The former Minneapolis Central High School star played in five World Series with the New York Yankees.
By TIM HARLOW, Star Tribune
Last update: March 26, 2009 - 1:23 AM
Johnny Blanchard could have stayed in his hometown and played professional basketball with the Minneapolis Lakers, but his passion for baseball led him to the New York Yankees.
Blanchard, a 1951 graduate of Minneapolis Central High School, appeared in five World Series and won two championship rings as a member of the Bronx Bombers. A highlight of his career was hitting two home runs in the 1961 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. The Yankees won the series in five games.
Blanchard's professional career spanned 516 games in the major leagues. In addition to the Yankees, he played with the Kansas City Athletics, the Milwaukee Braves and the Atlanta Braves. He had a career batting average of .239, with 67 home runs and 285 hits.
He played 694 games in the minor leagues, where he had a batting average of .282 and 122 home runs.
"The biggest thrill was putting on that uniform and taking the field [at Yankee Stadium]," said his son Tim of Chanhassen.
Blanchard was to be at the new Yankee Stadium on Opening Day in April, but he died of a heart attack early Wednesday at North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale. The Wayzata resident was 76.
Blanchard's high school sweetheart and wife, Nancy, said "it was quite a day" when he signed a contract with the Yankees for $20,000 in 1951. He spent four years in the minor leagues and served in the Army during the Korean War before getting called up to the Yankees in 1955. He appeared in one game that season before permanently joining the roster in 1959.
Blanchard, an outfielder turned catcher, played alongside Yankee greats such as Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Roger Maris. His best year was 1961, when he had a batting average of .305, hit home runs in four consecutive at-bats (a record that still stands) and finished second in voting for the Fall Classic's MVP.
In the off-season, Blanchard was part of a team that practiced against the NBA's Minneapolis Lakers. He averaged 18 points per game and the team wanted to sign him to a contract, but the Yankees nixed the deal, Tim said.
After his baseball playing days were over, Blanchard sold machines for railroads and worked in the printing business. He also coached amateur baseball teams in Hamel, and several of his teams made it to state tournaments. He participated in baseball fantasy camps for adults put on by the Yankees and frequently appeared at baseball card shows on the East Coast.
"Baseball was in his blood," his son said. "He loved the card shows. He'd shake people's hand, ask their name and talk with people. He was the king of storytelling; that was his strength."
Blanchard enjoyed golf and was looking forward to seeing the new Yankee Stadium and participating in an old-timers' game this year.
"He lived a life people would dream of living," Tim said.
In addition to his wife and son Tim, Blanchard is survived by two other sons, Paul, the head baseball coach at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall, and Johnny of Minnetonka, and six grandchildren.
Services will be held at 11 a.m. Monday at St. Mary of the Lake Church, 105 N. Forestview Lane, Plymouth. Visitation will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Sunday at the David Lee Funeral Home, 1220 E. Wayzata Blvd., Wayzata.
After graduating from Central and playing minor league baseball for several years John was first called up to the Yankees in 1955 for only a short stay. With more experience and success in the minors he was again called up in 1959 and had a "famous alumni" career that lasted through 1965.
His career included 516 plate appearances with 67 home runs, 200 runs-batted-in and a .239 batting average. He also appeared in 15 world series games with 2 home runs, 5 runs-batted-in and a .345 batting average.
Some fans claim the 1961 Yankees as the greatest
team and they could very well be right with
Casey Stengel as manager, Roger Maris, Mickey
Mantle, Yogi Berra and many other famous names
on that team along with Johnny Blanchard.
Blanchard savored his position as the Yankees' third-string catcher for most of his career. A defensive liability, he nearly quit in 1960 when Casey Stengel considered activating 40-year-old bullpen coach Jim Hegan to back up Yogi Berra while Elston Howard was injured. Stengel reconsidered, and Blanchard responded in 1961 with adequate defense and a career-best .305, 21 HR season. Blanchard holds the record with ten World Series pinch-hitting appearances. He eventually became a left fielder for most of his Yankee career.
The interesting account below of Blanchard's contribution to the team tells it all:
Google provided these facts.
» July 21, 1961: Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris slam back-to-back home runs in the first inning for New York, but it takes a 2-out, 9th-inning pinch-hit grand slam by Johnny Blanchard to finally subdue the Red Sox, 118, at Fenway. The pinch slam is the American League's 6th of the season, a new record.
» July 22, 1961: John Blanchard does it again with a solo pinch-hit home run to start a 3-run 9th-inning Yankee rally to tumble the Red Sox 119.
» July 26, 1961: John Blanchard ties
a major-league record by hitting his 3rd and
4th home runs in four at bats over three games.
He drives in four of the Yankee runs in a 52
victory over the White Sox at the Stadium.
New York manages just six hits but four are
homers, including one by Mickey Mantle following
Blanchard's first-inning clout. Blanchard will
end the year with
» August 6, 1961: Mickey Mantle leads the Yankees to a doubleheader sweep of the Twins, going 5-for-9 with three home runs and a double. His four RBIs gives him an even 100 for the year and his homer total is now 43. In the opener, Mantle had two home runs off his favorite pitcher Pedro Ramos, but it is Johnny Blanchard's homer in the 10th that ties the game at 66. In the 15th, Yogi Berra hits a bases loaded grounder and just beat the throw at first to give the Yanks the win. The Yankees win the nitecap by a run as well, when Clete Boyer drives in Mantle in the 9th inning to break a 22 tie. New York now leads Detroit by two 1/2 games.
» September 4, 1961: Mickey Mantle misses the Labor Day doubleheader with a painful and swollen forearm, but the Yanks don't need him as they sweep a pair from the Senators, 53 and 32. The sweep moves the Yanks six games up on the slumping Tigers, who lose 63 to the Orioles and trail 41 in a game suspended. Mantle's replacement John Blanchard breaks a 33 tie in the opener with an 8th inning homer.
» September 6, 1961: Roger Maris connects for #54, off Tom Cheney of the Senators, as the Yankees win, 80, behind Whitey Ford's 5-hitter. Ford is now 233. John Blanchard hits a pair of homers, each time following a walk to Mickey Mantle, and Moose Skowron and Bob Hale also homer.
» September 29, 1961: Johnny Blanchard singles and homers to drive in both runs in the Yanks, 21 win over the Red Sox. The Bomber handyman hits his 21st homer and singles in Roger Maris in the 9th to pin the loss on Bill Monbouquette. Whitey Ford pitches four scoreless innings for New York, and finishes the year having no stolen bases off him in 243 innings, a record.
» October 7, 1961: John Blanchard's pinch-hit home run ties the game in the 8th, and Roger Maris' 9th-inning home run off Bob Purkey is the difference in a 32 New York win for Luis Arroyo in game three of the World Series.
» October 9, 1961: Super-subs Johnny Blanchard and Hector Lopez spark a 5-run first inning and 135 win for New York. Both hit home runs, and Lopez drives in five runs. Bud Daley's long relief effort wraps up the Series, as Ralph Houk becomes the 3rd rookie pilot to guide a World Series winner.
» August 22, 1964: The Yankees lose the first game to Boston, 53, extending their losing streak to six games. Boston scores three runs in the 8th inning to win it. In the nitecap, New York wins, 80, as Mickey Mantle and John Blanchard both homer, and Roger Maris drives in three runs. Mel Stottlemyre wins his 3rd game in a row since being recalled from Richmond. The Yanks end the day five 1/2 games behind the Orioles, with the White Sox in 2nd place, one 1/2 games back.
» May 3, 1965: The Yankees trade John Blanchard (.147) and P Roland Sheldon to Kansas City for C Doc Edwards. Edwards will replace the injured Elston Howard.
» September 11, 1965: Tony Cloninger's
one-hit, 90 win is Milwaukee's 2nd straight
one-hitter against the Mets, tying a ML mark
set 48 years ago. Wade Blasingame, Billy O'Dell,
and Phil Niekro combined the day before for
a 31 win. In today's win, Aaron has two
hits, a stolen base, RBI, and run scored before
leaving for pinch hitter John Blanchard.
Contributed by John Leak, CHS 1943