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Huston Horn
October 01, 1962
New York has the biceps, the Dodgers have the legs and the Giants have hopes. The World Series shapes up as a tight one, and the Yankees will be counting heavily on Tom Tresh, a rookie who has never seen a Series game
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October 01, 1962

It's The Yankees Vs. The West

New York has the biceps, the Dodgers have the legs and the Giants have hopes. The World Series shapes up as a tight one, and the Yankees will be counting heavily on Tom Tresh, a rookie who has never seen a Series game

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Like a 6-foot Band-Aid, Shortstop Tom Tresh was asked to patch together the wounded Yankee infield from April to August. Despite the tension of playing for the New York terrors, he stuck. Next thing you knew, he was playing left field. With 89 RBIs, Tresh ranks second on his team, and his No. 3 spot in the batting order is the one held this time a year ago by the storied Roger Maris. Named to the All-Star team, Tom Tresh nevertheless is no more than a rookie. (And, of course, he is a runaway choice to be elected the American League's Rookie of the Year.) Tresh has never set eyes on a World Series game, but he is, if form means anything, as unlikely to choke as Yogi Berra.

"The Yankees were in a terrible bind; things were really crucial last spring," says a front-office man. " Tony Kubek is as good a shortstop as any man playing the position, and where was he? Off at Fort Lewis in Washington with the Wisconsin 32nd. The chances of our trading for a competent replacement were nil, so Ralph Houk sponsored a contest." There were two contestants: Tresh, a four-year resident of the Yankee farm system, and Phil Linz, a solid-hitting shortstop with Amarillo. Linz performed well, but Tresh beat him out. Says the loser, cheerfully: "My friend Tom has the stronger arm—and he has the precedent. Twice before, in Richmond and in Binghamton, he won the shortstop job over me. But my luck's improving. At least this time they let me stay around to watch him play."

Though Tresh was able to take the measure of co-rookie Linz, he is not yet an even match for the rangy, resourceful Kubek. "If it's a matter of fractions of inches, Kubek wins," says a Yankee—and Tresh agrees. "All I hoped was that by the time Tony came back from the Army, the Yankees would be in first place," Tresh says. "Then I could satisfy myself that I'd done the fill-in job expected of me."

When Kubek returned in August, the Yankees were first, and Tresh's fielding as well as his bat were not inconsiderable factors. So far Tresh has hit better than the veteran Kubek did last year, and his batting with men on base has been so sure that Roger Maris, who won the RBI title last year, is the only Yankee outproducing him.

To a lot of ordinary men, the return of a Kubek might cause a slight indisposition of spirit. But Tom Tresh, like many ballplayers, professes to be unencumbered by the niggling frets of insecurity, and in fact claims that he calmly awaited the hero's arrival. Says Tresh, "I was under more strain with him away." After 10 days of conditioning in left field, Kubek quietly changed places with ex-Shortstop Tresh. "I know it would make a better story," says Tresh, "if I had cursed the luck and carried on, but I felt no hostility toward Tony getting his job back. I never cared what position I played in the majors as long as I played." He was also glad to contemplate the future sketched in for him by Houk. As Tresh wrote to his parents at the time: "My days as a shortstop may very well be over.... Ralph told me if I didn't want to make the change [to left field] I didn't have to. He told me he thought I had the potential to be another Kaline.... He also told me that he had to start thinking of someone to replace Mantle in center field and that he was going to groom me for that eventually."

Although Tresh had not played in the outfield since the seventh grade, his father, Mike Tresh, began teaching him to be an all-round player long before it occurred to the Yankees. The grandson of a Pennsylvania coal miner from the Ukraine, Tom was born in 1938, the same year Mike commenced his own 12-year major league career as a catcher with the White Sox. "A couple of years after that," says Mike, "Tom could connect with one of those miniature souvenir bats and a rubber ball. He had an early eye." The infant Tom also had an early hustle. Trying to beat out a looper over the coffee table, he once slid through a window in the living room's French doors, bears the scar on his face to this day. "Even so," says Mike Tresh, "the Yankees made Tom a Yankee. He learned things in four months that it took me four years to learn. Not many second-generation ballplayers outshine their dads in the majors, but, oh my. When Tom hit his second home run he tied my lifetime record. I don't bother to compare us anymore."

One way Mike helped his son outshine him was to teach him switch hitting, encouraging the boy to practice the unnatural art until it became routine. "The thing my dad kept me from learning," says Tom, "was bad habits."

Mike also insisted that Tom get started in college before becoming a professional ballplayer. Since Plant Policeman Mike Tresh did not go to college, Tom got the drift He and his father steered off the scouts with the suggestion to call again in three years, and Tom enrolled that spring at Central Michigan University with a grant-in-aid baseball scholarship and a lukewarm aim, � la Casey Stengel, to become a dentist. But in Tom's freshman year the whole Tresh family succumbed to the lure of a $30,000 offer from the Yankees. "I was supposed to talk to Boston the next day," says Tresh, "but I told them never mind; I had what I wanted. I was on my own at 19, I had enough money so I could finish college and I had a job with New York." Says Dr. William Theunissen, a Ph.D. who coached Tresh in college: "I always thought he'd have been smarter to wait another year, that he'd get more money with another season of college ball behind him. But now when he gets his share of the World Series loot this year, he can come back up here, buy a piece of the school and fire me."

Put to work in the Yankees' St. Petersburg Class D seed bed in 1958, Tresh moved variously to New Orleans, Greensboro, Amarillo, Binghamton, last year to Class AAA Richmond. "Going up and down as you sometimes do in the minor leagues," says Tresh, "can get you to wondering. But through it all, my dad never pampered me, took my side or let me feel sorry for myself. He told me the Yankees knew what they were doing, it was always tough in the minors and I had better get used to it. To get up, and stay up, he said, I had to bear down." Bearing down also meant getting back to school in the fall as soon as possible. Tresh has switched from dentistry to a major in physical education, and though he is sometimes a few weeks late reporting for classes, the administration overlooks it.

Thus, at 24, Thomas Tresh is sitting pretty. He has doting parents, a wife and a three-week-old daughter. His new job in the outfield ought to add five years to his playing days ("They'll have to carry me out") and, as one of the New York demigods, he'll carry off a boodle of money in the next few years. Altogether there is only one thing bothering him: his Central Michigan textbooks were shipped to him just the other day. His assignment is to get cracking.

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