The New York Yankees were one of the hottest teams in professional baseball on July 13, 1942. With a record of 54-28, the limestone walls of Yankee Stadium were busy hosting a game between the Yankees and the Detroit Tigers. The Yankees had their World Series ace Lefty Gomez on the mound while the Tigers sent out Dizzy Trout.
Like many pitchers, Gomez showed a bit of wildness in the first inning, walking Barney McCosky and hitting Doc Cramer with one out. He threw a wild pitch, advancing the runners. Pinky Higgins walked, bringing up the star of the team, Rudy York. York came into the at-bat hitting .299. He popped up, which catcher Bill Dickey chased after until falling on his legs.
York ended up popping up again, before Don Ross walked in the first run. A groundball by Jimmy Bloodworth ended the inning. However, it set in motion a controversy that changed the path of the franchise behind the plate.
Not much was known about Dickey’s fall until Buddy Rosar replaced him defensively in the top of the second. Rosar finished the game in the place of Dickey, which became a 4-3 win in favor of the Yankees.
However, the news was awful after Dickey had his shoulder evaluated. Dickey tore a ligament in his right shoulder trying to chase the York pop-up and would be out of commission at least two weeks. This ended the streak of Dickey as baseball’s catching “Iron Man”. Dickey broke Gabby Hartnett’s record of 12 consecutive years of catching 100 games.
This would have been his 14th, but the injury kyboshed any hope of that. (Dickey ended up playing in 82 games that season, never to catch 100 again.)
Rosar was considered the replacement of the future for Dickey when the latter would retire. Rosar’s career began in 1934, making it to the majors in 1939. However, despite the fact that scouts loved his bat and considered equal to Dickey by 1940, Joe McCarthy was unwilling to play him much in favor of the stalwart Dickey.
By July of 1940, Rosar sported a .325 batting average versus Dickey’s .204 and pushed McCarthy’s hand into letting him play. Rosar hit .287 in 67 games as backup to Dickey in 1941. Entering 1942, the Yankees had a great tandem of Dickey and Rosar. That was the case until July.
With Dickey injured, McCarthy declined the request of Rosar to go to his home of Buffalo, New York. Due to having a shortage of catchers, there was no way they could let Rosar go. The purpose of this trip was to go take the Civil Service examination so he could look into a future as a police officer.
With that in mind, Rosar took off from the Yankees and New York and drove up to Buffalo on July 18. With no catcher ready, McCarthy and Barrow were forced to sign catcher Rollie Hemsley to a major league deal and Ed Kearse to a minor league deal.
While in Buffalo, Rosar not only took the exam with 953 others at noon in the city, but also welcomed the birth of his second child, their first son. The city of Buffalo, contacted by the media, noted that Rosar had the fastest time in the mile run.
Mayor Joseph J. Kelly noted that they could use someone of Rosar’s type on their force. He also admitted the big reason Rosar made the move, that the catcher thought there would be no baseball in 1943 and wanted to get a job to help his family.
Meanwhile, Hemsley went 5-6 in the doubleheader with the Chicago White Sox, despite no sleep and a hard travel schedule. McCarthy announced on Monday, July 21, that he fined Rosar $250 for his actions and anything further would be decided in Cleveland.
McCarthy, who also lived in Buffalo, stood firm in his belief that Rosar should not have abandoned his team, “even if it was his brother.” The press asked McCarthy about possibly going to be the benchwarmer to Hemsley for a while, but did not decide yet. Meanwhile, in Cleveland, Rosar went ahead and brought his entire team cigars for his actions, noting he was in a lot of trouble.
The press ripped Rosar for his stunt in defying McCarthy’s orders. Some in the press called Rosar “dumb” and ridiculed from others for his decision. The press and fans thought that he was doing something foolish.
A police officer on the beat would make $35-$40 a week despite the fact that he would get a higher salary from being a baseball player to make the World Series. Syndicated writer Al Lamb put it best, that the decision was the right for his family and that was priority number one.
Lamb agreed that there may not be any baseball in 1943 and had to make the trip.
On August 11, it was announced that Rosar failed the exam he left the team to take. He admitted to the press that he made a mistake and it was time to move on.
However, the Yankees never really did. On December 17, despite making the All-Star Team, the Yankees traded Rosar and outfielder Roy Cullenbine to the Cleveland Indians for outfielder Roy Weatherly and infielder Oscar Grimes.
While they never stated it was due to going AWOL in July, the press believed that was the reason.
Rosar would go on to have a long career, making the All-Star Games four more times. He garnered MVP votes in 1946 and 1947 as a member of the Philadelphia Athletics.
However, one must wonder if that decision would have changed the path of history. If Rosar did not go AWOL, would Berra not be signed by the Yankees as the heir to Bill Dickey?
It is amazing to speculate what could have happened if Rosar stayed with the team until Dickey returned?
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