Once a top prospect in the New York Yankee organization before earning American League Rookie of the Year honors with the club in 1968, Stan Bahnsen eventually came to symbolize the incompetence the team’s front office exhibited far too often during arguably the darkest period in franchise history. An extremely hard-thrower during his time in New York, Bahnsen went on to win 21 games for the Chicago White Sox in 1972, after being traded to the team by the Yankees for journeyman infielder/outfielder Rick McKinney.
Born in Council Bluffs, Iowa on December 15, 1944, Stanley Raymond Bahnsen attended local Abraham Lincoln High School before enrolling at the University of Nebraska. After starring at Nebraska for three years, Bahnsen was selected by the Yankees in the third round of the 1965 amateur draft – the very first ever held. The right-handed hurler began his professional career straight at the Triple A level, experiencing early success by tossing a no-hitter during the 1966 season. He made his major league debut a memorable one later in the year when he struck out the side during a 2-1 Yankee victory over the Red Sox at Fenway Park on September 9. Working in relief, the 21-year-old Bahnsen fanned Boston sluggers Carl Yastrzemski and Tony Conigliaro in the process.
After returning to the minors in 1967 for another year of seasoning, Bahnsen came up to the big club for good in 1968. Excelling in the Year of the Pitcher, the hard-throwing right-hander compiled a record of 17-12 and an ERA of 2.05 in 267 innings of work, en route to earning A.L. Rookie of the Year honors. Bahnsen’s 2.05 ERA placed him sixth in the league.
Adversely affected by the lowering of the pitching mound and the shrinking of the strike zone the following year, Bahnsen faltered somewhat in 1969, finishing the campaign with a record of 9-16 and an ERA of 3.83. However, he bounced back in 1970 and 1971 to compile 14 victories both seasons, while pitching to very respectable ERAs of 3.33 and 3.35.
Having established himself as one of New York’s most dependable starters, it appeared Bahnsen had found a permanent home. However, desperate for help at third base, the Yankees traded the 27-year-old hurler to Chicago at the conclusion of the 1971 season for unproven infielder/outfielder Rich McKinney. New York soon regretted making the move since McKinney floundered in New York, while Bahnsen went on to win 21 games for the White Sox (against 16 losses).
Used extensively by manager Chuck Tanner during his time in Chicago, Bahnsen received an inordinate number of starts as part of what basically amounted to a three-man rotation. Along with left-handed knuckleballer Wilbur Wood and right-hander Tom Bradley, each of whom also started more than 40 games for the White Sox, Bahnsen exceeded 40 starts in each of his first two seasons with the Pale Hose. After going 21-16 for Chicago the previous year, Bahnsen compiled a record of 18-21 in 1973. He also threw a career-high 282 innings.
The heavy workload Bahnsen carried the previous two seasons began to take its toll on him by 1974. Finishing just 12-15 on the year with a 4.70 ERA, the right-hander lost much of the velocity on the once-blazing fastball that earned him the nickname “Bahnsen Burner” earlier in his career. In addition to seeing his earned run average jump by more than one run per-game, Bahnsen struck out only 102 batters – easily the lowest total of his career to that point.
After seeing his performance continue to decline early in 1975, Chicago dealt the sore-armed Bahnsen to Oakland some two months into the campaign. Working as a third starter behind Vida Blue and Ken Holtzman in Oakland’s pitching rotation, Bahnsen finished the year with a combined record of 10-13. He served the team primarily as a spot starter and long reliever the following year, before being dealt to Montreal early in 1977. After starting for the Expos in his first year with the team, Bahnsen worked out of the bullpen almost exclusively in his final four years in Montreal. The right-hander split the 1982 season between the Angels and Phillies, before retiring at the end of the year with a career record of 146-149 and an ERA of 3.60.
Bahnsen took on numerous jobs following his retirement before securing a position with the promotions department of MSC Cruises in which he seeks out and secures retired major league players to participate in activities on cruise ships such as autograph and storytelling sessions. He also works with 640 am – a South Florida station that broadcasts Yankee games.
Although he had several good years, Stan Bahnsen never quite lived up to the outstanding potential he displayed early in his career. Roy White, who spent four years playing behind Bahnsen in the Yankee outfield, recalled just how promising the pitcher’s future appeared to be when he first joined the Yankees: “I have some great memories of Stan because I saw him break into Double-A. I don’t know if he had just signed or if he had come up from B-ball, or something like that, but he came up to Columbus, Georgia in 1965 to join our club. Here’s a guy who looked like a Norman Rockwell type of country bumpkin. I mean, he had the uniform on…it looked like it was on backwards. He showed up with the straw suitcase…country guy, you know. We’re kind of looking at him saying, ‘Who the hell is this guy?’ Then he got on the mound and started throwing 90 mph fastballs and a curve that broke right off the table. He just had a great arm. Stan was really fast when he first came up. He was probably throwing a 95 or 96 mph fastball. Stan had the great arm and became a pretty good pitcher in the American League. Even after he hurt his arm he learned how to pitch and was a very good pitcher.”