August 6 – Happy Birthday Jim Turner
Most of today’s MLB pitching coaches actually manage their team’s pitching staffs. That wasn’t always the case. It was Casey Stengel who revolutionized the role of that position when the Ol Perfessor made today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant his first Yankee pitching coach in 1949. Jim Turner decided who was going to pitch when for the Yankees and for the most part, Stengel never interfered. The arrangement worked, as New York won nine pennants and seven World Series under these two men.
Turner was a special mentor. It didn’t matter if his pitchers were stars, youngsters, grizzly old veterans or journeymen, Turner had the knack for getting them all to pitch better. He was revered by the Yankees’ big three of Vic Raschi, Allie Reynolds and Eddie Lopat. He was the guy who figured out Whitey Ford was tipping his curve ball and the adjustment they made together helped Ford get to Cooperstown. Bob Grim told reporters he wouldn’t have won 20 games or his Rookie of the Year Award without Turner’s guidance. Johnny Kucks and Tom Sturdivant couldn’t win anywhere else but they won in New York. He convinced Bob Turley to pitch without a windup and the rotund right-hander won a Cy Young Award.
Known as the “Milkman,” Turner was a detail sort of guy who took copious notes during each of his pitchers’ outings. He was also a proponent of pitchers acting responsibly off the field as well and would often assign veteran hurlers to room with rookie pitchers on the road to keep the kids on the straight and narrow.
When the Yankees finished a disappointing third in the 1959 AL standings it was Turner who was turned into the sacrificial lamb. He was fired and replaced by Lopat. He later became pitching coach for the Reds, before returning to the Yankees and coaching under Ralph Houk from 1966 until ’73.
A native of Tennessee, Turner pitched in the minors for fourteen years before getting his first shot in the big leagues with the old Boston Braves in 1937 at the age of 33. He went 20-11 in his rookie season and led the NL with a 2.38 ERA, 24 complete games and 5 shutouts. The following year, Stengel took over as manager of the Braves and Turner finished 14-18. He ended up getting traded to the Reds in 1940, where he helped Cincinnati win the NL Pennant with a 14-7 record and also earned his first World Series ring. The Yankees got him in 1942 and Turner became New York’s top reliever during the WWII years, leading the AL in saves with 10 in 1945. That was his last year playing in the big leagues. When he retired from coaching after the 1973 season, Turners professional baseball career had lasted one year more than a half-century. He died in 1998 at the age of 95.