Top 100 Yankees of All-Time..#95, Johnny Blanchard

Johnny Blanchard was probably the greatest third-string catcher that ever lived. As a bench player for the Yankees, he was completely comfortable in his role. With Yogi Berra aging and Elston Howard injured following the 1960 season, manager Casey Stengel made Blanchard the reserve backstop and he became a dominant player for the 1961 World Champions. He also contributed to three more AL pennant winners and earns our distinction as Greatest Yankee #95.

Johnny Blanchard was probably the greatest third-string catcher that ever lived. As a bench player for the Yankees, he was completely comfortable in his role. With Yogi Berra aging and Elston Howard injured following the 1960 season, manager Casey Stengel made Blanchard the reserve backstop and he became a dominant player for the 1961 World Champions. He also contributed to three more AL pennant winners and earns our distinction as Greatest Yankee #95.

Blanchard would distinguish himself on a team that set a then record 240 homeruns in the 1961 campaign. Blanchard had always been a poor defensive player, but in that season he played well defensively and was an offensive dynamo who hit .305 with 21 homeruns. He was also an excellent pinch-hitter. In addition to catching, he also played the outfield and first base on occasion.

Unlike many players who would constantly complain about their playing time, Blanchard was more the satisfied with his role on those Yankee championship teams of the early 60's. He set the record with ten World Series pinch-hitting performances.

But it will be for his 1961 season that Blanchard will always be remembered. As the M&M Boys battled for the homerun title, as well as a place in baseball history, Blanchard constantly contributed to that New York juggernaut.

On July 21, 1961 at Fenway Park in Boston, Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris both slammed first inning homeruns. It took a ninth-inning pinch grand slam by Blanchard, however, to give the Yanks an 11-8 win over the Bosox. The pinch grand slam was the American League's sixth of the season, an AL record. The next day he did it again, hitting another 9th inning pinch blast, helping to ignite another New York rally, en route to a come from behind 11-9 win.

Then on July 26th, Blanchard culminated his greatest stretch of the season, hitting two homeruns against the Chicago White Sox. He drove in four runs in a 5-2 win and tied a major league record with four homeruns in four at-bats over three games.

Blanchard's 21 circuit clouts in 1961 came in only 243 at-bats, thus he became the first player in baseball history to hit more than 20 homers in less than 250 at-bats.

Year

Team

AVG

AB

HR

RBI

R

SB

BB

SO

OBP

SLG

1959

Yankees

.169

59

2

4

6

0

7

12

.258

.288

1960

Yankees

.242

99

4

14

8

0

6

17

.292

.414

1961

Yankees

.305

243

21

54

38

1

27

28

.382

.613

1962 Yankees .232 246 13 39 33 0 28 32 .309 .419
1963 Yankees .225 218 16 45 22 0 26 30 .305 .463
1964 Yankees .255 161 7 28 18 1 24 24 .344 .435
1965 Yankees .147 34 1 3 1 0 7 3 .286 .265

Although Johnny would never again experience a season like that 1961 year, he remained a reliable bench player as the Yankees added AL titles in 1962, 1963 and 1964. His homerun spurred a dramatic win against the Red Sox in an August 22, 1964 game that saw rookie Mel Stottlemyre win his third straight game since a recall from Richmond. The Yanks were in real dogfight with Baltimore and Chicago that season, and Blanchard's long ball helped to end a six-game New York losing streak.  The Yanks would go on to win their fifth straight AL title, before losing in seven games to the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series.

With the Yankees slumping badly in 1965, Blanchard became expendable. He was traded to the Kansas A's for another catcher, Doc Edwards, on May 3, 1965. He never wanted to be traded and was said to have wept openly when he learned of the trade. Superstar, and close friend, Mickey Mantle tried to console him, telling Blanchard that he would now at least get a chance to play regularly in Kansas City.

Mantle's words fell on deaf ears, and Blanchard spiraled out of control following the trade. He always drank, but with Kansas City his boozing got worse. He stumbled through the 1965 season, finished the season with the Milwaukee Braves, and retired at the age of 32. One of the hard-living Yankees of the late 50's and early 60's, he later cleaned up his life and became a successful businessman.

Johnny's legacy to the New York Yankees, and baseball as a whole, is that baseball is a team game. It takes 25 men to win, including those who have to come off the bench at a moment's notice and perform. On the New York pennant winners of the early Sixties, there was probably no one better at this role in all of baseball, particularly in his storied 1961 season, than Johnny Blanchard.


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