The Babe hit the first-ever home run at Yankee Stadium and went on to lead the league with 41 in 1923. Subsequent Yankee home run champs include Bob Meusel, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Reggie Jackson, Graig Nettles, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Nick Etten ...
Wait a minute, Nick who? Run that name by me again.
His name may not ring a bell, but Nicholas Raymond Thomas Etten, a left-handed hitting first baseman, once hit enough dingers to win the American League home run crown. Pay close attention here because you might be able to win some bar bets with this guy. ...
Etten was a left-handed batter, but he was hardly a slugger. On the other hand, he had hit 14 homers in 1941, and Yankee Stadium might have been more to his liking than Shibe Park. More importantly, the Phillies were financially strapped and needed to slash the payroll. Perhaps most significantly, Etten was not subject to military service, and that might have enhanced his value. A reliable warm body at first base was not to be taken for granted during the World War II years.
The deal worked out superbly for Etten and the Yankees in 1943. He not only duplicated his home run high of 14, he also drove home 107. The Yankees won the pennant and the World Series (versus the Cardinals). And as it turns out, the Phillies didn’t miss him, as they improved their record to 64-90, which vaulted them all the way to a seventh-place finish.
This brings us to 1944, the year Etten really earned his wings as a Bronx Bomber. The military losses finally took their toll, as the Yankees slumped to third place with a record of 83-71. But Etten took his place in the history books as the American League home run leader ... with the princely sum of 22.
Apparently, AL pitchers wanted no part of him, as he also led the league in walks with 97. Throw in a batting average of .293 and 91 RBIs and you have the ingredients of a pretty decent season, even if it was during the tainted years of World War II.
But how to account for Etten’s total of 22 leading the league? That was the lowest total since 1918. Sure, the talent level was lower during the war years, but that held for American League pitching staffs, too, so hitters should have been a match for them. Etten somehow managed to hit more homers than such name players as Vern Stephens (20), Rudy York (18) and Bobby Doerr (15).
One might be tempted to conclude that someone or something put a hoodoo on the American League that year. After all, this was the one and only season the St. Louis Browns won the pennant. And if you’re curious, the National League leader was Bill Nicholson of the Cubs with 33 long balls. Not an earth-shaking total, but it was 50 percent more than Etten had.
So what could Etten do for an encore in 1945? Well, it was a forgettable year for the Yankees, who finished in fourth place at 81-71, but Etten led the league in RBIs with 111. He also had 18 homers and a .285 average, and a spot on the AL All-Star squad. Apparently, he had found a home as the Yankees’ first baseman.
Then the war ended. Time for the Yankees to get back to business as usual, namely winning American League pennants. But results were not immediately forthcoming. In 1946, they finished at 87-67, which got them only as high as third place, 17 games behind the Red Sox.
In 1946, all those front-line American League pitchers came back from the military, and Etten became a part-timer (323 a- bats). The nine home runs and 49 RBIs weren’t bad, given his number of plate appearances, but that .232 batting average was cause for concern.
Obviously, it was time to shake up the Yankees. So they acquired veteran George McQuinn to play first base in 1947. He responded with 13 homers, 80 RBIs and a .304 average, and the Yankees responded with a pennant and a World Series title.
Etten became expendable, so he was sold down the riverthe Delaware River, that is—and back to the Philadelphia Phillies. Well, once you’ve been a league-leading power hitter and won a World Series ring, such a deal was quite a blow.