January 3 – Happy Birthday Frenchy Bordagaray
Stanley “Frenchy” Bordagaray spent just one season as a Yankee utility outfielder in 1941 but prior to donning the pinstripes, he had already developed a reputation as one of baseball’s most colorful characters during the 1930′s. Despite the nickname, the Bordagaray family had emigrated from the Basque region of Spain and settled in California. Their ball-playing son was born there on January 3, 1910 and grew up to become a great athlete, lettering in three sports at Fresno City College. He then became a star in the Pacific Coast League, where he caught the attention of several big league clubs. He signed with the White Sox and made his Major League debut in the Windy City in 1934.
That December he was traded to Brooklyn, where he spent two seasons playing for mediocre Dodger teams managed by the free-spirited Casey Stengel. Frenchy loved to have fun before during and after a game, explaining once to a reporter that he was only making $3,000 a year playing baseball so he couldn’t take the sport too seriously. Antics aside, the guy could play the game. He was a solid hitter, averaging .283 during his 11-season career. After hitting .282 during his first season with D’em Bums, Bordagary showed up at the Dodgers’ 1936 spring training camp sporting a mustache and goatee, which he had grown for a bit role he was given in a Hollywood movie shot that offseason. Baseball players with facial hair had disappeared from the big leagues over two decades earlier so Frenchy’s ‘tache and beard caused quite a stir. Stengel finally forced him to shave explaining that there was room for only one clown on that team and Casey had already claimed that role for himself. In one of his most famous episodes, the outfielder was fined by Stengel for failing to slide into third base. The next day, Frenchy hit a home run and slid into each bag on his way around the bases, earning an even larger fine from the Ol’ Perfessor.
The Dodgers traded him to the Cardinals after the 1936 season and two years later, St Louis dealt him to Cincinnati. Though he made it to the World Series with the 1939 Reds team, his average that year had plummeted to .197. He was traded to the Yankees in January of 1940 and spent the next season with New York’s Kansas City farm team, where he averaged .358. That got him an invitation to the parent club’s ’41 spring training camp
Frenchy’s play in Florida impressed Joe McCarthy enough to get him an Opening Day roster spot as a utility outfielder. The problem was that the Yankee starting outfield that season included Joe DiMaggio, Tommy Henrich and Charley Keller who would combine for 94 home runs and 332 RBIs during that ’41 campaign. That team also had veteran outfielder and former All Star, George “Twinkletoes” Selkirk on its roster. That meant few and far between playing opportunities for Bordagaray. He managed to get into 36 games that season and in 73 at bats averaged .260. He also won his first and only ring.
He would return to the Dodgers in 1942 and Brooklyn manager, Leo Durocher eventually made Frenchy his team’s starting third baseman during the WWII years. He remained in Brooklyn until the war was over and then remained in the game for a couple more years as a player manager in the minors. After retiring, he invested in restaurants and cemeteries in the midwest before returning to California and beginning a career in the recreation department of the city of Ventura. He died in 2001, at the age of 91.