In Right Field for the Yankees, a Storied Marine Veteran

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During the New York Yankees’ unprecedented run of five consecutive World Series Championships between 1949 and 1953, manager Casey Stengel had an arsenal of stars and superstars he relied on. Some were icons like Mickey Mantle, while others were interchangeable standouts like outfielders Irv Noren and Gene Woodling.

But a key Stengel cog was U.S. Marine Corp Sergeant Henry Albert “Hank” Bauer, who survived the World War II battles of Guadalcanal, Guam and Okinawa. During the three encounters, more than 12,000 Americans perished, and thousands more were severely injured. Bauer was awarded two Bronze Stars, two Purple Hearts and a Commendation Medal for sustained acts of bravery and meritorious service.

Bauer’s heroism came despite enduring 24 separate malaria attacks during his four years in the South Pacific. On Guam in 1944, shrapnel from an artillery shell torn open a hole in Bauer’s left thigh. As he was evacuated with his pal, Richard C. Goss, Bauer muttered, “There goes my baseball career,” a prediction that proved false.

Despite the severity of his wound, Bauer had a long, successful baseball life. More importantly, Bauer lived. Only six of the 64 men in Bauer’s platoon survived the brutal Guam battle. Bauer’s brother Herman, a catcher in the Chicago White Sox minor league system, was less fortunate. On July 12, 1944, Herman was killed in action in France.

Bauer always claimed that he never fully understood why he enlisted in 1942: “I saw the poster, and saw the blue uniform, and all that B.S….I hoped I could take up a trade, pipefitting perhaps, but the only thing I traded was a bat for a rifle.”

From his East St. Louis childhood, where he was the youngest of nine siblings, Bauer acquired a tough guy-persona. Bauer grew up admiring the St. Louis Cardinals Gas House Gang, and learned from a charter Gang member, Enos Slaughter, the importance of playing hard baseball. When pitchers walked Bauer, he ran full speed to first, just like Slaughter. “It’s no fun playing if you don’t make somebody else unhappy,” he told a Time Magazine reporter, “I do everything hard.”

Stengel admired Bauer’s grit. The Yankees manager said: “Too many people judge ballplayers solely by a hundred runs batted in or a .300 batting average. I like to judge my players in other ways, like the guy [Bauer] who happens to do everything right in a tough situation.”

In 1953, Stengel named Bauer the Yankees’ leadoff hitter, and during those 10 seasons the Bronx Bombers won nine pennants and seven World Series. As the Yankee roster evolved from the pre-war DiMaggio generation to the Mantle era, only Bauer and Berra played in all nine World Series.

In 1959, the Yankees traded Bauer and 1956 perfect World Series game hurler Don Larsen to the Kansas City Athletics for future home run champion Roger Maris. Bauer learned about his trade on the radio, and felt that he deserved to hear the disappointing news in person.

After his playing days ended, Bauer managed the Athletics, and then moved on to coach the Baltimore Orioles before, in 1962, he took the team’s helm. By 1966 the Orioles swept the favored Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series. The following year, injuries devastated the Orioles, and their hampered play cost Bauer his job. He moved on briefly to manage the Oakland A’s before retiring to manage his Prairie View, Kan., liquor store.

Despite his reputation as quick to brawl – the most infamous episode involved a free-for-all at New York’s Copacabana night club during a 1957 Billy Martin birthday celebration – his teammates and the media loved him. Orioles’ pitcher Milt Pappas recalled that Bauer “had a raspy voice and scared the hell out of everyone. Underneath he was the nicest guy in the world.”

During his Yankees career, Bauer had the honor to play with several other military veterans: Whitey Ford, Army, Korean War; Yogi Berra, Navy, Purple Heart; Jerry Coleman, Marine Corp pilot, World War II and Korea, Distinguished Flying Cross (2); Phil Rizzuto, Navy, World War II; Joe DiMaggio, Army Air Forces, World War II, and Major Ralph Houk, Army Ranger, World War II, Purple Heart.

At age 84, his valor on America’s behalf esteemed and his diamond accomplishments admired by millions, Bauer died from lung cancer. Before passing, Bauer often said proudly: “The Yankee logo is like a Harvard degree.”

Copyright 2021 Joe Guzzardi, distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Joe Guzzardi is a Society for American Baseball Research and Internet Baseball Writers’ Association member. Contact him at [email protected]