Glancing Back, and Remembering John Blanchard
It was John Blanchard’s misfortune to play for some of the best New York Yankees teams of all time, in positions stocked with MVPs and Hall of Famers. As a catcher, he played back-up to HOFer Yogi Berra and Elston Howard, who collected four MVP awards between them. As an outfielder, he was competing with HOFer Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris (five MVPs between them) as well as Tom Tresh and Berra.
John Blanchard’s best season came in 1961, when he batted .305 with 21 home runs and 54 RBIs.
Never a strong defensive player, in the outfield or behind the plate, what Blanchard could do was hit with power. Given enough at-bats, he fully demonstrated his hitting ability, especially as a pinch hitter, and especially in clutch situations. He was an integral part of the Yankees’ success in the early 1960s, even with limited playing time.
Blanchard was signed by the Yankees in 1951 and had an outstanding season for Joplin in 1952, hitting .301 with 30 home runs and 31 doubles. He spent the next two years in military service and made his first appearance in a Yankees uniform in 1955. From 1956 through 1958, he hit well in the Yankees’ farm system, and was promoted to the big league club for good in 1959.
He spent more time sitting than playing in New York, never appearing in more than 93 games in any single season. He hit .242 in 99 at-bats in 1960, with four homers and 14 RBIs. He got more playing time and more at-bats in 1961, responding with the best season of his career: a .305 batting average with 21 home runs and 54 RBIs. Four of his homers came as a pinch hitter. That season the Yankees set a major league record with 240 team home runs, and six different players hit 20 or more round-trippers. During the 1961 World Series, Blanchard appeared in four games, hitting .400 with a double, two home runs and three RBIs.
In 1962, Blanchard’s batting average slipped to .232 with 13 home runs and 39 RBIs. He hit 16 homers with 45 RBIs in 1963, but his role was delegated more and more to pinch hitting, at which he was always a threat. In 1964 he produced seven home runs and 28 RBIs in only 161 at-bats.
In May of 1965 the Yankees traded Blanchard with pitcher Rollie Sheldon to the Kansas City Athletics for catcher Doc Edwards. Blanchard appeared in only 52 games for the A’s before being sold to the Milwaukee Braves in September. He retired after the 1965 season.
In eight big league seasons, Blanchard hit .239 with 67 home runs and 200 RBIs. Blanchard appeared in five World Series with the Yankees, hitting a combined .345. He holds the major league record with 10 World Series pinch-hit at-bats.