Top 100 Yankees of All-Time...#94, Tommy Byrne

Tommy Byrne was a bit of an enigma. Although he pitched about 10 ½ of his 13 big-league seasons with the New York Yankees and posted an excellent 72-40 record as a Bomber, he was a very erratic pitcher. He led the AL in walks three times and in hit batsmen five times. But win he did: he posted 15 or more victories three times for the New Yorkers. He also pitched in four World Series. For these achievements, he is our Greatest Yankee #94.

Byrne was a very slow worker, and was also a lefty. He struggled mightily in the early part of his career. So much so, that Yankee skipper Joe McCarthy tried to convert him to a first baseman. Tommy could hit. He accumulated 14 big league homeruns and was used as a pinch hitter 80 times.

Although he started out with the Yankees in 1943, Byrne did not hit his stride until the 1949 campaign. Up to that point, his control had gotten the better of him. In 1943, he posted a mark of 2-1, but actually walked more batters (35) than innings pitched (31). He then lost the 1944 and 1945 seasons to WWII and resurfaced with New York in 1946, but his struggles continued. He went winless in the both the 1946 and 1947 seasons, seeing little action in those years.

Byrne was 28 years old as the 1948 season began, and had only two big-league wins to that point. However, it was during that season that his career accelerated. He managed to win eight games, but the Yanks would finish behind the Cleveland Indians in the pennant race.

The next season, 1949, Byrne came into is own. He had his first big season, posting a record of 15-7, with a 3.72 ERA. He allowed only 125 hits in 196 innings pitched and twirled a dozen complete games. However, he walked a whopping 179 batters to easily lead the league in bases on balls. He also appeared in his first World Series that fall, but only pitched 3 1/3 innings and failed to post a decision.

In the 1950 season, he distinguished himself again, posting his second 15 win season. Byrne would up with a final mark of 15-9, but his ERA ballooned to 4.74. He went over the 200 IP mark for the only time in his career, finishing with 203 1/3 innings pitched. He allowed only 188 hits, but his control was only slightly better and he once again led the AL in free passes with 160. His control problems would continue to plague him throughout his career. Despite notching those nice win totals, he was never able to completely harness his wildness.

Year

Team

W-L

SV

IP

H

BB

SO ERA

1943

Yankees

2-1

0

31.2

28

35

22

6.54

1946

Yankees

0-1

0

9.1

7

8

5

5.79

1947

Yankees

0-0

0

4.2

5

6

2

4.15

1948 Yankees 8-5 2 133.2 79 101 93 3.30
1949 Yankees 15-7 0 196 125 179 129 3.72
1950 Yankees 15-9 0 203.1 188 160 118 4.74
1951 Yankees 2-1 0 21 16 36 14 6.86
1954 Yankees 3-2 0 40 36 19 24 2.70
1955 Yankees 16-5 2 160 137 87 76 3.15
1956 Yankees 7-3 6 109.2 108 72 52 3.36
1957 Yankees 4-6 2 84.2 70 60 57 4.36

On June 23, 1950, Byrne was involved in one of the most bizarre games in modern major league history. In front of 51,000 Tiger fans in Detroit, the Yanks and Tigers slugged at total of 11 homeruns (the ML record), as Detroit prevailed 10-9 The 11 blasts accounted for all the scoring in the game. Byrne's opposing pitcher, Dizzy Trout, hits a second inning grand slam off Byrne. It was also the first time that nine different players slugged homers in the same contest.

Although the Yankees swept the Philadelphia "Whiz Kids" in the 1950 World Series, Byrne did not make a series appearance. Casey Stengel elected not to trust Byrne's wildness, and opted to go with a starting rotation of Vic Raschi, Allie Reynolds, Ed Lopat and a rookie named Whitey Ford, who had finished his rookie season at 9-1, leaving Byrne on the pine for the fall classic.

In fact, with Ford's further development the next season, Byrne became expendable. Tommy was 2-1, when the Yankees traded him to the St. Louis Browns on June 15, 1951 for another pitcher, Stubby Overmire. For Byrne it would be like going "from the penthouse to the outhouse", as he really had his problems for the remainder of the '51 season. He finished the season with a overall mark of 6-11, going 4-10 with the Brownies. He had finished the first half of his New York career with a record of 42 wins and only 24 losses, but those days would seem long behind him, as he was hammered for the next 2 ½ seasons in Chicago and Washington, as well as with the Browns. For the complete 1951 season, Byrne would lead the AL in walks for the third straight season with 150. The 150 free passes would also surpass his innings pitched total of 143 2/3 for that season, as his wildness clearly got the better of him.

With a poor St. Louis team in 1952, Byrne had a miserable season. His record was 7-14, and his ERA was a fat 4.68. He did manage to pitch a career high14 complete games. Although he did go over the century mark for the fourth consecutive season in walks (112), he did not lead the league for the first time in four years.

Tommy was traded in the off season to the Chicago White Sox, but was quickly dispatched to the Washington Senators on June 11, 1953. He pitched only a combined 49 2/3 innings in the 1953 season, and compiled an overall mark of 2-5.

As luck would have it, however, 1954 saw Byrne back with the Yankees for a second stint in New York He didn't see much action, going 3-2 for the Bombers as they failed to make the World Series for the first time in six years.

But in 1955, Tommy would have a career year. He won a career high 16 games, and for the first time when pitching over 150 innings in a season, he finished with fewer than 100 walks. He walked only 87 and posted an overall mark of 16-5. His .762 winning percentage led the league.

Tommy also distinguished himself in the World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1955. On September 29, 1955, he defeated Billy Loes, 4-2, becoming the only lefty to pitch a complete game against the Dodgers in 1955. However, the baseball gods would turn against him and the Yankees, as the defense of Sandy Amoros would defeat them in game 7, with Byrne losing to Johnny Podres, 2-0, in the finale. Tommy completed the '55 series with a mark of 1-1, and an ERA of 1.88.

Although Byrne would pitch in both the 1956 and 1957 World Series, he would not figure in another decision. He pitched sparingly in those final two seasons, winning seven and four games. Following the 1957 campaign, with a record of 4-6, he called it a career.

The irony, when examining Tommy Byrne's final stats, is that he never struck out more batters than he walked for a full season. He finished with 1037 walks, against only 766 whiffs, yet he still posted an excellent won-loss mark of 72-40 (.643) as a Yankee. Had he ever been able to reduce his walks, his record may have been considerably better, perhaps matching the lefty that replaced him in the New York starting rotation, Whitey Ford. Nevertheless, he did well enough to earn our designation as Greatest Yankee #94.


Pinstripes Plus Top Stories