A feared slugger at the plate, York overcame his defensive liabilities and jibes at his ancestry (he was one-eighth Cherokee) to become a productive first baseman. His family moved to northwest Georgia when Rudy was a small child, settling in the small town of Atco. As a teenager, Rudy worked in the local textile mill and played for the company baseball team. After a short 1933 stint with the Southern Association's Knoxville Smokies, during which he played sparingly, 19-year-old Rudy signed with the Tigers. He broke into the majors in August 1934 with a three-game cup of coffee, going 1-for-6 with a walk and three strikeouts
York advanced steadily through the Tigers' minor league system, playing for teams in Shreveport, Louisiana (Class C Dixie League), as well as in Beaumont and Fort Worth, Texas (both Class A Texas League). York's limited fielding abilities resulted in a number of position shifts during his time in the minor leagues. After playing second base, third base, catcher, left field, and right field, he finally settled in at first base while playing in 1935 for Beaumont, where he was named the league's Most Valuable Player (MVP). He won his second consecutive MVP award while playing first base for Milwaukee in the American Association in 1936.
With Hank Greenberg blocking York's advancement at first base, a fractured skull sustained by Tigers catcher and player-manager Mickey Cochrane created a vacancy and Rudy was promoted to Detroit in June 1937. York finished his rookie season with a .303 batting average, 35 home runs, and 103 RBI in only 305 at-bats. His defensive skills were sorely lacking behind the plate, and he wound up playing 41 games at third base -- not the best spot for someone slow afoot and with limited range. Not wanting his potent bat idle on the bench, the Tigers returned him to the catcher slot for most of the 1938 and 1939 seasons. In 1940 the Tigers convinced slugger Hank Greenberg to move to left field, allowing York to play first base. His 33 home runs, 134 RBIs, and .316 average helped the Tigers reach the World Series that season, where they lost to the Cincinnati Reds.
York remained a fixture in the heart of the Tigers order for nine seasons, batting .282 while belting 239 homers. He led the American League in 1943 with 34 home runs, 118 RBI, and a .527 slugging percentage. In 1945, the Tigers won the World Series over the Chicago Cubs, though York hit only .179 over the seven games. Detroit traded him to Boston prior to the 1946 season and he was a key cog in the Red Sox' drive to the American League pennant, hitting .276 with 17 home runs, 30 doubles and 119 RBI.
In 1947, York nearly died when a fire, believed to have been started by a cigarette, swept his hotel room. He was led to safety, but after a slow start, he was traded to the Chicago White Sox in midseason. He ended his career with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1948. Over 13 seasons, York gathered 1621 hits, 227 home runs, 1152 RBI and was a career .275 batter.
After serving as a player-manager for several minor league teams, he returned to his hometown of Cartersville, Georgia, where he joined the fire department. But his itch for the sport returned, and after working as a scout for the New York Yankees and as a coach for the Memphis Chicks, York returned to the Red Sox as a coach in 1959. On July 3 that year, he served as a fill-in manager for Pinky Higgins for one game. York was dismissed following the 1962 season along with Higgins and the rest of the coaching staff.
York moved back to Cartersville, where he spent the rest of his life. For most of that time, he was a self-employed house painter. York died of lung cancer on February 5, 1970, in Rome, Georgia, at age 56. He was buried at Sunset Memorial Gardens in Cartersville (Section 221, Lot D, Space 2).
York's Moments in the Sun
- In August 1937, York had one of the greatest months in baseball history, belting 18 home runs, breaking Babe Ruth's record for home runs in one month. York also collected 49 RBI that month breaking the previous mark (48) set by Lou Gehrig. York's home run mark stood until 1998, when Sammy Sosa corked 20 longballs in June.
- July 6, 1942: In the All-Star Game, Rudy blasted a first-inning two-run homer off St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Mort Cooper to lead the American League to a 3-1 win.
- October 5, 1945: In World Series Game 3, York singles to left field with two out in the second inning. It will be the only hit allowed by Cubs starter Claude Passeau, who shuts out the Tigers, 3-0. Rudy and his Detroit mates would go on to win the championship in seven games.
- October 6, 1946: York homered in the top of the 10th inning to give Boston a 3-2 win over the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 1 of the World Series.
- October 9, 1946: With Johnny Pesky on second and two out in World Series Game 3, the Cardinals intentionally walk Ted Williams. York makes them pay, clubbing a three-run homer over the Green Monster to lead the Sox to a 4-0 win and a 2-1 series lead.
- July 27, 1946: While playing for Boston, York crushed a pair of grand slams in the 2nd and 5th innings off Tex Shirley of the St. Louis Browns‚ as the Red Sox win 13-6. Only Tony Lazzeri and Jim Tabor had accomplished this feat before York. York also adds a 2-run double to knock in 10 runs. The home run balls reputedly smashed separate windows in the same vehicle outside Sportsman's Park in St. Louis, a legendary feat that made the pages of Ripley's Believe It or Not!
- 7-time American League All-Star (1938, 1941, 1942, 1943, 1944, 1946 and 1947)
- AL Total Bases Leader (1943).
- AL Extra-Base Hits Leader (1943).
- AL Home Runs Leader (1943).
- AL RBI Leader (1943).
- AL Slugging Percentage Leader (1943).
- Finished third in the 1943 AL MVP voting.
- Hit 12 career grand slams.
- His 1,000th ML hit was a home run.
- His 8 assists at first base in the 1945 Fall Classic remains a World Series record.
- Patented the "Tracker" glove.
- Inducted into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in 1977.
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- January 3, 1946: Traded by the Detroit Tigers to the Boston Red Sox for Eddie Lake.
- June 14, 1947: Traded by the Boston Red Sox to the Chicago White Sox for Jake Jones.
- February 2, 1948: Released by the Chicago White Sox.
- October 4, 1948: Released by the Philadelphia Athletics.
- Baseball-Reference.com - Career Statistics and Analysis
- Baseball Library.com chronology
- New Georgia Encyclopedia page
- Etowah Valley Historical Society page
- Findagrave.com page