Always threatening at the plate, the 6’1″ 210-lb York overcame defensive troubles and jibes at his ancestry (he was half American Indian) to become a productive ML first baseman. As MVP of the Texas League in 1935 and the American Association in 1936, York was trapped behind the Tigers’ first baseman Hank Greenberg, who was AL MVP himself in ’35. As a rookie in 1937, York put together one of the greatest months in baseball history, breaking Babe Ruth‘s record for home runs in one month with 18 in August, while driving in 49 runs, another ML one-month record. He finished at .307 with 35 HR and 103 RBI in only 375 at-bats while splitting time between catcher and third base. When Mickey Cochrane suffered a career-ending skull fracture, York became Detroit’s everyday catcher, but by 1940 Tiger management realized York belonged at first base. They paid Greenberg a bonus to move to left field, and he hit 41 home runs that year. York added 33, and the Tigers won the pennant.
Greenberg left for WWII in 1941, leaving York to supply the Tigers’ power, but he slipped to 27 and 21 HR in 1941-42, although he hit three in one game on September 1, 1941. York rebounded in 1943 to lead the AL in both HR and RBI but fell below 20 the next two years. When the Tigers switched Greenberg back to 1B at the end of his career, York was traded to the Red Sox. He hit only 17 HR for Boston in 1946, but added two in the WS, including a game-winner in the tenth inning of Game One.
York was never a defensive whiz, leading AL first basemen in errors three times and prompting one sportswriter to quip, “Rudy York is part Indian and part first baseman.” He was, however, extremely dangerous with the bases loaded, belting 12 career grand slams, including two in one game on July 27, 1946, a game in which he drove in ten runs.