October 3 – Happy Birthday Johnny Broaca
Johnny Broaca was one of the strangest dudes ever to wear the pinstripes. The son of poor Lithuanian immigrants, Johnny was a super athlete during his high school days in Lawrence, MA. He was a good enough pitcher to sign a big league contract out of high school but as Broaca explained to a Boys Life Magazine reporter during his rookie year with the Yankees, he realized a baseball career was short-lived and he knew a good education would be essential to a good life after
baseball so he worked his way through Yale. He was the best pitcher on the Bulldogs baseball team for three straight seasons but he was also a loner. Unlike many of his wealthier Yale teammates and classmates, Broaca had no time to socialize. When he wasn’t playing ball or studying, he was working and he soon formed an inferiority complex that would impact his ability to form relationships for the rest of his life.
He convinced a Yankee scout to sign him to a contract after his junior year of college and played for the Newark Bears in 1933. One year later he was wearing pinstripes in the Bronx and made Joe McCarthy’s starting rotation, finishing his 1934 rookie season with a 12-9 record for a Yankee team that finished second to the Tigers. He was even better in 1935, finishing 15-7 but once again the Yankees lost the AL pennant to Detroit. New York finally overcame the Tigers the following year, taking first place in the AL as Broaca finished with a 12-7 record. But Broaca didn’t make an appearance in the Yankees five game victory over the Giants in the 1936 World Series. It was all downhill from there for the bespectacled right hander. He got married during that off-season but according to his wife, he was a jealous, abusive and penny-pinching husband. He also lived with a sore right arm since his high school days and during the 1937 season he began arguing with McCarthy about the negative impact his practice and warm-up regimens were having on that soreness. When “Marse Joe” brought him into pitch relief in a mop-up role, Broaca jumped the team, the first Yankee in history to do so. At the time, his record was a miserable 1-4.
In the next few years, Broaca divorced his wife, tried professional boxing and then took a low paying job back in his hometown just so he could minimize the alimony and child support payments to his former Mrs. In researching this post, I also discovered that Broaca was not only one of the worst hitters in baseball history, he actually hated to even take batting practice. At the plate, he got to a point where he would stand there with his bat on his shoulder and wait for the opposing pitcher to strike him out. He once actually walked back to the dugout when with two strikes on him, the opposing pitcher was still in his windup. The umpire had to call him back to the plate when the pitch was ruled a ball. During batting practice,Yankee pitchers back then were required to field balls in the outfield. Johnny would stand there with a glove on his hand and refuse to go after any ball hit near him. He did not want to stress his sore arm on throws back to the infield. When he finished his career with the Indians, Broaca once got in a fake fight with a Cleveland teammate in the dugout so that a wild punch could “accidentally” be thrown at the team’s highly disliked manager. Johnny Broaca, a Yale University graduate and former Yankee starting pitcher ended up dying from a heart attack, at the age of 75, while living the life of a recluse in his tiny Lawrence apartment.
Today is also the 59th birthday of Dave Winfield, one of my all-time favorite Yankees.