Tuesday, February 2, 2010

15 Days Until Spring Training: Tom Tresh

Just as we've seen with other numbers, there are many Yankees to have worn number fifteen who accomplished enough in Pinstripes to warrant a post in our countdown. Red Ruffing is a Hall of Famer who co-anchored the pitching staff on six World Series winning teams. Tommy Henrich wore it for much of his career; his outfield mate Charlie Keller wore it for a single season. Later Joe Collins wore it for several seasons while platooning at first base for the Stengel-era teams. But we're going to elect to focus on other players today.

As the 1962 season dawned, the Yankees found themselves in need of shortstop. The incumbent Tony Kubek, who manned the position for most of the five previous seasons, had been called up for active military with the Wisconsin National Guard. The team turned to a twenty four year old second generation Big Leaguer. Tom Tresh had made his Major League debut the previous September, appearing in nine games after spending four seasons in the minors. Tresh won the job and became the last Yankee rookie to be the Opening Day starter at shortstop until Derek Jeter in 1996.

Tresh impressed, hitting .286/.359/.441 (117 OPS+), was named to both All-Star teams, and earned Rookie of the Year honors. His twenty home runs were more than he had hit in any of his minor league seasons. When Kubek returned to the club in August that season, Tresh transitioned to left field, despite never having played the position in his professional career. The Yankees reached the World Series for the third consecutive year, and the rookie Tresh hit .321/.345/.464 with two stolen bases and a critical go-ahead three run homer in the bottom of the eighth inning of Game Five. But perhaps his biggest contribution came at his new defensive position.

Game Seven of the 1962 World Series is remembered for Yankee second baseman Bobby Richardson snagging a screaming line drive off the bat of Willie McCovey, with the winning run on second base, to give the Yankees a 1-0 victory and back-to-back titles. Tresh however made a standout play of his own, one that was nearly as important. With the bases empty and one out in the seventh inning and the Yankees lead 1-0. Willie Mays stepped to the plate against Ralph Terry and The Say Hey Kid ripped a drive down the left field line, a sure extra base hit. But Tresh hauled it in, making a running snow cone catch. Instead of having the tying run in scoring position with one out for the dangerous tandem of McCovey and Orlando Cepeda, there were two outs and the bases were empty.

As a promising switch hitter who had been converted from shortstop to the outfield and who often spelled the hobbled or injured Mickey Mantle in center field, the inevitable Mantle comparisons followed Tresh. While he never quite reached those heights, Tresh was a valuable and productive player for the Yankees, playing on two more pennant winners and posting a 125 OPS+ from 1963 through 1966, with two top ten finishes in home runs, another All-Star Game, and a Gold Glove to his credit. When back problems forced Kubek's retirement after the 1965 season, the Yankees had a hole at shortstop. After shuffling players around for two years, Tresh returned to his original position as the Yankees primary shortstop in 1968 and 1969.

By that point though Tresh's numbers, and the Yankees as organization, had fallen from the heights they'd reached early in the decade. Tresh, along with Joe Pepitone, Jim Bouton, Al Downing, and Mel Stottlemyre, were the last wave of good players produced by the once fertile Yankee farm system. As the farm went fallow, Mantle, Ford, Maris, and Howard aged, and the Dan Topping and Del Webb ownership group sold the club to CBS, the Yankees no longer had the financial or human resources of their dynasty years. Tresh was betrayed by injuries, and his once promising career became pedestrian by the time he reached thirty.

In June of 1969 the Yankees dealt Tresh to his hometown Tigers, where he finished the final season of his career. Two months after the Tresh trade, a Yankee rookie made his Major League debut, inheriting Tresh's old number fifteen. That rookie's arrival was a critical event for the Yankees, as he would lead the team from the dark days of the late 1960s and back to the top in the mid to late seventies. We'll hear more about him later.

As for Tresh, he was a regular at Old Timers Day throughout his retirement. He passed away following a heart attack in October 2008.

4 comments:

  1. Eric Solomon2/2/10, 12:45 PM

    No offense, but how do you talk about #15 without even a mention of the Captain, Thurman Munson, for whom the number is retired?

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  2. That's the rookie he was talking about at the bottom of the post, Eric. We'll have our piece on Munson up at about 2:30.

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  3. Eric Solomon2/2/10, 12:55 PM

    Ah geez...I think I totally missed that paragraph. User error.

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  4. Happens to the best of us, man.

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