Saturday, February 10, 2007

Obituary: Hank Bauer

Hank Bauer, 84, World Series Star, Dies

Published: February 10, 2007

Hank Bauer, a bruising pipe fitter and decorated combat veteran who became an All-Star outfielder for the Yankees, playing in nine World Series, and who later managed the Baltimore Orioles to a stunning Series victory, died yesterday in Shawnee Mission, Kan. He was 84.

The cause was cancer, a statement by the Orioles said.

Bauer joined the Yankees in the closing weeks of the 1948 season, hitting singles in his first three at bats. He then barreled through the next 11 seasons as the Yankees dynasty moved from the Joe DiMaggio era into the Mickey Mantle era. The Yankees won nine American League pennants and seven World Series during his seasons with them. In all, he played 14 years in the major leagues.

Bauer, who had a powerful throwing arm, was named to the American League All-Star team three times, from 1952 to 1954, and compiled a career batting average of .277 with 164 home runs, 57 triples, 229 doubles and 703 runs batted in.

He is remembered for his World Series performances, including a record 17-game hitting streak (1956-58) and a game-saving catch. But one of his finest baseball moments came seven years after the Yankees had traded him so they could acquire Roger Maris.

It was in 1966, when Bauer, now a manager, led the Orioles to their first World Series title, a four-game sweep of the Los Angeles Dodgers in a contest loaded with future Hall of Famers like Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson and Jim Palmer of the Orioles and Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale of the Dodgers.

Bauer acknowledged that he was not a natural fielder or hitter, but at a muscular 6 feet and 202 pounds, he played baseball with a fullback’s ferocity. “When Hank came down the base path, the whole earth trembled,” said Johnny Pesky, the shortstop for the Boston Red Sox.

Bauer said: “It’s no fun playing if you don’t make somebody else unhappy. I do everything hard.”

Henry Albert Bauer was born July 31, 1922, in East St. Louis, Ill., where he admired the aggressive style of the St. Louis Cardinals, renowned in the 1930s as the Gashouse Gang. He was the youngest of nine children of an Austrian immigrant who had lost a leg working in an aluminum mill and later made a living as a bartender. A brother described Bauer as “a real dead-end kid who always was going around with a bloody nose.”

As a youngster, he played high school and American Legion baseball. After graduating from high school, he joined a pipe fitters’ union and repaired furnaces in a beer-bottling plant. But in 1941, his brother Herman, who was playing in the Chicago White Sox farm system, arranged a tryout for Hank, who batted and threw right-handed. Hank won an assignment to the Oshkosh team in the Class D Wisconsin State League.

Bauer’s baseball future seemed to recede in January 1942, when he joined the Marines soon after Pearl Harbor. He spent nearly three years of World War II in the South Pacific as a combat platoon leader, sustaining 24 attacks of malaria, receiving shrapnel wounds in his back on Guam and in a thigh on Okinawa, and winning 11 campaign ribbons, 2 Bronze Stars and 2 Purple Hearts.

After the war, he returned to pipe fitting, but a Yankees scout remembered him and signed him to the Yankees’ farm team in Quincy, Ill. Two years later, he was called up to New York at 26.

In the 1951 World Series, which the Yankees took from the New York Giants, 4 games to 2, Bauer almost single-handedly won the sixth and deciding game, hitting a bases-loaded triple and making a diving catch of a line drive for the game’s final out with the tying run on base.

The four home runs Bauer hit in his last Series, in 1958, when the Yankees beat the Milwaukee Braves, 4 games to 3, is the second-highest total in a Series after Reggie Jackson’s five in 1977. (The other players to hit four: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Duke Snider and Gene Tenace.)

With his talents in decline, the Yankees traded Bauer to the Kansas City Athletics in 1959 as part of the Maris deal. In June 1961, he replaced Joe Gordon as manager of the A’s, but after two years of ninth-place finishes in the 10-team league, he quit and moved to the Orioles in 1963 as a coach. He became the manager in 1964. When the Orioles finished third behind the Yankees, he was named A.L. manager of the year.

He earned that honor again in 1966, when he managed the Orioles to a 97-63 record and a World Series sweep of the Dodgers. A pitcher on that Baltimore team, Steve Barber, died Sunday at 67.

Bauer remained with the Orioles until 1968 and spent a final season managing the Athletics in 1969.

Bauer — of whom Mantle once said, “He taught me how to dress, how to talk and how to drink” — also had a role in some Yankees history off the field. In one incident, in 1957, a group of Yankees players, accompanied by their wives, became involved in a confrontation with another group of patrons at the Copacabana nightclub in Manhattan. One, a Bronx delicatessen owner, sued Bauer, accusing him of punching him. The man lost the lawsuit after catcher Yogi Berra testified, “Nobody never hit nobody.”

Bauer could be unforgiving, though, if he felt his teammates’ off-the-field activities were hurting the Yankees’ on-the-field performance. Pitcher Whitey Ford remembered how Bauer reacted when he thought players like Ford and Mantle were overindulging themselves after hours: “He pinned me to the wall of the dugout one day and said, ‘Don’t mess with my money.’ ”

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