August 1937 started like any other month in the baseball career of 23-year-old Rudolph Preston (Rudy) York. He still was trying to win a regular job with the Detroit Tigers.
York, a stern-visaged, part Cherokee from Cartersville, Ga., had a three-game trial with the pennant-winning Tigers in 1934, then was sent the next two seasons to Beaumont in the Texas League and Milwaukee in the American Association in the hopes his fielding would improve to augment his long-ball hitting.
At various stages, York was tried at second base, third base, the outfield and behind the plate. First base, however, was his normal position. This posed a problem, since Detroit had a first baseman named Hank Greenberg. York obviously had to be tried elsewhere.
Thus came the hot days of August, with York hopping from position to position and the fourth-place Tigers riding a five-game losing streak.
On Tuesday, August 3, Detroit lost 2-1 to the Athletics in Philadelphia. Changes, quite plainly, were in order.
A rumor buzzed Shibe Park the next day: York, the broad-shouldered rookie, was to be traded to Philadelphia. "I know Mr. Connie Mack has a fondness for me," York told interviewers.
Gossip increased when Manager Mickey Cochrane summoned York from practice into the dressing room. York, for sure, was on his way to the A's.
Cochrane had started the season as Detroit's regular catcher. On May 25 he suffered a skull fracture when beaned by Yankee Pitcher Bump Hadley. Ray Hay-worth, Cliff Bolton and Birdie Tebbetts had been tried as replacements.
As York approached, Cochrane tossed him a catcher's mitt.
"Here," said Cochrane, "You're my No. 1 catcher."
"The hell I am," said York, flinging back the mitt.
"Look," said Cochrane patiently. "I'm sure catching will be strange to you at first. You'll need help with your throwing, positioning your feet, calling pitches and other things. I'll help. So will Coach Del Baker. In two years you can write your own ticket with this ball club. What do you say?"
York paused. "Give me 15 minutes to think," he said.
"I'll give it a try, Mickey," said York finally.
"Good," replied Cochrane, making out his lineup card. He had York, c, in the No. 7 position behind Gee Walker, If; Pete Fox, rf; Charley Gehringer, 2b; Hank Greenberg, 1b; Chet Laabs, of; and Marv Owen, 3b.
Harry Kelley, a curve-balling righthander, was the A's starter. First time up, York caught a waist-high curve and pulled it down the left field line. There was a wire screen at the bleacher foul line. York's blast hit it—inches from home run territory—and bounced back on the field for a double. Next time up, York whiplashed his 6-foot-1, 210-pound frame into another Kelley curve. This sailed into the stands for a two-run homer, his 14th of the season and his first in the month of August.
Next day York had two hits as the Tigers beat the A's 5-3. Detroit moved to Washington for a four-game series. York sent Ed (Babe) Linke's ninth-inning fast ball into the center-field stands for a two-run homer as Detroit won 10-3.
The Tigers split Saturday's double-header in Washington, winning the opener, 3-2, on York's three-run homer in the seventh inning off Wes Ferrell. Rudy, trying manfully to become a catcher, only had to handle Cletus Poffenberger for five innings in Sunday's 5-1 victory and hit a second-inning homer off Jimmy DeShong.
On Saturday, August 14, the Tigers beat the Browns 16-1 and 20-7, with a 40-hit, eight-homer barrage. Pitcher Bill Trotter was the victim of York's fifth homer of the month in the second game.
The Tigers headed to Chicago for a second-place showdown. On Tuesday, August 17, York celebrated his 24th birthday in Comiskey Park with two singles, a triple and his sixth homer of the month off Johnny Rigney. The Tigers won 11-7, but were stopped on Vern Kennedy's four-hitter the next day.
A heavy rainstorm halted Detroit's 12-4 runaway in Chicago on August 19, but not before York had six runs batted in and homers No. 7 and No. 8 of the month off Johnny Whitehead and Sugar Cain.
In a doubleheader on a hot Sunday, August 22, York hit Elon Hogsett's first-inning pitch for his ninth homer of the month. Acting Manager Del Baker decided the heat was too intense for York to work two games. He put in Cliff Bolton. But he called in York as a ninth inning pinch hitter for shortstop Billy Rogell with Detroit trailing, 3-1. Bill Trotter again was the St. Louis pitcher. York whacked Trotter's fast ball over the fence for his second homer of the day. Detroit won in the 10th, 4-3.
Monday was an open date. The Tigers returned home in second place, 11 games behind the Yankees, mostly on the impetus of York's 10 homers in the month. Babe Ruth held the major league record for homers in a month—17 in September 1927, while en route to his record 60. Could York break it? He certainly was trying.
York slammed three homers out of Navin Field as the Tigers split a double-header with the Athletics. He hit two in the opener off Harry Kelley, then another—his 13th of the month—off Lynn (Line Drive) Nelson in the third inning of the second game. The following day he moved to within three of Ruth's record with his 26th homer, his sixth in five games and his 14th of the month. It came in the second inning off George Caster, with Gehringer and Greenberg on base.
Gehringer and Greenberg were aboard again on Friday, August 27, against the Red Sox, when York caught Jack Wilson's first-inning fast ball and drove it over the left field fence. York now had 15 homers.
Time was running out on Monday, August 30. York had only two days to overtake Ruth's record. Tiger fans—32,000 strong—were back for more. Lefty Gomez was New York's pitcher. With two out in the first inning, Gehringer walked. Greenberg homered over the left field wall. Not to be upstaged, York, the next batter, rammed a line drive into the right center field pavilion seats for his 16th homer of the month.
One day left. One homer to tie the record.
Pete Appleton started for the Senators. York had a field day. In the first inning he hit homer No. 17 over the scoreboard. In the sixth he whacked record-breaking homer No. 18 over the scoreboard. Rudy wound up with a perfect day at the plate: 4 for 4, with two singles and seven runs batted in.
York had batted .360 in 30 games in August with 30 doubles, two triples, 51 runs batted in. He knocked in seven runs one day, six another, five once and four twice. He had 41 hits in 114 times at bat, opened the month with a .252 average and ended it at .295.
Reporters clustered about York in the steaming dressing room. Sweat rolled down his ruddy face as he puffed a cigarette and faced his inquisitors.
"How do you feel, Rudy?"
"You know you broke Ruth's record?"
"Are you happy?"
"Hell, yes. I'm happy to be playing every day."