AFTER HANK BAUER returned from a 34-month overseas stint in the Marines, he thought his baseball career was over. An outfielder for Oshkosh of the Class D Wisconsin State League, Bauer, who died last week at age 84, enlisted in January 1942. He served in nearly every major Pacific invasion and came home with two Bronze Stars, two Purple Hearts and a very sore left leg, courtesy of some shrapnel he took on Okinawa. Bauer was ready to take a job as a steamfitter when an old friend persuaded him to give baseball one more chance. Three years later Bauer was in the Yankees' outfield, winning the first of his seven World Series titles with the Bombers. (He won an eighth as the Orioles' manager in 1966.)
A three-time All-Star, Bauer hit .277 with 164 homers in 14 seasons. His 17-game World Series hitting streak, set between '56 and '58, is still a record. But his contribution to the Yankees' dynasty went deeper than numbers. On one of the most talent-rich squads ever, Bauer gave the team its grit. In 1955 he incurred the wrath of White Sox players and fans after he bowled over Chicago second baseman Nellie Fox while breaking up a double play. "What did those guys expect from me?" Bauer said. "To roll out of Fox's way? No, sir. It took me long enough to win a regular job in this league without me endangering it by playing gently. This is how I make my living, and I got to play it this way every time out."