Before Bill Mazeroski’s iconic home run, Johnny Blanchard had ideas for a different pitch

Johnny Blanchard was an outstanding athlete in three sports in Central Minneapolis in football, basketball and baseball. He was a left-handed hitter, a right-handed pitcher, and primarily a third baseman during those years.

Blanchard was 18 when the Yankees signed him for a substantial bonus in 1951. They decided to turn him into a catcher and his first season in that role – 1952 with Class C Joplin [Mo.] team – was not smooth. He led all of professional baseball with 35 passes.

Then came his draft notice, and he spent the next two years in the army. It was in the middle of the Korean conflict, but he spent most of his time in Germany.

He returned to the Yankees’ loaded farm system and had just one game and four major league at-bats over the next four years. He hit 37 home runs and had a combined 184 runs in 1957-58 at Denver’s Class AAA, and the Yankees finally found him a spot in 1959:

Third-string catcher behind Yogi Berra and Elston Howard, former and future American League MVPs, as well as an outfielder and hitter. Yankee Stadium left-handed hitters… the Bronx Bombers loved these guys for generations.

Blanchard played in five consecutive World Series with the Yankees from 1960 to 1964, the former being the most notorious and his role the most intriguing.

I played golf cart with Johnny several times years later. Good stick, good guy, and as his son Paul Blanchard pointed out during our conversation last week: “You were longtime members of the same club.”

It would be Alcoholics Anonymous – and it was discussed in the cart.

I was in conversation with Paul about his impending retirement after 27 years as a Southwest Minnesota State baseball coach, and then the conversation drifted to his dad, and he said:

“Did you realize my dad was catching up when Bill Mazeroski hit the home run to end Game 7 of the 1960 World Series? Most people assume it was Yogi or Elston Howard, but it was John.

“Good story on that too.”

And there was, of Johnny now told by his son, but first some details:

The Yankees were heavy favorites against the Pirates, the upstart National League winners. Pittsburgh had won three games 6-4, 3-2 and 5-2. The Yankees had won three games 16-3, 10-0 and 12-0 (Game 6 in Pittsburgh).

Then came Game 7 on October 13, 1960 – the greatest ball game ever played, at least for twists, in the opinion of many.

How about this: There were 19 runs, 24 hits and the playing time was 2 hours, 36 minutes. Also this: There was not a single strikeout recorded by the nine pitchers used (Yankees 5, Pirates 4).

In the first six games, Berra had caught two and Howard was catching his fourth in Game 6. Pittsburgh starter Bob Friend hit Howard in the hand in the second inning and Elston was left with a hand broken.

Blanchard grabbed the rest of that 12-0 Yankees win and was back in Game 7, with Yogi in left field. The Yankees were down 4-0 early, scored five runs in the mid-inning, then two more in the eighth for a 7-4 lead.

Blanchard’s fourth hit in 11 at-bats led to the seventh inning. Then the Pirates scored five goals in the eighth, a rally triggered by a double play ball that took a bad jump and hit shortstop Tony Kubek in the throat.

Kubek’s mouth was full of blood and he had to leave the game. Later, he compared the infield of Forbes Field to the Normandy beach, which might not have worked very well in the era of social media, but apparently didn’t cause a ruckus six decades ago.

Led 9-7, the Yankees of course tied the game with two points in the ninth. And Yankees manager Casey Stengel opted to go with Ralph Terry, the losing starter in Game 4, to take the Yankees to extra innings in the bottom of the ninth.

And here is what Paul Blanchard said his father told him:

“Mazeroski was leading and the scouting report on him was that he liked the ball. What he didn’t want was a fastball at the knees. My dad called for a fastball and wanted it low. Terry shook it off, and threw a high break point with not much on it and Mazeroski took it for the first pitch.

“My dad came out to the mound to tell Ralph they should throw some fastballs. He said Ralph told him unequivocally to get back behind the plate, he was going to throw whatever pitches he wanted.

“So he threw another high ball and Mazeroski hit it over the 406-foot marker in left center field and had one of the most famous trips around bases in baseball history. “

Pirates 10, Yankees 9.

It wasn’t the end.

Paul Blanchard: “When my father arrived at the shelter, the pitching coach [Eddie Lopat] started yelling at him, ‘Why didn’t you follow the reports on this guy? Fastballs down.

“My dad was just going to carry it, but Ralph Terry walked up behind him and said, ‘It’s not about Johnny. That’s what I wanted to launch. ”

Stengel was fired later that month after his long career as Yankees manager, being replaced by third base coach Ralph Houk. The Yankees’ dynastic ways continued through 1964, then officially ended (for a decade, at least) on July 11, 1965, when Harmon Killebrew hit a two-out, 3-2 home run against Pete Mikkelsen. to give the Twins a win that buried the Yankees in the AL standings.

Old Twins fans may find the audio of Ray Scott calling this homer and having dead hair follicles springing to life on their scalp.

You can also find suggestions on the internet that Mazeroski hit a fastball from Terry. There is a video available. If it was Terry’s fastball, he would never have made it out of his hometown of Big Cabin, Okla.

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