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BLANCHARD CALLED UP TO PLAY IN HEAVEN
by: Randall Swearingen
March 25, 2009 – Minneapolis, MN
The day that Yankee great, Johnny Blanchard, passed away, the news spread quickly from Earth to Heaven. Mel Allen and Phil Rizzuto caught up with Yankee skipper, Casey Stengel.
Allen: Casey, what do you think about your new guy coming up today?
Stengel: Oh yea, I been missing that fella. He was one helluva player.
Rizzuto: What do you remember most about him?
Stengel: (removing his cap and scratching his head) For one thing, he was probably the best pinch hitter and utility player that I ever had. That fella got me though a lot of tough games with his bat. Made me look like a genius!
Rizzuto: What else?
Stengel: Well, he thought that I thought he was Chinese!
Rizzuto: Why’s that?
Stengel: (with a sly smile) Because I always called him Hey You (Hey Hue). I knew his name alright (smiling bigger) but I liked to mess with the bench boys to keep them on their toes you know.
One game, I got real mad at Yogi just before a game started. I went to Blanch and yelled, “Hey You! Get your equipment on. You’re going in.” Sure ‘nough, Blanch put on all his equipment. Shin guards, chest protector, mask and all and sat quietly on the bench. Now keep in mind this was in the middle of August at Yankee Stadium. It was HOT AND HUMID. Well, I figured that I needed to stay with Yogi but I wanted to send a message to him that I could replace him at any moment so I kept Blanch sitting there ready. To tell you the truth, about the 4th or 5th inning, I forgot he was still there. The only reason I noticed was that my players were beginning to snicker and laugh at him from the field. By this time, I was too embarrassed that I had forgot about him so I decided to test his loyalty. Do you know that fella sat there on that bench the whole game with his full catchers gear in the heat and humidity? Now that’s respect and dedication! Yep, he was my kind of player.
Allen: What about the time you batted Blanchard 3rd in the lineup ahead of Roger and Mickey? Didn’t he go like 4 for 4 that day? Why didn’t you let him bat 3rd any more after that?
Stengel: That’s why I’m a manager and you’re an announcer. I just figured that he had reached his quota of hits for that slot in the lineup… I tell you one thing about that fella though. He was so loyal to the Yankees, he would have taken a bullet for the team. In fact, I hear’d he did take one for the team in 1961 after I was fired. I mean after I quit.
Allen: Really? (while Allen tipped his hat back thinking he was in for a real scoop). Tell us about it Casey.
Stengel: Well, Houk told me one day that he batted Blanchard 5th behind Roger and Mickey. That was during the home run chase and Houk had made a strategic move to bat Roger 3rd and Mickey 4th. I have to hand it to Houk, it was a good idea even if I say so myself. Anyway, in that game, Roger comes up and whacks a 425’ homer to right field. Mick comes up next. By the way, did you know that Mickey was the best one legged player I ever had? So he comes up and hits a home run to right center that goes about 460’. After about 900 feet of home runs, Blanch comes up to bat. Well, everybody in the Stadium knew what was ‘bout to happen, including Blanch. But he stood in there and took one for the team. Right in the head!
Allen: Was he hurt badly?
Stengel: Naw! But after the game, I hear’d he went to Houk and said he didn’t want to bat fifth anymore! (laughing)
Rizzuto: What are your plans for Blanchard?
Stengel: I gotta go now fellas. We’ve got a game to play today. By the way, (winking at Rizzuto and Allen) Blanchard is hitting 5th today… behind Roger and Mickey! I LOVE THIS GAME!