June 24 – Happy Birthday Doc Cook
Every time I watch a Yankee Old Timers Day, it conjures up memories of the event from my 50 plus years as a Yankee fan. Back in 1970, the Yankees honored Casey Stengel by inviting him back to the Stadium for the 1970 Old Timers Day celebration, during which they surprised him by retiring his uniform number 37 during a pre-game ceremony. That was the Ol Perfessor’s first official visit to the House that Ruth built since New York had forced him to retire as Yankee skipper after the 1960 World Series. At the time, Casey was 80 years old and when asked to make some comments during the shin-dig about having his jersey retired he responded “I’m very impressed. I hope they bury me in it.”
The legendary field boss was not the oldest ex-Yankee in attendance on that hot August day in the Bronx. That honor belonged to today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant. Doc Cook had just turned 84 earlier that same summer and though he was too old to play in that afternoon’s Old Timers game, photographers covering the event staged a photo-op of Cook standing in front of the Yankee dugout with bat in hand attempting to bunt. A much younger and more celebrated Yankee old-timer named Mickey Mantle was also included in the photo, wearing a catcher’s glove, on his knees behind Cook.
It was an appropriate pose for Cook, who was the speedy starting right fielder for the Yankees during both the 1914 and ’15 seasons. He led the Yankees in hits with 133 during the 1914 season and his .283 batting average was also tops on the club for players with enough at bats to be eligible for that year’s batting title. One problem Doc seemed to have was stealing second base. He tried the feat 58 times during the ’14 season and was thrown out 32 of those times, which was tops in the AL. Though he had another solid season at the plate for NY the following year, he lost his starting job in 1916 and the Yankees sold him to Oakland in the Pacific Coast League in May of 1916. He would never play another inning of big league ball.
Cook was born in Witt, Texas on June 24, 1886. His real name was Luther Almus. There were three Yankees nicknamed “Doc” (Adkins, Newton & Powers) before Cook came along and just four more (Farrell, Edwards, Medich & DOCk Ellis) since he was sold to Oakland almost a century ago. Cook died in 1973. He shares his birthday with this Yankee starting pitcher who is not yet an old timer and this former Yankee All Star catcher who is.