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Original Issue

The Gun of August For one month at least, Tiger Rudy York was the greatest of sluggers

If Mark Mcgwire, Sammy Sosa or Ken Griffey Jr. has a Rudy York
kind of August, the home run record will be toast before Labor
Day. In August 1937 the Tigers' York hit 18 home runs, a record
for the month that still stands. The improbable part of the story
is that Rudy York had a Rudy York kind of August.

On the surface York's performance is enough of a historical
aberration to make the head shake: He only averaged about 25
homers a year in his 11 full seasons in the majors, so 18 in one
month is rather striking. Yet look deeper, and York's record
becomes odder still.

In 1937 York was a 23-year-old rookie who had been so
unsuccessful in cracking the Detroit lineup that he had warmed
up several times to pitch. A first baseman in the minors, he was
blocked at that position by the Tigers' future Hall of Famer,
Hank Greenberg. He'd played a little second, but Detroit had
another future Hall of Famer, Charlie Gehringer, there. He'd
lumbered around the outfield once, but the Tigers' starters were
strong enough that Hall-bound Goose Goslin, then age 36, was the
fourth outfielder. York had done a little catching, but he
wasn't going to beat out Mickey Cochrane, who also was headed
for Cooperstown and happened to be the Detroit manager. Even
when Cochrane and third baseman Marv Owen were felled by
injuries, York couldn't get in the starting lineup.

By Aug. 4 York and the Tigers were well on their way to a season
of frustration (despite an 89-65 record, they would wind up in
second place, 13 games behind the Yankees). Detroit had lost six
straight when Cochrane, who had missed two months recuperating
from a fractured skull but was back managing, decided to again
try York behind the plate. York responded with four home runs in
the next six games. But through Aug. 16 York had hit just five
homers in the month. Then came a sixth in Chicago on the 17th,
two more there on the 19th, two more in St. Louis on the 22nd,
three in a doubleheader at home on the 24th, solo shots in
Detroit on the 25th, 27th and 30th, and finally, on the 31st, in
his fourth multihomer game in 12 days, a pair of three-run shots
off Pete Appleton of the Senators.

In addition to the 18 homers, York had 49 RBIs, a .360 batting
average and a .929 slugging percentage in August. Even with a
quiet September, he finished the 1937 season with 35 homers in
just 375 at bats, and he had 103 RBIs in 104 games.

Aided in large part by the parade of sluggers and quality
pitchers who went off to World War II, he would lead the majors
in homers (277), RBIs (1,146) and total bases (2,838) during his
years as an every-day player, 1937 through '47. But true
greatness eluded him, as did fame. In balloting for the American
League Most Valuable Player award in '37, he received a single
vote. Twenty-five years later he got one Hall of Fame vote, 10
in the next election and was then dropped from the ballot. He
died of cancer in '70. His Rudy York kind of August, however,
remains immortal.

B/W PHOTO: CORBIS/BETTMANN [Rudy York batting]