Wednesday, March 26, 2008

#323 Hank Bauer

See, I told you I'd be back! I received this beauty from reader Tim in NO, who was kind enough to send me a box full of Orioles cards that I needed. I've coveted this Hank Bauer card since the day I first saw it while clicking around on The Baseball Card Project. Bauer had a classic, weathered face to match his gruff bulldog persona, and yet most pictures I've seen of him showcase his wide, endearing smile. That's the case here, and it's even better because the loose strands of hair poking out from under his cap combine with the glistening forehead to make it look like he's just had a rough night out.

Hank Bauer was a regular in the Yankee outfield for eleven years, winning seven World Series in nine postseasons. His best performance came in his last Fall Classic, the 1958 showdown with the Milwaukee Braves. In that series, Bauer hit four home runs in seven games for a .710 slugging percentage. His longevity in the New York lineup is even more impressive when you consider the fact that he didn't play a full season in the majors until he was 26. Hank lost his early playing years to World War II, where he served as a U.S. Marine from 1942-1945, earning two Purple Hearts and two Bronze Stars. His second Purple Heart came in the Battle of Okinawa, when he commanded a platoon of 64 men. Bauer was one of only six who survived, being sent home after he was hit in the thigh with shrapnel.

Hank Bauer was also the manager that took the Orioles to the promised land, bridging the gap between the strong foundation that Paul Richards built and the prolonged greatness of the Earl Weaver era. In Bauer's first year at the helm (1964), the Baby Birds gave the Yankees a run for their money, spending 92 days in first place and holding the top spot as late as September 18. Ultimately they faded just a bit, finishing two games behind New York with a then-O's record 97 wins. 1965 brought another third-place finish and 94 more wins, but 1966 would be Baltimore's year. Bolstered by the addition of slugger Frank Robinson, Bauer's charges again won 97 games. This time it was good enough to take them to the World Series, where they swept the more-heralded Dodgers in four straight games, shutting them out over the last 33 innings. Hank was named Manager of the Year for his efforts, but the glory was short-lived. After an injury-plagued O's team stumbled to a fifth-place finish in 1967 and started slow the following year, he was replaced by Earl Weaver, who'd just been added to the coaching staff at the beginning of the season. The rest, as they say, is history.

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