"I was always a Yankee fan."
The oldest living Yankee, the final survivor of their great teams of the 1930s, Thomas David Henrich has passed away at the age of 96.
Born in Massillon, Ohio February 20, 1913, Henrich took to playing baseball often and well at an early age. In April 1937, Commissioner Landis ruled Henrich a free agent after he had been illegally hidden in the Cleveland farm system. He signed with the Yankees for a reported $25,000 and made his New York debut on May 11, 1937.
In an eleven year Yankee career Henrich batted .282. In 1948, he led the league in triples and runs scored, batted .308 with 25 homers and 100 RBIs. In 1949, his consistent clutch hitting helped keep the injury-racked Yankees in the pennant race. In 115 games, he hit 24 homers, drove in 85 runs, scoring 90 more.
Along with Joe DiMaggio and Charlie Keller, Henrich formed one of baseball's most celebrated outfields for the Yankees before and after WWII. Although Henrich played in only four World Series because of injuries and three years of military service, he was a key figure in two of the most famous Series games.
In 1949, his ninth inning homer off Don Newcombe of the Dodgers in Game One gave the Yankees the win and created the atmosphere for a Yankee world championship. Moments like those inspired Mel Allen to nick-name the four time All Star "Old Reliable" for a railroad train that was always on time that ran from Cincinnati through the Yankee announcer's Alabama birthplace state.
But Henrich will always be remembered most for his role in Game 4 of the 1941 World Series. It was Sunday baseball at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn before 33,813, standing room only. Yankees against Dodgers.
The first ball was thrown out by New York Mayor LaGuardia. The match-up pitted Brooklyn's Kirby Higbe against New York's Atley McDonald in the first Subway Series between the two teams. Higbe and McDonald were long gone as the game moved to the ninth inning and Brooklyn's Hugh Casey and Yankee reliever Johnny Murphy held forth with "Dem Bums" leading 4-3.
Tommy Henrich faced the burly Casey. There were two out. The count was three and two.
MEL ALLEN (GAME CALL) "Casey goes into the windup. Around comes the right arm, in comes the pitch. A swing by Henrich . . . he swings and misses, strike three! But the ball gets away from Mickey Owen. It's rolling back to the screen. Tommy Henrich races down toward first base. He makes it safely. And the Yankees are still alive with Joe DiMaggio coming up to bat."
"That ball broke like no curve I'd ever seen Casey throw," Henrich remembered. "As I start to swing, I think, 'No good. Hold up.' That thing broke so sharp, though, that as I tried to hold up, my mind said, 'He might have trouble with it.'"
Catcher Owen that 1941 season set the National League record of 476 consecutive errorless chances accepted was the goat. But there were those who thought a bit too much spit or other substance came along with the ball to home plate.
Whatever, the passed ball shook up Casey. The Yanks scored four times and won the game 7-4 and the next day won the world championship.
And "Old Reliable" Tommy Henrich, once again in the right place at the right time, helped the Yankees to another win.
The man from Massillon, Ohio was one of a kind. He will be missed.
Harvey Frommer is his 33rd consecutive year of writing sports books. The author of 40 of them including the classics: "New York City Baseball,1947-1957" and "Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," his acclaimed REMEMBERING YANKEE STADIUM, an oral/narrative history (Abrams, Stewart, Tabori and Chang) was published in 2008 as well as a reprint version of his classic "Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball." Frommer's newest work an oral and narrative history of Fenway Park will be published in 2010.
Frommer sports books are available direct from the author - discounted and autographed.
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