October 13 – Happy Birthday Ben Paschal
Tim Raines, Lou Piniella, Hector Lopez, Bob Cerv, Irv Noren, the great Yankee teams of the past had well-known fourth outfielders who usually could have started for most other big league teams of their era. Back in the days of the great Yankee Murderer’s Row teams of the roaring twenties, it was Ben Paschal who filled that role for New York.
A farm boy from Alabama, Paschal signed on with a class D minor league team as a nineteen-year-old. He played well enough immediately to get signed to a short-term contract by the Cleveland Indians and appear in his first nine big league games that same year. He didn’t stick with Cleveland and returned to the minors the following season. It took him five more years to reappear in the majors, this time with the Red Sox. He did much better for Boston, hitting .357 in a nine-game September call-up during the 1920 season. But again he didn’t stick and it would take him another 4 seasons of minor league play to get back to the big dance. This time it was another September call-up and Paschal was now wearing the uniform of the New York Yankees. He went 3-for-3 in his debut for manager Miller Huggins’ team and performed impressively enough to earn an invite to the club’s training camp the following spring.
The Yankees were auditioning for a new starting center fielder that preseason and the competition pitted Paschal against another southern farm boy named Earle Combs. Huggins gave the job to Combs but liked Paschal’s effort enough to keep him on the roster too. It proved to be a brilliant move. The outfielder’s first full season as a Yankee coincided with Babe Ruth’s “big belly ache,” which in actuality was a complete physical and mental breakdown caused by the “Bambino’s” punishing physical excesses off the field. Ruth’s illness gave Paschal the opportunity to get into 89 games during that 1925 season and he made the most of it by hitting 12 home runs, driving in 59 and averaging a robust .360. He spent the next three seasons ably subbing for Ruth, Combs, and Long Bob Meusel and putting together batting averages of .287, .317 and .316. But when he slumped to just .208 in 1929, the Yankees decided to not offer him another contract. By then, Paschal had tuned 33 years old.He did continue to play very well for quite a few years back in the minors. The truth was that he had signed with the wrong team, one with two Hall-of-Famers already starting in the outfield and a third who many have argued should also have been voted into Cooperstown. So Paschal’s .309 lifetime average as a Yankee was overlooked and never fully appreciated.