When we look back at the great Yankee teams of the ’40s and ’50s, certain names automatically come to mind. DiMaggio, Rizzuto, Berra, Mantle, and Ford define the era. The five players just mentioned are all enshrined in baseball’s Hall of Fame. Additionally, they have all had the honor of having their numbers retired by the Yankees. Without question, they are deservedly counted among the greatest players in the history of baseball.
Unfortunately, it is all too easy to overlook some of the other special players from those spectacular Yankee teams. One great Yankee that is frequently forgotten today is star pitcher Allie Reynolds. Reynolds, nicknamed “Superchief,” was an indispensable member of the Bombers’ pitching staff from 1947 to 1954. During his eight years in pinstripes, Reynolds was an All-Star five times. More importantly, Reynolds was an integral member of six championship teams.
The OK Kid
As a boy growing up in Oklahoma, Reynolds demonstrated an early love for sports, particularly football. He eventually starred on his high school team as both an elite quarterback and running back. During his time at Capital Hill High in Oklahoma City, Reynolds also turned heads with his performances as a member of the track and field team. In fact, his prowess as a javelin thrower and runner earned him a scholarship to Oklahoma A&M (now Oklahoma State University).
It was during college that Allie’s baseball career began. Oklahoma A&M’s baseball coach, Henry Iba, spotted Reynolds when the later was honing his javelin skills. Iba petitioned Allie to join the school’s baseball team, and Reynolds agreed. The decision to become a pitcher made Reynolds a three-sport college athlete. He was now competing for the track team, playing halfback for the football team, and blowing batters away with a spectacular fastball.
Ultimately, Reynolds was forced to make a choice between the sports he loved. As his college days came to a close, Allie had contract offers to play professional football as well as professional baseball. Due in large part to the advice of Coach Iba, Reynolds chose a baseball career with the Cleveland Indians over a football career with the New York Giants. Allie didn’t know it at the time, but he was, in the end, destined for greatness in the Big Apple.
Breaking Into the Bigs
After making a couple of appearances for the Indians in 1942, Reynolds became a regular Major Leaguer during the 1943 season. As a rookie, Allie led the American League in strikeouts while posting a 2.99 ERA and 1.253 WHIP. His 6.8 strikeouts per nine innings was good enough to lead all of Major League Baseball. Unfortunately for Reynolds, the Indians failed to compete for the pennant. In an era when a pitcher’s record was an incredibly important stat, Allie went 11-12 in his first season.
Reynolds had an up and down tenure with the Indians from 1943 to 1946. Statistically he showed a fair amount of promise. He was striking out batters consistently, and his ERA from ’43 to ’46 was a respectable 3.33. On the other hand, he was prone to lose control of the strike zone. In 1943 he hit more batters than anybody in baseball, and in 1945 he led the Majors with 130 walks allowed. Adding to the Indians’ frustration was the fact that Allie’s record wasn’t particularly impressive (51-47 in his 137 appearances between 1943 and 1946). The OK Kid had shown some upside, but the Indians were not particularly enamored with Reynolds by the fall of ’46. Allie was poised to turn 30 prior to the 1947 season, and the Indians were prepared to move on from the aging right-hander.
The Yanks Come Calling
The Yankees failed to win a World Series in 1944, ’45, and ’46. In the glory years of Yankee baseball, three years without a championship wasn’t just disappointing; it was unacceptable. The front office looked to retool the roster prior to the ’47 season, and Allie Reynolds became a potential target for GM Larry MacPhail. The Yankees were, above all else, looking to add depth to their rotation. Cleveland had a handful of enticing pitchers as well as a desire to land Yankee second baseman Joe Gordon. Gordon was a strong player for New York during the late ’30s and early ’40s. Nicknamed “Flash,” Gordon won four titles with the Bombers and even earned AL MVP honors in 1942. Nevertheless, MacPhail was willing to part with his star infielder if the offer was right.
Thanks to a timely endorsement from DiMaggio, MacPhail decided that acquiring Reynolds was the right choice. Joe had heard that the Indians were offering MacPhail either Reynolds or Red Embree for Gordon, and he told his GM that Reynolds was the man the Yankees needed. DiMaggio, one of the best fastball hitters in all of baseball, testified that Allie’s heater was almost unhittable. With a ringing endorsement from the Yankee Clipper, MacPhail pulled the trigger and Allie Reynolds became a Yankee.
Regular Season Workhorse
Reynolds became a force as a member of the Yankees pitching staff. During his first year in the Bronx, Allie posted a 19-8 record, a 3.20 ERA, and held opposing hitters to a meager .225 batting average. In addition to his thirty starts, Reynolds also made four relief appearances in his first Yankees season. Over time, Allie’s ability to come out of the bullpen became one of his greatest strengths. Reynolds would make 209 total starts in his eight Yankee seasons, but he added to his workload by making 86 relief appearances and recording 40 saves. He was the Bombers’ proverbial Swiss Army knife, ready and willing to adapt his game to suit the needs of the team.
Reynolds continued to pitch well throughout the 1948, 1949, and 1950 seasons. He consistently won games for the Yankees in his role as swingman, and in 1949 and 1950 he earned trips to the All-Star Game. Reynolds began to enter his prime, however, during the 1951 season. In his fifth year with the Yankees, Reynolds posted a 17-8 record, a 3.05 ERA, and an impressive 1.226 WHIP (the lowest of his career to that point). Allie added to his list of accomplishments in 1951 by throwing a pair of no-hitters, one on July 12th against the Indians and the other on September 28th versus the Red Sox. The feat was even more impressive since he played the ’51 season with bone chips in his throwing elbow.
Reynolds followed up his remarkable 1951 campaign by pitching even better in 1952. The Yankees’ ace won 20 games in ’52 while leading the AL in strikeouts (160) and all of baseball in ERA (2.06). His ERA+ of 161 was also the best in the Majors. Always versatile, Allie recorded six shutouts as well as six saves.
Though Reynolds began to show signs of wear in 1953, he remained a respectable pitcher for the Yanks. The ’53 season saw Allie in the bullpen more often than in the past, and he recorded 13 saves for the Bombers (more than twice as many as he had recorded in any previous season). Reynolds managed to pitch effectively despite the fact that a bizarre bus accident in July of 1953 had done irreversible damage to his back. Pitching through the pain, Reynolds continued to give everything he had for the sake of his teammates.
Impressively, Allie continued to pitch through his nagging back injury during the following year. In his final season, at thirty-seven years old, Reynolds pitched to a 3.32 ERA. He even managed to toss four shutouts, record seven saves, and earn an All-Star nomination in his last campaign for the Yankees. He may have been at the twilight of his career, but Reynolds still managed to excel by doing a little bit of everything. His final stats as a Yankee are quite impressive. He went 131-60 with a 3.30 ERA in his eight Yankee seasons. As only Allie Reynolds could, he supplemented his 27 shutouts with 40 saves.
Like so many of the greatest Yankees, Allie Reynolds was undoubtedly at his best in the postseason. During his eight years with New York, Reynolds pitched in six Fall Classics. From 1947 to 1953 Reynolds made nine World Series starts and pitched in another six games as a reliever. Allie’s record in those fifteen games was 7-2, the Yankees’ record as a team in those games was 12-3. In typical fashion, Reynolds managed to pick up four World Series saves in addition to two complete game shutouts. His ERA in 77.1 innings of postseason work was a stellar 2.79.
Reynolds was particularly dominant during the Yankees’ five-peat. The Bombers won the World Series every year between 1949 and 1953, and Allie, without question, was the team’s premier pitcher in those title tilts. Over the course of the five-peat, Reynolds pitched 66 innings (more than any of his teammates), went 6-2, and posted an outstanding 2.45 ERA. He silenced opposing offenses, holding hitters to a .205 batting average. Reynolds was the very definition of a postseason ace. It would have been impossible for the Yankees to dominate the early 1950s without Allie Reynolds’ contributions.
Let’s All Remember Reynolds
The pantheon of great Yankees is incredibly large, and giving all Yankee stars the praise they deserve is almost an impossible task. With so many tremendous players to look back upon and admire, it isn’t hard to see why the quiet Allie Reynolds is not discussed and celebrated as frequently as some of his flashier contemporaries. Nevertheless, his body of work is worth considering closely. He was a true Yankee great and a key cog in a dynasty that ruled baseball during the middle of the 20th century. When we discuss the best pitchers in franchise history, we ought to mention Allie’s name.