As we get closer to Spring Training and the number of days shrink, the chance to write about legendary Yankee players increases.
We’ve arrived at #20 and while it would be easy for me to write about Jorge Posada or Bucky Dent, I chose instead, to write about a player from the time of Joe DiMaggio, Joe Gordon and Bill Dickey. His name was Tiny Bonham.
Born Ernest Edward Bonham in 1913, he was the grandson of a 49er – not a football player but a man who moved to California during the gold rush of the mid 19th century. He was the 14th out of 15 children and while he preferred to play football in high school, he was turned on to baseball by a friend named George who happened to be the brother of former pitcher Joe Oeschger.
“Tiny” was given that nickname in an ironic way because there was nothing tiny about him. He was 6’2″ over 200 lb and was once described by J.G. Taylor Spink, the publisher of the Sporting News, as having “a torso like a blacksmith.”*
Bonham made his debut in August 1940 when the Yankees found themselves 11 1/2 games behind Detroit. By September, Bonham had won five of this first six decisions and the Yankees had tied Detroit for first. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be, that was as high as they could get, they ended up finishing third that season.
1941, was a banner year for the Yankees for many reasons. DiMaggio had a legendary season, they won the World series and Bonham was the starter of the series clinching game.
Bonham’s best season was the following year. He won 21 games, finished with a 2.91 ERA, threw 22 complete games with six complete game shutouts, made the All-Star team and finished 5th in the M.V.P. vote.
As his career went on, his numbers were affected by back issues he had suffered throughout his career. By 1946 Yankee owner Lee MacPhail cleaned house and got rid of some people. Bonham was a casualty and was traded to the Pirates and he finished his career with them.
Sadly, Bonham, passed away in 1949 at the age of 36. He had planned on retiring after the season and been battling stomach issues and fatigue. He went in for an appendectomy where it was discovered he had abdominal cancer. He died on September 15, 1949.