Tommy Henrich, at 96, All-Star outfielder, ‘Old Reliable’ for Yankees

By Ben Walker
Associated Press / December 2, 2009

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NEW YORK - Tommy Henrich, nicknamed Old Reliable for his knack of delivering clutch hits for the New York Yankees, died yesterday at 96.

Mr. Henrich died in Dayton, Ohio, the team said.

Mr. Henrich was a five-time All-Star outfielder who joined the Yankees in 1937 and finished in 1950, winning four World Series championships. He missed three seasons serving in the Coast Guard during World War II.

Mr. Henrich hit the first game-ending home run in World Series history, leading off the bottom of the ninth inning with a drive against Don Newcombe to beat Brooklyn 1-0 in the 1949 opener.

“He was extremely good in big games, games that meant something,’’ teammate and family friend Bobby Brown said by phone from his home in Texas. “If we were ahead 10-1 or 10-2, he was just average. If we were behind 10-1 or 10-2, same thing.

“But get him in a big game and he was terrific,’’ Brown said. “We didn’t call him ‘Old Reliable.’ We just knew he was ‘Old Reliable.’ ’’

He was a particular nemesis to the Boston Red Sox, never more so than on the final game of the 1949 regular season, with the two archrivals vieing for the pennant at Yankee Stadium. Mr. Henrich stepped up to the plate in the eighth inning with the Yankees up 1-0 (he had knocked that run in during the first inning) and helped seal the victory with a home run.

Yet Mr. Henrich’s most famous at-bat might have been a time when he did not hit the ball.

In Game Four of the 1941 series against the Dodgers, Mr. Henrich struck out to seemingly end the game. But Brooklyn catcher Mickey Owen dropped the third strike, and Mr. Henrich raced safely to first base.

Given another chance, the Yankees rallied for four runs in the ninth inning for a 7-4 win and a 3-1 series edge.

Mr. Henrich hit .282 with 183 home runs and 795 runs batted in. He twice led the American League in triples and topped the AL by scoring 138 runs in 1948. Late in his career, he moved from right field and finished as a part-time first baseman.

Mr. Henrich played in the World Series in 1938, 1941, 1947, and 1949 and won championships every time. He hit one home run in each series.

“I am saddened by the loss of Tommy Henrich, who was truly one of my personal favorites,’’ commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement. “Old Reliable was beloved by his Yankee teammates.’’

Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, and Whitey Ford were among Mr. Henrich’s Hall of Fame teammates. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, pitcher Virgil Trucks is now believed to be the oldest living Yankee at 92 years.

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