If I had been around back then, I would have been a fan of Tiny Bonham. “Back then” was the WWII era and Bohnam was this big six-feet-two-inch lug of a Yankee right-hander who was born in northern California in 1913. He was the grandson of a 49er, not the football 49ers mind you but the prospectors who invaded the state when gold was discovered in the hills near Sacramento way back in 1849. Grandpa didn’t strike it rich but he did settle the Bonham’s in northern California. Tiny grew up there, developing his bulk and muscle early on in his teen years by working on his dad’s farm, a lumber camp and the shipping docks of Oakland. He had huge powerful hands with long fingers, two essential characteristics for developing a good fork ball and Bonham had one of the best ever.
The Yankees signed him to a contract in 1935 and he spent the next five years putting up good numbers at each level of New York’s farm system. His call-up to the Bronx came in August of the 1940 season. Joe McCarthy’s Yankee team was the four-time defending World Champions that year but they were floundering badly. Bonham proved to be just the medicine the ailing team needed. McCarthy started him 12 times and he went 9-3 while posting a sparkling 1.90 ERA and throwing three shutouts. The Yanks had been one-game over .500 when Tiny joined the team and finished the season twenty-two games over the break-even mark. Though only good enough for third place, Marse Joe told sportswriters if he had had Bonham at the beginning of the year, the Yanks would have won the pennant. The Hall-of-Fame skipper then proved his point by using Bonham to help him do exactly that during the next three seasons.
In 1941, a back injury Bonham had sustained as a youngster working in the lumber camp flared up and limited his action that season. McCarthy used him wisely out of the bullpen and as a spot starter. He won nine of his fifteen decisions that year, picked up two saves and that fall, won the fifth and deciding game against Brooklyn in a one-run, four-hit, complete game effort to win his first World Series ring. In 1942 his back felt better and he became one of the premier pitchers in all of baseball. He put together a 21-win season that included a league-leading six shutouts and an ERA of just 2.27. Always blessed with outstanding control, Tiny walked just 24 batters that year in 226 innings of pitching and surrendered the fewest walks-plus-hits per inning pitched (WHIP) of any hurler in the majors. He lost his only start against the Cardinals in the 1942 World Series, which the Yanks lost in five games
The condition of his back was bad enough to keep him out of military service during the war but not bad enough to prevent him from continuing to pitch for the Yankees. He won fifteen games in 1943 and though he again lost to St Louis in that year’s Fall Classic he did earn his second ring when the Yankees avenged their loss to the Cards from the previous year. Bonham’s back problems became more severe during the 1944 and ’45 seasons causing him to suffer through his only two losing seasons in pinstripes. In 1946, he got swept-up in the “clean-house” campaign of new Yankee co-owner Lee MacPhail Sr. and was traded to the Pirates for somebody named Cookie Cuccurullo.
Though his back ached, Boham still had enough talent and grit to go 11-8 for a very bad Pittsburgh team that finished 30 games below five hundred. Even more impressive were the three shutouts Tiny threw that year. He would not be able to keep up that pace during his final two seasons with the Pirates and he was planning to retire and return home to California, when he decided to check into a Pittsburgh hospital during the final month of the 1949 season to find the cause of the severe stomach pains he was experiencing. His doctors decided to perform an appendectomy on the 36-year-old pitcher. During the operation intestinal cancer was discovered and a week later Ernie “Tiny” Bonham was dead.
By all accounts, everyone loved Tiny. He had a great sense of humor, was easy-going and considered a great teammate. Upon his untimely death, his widow and child were supposed to become the first beneficiaries of a pension plan league owners had agreed to establish for the players and their families. Mrs. Bonham was due to receive $90 per month. The problem was that the owners had not funded the plan. Learning this enraged the players and in order to avert a full scale labor rebellion, then MLB Commissioner Happy Chandler went out and sold radio and television broadcast rights to the Gillette Razor Blade Company for the next six years for one million dollars per year and used the proceeds to get funds into the plan quickly. In his haste, it seems Chandler left some money on the table. Gillette broadcasting rights were later sold to NBC for four million dollars annually.
|NYY (7 yrs)||79||50||.612||2.73||158||141||11||91||17||6||1176.2||1108||399||357||71||206||348||1.117|
|PIT (3 yrs)||24||22||.522||4.11||73||52||16||19||4||3||374.1||393||181||171||46||81||130||1.266|
The one guy who beats Manager Joe Girardi to Yankee Stadium on most Game Days is third base coach Rob Thomson. Usually when Girardi rolls into the Stadium’s inside parking garage, Thompson’s SUV has already been there for almost a half hour. The Yankee Manager has told reporters that Thomson is one of the hardest working coaches in baseball.
The native of Ontario, Canada was born on this date in 1963. He played collegiate baseball at the University of Kansas and was selected by the Tigers in the later rounds of the 1985 draft. He played third base and catcher in the minors, but neither well enough to make it to the big leagues as a player. He gave up trying in 1988 and became a minor league coach in the Detroit organization. Two years later he was hired in the same capacity by the Yankees. By 1998 he was working in the Yankee front office and in 2000, he was named the Yankee’s Director of Player Development. He started his big league coaching career in 2008, when the newly hired Girardi made Thomson his bench coach. A year later he took over as third base coach and has been flashing the on-the-field offensive signals for the Yankees ever since. He is also the the team’s outfielders’ coach.
I’ll admit that sometimes, Thomson drives me up the wall. Earlier this season for example, in a game against Tampa, the Yankees were down by a run early and with nobody out, he waved the lumbering Mark Teixeira home on a sharp ground ball single hit directly at a charging left-fielder. The guy had the ball in his glove before Teixeira got to third and the catcher had the ball so early in the play, he could have ate a sandwich waiting for Teixeira to reach the plate. But for the most part, you don’t even notice Thomson during a game which is a sign of an excellent base coach.
One of the greatest teams of all time had to be the Yankee squad that won five consecutive World Series between 1949 and 1953. Yogi Berra, Phil Rizzuto and Hank Bauer were three of only four position players who started on all five of those championship teams. The fourth was Gene Woodling, who was born on today’s date in 1922, in Akron, OH.
He initially signed with the Indians as a 17-year-old kid in 1940 and made his big league debut with Cleveland, in 1943. He then served the next two years in the Navy. After the war, he ended up playing for the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League. Woodling led the PCL with a .385 average in 1948. One of the teams in that league that he absolutely crushed with his bat was the Oakland Oaks, managed by Casey Stengel. When the Yankees hired the Old Perfessor as their new Manager the following year, Casey told New York’s GM, George Weiss to go get Woodling.
Much was made in the Big Apple sports press about how Stengel would platoon the lefty-hitting Woodling with the righty-hitting Bauer in the New York outfield. These two were such steady all-around players, however, that more often than not and especially in big games, Woodling would start in left and Bauer in right. During Woodling’s six total seasons in the Bronx, he averaged .285 during the regular season and a robust .318 during the Fall Classics. He was a line drive hitter with a great eye at the plate, who was difficult to strike out. His best regular seasons in pinstripes were 1952, when he hit .309 and the following year, when he hit .306 and led the AL with a .429 on base percentage. When the Yankees failed to win the AL Pennant in 1954 and Woodling’s average slumped to .250, Weiss included the veteran in the historic seventeen-player deal with the Orioles that brought both Bob Turley and Don Larsen to New York.
Woodling proved he could still hit after that trade and he kept on proving it. He hit .321 for the Indians in 1957, .300 for the Orioles in ’59 and then .313 for the Senators in ’61, at the age of 39. In all, he spent sixteen seasons in the big leagues playing for six different teams including the Mets in their inaugural season of 1962, which was also Woodling’s final year in the Majors.
The Yankees were really fortunate to have Woodling and Bauer on those teams that won five straight titles six decades ago. Both were solid hitters who delivered well in the clutch; both were outstanding defensively especially in the huge difficult to play Yankee outfield; and both were consummate professionals and teammates, who played hard every second and knew how to win.
|NYY (6 yrs)||698||2679||2272||361||648||105||40||51||336||13||378||184||.285||.388||.434||.822|
|CLE (5 yrs)||381||1388||1164||176||326||60||8||33||165||5||186||95||.280||.380||.430||.811|
|BAL (4 yrs)||460||1711||1433||210||401||62||8||43||222||9||252||142||.280||.387||.424||.812|
|WSA (2 yrs)||154||531||449||58||137||20||4||15||73||2||74||29||.305||.407||.468||.875|
|NYM (1 yr)||81||218||190||18||52||8||1||5||24||0||24||22||.274||.353||.405||.758|
|PIT (1 yr)||22||87||79||7||21||2||2||0||10||0||7||5||.266||.326||.342||.667|