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Johnny Blanchard

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John Edwin Blanchard

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Johnny Blanchard played in five World Series in his eight years in the major leagues He was a catcher and sometime outfielder, mostly for the New York Yankees; his main teammates were Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Elston Howard, Whitey Ford, Tony Kubek, Clete Boyer, Bobby Richardson, Ralph Terry, Tom Tresh and Bill Skowron.

Blanchard was a three sport All-City whiz at Central High School in Minneapolis, MN; he not only attracted the attention of major league scouts as a third baseman but also the Minneapolis Lakers of the NBA who made him an offer.

In 1951, Blanchard was signed by Yankees scout Joe McDermott for $20,000 as an outfielder. While in the Yankee organization, he made the transition to catcher. "I had to work my fanny off," said Blanchard. "I was not talented like Yogi or Elston [Howard]. I think I got all the mileage I could out of my ability."

Blanchard served in the United States Military during the Korean Conflict in 1953 and 1954 but when he was released from duty he was back in spring training in 1955.

After leading the Eastern League with 34 homers playing for the Binghamton Triplets in 1955, he received a late-season call-up to the Yankees. He returned for good in 1959 and stayed in the Bronx until he was sent to the Kansas City Athletics during the 1965 season.

The lefty-swinging Yankee loved Fenway Park. Of his first six hits at Fenway, five were homers. On July 21, 1961, the Yankees trailed the Boston Red Sox, 9-8, going into the top of the 9th when Blanchard, pinch-hitting for Clete Boyer, hit a grand slam off Boston right-hander Mike Fornieles giving the Bombers a 12-9 victory. The following day, the Yanks were again down, 9-8, when Blanchard, pinch-hitting again for Boyer, homered off Gene Conley to tie the score as the Yanks went on to win.

A couple of days later, against the Chicago White Sox, he homered in consecutive at-bats against Ray Herbert. His four home runs on four straight at-bats tied a major league record. Blanchard hit 4 pinch-hit home runs during the regular season in 1961 and one more during the World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. During that storied 1961 season he stroked 21 homers in only 243 at-bats and hit .305. Among the 1961 Yankees, only Mantle and Maris had more homers per at bat. He continued his clutch hitting in the World Series against the Reds with a two-run pinch homer in Game 3 and another two-run shot in the fifth and final game, a contest he started. As a result, Blanchard is arguably one of the best known third-string catchers in baseball history.

Overall, he appeared in the Fall Classic five consecutive years, from 1960 to 1964 and batted .345, slugged at .690 with two homers.

But Blanchard's days as a Yankee were to come to an end in early May of the 1965 season. Following an exhibition game against the New York Mets, he was called into manager Johnny Keane's office and was given the news he had been traded to Kansas City. John took the news hard. He cried uncontrollably in the Yankee clubhouse. Mickey Mantle sat down next to Blanchard and attempted to cheer him up. "Don't take it so hard, John. Just think, in Kansas City you're going to get a chance to play." "Hell, I can't play Mick, that's why I'm crying." But Blanchard could play, especially on July 21st and 22nd of 1961 when his bat was lit by lightning!

After appearing in 52 games with the A's, he was purchased by the Milwaukee Braves with whom he played the last ten games of his career at the end of the 1965 season. Three years later, he unsucessfully tried to make a comeback with the Atlanta Braves in spring training. Overall he hit .239 with 67 home runs and 200 RBIs.

Blanchard's heavy drinking made it difficult to cope with the real world after baseball. Aware that he had a problem he checked himself into the Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis, MN for 34 days for alcohol treatment. He was then dry for over 25 years.

Blanchard, who lived in Minnetonka, MN, worked in real estate and auto sales before becoming a salesman for a firm that produces heavy duty cranes used for the laying of railroad tracks. He also worked for a company called Park Press selling multi-colored printing. John was also available through Lerner Sports Marketing for fundraisers and motivational speaking.

Blanchard died of a heart attack on March 25, 2009.

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[edit] Sources

Baseball-Reference.com
Baseball Players of the 1950s
SABR MILB Database:page
Johnny Blanchard, 76, New York Yankees Catcher / Outfielder

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