Rudy York enjoyed a magical rookie season at the plate. Although the rookie raked the ball, the Tigers could not find a position for him. York proved a defensive liability everywhere they tried him. The team tried the youngster at third base, but that failed. So, they finally decided to put him behind the plate. Once ensconced behind home plate, York exploded with an amazing home run streak that topped Babe Ruth’s best effort.
The 1934 American League Champion Detroit Tigers placed 20-year-old Rudy York on their roster for three games. The youngster went 1-for-6 in his cup of coffee and returned to the minors for seasoning. Over the next two seasons, York won two minor league MVP awards at first base. By 1937, the Tigers decided York deserved a chance with the big club. However, Detroit already boasted one of the game’s top first basemen in Hank Greenberg. As a result, the team decided to place York out of position to get his bat into the lineup.
York started the 1937 at third base. He remained at the position until August. The Tigers felt his bat too valuable to bench while his fielding left much to be desired. In April, York batted .304 with a home run, five RBI, and .906 OPS in six games. Despite the hot start, the rookie cooled off considerably in May. On June 1, his average dropped to .224. A slight rebound in June increased his batting to .237.
Detroit remained confident in their potential star and the rookie began to turn offensively in July. York blasted eight home runs and knocked in 27. His batting average increased 14 points to .251. Despite this, his fielding remained a concern. Meanwhile, Tiger catcher Birdie Tebbetts provided the opposite dilemma. Tebbetts fielded superbly, but could not hit. On August 4, manager Mickey Cochrane decided to move York behind the plate. He did not play third base again in 1937. Defensively, York committed nine errors and produced a low .925 fielding percentage.
York’s fielding improved at catcher, but he still managed to lead the league in passed balls with 12. Detroit did not care because the new catcher caught fire in August. During the month, he raised his average over 40 points to .296. York had 11 multi-hit games and three multi-homer games. He had three games with three hits and two with four. On August 19 and 31, York belted two home runs. Overall, he blasted 18 for the month breaking Babe Ruth’s record of 17. His slugging percentage skyrocketed to .682 and OPS increased to 1.036.
Although the power dropped, the new catcher continued the hot streak in September. Once again, he increased his average while hitting five long balls. York had eight multi-hit games which included a three-hit game on September 23 and a four-hit game on September 6. By season’s end, York finished with a .307 average, 35 home runs, 101 RBI, .375 OBP, .651 slugging, and 1.026 OPS in 104 games. His production came in just 375 at bats. At season’s end, York finished 23rd in the MVP voting.
After the amazing rookie campaign, York remained with Detroit through 1945. However, his fielding remained problematic. Finally, in 1940, the Tigers asked Hank Greenberg to move to left field so York could play first. Greenberg complied and won his second MVP award. Meanwhile, York won the 1943 home run and RBI crowns, played on two pennant winners, made five All Star teams, and consistently appeared on MVP ballots.
Rudy York experienced a wondrous rookie campaign. Although he encountered rookie struggles in May, York righted the ship and developed into a plus player. His season, and career, exploded after moving from third base to catcher. Unencumbered by infield duties, York relaxed and out homered the Babe. In Tiger lore, very few players burst onto the scene with an equivalent freshman campaign.