before the days of radio talk show hosts raving about intangibles in a player, Bauer embodied the concept. The immensely talented Yankees cruised to a 99-52 record, performing well on both sides of the ball — the starting rotation was steady as ever and Lopat took the AL ERA crown. Bauer finally gained some postseason traction in the 1953 World Series. In six games, he contributed six hits and the Yankees defeated the Dodgers once again, and in his fifth full season, he had his fifth championship.

All good things must come to an end, and 1954 marked the end of that string of five consecutive World Series titles. The Yankees won 103 games, more than they had in any season under Stengel, but this time, a rival went above and beyond. New York finished second to the 111-win Cleveland juggernaut, who would go on to lose the ‘54 World Series. Bauer had another All-Star year, but at 2.5 fWAR, wasn’t quite up to his standards.

1955 was Bauer’s best single-season body of work in a Yankee uniform. He socked 20 home runs with a .360 on-base percentage, and the Yankees once again climbed the mountain to win the AL pennant. Bauer hit .429 in six World Series games, and while he exorcised some postseason demons, so did the rival Dodgers. They won their only championship in Brooklyn, dispatching the Bombers in seven.

The next year marked the start of a gradual decline for Bauer — at least in terms of regular-season performance. His age showed in 1956, and while he clubbed 26 dingers, his average (.241) and OPS+ (102) were their lowest since his 19-game cup of coffee in ‘48.

Nonetheless, Bauer remained a favorite of Stengel, who later called him “the hardest running 36-year-old I’ve ever seen” in a 1958 interview. And in the ‘56 Fall Classic, Bauer switched gears when the lights were brightest. He hit .281 with a homer in a dramatic seven-game victory, as New York beat Brooklyn behind perfecto artist/Fall Classic MVP Don Larsen.

Bauer continued to regress in 1957, becoming a near-liability in the lineup even as the Yankees put together another AL-winning season. Off the field, he wasn’t making things easy on the organization, and allegedly instigated the famous Copacabana brawl that eventually dragged several members of the team into a public embarrassment fueled by Mantle’s brazen handling of the situation. While one man cannot be blamed for the sins of another, Mickey himself said Bauer “taught me how to dress, how to talk, and how to drink.” The drinking in particular ruined Mantle’s health and impacted his legacy.

The ignominious alcohol-fueled moment marked the beginning of the end for Bauer in New York, but the wily veteran once again made his mark on the World Series that year. He had eight hits, including two doubles and two home runs in the series. His solo homer proved to be the difference in a 3-2 Game 6 victory, but Game 7 went awry for the Yankees; they were blanked 5-0 and sent packing by the Milwaukee Braves.

Just as the Yankees avenged their ‘55 loss to Brooklyn with a championship in ‘56, they did the same to Milwaukee in ‘58 following their Game 7 defeat in ‘57. They even fell behind in the World Series, 3-1, and still found a way to storm back for victory. AL Cy Young Award winner Bob Turley was the deserving MVP for two wins and a save across the final three wins, but Bauer turned out an attention-grabbing series of his own by clubbing four homers in seven games.

The ‘58 Fall Classic was Bauer’s last hurrah. The next year was a frustrating one for the Yankees, and after coming off four straight World Series appearances, they posted just 79 wins while Bauer himself stumbled to a 90 OPS+ and -0.4 WAR in 114 games. A distant third-place finish in the American League didn’t satiate the high expectations of Yankees fans, and something had to change.

Bauer got himself run out of town, partially for underperformance, and partially for being a bad influence. In an ultimate insult, they traded him to the miserable Kansas City Athletics, essentially baseball purgatory. In return, they got a fresh-faced outfielder named Roger Maris. It was an unfortunate end for a terrific, winning player, who at the time of his departure ranked 10th in Yankees history with 158 career homers.

A Championship Epilogue

After struggling in parts of the 1960 and 1961 seasons for Kansas City, Bauer retired, but his life in baseball was just beginning its second act. He honored an unusual request to act as manager of the A’s after retiring in June 1961, and reluctantly accepted. After two frustrating seasons with dysfunctional ownership, he resigned and found himself coaching for the Baltimore Orioles. He ascended to manager of the O’s in ‘64, and had his team competing for a pennant when another late-season Yankees run bumped Baltimore up to third place.

In 1966, with the well-liked Bauer still at the helm, they traded for Frank Robinson, and he won the Triple Crown en route to upsetting Sandy Koufax’s Dodgers in the World Series. Bauer kept his guys loose and unintimidated by larger-than-life pitchers Koufax and Don Drysdale, and he was rewarded with his eighth championship, first as a manager.

MLB: USA TODAY Sports-Archive Malcolm Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

From there, the Orioles eventually went in a different direction in ‘68, hiring Earl Weaver, and Bauer managed the youthful Oakland A’s of Catfish Hunter and Reggie Jackson for a spell. After the A’s let him go, he decided it was time to attend to matters at home.

Bauer’s wife, Charlene, had lived in Kansas City while he was away every summer, and he enjoyed his retirement from managing with his family after being away so many summers before. He owned and operated a liquor store for a while, relishing the stability that he’d missed his entire adult life. He also worked as an area scout for the Yankees, keeping an eye on their prospect interests in the Kansas City area.

1991 Old Timers Day
Bauer, DiMaggio, and Rizzuto
Photo by Steve Crandall/Getty Images

Hank Bauer passed away of lung cancer at the age of 84 in 2007, ending a distinguished life of military gallantry and baseball excellence. He was inducted into the Baltimore Orioles Hall of Fame for leading them to a ring as manager. But he always remained a Yankee at heart, and his contributions to seven championships will never be forgotten.

Staff rank: 57
Community rank: 44
Stats rank: 45
2013 rank: 41

References

Baseball Reference

BR Bullpen

Corbet, Warren. SABR Bio

FanGraphs

The New York Yankees of the 1950s

Pinstripe Alley

The Yankee Encyclopedia

Previously on the Top 100

56. Hideki Matsui
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