July 2 – Happy Birthday Hal Reniff
When relief ace, Luis Arroyo hurt his arm during the 1962 season, the Yankee bullpen struggled to make up for the devastating loss. The front office decided to go into New York’s farm system to find a successor and his name was Hal Reniff. A pudgy right-hander nicknamed “Porky,” Reniff responded well to the challenge.
Reniff, who had been born in Ohio but grew up in California, had been a starter in the Yankee farm system and a good one at that. He had won 20-games for New York’s Class C team in Modesto, CA. But when he went to spring training with the parent club in 1961, then Manager Ralph Houk told him he wanted Reniff to become a reliever. At first, the pitcher resisted but when Houk made it clear the choice was the Yankee bullpen or back to the minors, he made the switch.
After getting sent back down to Richmond to work on the transition, he was recalled to the Bronx that June and put together a strong half-season for that ’61 Yankee team. He appeared in 25 games, won both his decisions, saved two and compiled a stingy 2.58 ERA. But he didn’t make that year’s Yankees’ World Series roster and then spent most of the following season in the military, while Arroyo’s arm was shutting down.
Returning to full-time action the following year, he won 4 and saved 18, establishing himself as Houk’s best reliever on that 1963 Yankee pennant-winning team. He then pitched brilliantly in the ’63 World Series with little fanfare as his three scoreless and hitless innings of relief were lost in the Dodgers four-straight-game destruction of the Yankees in that Fall Classic.
The following year, Reniff developed some arm problems and Yogi Berra began using Pete Mikkelsen as his closer. When Mikkelsen faltered, the Yankees brought in Pedro Ramos. Still, Hal pitched well when called upon. His seven-season pinstripe career ended in 1967 with 41 career saves and an 18-21 Yankee record, when he was sold to the cross-town Mets. When the Amazin’s released him, Reniff returned to the Yankee farm system, pitching for Syracuse for five more seasons until he hung up his glove for good.
In an interview for Maury Allen’s book Yankees, Where have You Gone, Reniff told the author his best friend on the Yankees was Roger Maris. Like Maris, Reniff was mostly quiet and reserved during his playing days. He liked to do his job and go home and he hated all the media attention the Yankees attracted wherever they went.
Reniff shares his July 2nd birthday with this former AL Rookie of the Year and MVP who is now referred to as “The Chemist.”