“Who was Rudy York?” My husband Dave asked his Dad that question on our recent visit to Ontario. Dad, who is 93, lives in the Leamington Mennonite Nursing Home. Sometimes Dad struggles to remember people and events in the present, but his memories of the past are vivid.
Dad has always been a fan of the Detroit Tigers baseball team. An avid ball player himself, he treated his five sons to a trip across the border every summer to Detroit to watch a Tigers’ game.
One afternoon during our recent visit Dave walked into Dad’s room at the nursing home wearing a new Detroit Tigers cap. Dad commented on Dave’s purchase and he and Dave began talking about their beloved ball team. Dad, who no longer watches television, knew nothing about the Tigers’ performance in the 2014 season but when Dave asked, “Dad who was your favorite Tigers’ player of all time?” Dad thought about it for a minute and answered, “Rudy York.”
“Who was Rudy York?” Dave wondered aloud. Dave is a baseball aficionado and a true Tigers’ fan so he thought he knew about all their star players past and present. He’d never heard of Rudy York. Despite Dave’s skepticism Dad insisted Rudy had been a great Tigers’ player. Dad talked about York’s hitting power. He had played catcher and first base.
That night we were at our nephew’s house and I mentioned the Rudy York conversation with Dad. Our nephew whipped out his phone and did a quick search. Sure enough! Rudy York had been a Tiger from 1937-1945. Dad would have been in his late teens and early twenties when Rudy was playing in Detroit.
I was curious and did some research. I discovered Rudy York’s photo had been on the cover of Newsweek magazine with the headline “Greatest Slugger Since Babe Ruth.” In August of 1937, during his first month as a major league player, York broke Babe Ruth’s record for the most home runs in a month. He hit eighteen home runs and was responsible for forty four RBIs.
A Washington Post sports writer described the achievement poetically. “The booming bat of 24-year-old Rudy York, Detroit’s late entry into the home run race, spoke in tones heard around the baseball world this afternoon as one of Babe Ruth’s proudest and supposedly invincible records went crashing into discard.”
During some of the time Rudy was playing for the Tigers, Dad was working in a lumber camp for conscientious objectors in Montreal River, in northern Ontario. I know Dad played on a ball team in the camp, since he has recorded the names and positions of all the players in an old autograph book.
Were he and his fellow lumberjacks able to get newspapers to keep up to date on Rudy’s baseball exploits?
In 1937 when Rudy York broke Babe Ruth’s homerun record Dad was sixteen and living with his family on Pelee Island in Lake Erie. Stories I found online about other Mennonite families living on the island at the time include the mention of baseball games played at school and in the community. Did Dad and his friends listen to the radio to follow Rudy’s career?
Finding out that Dad had been absolutely right about Rudy York being a noted baseball player was somehow comforting to me. Even though Dad isn’t always familiar with the present when we visit him, he is still teaching us interesting things about the past.
Other posts about the Detroit Tigers……