Preston Rudolph York (August 17, 1913 – February 5, 1970) was a Major League Baseball first baseman who played for the Detroit Tigers (1934, 1937-45), Boston Red Sox (1946-47), Chicago White Sox (1947) and Philadelphia Athletics (1948). York was born in Ragland, Alabama. He batted and threw right-handed. With one-eight Cherokee ancestry and less-than-perfect fielding habilities, York prompted one sportswriter to declare: “He is part Indian and part first baseman”.
Regarded as a “wood” man rather than a “glove” man, York responded in his own terms slugging his way to major league notoriety, while his managers tried to figure out the position where he could do the least damage as a fielder. Nevertheless, York tried at a variety of positions. He was too awkard at third, too heavy footed for the outfield, extremely wild as a pitcher, and an immobile target as a catcher. From the beginning, though, he was a menacing figure with a bat and amazingly dangerous with the bases loaded –he hit 12 career grand slams, including two in a game.
York grew up in Cartersville, Georgia. He had been rejected by the Knoxville club of the Southern League and found work as an auto mechanic. In 1933, a Detroit scout spotted him during a weekend that he was playing sandlot baseball. Assigned to Beaumont of the Texas League, York was sent to the Tigers in 1934 for a tryout. It didn’t last long. He played a few games at third, was switched to outfield, went to bat six times, struck out three times, finally was benched, then was shipped back to Beaumont.
As a first baseman, York was selected MVP of the Texas League in 1935 and the American Association in 1936. He came back to Detroit in 1937. Since there was no room for a rookie first baseman on a team that already had Hank Greenberg, York spent his time at third base stopping grounders with his chest and shins or lumbering after passed balls. But he startled the baseball world as a rookie. On the last day of August 1937, York belted two home runs giving him 18 for the month, surpassing the record of 17 set by Babe Ruth in September 1927. York also collected 49 RBI in the month breaking by one the mark set by Lou Gehrig, and finished his rookie season with a .303 batting average, 35 home runs, and 103 RBI in only 305 at-bats. Later in the season, Mickey Cochrane, the Tigers catcher-manager and future Hall of Famer, insisted the rookie try to become the team regular catcher.
York started as a catcher in 1938. A year later, he shared duties with Birdie Tebbetts. Then, in 1940 the Tigers persuaded Greenberg to switch from first base to left field, moved York to first, and replaced him behind the plate with Tebbetts. The experiment was successfully. In that season Greenberg hit .340 with 41 home runs and 150 RBI, and York compiled .316, 33 and 134, for an American League champion team that lost to the Cincinnati Reds in the 1940 World Series in seven games. In the series, York batted .231 (6-for-26) with one home run and two RBI. In addition, York was nominated for the AL MVP Award.
With Greenberg out in the military service, York was the only offensive support for the Tigers in 1941. He hit 27 homeruns (including a three-homer game) with 111 RBI. In 1942 he slipped to 21 and 90, but in 1943 he enjoyed a season career when he led the league in home runs (34), RBI (118), total bases (301), extra base hits (67), slugging percentage (.527) and games played (155), and also got his second MVP consideration.
York fell below 20 homers in 1944 and 1945 (18 each), and had a poor performance in the 1945 World Series, when Detroit defeated the Cubs in seven games. He was sent to Boston in January 1946. It turned out to be a good deal for the Red Sox. York crashed two grand slams in a game against the Browns on July 27, and helped lead Boston to the American League pennant. In that season, York hit .276 with 17 home runs and 119 RBI. He added two decisive homers in the World Series against the Cardinals: a 10th-inning game-winner in the Game One, and a three-run winner in the Game Three. Finally, St. Louis took the series four games to three.
In 1947 York nearly died when a fire, believed to have been started by a cigarette, swept his hotel room. He was led to safety, but after a slow start, he was traded to the White Sox in the midseason. He was given his unconditional release in February of 1948 and picked up by the Athletics, for what would be his final season as a bigleaguer.
York was a career .275 hitter with 277 home runs and 1152 RBI in 1603 games. In three World Series he hit .221 with three homers and 10 RBI. He was selected for the All-Star Game in seven times. After retiring, he coached for the Red Sox four seasons, serving as a interim manager in 1959 (one game).
Rudy York died in Rome, Georgia, at age of 56.
7-time All-Star (1938, 1941-44, 1946-47)
Led league in home runs (1943)
Led league in RBI (1943)
Led league in slugging percentage (1943)
Led league in extra bases (1943)
Led league in total bases (1943)
3-time led league in games played (1940, 1943, 1945)
Twice Top 10 MVP (8th, 1940; 3rd, 1943)
Tied a MLB record with four grand slams in a season (1938)
Set a MLB record for home runs in a month (18, August 1937, broken by Sammy Sosa, 20, June 1998)
Set a MLB record for grand slams in a month (three, May 1938, tied by Jim Northrup, June 1968)
Collected 12 career grand slams
On April 23, 1947, Yankees Allie Reynolds pitched a two-hit shutout against Boston. The only hits were delivered by York.
In a unusual pitching emergency, Ted Williams pitches two innings in a 12-1 loss to the Tigers at Fenway Park, on August 24, 1940. On three pitches, Williams strikes out York, who had driven in five Detroit runs.