May 12 – Happy Birthday Hank Bowery
Today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant is Hank Borowy, who was generally considered the ace of the Yankee pitching staff during the WWII years and one of the best wartime pitchers in baseball. The right-hander was born in Bloomfield, NJ on May 12, 1916. He went to Fordham University in the Bronx, where he pitched for the Rams’ varsity baseball team for three seasons, and compiled a 33-1 record. Since Fordham is located in the Bronx, Borowy’s collegiate pitching brilliance did not escape the attention of Yankee super scout, Paul Krichell.
Krichell had signed some of the greatest Yankee stars of all time but none were tougher negotiators than Borowy. First of all, Krichell had to fend off rival scouts from the Red Sox, Giants, Dodgers and Cubs. He accomplished that with an $8,000 bonus offer. Then Borowy flinched during his initial read of his Yankee contract because it required him to begin his career in single A ball. He told Krichell he wanted to start pitching at the double A level instead and would not sign the document unless the Yankees agreed to that. The legendary scout verbally committed to making the change and then handed the about-to-be-newest member of the Yankee organization his own fountain pen. When Borowy put pen to paper, the writing utensil was out of ink. Krichell left for just a few moments to refill the pen and when he got back, Borowy told him he had reconsidered and was now demanding an additional $500 in his bonus money. The flustered Krichell reluctantly agreed and probably also never attended another player signing without first making sure his fountain pen was full of ink.
As Borowy had demanded, he was assigned to the Yanks double A franchise in Newark, NJ and got better in each of the three seasons he pitched there. After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in December of 1941 and President Roosevelt decided that our national past time must continue despite the war, the Yankees decided to bring Borowy to the big leagues and he put together one of the better rookie pitching performances in franchise history by going 15-4 with a 2.52 ERA and 4 complete game shutouts. It would be a mistake to assume that Borowy’s first-year brilliance was a direct result of the migration of the best players in baseball into military service. The full dilution of talent did not really take place until the ’43 season. Borowy spent his first year in the league playing against the premier pre-war lineups. He was indeed the real deal.
With the Yankees trailing the Cardinals 2 games to 1 in the 1942 World Series, New York Manager, Joe McCarthy gave his rookie the ball to start Game 4. Borowy was able to hold St. Louis scoreless for three innings but then got shelled in the fourth and the Yankees went on to lose that contest and the Fall Classic in five games.
By the 1943 regular season, baseball’s rosters were being thinned by the military and Borowy stats undoubtedly benefitted as a result. He won 14 games that year and 17 in 1944, kept his ERA below three and threw 6 more shutouts. He also got his first World Series victory and ring in the Yankees’ 1943 fall ball rematch against the Cardinals.
When the 1945 season began, the war was nearing completion and the Yankees had just been sold to a triumvirate of new owners, Del Webb, Dan Topping and Larry MacPhail. MacPhail was a certified baseball genius who had turned the moribund Brooklyn Dodgers into one of the National League’s best and most profitable franchises. But MacPhail was also a crude, hard-drinking bully, who was disliked throughout the game almost as much as he was admired. Yankee manager Joe McCarthy was one guy who hated MacPhail.
When the 1945 season began, Borowy continued to pitch well for New York, reaching ten victories by the end of July. Suddenly, MacPhail put Borowy’s name on the Waiver wire. Placing a good player on waivers had become a common practice by Major League teams back then, as a way of testing the interests and weaknesses of their competitors. If an opposing team claimed a player it was an indication that they might be interested in trading for him and that player’s name could simply be withdrawn from waivers and bartering between the two teams could begin.
So when Borowy’s name showed up on the waiver wire in July of 1945, all the other AL teams figured it was just MacPhail gauging trade interest in his team’s best wartime pitcher. And don’t forget, this happened at a time when everyone knew the war was close to being over. Big league teams that may have needed pitching knew their best pitchers would be returning from military service soon, which further decreased their desire to play the waiver game with the cantankerous MacPhail. So not one AL team claimed Borowy and as a result, he cleared waivers, which meant MacPhail could now deal him to any NL team interested. The Cubs, who were fighting for that season’s NL Pennant were more than interested. They gave MacPhail close to $100 thousand for his star pitcher. Baseball owners howled in protest and McCarthy was livid. He had thought his Yankees could win the 1945 AL Pennant with Borowy and the fact that MacPhail would sell his best pitcher without even consulting his manager (though MacPhail insisted he had done so) would prove to be Marse Joe’s breaking point with MacPhail and the Yankee organization. MacPhail told the press he had traded Borowy because he was a terrible second half pitcher.
Borowy went to the Windy City and finished the season 11-2 as a Cub, making him a 20-game winner for the first and only time in his career. He would then appear in four games against the Tigers in the 1945 Fall Classic, going 2-2 in Chicago’s losing effort. Hank’s would continue pitching in the Majors until 1951 and he would also pitch for the Phillies, Pirates and Tigers. He finished his three-plus season Yankee career with an impressive 56-30 record and was 108-82 for his ten-year big league career. He passed away in 2004 in his native New Jersey.
|CHC (4 yrs)||36||34||.514||3.85||126||84||28||28||4||4||633.1||671||308||271||39||220||267||1.407|
|NYY (4 yrs)||56||30||.651||2.74||107||96||7||53||11||3||780.2||683||285||238||38||284||340||1.239|
|PHI (2 yrs)||12||12||.500||4.24||31||28||0||12||1||0||199.2||193||103||94||19||67||46||1.302|
|DET (2 yrs)||3||3||.500||5.42||39||3||14||1||0||0||78.0||81||54||47||6||43||28||1.590|
|PIT (1 yr)||1||3||.250||6.39||11||3||4||0||0||0||25.1||32||19||18||6||9||9||1.618|