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Tommy Byrne

By Cecilia Tan

January 3 , 2005

They called him "The Wild Man" because of how he threw, as hard as he could and with wild results. He led the league in hit batsmen and walks on more than one occasion.

Tommy Byrne was a lefthander from Baltimore, who like Babe Ruth, grew up partly in care of the state, and later followed Ruth's path to Yankee Stadium.

He went 11-2 in his rookie season in 1943, and then went into the army. "I majored in math in college [at Wake Forest]," Byrne said, "so [Yankees GM] George Weiss recommended me for a commission. I was a gunnery officer on a destroyer."

The Yanks had plenty of pitching after the war, and it took Byrne until 1948 to finally break into the rotation. In 1949 he joined Reynolds, Raschi, Page and Lopat, as the team edged Boston by one game. Joe DiMaggio vs. Ted Williams, the famous “Summer of ’49,” etc.

Byrne was also known as a good-hitting pitcher, .238 lifetime, with 14 homers. "Casey used to hit me sixth in the lineup," he recalled. "Everybody was laughing at Rizzuto and Coleman when I hit in front of them."

He pitched well enough to get named to the All-Star team, and then partway through 1950. By 1951 he was exiled to the St. Louis Browns, and bounced around to the Chisox and Washington Senators, and to the bushes for a couple years.

"That was when I changed my style of pitching," Byrne explained. "I finally learned to take something off." Or as Yogi Berra put it, "That was when he got control." He won 20 games in the minors in 1954, and returned to the Yankees in 1955 for his best season in the majors.

He pitched a complete game victory in Game Two of the World Series against the Dodgers, but lost the heartbreaking Seventh Game to Johnny Podres, for Brooklyn’s one and only World Championship.

Byrne left baseball when the Yankees finally made an offer so small he had to refuse. He had been investing in other businesses during his time in baseball, and his family was ready for him to come home.

"I wanted to play, but they didn't want to pay me any more money. I was in the chicken business, raising a million chickens a year, and oil, and trucking, and I bought some land."

He built a golf course on the land in Wake Forest, and spurred real estate development. Eventually, he became mayor of the town, finally giving up the office in 1987.

At age 85 and retired, Byrne now lives in a house overlooking a golf course. He rides a custom-built golf cart that once belonged to Mickey Mantle. "A lot of us nowadays are running out of gas," he said of the men he played with who’ve passed on. "I would hate to quit my hobby though. Breathing."

About the author: Cecilia Tan is the author of the forthcoming book "Fifty Greatest Yankee Games" (Wiley, March 2005). Please visit her on the web, "Why I Like Baseball.”

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