Johnny Blanchard, Arthur Richman R.I.P.

Ex-Yankee catcher Johnny Blanchard passed away at the age of 76.  Although never a regular with the Yanks, Blanchard was remarkably productive when he did get to play.  Particularly from 1961 to 1963, Blanchard tore it up for the Yanks, with his best year clearly 1961 when he hit 21 homers, drove in 54 runs, hit .305/.382, and had 10 doubles–in 243 at-bats.  He was one of six Yanks to hit at least 20 homers in 1961 despite having at least 150 at-bats fewer than the other five Yankees to hit 20+ that year (Maris, Mantle, Skowron, Howard, and Yogi).  Although he never hit close to .300 again, Blanchard was terrific in 1962 and 1963 as well, hitting 13 HR, 39 RBI, .232/.309 in 246 at-bats in ’62, and 16 HR, 45 RBI, .225/.305 in 218 at-bats in ’63.  His best post-season work came in 1960, when he hit .455 (5 for 11) against Pittsburgh, and 1961 when he .400 (4 for 10) with 2 homers, 3 RBIs, and 4 runs against Cincinnati. Against Cincy in Game 3, he homered in the top of the eighth to tie the game at two off knuckle-baller Bob Purkey on a good tip from Mantle, who informed Blanchard that Purkey started with sliders to get ahead, then threw his knuckle ball.  Blanchard tattooed the first-pitch slider deep to left, to the delight of Mantle.  Blanchard also homered in the Game 5 clincher, part of a five-run fourth inning that gave the Yanks an 11-3 lead on their way to a 13-5 battering of the over-matched Reds.

Blanchard, who was a left-handed hitter, is also remembered for homering in four consecutive at-bats, twice while pinch-hitting.  On July 21, he hit a pinch-hit grand slam in Fenway with the Yanks down one and two outs, pushing the Yanks to an 11-8 win over Boston.  The next night, he did it again in Fenway, pinch-hitting for Clete Boyer (again) and tying the game at 9 with a homer in the ninth with two outs.  The Yanks went on to win in extra innings.  The next time he played, July 26 at home against the White Sox, Blanchard hit fifth behind Mantle and homered in his first two at-bats.  He nearly hit a fifth, but his long fly was caught against the right field fence.

Blanchard was a key component in those Yankees years, coming off the bench and providing good power.  An easy-going guy, he was miserable when traded to the Kansas City A’s, never wanting to be traded even during his best years, saying “I’d rather sit on the bench with the Yankees ’till the bench rots.”

Keep smiling, Johnny.

Apparently, Arthur Richman, the Yanks’ senior adviser for media relations and to George Steinbrenner, also passed away.  According to The Yankee Years, it was Richman who contacted Torre and first offered him the manager’s job in October 1995.

Good call, Art.

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Published in: on March 25, 2009 at 12:28 pm  Leave a Comment  

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