December 6 – Happy Birthday Gus Niarhos
When the Yankees signed catcher, Gus Niarhos to his first contract, Hall-of-Famer Bill Dickey was still starting behind the plate for the parent club. Nine years later, when the Yankees placed the first Greek-American ever to wear pinstripes and play in a World Series on waivers, Hall-of-Famer Yogi Berra was the team’s starting catcher. As Niarhos explained years later, when asked about his career as a Yankee, “That was a tough organization if you were a catcher.” It sure was.
Niarhos was born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama, where he was a three-sport star as a high school athlete. He was actually enrolled at Auburn University on a football scholarship when the Yanks signed him and sent him to their Akron farm club. When WWII broke out, Niarhos joined the Navy and served his country for the next four years.
He got his first chance to play in the Bronx in 1946, when he was called up in June of that year, after Bill Dickey replaced Joe McCarthy as Yankee skipper. Though Dickey continued to catch occasionally after becoming manager , it was Niarhos who served as Aaron Robinson’s primary back-up during the second half of that season.
Solid defensively, Niarhos was pretty much a singles-hitter with the stick and he never hit a home run during his days with New York. After spending the entire 1947 season back in the minors, he shared the Yankees’ starting catching responsibilities with Yogi Berra in ’48, averaging a decent .268 but producing just 19 RBI’s.
Berra became the Yankees’ full time receiver the following season with Niarhos backing him up and since Yogi could catch 140 games a year in his prime, New York suddenly found itself with a glut of backup catching talent and released Niarhos.
He landed on his feet with the Chicago White Sox, where he hit a career high .324 backing up Phil Masi during the ’50 season. He hit his first and only big league home run the following year against his former team, when he connected off of Yankee reliever Bob Kuzava. He later played for both the Red Sox and the Phillies. He finally hung up his catcher’s mitt for good after the ’57 season and became a minor league manager and coach in the A’s organization. He passed away in 2004 at the age of 84.
|NYY (4 yrs)||153||393||311||59||82||15||4||0||27||2||76||25||.264||.410||.338||.747|
|PHI (2 yrs)||10||14||14||1||2||0||0||0||0||0||0||3||.143||.143||.143||.286|
|BOS (2 yrs)||45||113||93||10||13||1||1||0||6||0||16||13||.140||.279||.172||.451|
|CHW (2 yrs)||107||338||273||44||77||10||0||1||26||4||61||15||.282||.415||.330||.745|