Rudy York: ATCO SuperTwister to Major League star
Ask practically anyone in Bartow County about Rudy York and they will tell you he was a major league baseball player with local ties to the community.
That is, of course, true. But the story of his rise to national stardom with the Detroit Tigers, Boston Red Sox, and Chicago White Sox is one of wonder, excitement, and even dismay.
My entire life is linked in some ways to the Rudy York story.
My grandfather’s brother acquired Rudy York’s Cassville farm around 1950 and it was the country farm home of my grandparents until their passing. My mother and her sister went through high school while living in that home and it continues to serve as a family home for one of my cousins.
As kids, we spent a lot of time on that farm. There was always plenty to do with the cows, chicken pens, or even an occasional hog. There were barnyard cats and always a huge vegetable garden in the summer with plenty of related chores to keep youngsters occupied outside.
Over the years, multiple family members have built homes on the old farm place with all the originally purchased property remaining in my extended family until recently.
In fact, my current home is located on a portion of what was known as the Rudy York farm. So are the homes of my parents and my brother.
Today’s Cartersville Little Leaguers and their parents know about Rudy York — at least the name.
One of the fields in the current Cartersville Little League complex is named for York and many people in this community recall when that space was used as the playing field for Cartersville High School games. Even youth football games were played across the outfield grass when it was the only field in that space.
Below is a snapshot of the Rudy York story.
Rudy York and Stan Musial at the 1946 World Series.
RUDY YORK: ATCO Supertwister to Major League star
In the late 1920s, aviator Charles Lindbergh completed the first solo transatlantic flight from New York to Paris in 33 hours to become a national hero, but the decade was also an era when America was creating its first true sports heroes.
Sports like baseball, basketball, and boxing reached new heights of popularity in the 1920s and massive stadiums like Madison Square Garden and Yankee Stadium were built in cities to handle the increasing interest of fans who wanted to watch and celebrate the excitement of spectator sports.
Legendary baseball heroes like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Satchel Paige were well known in the Twenties. Joe Lewis, Jack Dempsey, and Gene Tunney were the heavyweight boxing greats and the rising sport of football offered Red Grange. Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen were the golfing greats of the day, basketball fans talked about New Yorker Nat Holman, and tennis offered Bill Tilden and Helen Wills.
Aerial view of the Atco mill village -- Bartow History Museum
Meanwhile, in a quiet mill town on the western edge of Cartersville, a 15-year-old dubbed “home run king of Atco” was honing his skills — especially with a bat. That youngster was Rudy York.
Beulah York — estranged from her husband Arthur — was a spooler in an Aragon textile mill. She moved her family to the Atco village in the late 1920s where some of her five children also worked in the factory. The family even took in boarders to help make ends meet.
Preston Rudolph “Rudy” York fell in love with baseball as a teenager. As a youngster, he played with the SuperTwisters, a founding member team of the Northwest Georgia Textile League. The American Textile Company (ATCO) mill town was established just after the turn of the 20th century and was purchased by the Goodyear Rubber Company in 1929. York and the SuperTwisters were an independent semi-pro team that played against teams from surrounding mill towns in Cedartown, Rockmart, and Rome.
Baseball was a huge source of entertainment and a community event at the time. Teenaged York quickly became a local favorite and by 1930 was a star even amongst the best of the other players in the textile circuit.
In April 1930, the Bartow Tribune-News called York “a sensational shortstop and a clever hitter…” In October of 1930, the local newspaper noted, “Rudy has proved to the public that he loves the game called baseball. He is a good hitter and fielder and has more home runs to his credit than any other player in the Goodyear loop.”
In June of 1931, he married Violet Dupree, an Atco girl. They had their first child, Mary Jane, in 1933.
York, 19 years old in 1933, received a tryout with the Knoxville Smokies of the Southern League and went 1-for-10 in three games before being released. All three games of his pro debut were losses at the Memphis Chicks but the 1933 season would be his inception to a professional career despite that disappointment.
He returned to Atco briefly after the Knoxville experience but spent most of that remaining spring playing with the independent league LaGrange Troopers. The Troopers moved to Albany and became known as the Indians during that same spring. York played third base, some outfield, and even appeared in a rare relief pitcher role with Albany before leaving the team in late June when he was signed by scout Eddie Goosetree of the Detroit Tigers organization.
The Tigers sent York to their affiliates — the Shreveport Sports and the Beaumont Exporters — that season. In 1934 he started the year with the Exporters, but after a promising start to the year as a developing catcher, York was loaned to another Texas League team, the Fort Worth Panthers. The Panthers moved York to left field and his hitting improved but not enough to help the struggling Fort Worth team. The Panthers fell from postseason contention well before the end of the season.
Back in Beaumont, the Exporters were battling for a Texas League pennant in mid-August. As a result, the Panthers released York back to the Beaumont club but the move was full of controversy. Other Texas League teams argued that the move of York should be nullified because it was after the August 1 trade deadline. The Exporters’ claimed the trade deadline did not apply to York because he was “loaned”, not traded or sold, to Fort Worth.
League president J. Alvin Gardner ruled that Beaumont had every right to recall the loaned York, but the power hitter would be ineligible to play in remaining 1934 games for the Exporters. The ruling appeared to end York’s season a month early, but instead, it actually launched his journey to the Major Leagues.
York had hit .332 with 26 home runs and 75 RBI in 1934 with Beaumont and Fort Worth, so the major league team in Detroit decided to call him up with the hope he could provide a power bat off the bench. August 16, the day before York’s 21st birthday, he was summoned to Detroit and literally spent his birthday on a train ride to join the Tigers.
He made his major league debut and struck out as a pinch-hitter on August 22 and did not appear in a game again until the final week of the season after the Tigers had locked up the American League pennant. He played in two more games and was 1-for-5 with a walk. He was on the Tigers’ roster during the 1934 World Series but did not appear in any of the seven-game Fall Classic won by the St. Louis Cardinals.
In the off-season, York was reassigned back to the Beaumont roster.
York began 1935 as the Exporters primary catcher but struggled defensively and his hitting began to slump as well. At the end of May, his manager moved him to first base where he showed some defensive promise, moved closer to the .300 mark as a hitter, and even took over the Texas League lead in home runs. The team also climbed the standings ladder and eventually finished runner-up to Oklahoma City.
York, who hit .301 with a league-leading 32 home runs, finished the year with 117 RBIs and was selected as the league’s Most Valuable Player.
In 1936, York hit .334 with 37 home runs and 148 RBIs for the Milwaukee Brewers of the Double-A American Association and won MVP of that league.
In 1937 at age 23, he was back with Detroit and assigned to the major league club. With veteran star Hank Greenberg at first base, the Tigers tried York at third base and left field but his defensive liabilities were too great to keep him in the lineup.
An injury to regular third baseman Marv Owen put the Atco rookie back in the lineup until July and in early August, Tigers manager Mickey Cochrane decided to put York in the lineup as a catcher.
Cochrane, who was a Tigers’ catcher himself, often labeled York as “too clunky” as a catcher but wanted that offensive weapon in his lineup.
York responded with 18 home runs that month breaking a record held by Babe Ruth. He also drove in 49 runs for the month to break a Lou Gehrig mark at the time. The home run record for August was surpassed in 1998 by Sammy Sosa.
He finished his rookie season as an MLB sensation. York had a .307 batting average, 35 homers, and 101 RBI in only 375 at-bats. Today York still holds the record for reaching the 30 home run mark in only 80 games and he ultimately smashed 46 homers in his first 146 major league games.
The struggle to find a defensive position for York’s lethal bat continued throughout his pro playing days. Later in his career, his one‐eighth Cherokee ancestry and his less‐than‐perfect fielding would prompt an observer to declare: “He is part Indian and part first baseman.”
York was the Tigers’ starting catcher in 1938 and a part-time left fielder during a season he made the AL all-star team. The next year he was platooned at catcher with Birdie Tebbetts, and in 1940 the Tigers persuaded their star Greenberg to switch from first base to left field to free up the spot for York.
The experiment was fruitful for the Tigers.
Greenberg hit .340 with 41 home runs and 150 RBI. York hit .316 with 33 homers and 134 RBI and the Tigers won the American League pennant before falling to the Cincinnati Reds in a seven-game World Series.
From 1941 to 1945, York was named to the AL all-star squad four more times. In 1943 he had an impressive 34-homer, 118 RBI season to highlight the seasons in that stretch.
In January of 1946, York was traded to the Boston Red Sox for shortstop Eddie Lake.
He had a slow and unproductive spring training, but when the season started York sparked the Red Sox to a 41-9 start and an early 10-game lead over the Yankees. He was again an all-star and on July 27 hit two grand slams and drove in 10 runs against the St. Louis Browns. Boston went on to win the AL pennant giving him another World Series appearance.
York hit a 10th inning home run to win Game 1 of the 1946 World Series and had a three-run homer in Game 3 that launched another win. Unfortunately, the Red Sox lost the Fall Classic to the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games.
York nearly died in April of 1947 when his hotel room caught fire. The fire was believed to have started from a lit cigarette in his hand after he had fallen asleep. He was rescued from his Miles Standish Hotel room that teammates later said was strewn with liquor bottles.
It was one of many reported incidents regarding York’s lack of cigarette safety in hotel rooms. After his playing days, teammates of York said he “led the league in burned mattresses” and “we would wait until he fell asleep to go to sleep ourselves.”
A slow start in 1947 saw York batting only .212 by mid-June when he was traded to the Chicago White Sox.
His hitting improved once joining the White Sox and he was named to his seventh, and final, All-Star team in July. In September, he blasted his final major league home run in a game at Yankee Stadium as the White Sox finished sixth in the American League that season. York finished the year with a .243 batting average, 21 home runs, and 91 runs batted in but Chicago released him in January of 1948.
Connie Mack of the Philadelphia Athletics had always coveted York’s bat and signed him for the 1948 season as a backup for Ferris Fain at first base. Now 35 years old, York struggled in the backup role. He managed only eight hits in 51 official at-bats (.157) with the Athletics playing in just 31 games.
There were hushed rumors that York was not taking care of himself physically and his affinity for alcohol may have been a factor in his shortened major league career.
York was a career .275 hitter with 277 home runs, 1152 RBI, and a .845 OPS in 1603 major league games. In three World Series, he hit .221 with three homers and 10 RBI. York's .503 slugging percentage as a Detroit Tiger ranks him fourth in franchise history behind Hank Greenberg, Harry Heilmann, and Ty Cobb among players with at least 5,000 plate appearances with the team. His 239 home runs as a Tiger ranks seventh in franchise history.
With only 11 seasons in which he played at least 100 games, York finished in the top ten in the American League in home runs each season from 1937 through 1947. He also finished in the top ten in RBIs during each of those 11 seasons except for 1937 and 1939.
In 1949, York took occasional roles in lower levels of baseball. He made a few appearances in the Northwest Georgia Textile League, he was a player-manager for the Griffin Tigers of the Georgia-Alabama League and held a similar role with the Union City Greyhounds of the Kitty League.
By 1950 he was completely out of baseball and was spending his time on his farm in Cassville. He liked to hunt and fish but his wife Violet reportedly told Hank Greenberg (who was now managing the Cleveland Indians) that he was drinking too much and needed a baseball job.
Greenberg invited York to the Indians’ spring training in 1951 where he helped minor leaguers with hitting. He joined the Youngstown Athletics of the Mid-Atlantic League as a player-coach after camp broke. By the end of May, he was named player-manager and the team was relocated to Oil City, Pennsylvania.
In Oil City, the team struggled financially and folded toward the end of the season but York — who was hitting over .290 and leading the league in home runs — was signed by New Castle to finish the season and possibly break the league’s home run record. Unfortunately, he came up just short of setting a new league record for home runs but did finish the year as the league leader.
He played the 1952 season with a pair of teams in the Minnesota-based, semi-pro leagues. He started the year with the Benson-DeGraff Irish Chiefs of the West Central League and finished the year with the St. James Saints of the Western Minnesota League.
Out of baseball again in 1953, he took a job with the Georgia Forestry Commission and was even known to umpire a few Cartersville High School baseball games — including games involving his son.
By 1956 the New York Yankees had hired him as an advanced scout.
York was known as one of the best in the game at reading pitchers and stealing signs. He continued the advanced scout role until June 1957 when he was hired to manage the North Platte Indians of the short-season Nebraska League. The Indians struggled, however, and finished last in the league with only 11 wins in 56 games.
The Boston Red Sox hired York as a hitting instructor for the Memphis Chicks in 1958 and pulled him up to the major leagues as a first-base coach in 1959 where he remained through the 1962 season.
Johnny Pesky was hired to manage the major league Red Sox in 1963 and released York who stayed in the game by coaching again at the minor league level.
In 1963 and 1964, York held coaching jobs with the Eastern League’s Reading Red Sox and the Statesville Colts of the Western Carolina League. Those were his final jobs in baseball.
York lived out the remainder of his life in Cartersville, working mostly as a self-employed house painter. He lost part of a lung to cancer in November of 1969 and died the following February 5th (1970) after developing pneumonia related to his cancer surgery recovery. Rudy York is buried in Sunset Memory Gardens in Cartersville across from the Etowah Indian Mounds and has been inducted into the Sports Hall of Fame in three different states — Michigan (1972), Georgia (1977), and Alabama (his birthplace, 1979).
Rudy York pictured above with members of the Cartersville Little League Crackers. Photo in collection at Bartow History Museum
For much more on Rudy York, please see:
— Special to the New York Times, Feb. 6, 1970, “Rudy York, a Holder of Records As a Big Leagues Batsmen, Dies”
— research by Terry Sloope, Kennesaw State University, originally published July 28, 2005, New Georgia Encyclopedia
— Etowah Valley Historical Society, Online: http://evhsonline.org/bartow-history/people/rudolph-preston-rudy-york-major-league-baseball-player