December 31 – Happy Birthday Tommy Byrne

Tommy Byrne didn’t really have a nickname but if he did, it probably would have been “Wild Man.” This southpaw had a blazing fastball and a great biting curve but he had a real tough time throwing either of them over the plate with any consistency. Over his thirteen season big league career, the Baltimore native averaged just under seven walks for every nine innings he pitched, led the American League in that department three straight seasons and in one of them, 1951, he walked 150 batters in just 143 innings. And when Byrne didn’t walk a batter, chances were good that he’d hit him instead because the guy led the AL in hit batsmen five different times. So how did a pitcher who was so wild stay in the big leagues? There were two reasons really.

The first was that despite his aversion to the strike zone, Byrne would win games. He started pitching full time for the Yankees in 1948 and over the next three seasons his record was 38-21. He was a very effective fourth starter for New York, behind their legendary Raschi, Reynolds, Lopat triumvirate. The second reason the Yankees kept him was his ability to hit. Byrne was one of the best hitting pitchers in all of baseball. He averaged .326 in 1948 and .272 two seasons later. He was such a good stick that he was frequently used as a pinch hitter and actually had 80 pinch hits during his career.

So Manager Casey Stengel, Byrne’s Yankee teammates and even most Yankee fans would tolerate the left-handers mind-numbing spurts of wildness because he kept winning games and the team kept winning pennants in spite of them. Unfortunately for Byrne, the one guy who couldn’t tolerate it any longer turned out to be Yankee co-owner Dan Topping. On June 15th, 1951, Topping engineered a trade that sent Byrne to the Browns for another southpaw pitcher named Stubby Overmire. I read that Stengel was livid with Topping when he learned of the trade after it had already been consummated.

The Yankees didn’t miss Tommy at first because they still had the big three in their starting rotation along with a new young southpaw named Whitey Ford. Byrne, on the other hand did not find pitching for the lowly Browns anywhere near as enjoyable as pitching for the mighty Yankees. He went 11-24 during his two seasons in St. Louis and then was traded to the White Sox.

In addition to being wild, Byrne turned out to be pretty lucky too. By 1954, Raschi was gone and Reynolds and Lopat were nearing the end of their careers. Byrne in the mean time, had been sold by the White Sox to the Senators and then released. He spent most of the 1954 season pitching for Seattle in the PCL League, where he went 20-10 on the mound and hit .296 at the plate. That performance caught the attention of the Yankees and the then-34-year-old pitcher suddenly found himself back in pinstripes at the close of the 1954 season. The following year, Byrne rejoined the Yankees’ starting rotation and went 16-5 to lead the AL in winning percentage. He also pitched very well in the 1955 World Series against the Dodgers. Bryne got a complete-game 4-2 victory in Game 2 and also drove in the winning runs with his two-run single. He then held the Dodgers to just one run for five-plus innings of Game 7 before being lifted by Stengel in a game the Yankees would go on to lose.

Byrne pitched two more seasons for New York and then went back to college at Wake Forest. He ended his career with an 85-69 overall record and 72-40 as an eleven-year Yankee. He ended up getting into politics and served as Mayor of the college town for fifteen years. He passed away in 2007, at the age of 87. One of the things I learned about Byrne doing research for this post was that he was considered to be a flake. He was known for talking to opposing hitters during the game and according to Yogi Berra, Byrne’s chit chatting would drive all stars like Ted Williams and Al Rosen absolutely crazy. Often times, he would tell the hitter what pitch he was about to throw. The talking combined with his sharp biting curve ball and lack of control made Byrne Yogi’s choice as the toughest pitcher he ever had to catch.

Byrne shares his last-day-of-the-year birthday with this other former Yankee starting pitcher.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1943 NYY 2 1 .667 6.54 11 2 8 0 0 0 31.2 28 26 23 1 35 22 1.989
1946 NYY 0 1 .000 5.79 4 1 3 0 0 0 9.1 7 8 6 1 8 5 1.607
1947 NYY 0 0 4.15 4 1 2 0 0 0 4.1 5 2 2 0 6 2 2.538
1948 NYY 8 5 .615 3.30 31 11 11 5 1 2 133.2 79 55 49 8 101 93 1.347
1949 NYY 15 7 .682 3.72 32 30 2 12 3 0 196.0 125 84 81 11 179 129 1.551
1950 NYY 15 9 .625 4.74 31 31 0 10 2 0 203.1 188 115 107 23 160 118 1.711
1951 TOT 6 11 .353 4.26 28 20 3 7 2 0 143.2 120 73 68 5 150 71 1.879
1951 NYY 2 1 .667 6.86 9 3 1 0 0 0 21.0 16 17 16 0 36 14 2.476
1954 NYY 3 2 .600 2.70 5 5 0 4 1 0 40.0 36 13 12 1 19 24 1.375
1955 NYY 16 5 .762 3.15 27 22 4 9 3 2 160.0 137 69 56 12 87 76 1.400
1956 NYY 7 3 .700 3.36 37 8 18 1 0 6 109.2 108 50 41 9 72 52 1.641
1957 NYY 4 6 .400 4.36 30 4 16 1 0 2 84.2 70 41 41 8 60 57 1.535
13 Yrs 85 69 .552 4.11 281 170 72 65 12 12 1362.0 1138 688 622 98 1037 766 1.597
NYY (11 yrs) 72 40 .643 3.93 221 118 65 42 10 12 993.2 799 480 434 74 763 592 1.572
SLB (2 yrs) 11 24 .314 4.35 48 41 7 21 2 0 318.2 286 173 154 21 226 148 1.607
WSH (1 yr) 0 5 .000 4.28 6 5 0 2 0 0 33.2 35 17 16 3 22 22 1.693
CHW (1 yr) 2 0 1.000 10.13 6 6 0 0 0 0 16.0 18 18 18 0 26 4 2.750
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/31/2013.

1 Comment

That is cool. Being born on the last day of the Year. Though, more attention would go into New Years than yourself so i wouldnt like that

http://yankeeholics.mlblogs.com

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