August 9 – Happy Birthday Ralph Houk

Just over a year ago,  I was watching one of those fantastic replays of old World Series games the MLB Network broadcasts from time-to-time. This one was the seventh game of the 1952 World Series between the Yankees and Dodgers. The series was tied three games apiece and the final game was being played at Ebbets Field.

Eddie Lopat started for New York against that year’s NL Rookie of the Year, the Dodgers’ Joe Black, who was starting his third game of that World Series. Casey Stengel only let Lopat work three innings and then replaced him with the “Super Chief” Allie Reynolds. The Yankees were holding onto a slim one-run lead with Reynolds due to lead off the top of the seventh inning. The old black & white television camera panned to the on-deck circle and standing there, swinging some warmup bats trying to get loose was a Yankee third string catcher named Ralph Houk.

Even though I hadn’t been born at the time this game was being played and I was actually watching a 58-year-old film of the event, I was shocked when I saw the “Major” getting ready to hit and so too was the booth announcer doing the play-by-play (I can’t remember if it was Mel Allen or Red Barber.) Houk had only got into nine games during the entire 1952 regular season during which he had come to the plate with a bat in his hand a grand total of seven times. Here he was about to get
his eighth plate appearance of the entire year in the seventh and deciding game of the World Series with his team ahead by just one run.

The very savvy Preacher Roe had come in to relieve Black and Houk was the first hitter he faced. Ralph had a great at-bat that lasted about a dozen pitches and he ended up smashing a hot shot down third base which was smothered by the great glove man, Billy Cox and Houk was thrown out at by just a hair at first. Even though he made an out, Houk had battled Roe and hit him hard, justifying Stengel’s faith in him.

I remember thinking what a thrill it was for me, an avid fifty-year Yankee fan, to be able to have seen a guy I knew only as a Yankee manager take an important at-bat in a critical game in Yankee history. I had sort of lost my good feelings for Houk after he took the GM promotion the Yankees gave him in 1963 and he fired Yogi Berra as Yankee Manager after the ’64 World Series. I started liking him again after reading how he had not been afraid to stand up against the bullying tactics of a young George Steinbrenner during Houk’s final year as Yankee Manager. And then, after seeing replays of that long-ago at-bat I actually Googled Houk and read up on his career and was pretty shocked when I realized he had turned ninety.

When he died on July 21, 2010, I immediately thought of the thrill of having seen that 1952 World Series at bat just a few weeks earlier. And every time I saw that black armband on a Yankee player’s uniform for the rest of last season, I thought of the Major who won both a Silver and Bronze star leading his men forward on Omaha Beach and into the Ardennes during the Battle of the Bulge. I thought of the Yankee Manager who won two World Series during his first two years at the helm. And I thought of that third string catcher and unlikely pinch hitter running as hard as he could down the first baseline of old Ebbets field and just getting nipped by Billy Cox’s throw. RIP Ralph Houk.

Houk shares his birthday with this one-time Yankee pitcher, and this one too.

Houk’s record as a Yankee player appears below, followed by his record as Yankee manager:

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1947 NYY 41 104 92 7 25 3 1 0 12 0 11 5 .272 .356 .326 .682
1948 NYY 14 29 29 3 8 2 0 0 3 0 0 0 .276 .276 .345 .621
1949 NYY 5 7 7 0 4 0 0 0 1 0 0 1 .571 .571 .571 1.143
1950 NYY 10 9 9 0 1 1 0 0 1 0 0 2 .111 .111 .222 .333
1951 NYY 3 5 5 0 1 0 0 0 2 0 0 1 .200 .200 .200 .400
1952 NYY 9 6 6 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 .333 .429 .333 .762
1953 NYY 8 9 9 2 2 0 0 0 1 0 0 1 .222 .222 .222 .444
1954 NYY 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000
8 Yrs 91 170 158 12 43 6 1 0 20 0 12 10 .272 .327 .323 .650
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/9/2013.
Rk Year Age Tm Lg G W L W-L% Finish
1 1961 41 New York Yankees AL 163 109 53 .673 1 WS Champs
2 1962 42 New York Yankees AL 162 96 66 .593 1 WS Champs
3 1963 43 New York Yankees AL 161 104 57 .646 1 AL Pennant
4 1966 46 New York Yankees AL 2nd of 2 140 66 73 .475 10
5 1967 47 New York Yankees AL 163 72 90 .444 9
6 1968 48 New York Yankees AL 164 83 79 .512 5
7 1969 49 New York Yankees AL 162 80 81 .497 5
8 1970 50 New York Yankees AL 163 93 69 .574 2
9 1971 51 New York Yankees AL 162 82 80 .506 4
10 1972 52 New York Yankees AL 155 79 76 .510 4
11 1973 53 New York Yankees AL 162 80 82 .494 4
New York Yankees 11 years 1757 944 806 .539 4.2 3 Pennants and 2 World Series Titles
Detroit Tigers 5 years 806 363 443 .450 5.2
Boston Red Sox 4 years 594 312 282 .525 4.0
20 years 3157 1619 1531 .514 4.4 3 Pennants and 2 World Series Titles
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/9/2013.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: