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#8

ERNIE
BONHAM

 by Mark McDermott/BaseballSacramento.com 

 E_Bonham1


Nickname: “Tiny”

Born: August 16, 1913

Died: September 15, 1949

High School: Amador

Bats: Right Throws: Right

Height: 6-2Weight: 215

Position: Pitcher

Debut: August 5, 1940

Last Game: August 27, 1949

Teams: New York Yankees 1940-1946; Pittsburgh Pirates 1947-1949 


Ernie Bonham was called “Tiny.”

His nickname didn’t come close to painting a true picture of the man. He grew into a 6-foot-2, 215-pound frame by working on the family farm in Ione and in the Northern California lumber camps.

Who could have known that Bonham, who described his hometown as “one of those ghost towns from the Gold Rush days” would become one of the greatest pitchers in New York Yankees history.

E_Bonham2

When Bonham arrived in New York in 1940 at age 26, the club was 11.5 games behind the American League-leading Detroit Tigers. He showed the ability to keep opposing batters off balance with a baffling variety of deliveries. He won five of his first six starts. When he beat the Cleveland Indians' Hall of Fame ace Bob Feller on September 19 the Yankees took over first place. However, the Yankees would finish the season two games back of the Tigers, prompting Yankees manager Joe McCarthy to declare that if the team had Bonham all season they would have won the pennant.

The two-time A.L. All-Star was the first successful pitcher to utilize the forkball and have excellent control of it. In 10 seasons, he led the American League in walks-per-nine-innings twice and had a career BB/9 mark of 1.66. Washington Post sportswriter Shirley Povich once wrote, “When he walked as many as two men he was having a bad day.”

Bonham led the A.L. with a 1.90 ERA as a rookie in 1940. In 1942, his .808 winning percentage, 21-5 record, six shutouts and 22 complete games were the league’s best. He pitched the Yankees to the World Series from 1941-43.

Bonham had an unusual routine he went through in preparation for a start and during the game. He worked with a three-pound iron ball the size of a baseball. Minor league coach and pitcher Wee Willie Luderus introduced him to the concept of the heavy ball, explaining it would have the same effect as a hitter swinging multiple bats before an at-bat. The baseball would feel lighter.

Bonham suffered from chronic back problems throughout his career. Before the 1941 season, the Yankees sent him to John Hopkins University for an examination. Doctors suggested he sleep on a board and fitted him for a “whalebone corset” to support his spine.

 E_Bonham3

The pain never eased. In 1941, he missed six weeks and was limited to 14 starts, but still compiled an 8-6 record and 2.48 ERA. McCarthy would give him seven days rest in between starts. His ailment severely reduced his effectiveness during his final five seasons. Despite the toll it took on his body, he remained a tough competitor. The aches and pains were attributed to his lumber camps days.

In 1949, Bonham told teammates he planned to retire to his California farm after the season. His back problems worsened. By early September, his record was only 7-4, as he had been limited to just 14 starts. But he still gutted it out, winning his last six games. Always tired and complaining from stomach pain, he was admitted to Pittsburgh Presbyterian Hospital on September 8 for an appendectomy only to have the surgeons discover intestinal cancer.

Eighteen days after his admission to the hospital Bonham died. He was only 36 years old.

 

Career Statistics -- Ernie Bonham

Year  

Team 

W-L 

ERA 

GS 

CG 

SO 

Sv 

IP 

ER 

BB 

WHIP 

H/9 

W/9 

K/9 

1940 

NYY 

9-3 

1.90 

12 

12 

10 

99.1 

83 

24 

21 

13 

37 

0.966 

7.5 

1.2 

3.4 

1941 

NYY 

9-6 

2.98 

23 

14 

126.2 

118 

44 

42 

31 

43 

1.176 

8.4 

2.2 

3.1 

1942 

NYY 

21-5 

2.27 

28 

27 

22 

226.0 

199 

65 

57 

24 

71 

0.987 

7.9 

1.0 

2.8 

1943 

NYY 

15-8 

2.27 

28 

26 

17 

225.2 

197 

63 

57 

52 

71 

1.103 

7.9 

2.1 

2.8 

1944 

NYY 

12-9 

2.99 

26 

25 

17 

213.2 

228 

84 

71 

41 

54 

1.259 

9.6 

1.7 

2.3 

1945 

NYY 

8-11 

3.29 

23 

23 

12 

180.2 

186 

72 

66 

22 

42 

1.151 

9.3 

1.1 

2.1 

1946 

NYY 

5-8 

3.70 

18 

14 

104.2 

97 

47 

43 

23 

30 

1.146 

8.3 

2.0 

2.6 

1947 

PITT 

11-8 

3.85 

33 

18 

149.2 

167 

67 

64 

35 

63 

1.350 

10.0 

2.1 

3.8 

1948 

PITT 

6-10 

4.31 

22 

20 

135.2 

145 

71 

65 

23 

42 

1.238 

9.6 

1.5 

2.8 

1949 

PITT 

7-4 

4.25 

18 

14 

89.0 

81 

43 

42 

23 

25 

1.169 

8.2 

2.3 

2.5 

10 

Totals 

103-72 

3.06 

231 

193 

110 

21 

1551.0 

1501 

580 

528 

287 

478 

1.153 

8.7 

1.7 

2.8 

Uploaded 01/22/2011

All contents ©Rick Cabral 2011

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