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26TH January 2012

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MoneyBall for the rest of us: Choate Baseball Legend Tom Yankus taught me about life.


TY: Serving BP meatballs since 1958

MoneyBall got some Oscar nods recently; “Hollywood newcomer Brad Pitt may have finally arrived” quipped George Clooney from his Golden Globe podium. Meanwhile, another great baseball story 50 years in the making is now becoming an overnight sensation:  Choate legend Tom Yankus is due for some honors we can only mention once Choate’s PR cranks up, or the end of this series of blog posts, whichever comes first.

But first, here’s just a little bit about the why:

First off, my personal experience. I am one of a thousand or so athletes coached around the bases by TY. And the one thing that sticks with me is the comment I heard from my College coach after my first day on the field there: “one of the best coached players around”. I shrugged, as I knew I was pretty normal coming from where I did.  It had very little to do with me, and everything to do with the coaching. Imagine the impact of good fundamentals and leadership lessons when multiplied by a thousand.

But the legend began way before the coaching started. Most of these Legend of Yankus facts have been verified, or the statute of limitations on appeal have long since expired:

  • He visited Choate’s Winter Ex to watch the Boston Braves’ spring training in 1943, borrowing a jersey for later use because he wanted “to feel the glow.”
  • In his Fifth Form year he won the junior varsity baseball award for outstanding improvement.
  • After graduating in 1952, TY attended Williams College where he played varsity baseball, for which he has since been named to the Williams College All-Time Baseball Team.  
  • TY was at Yankee Stadium in the summer of 1956 trying our and searched around the changing room for a blue sweatshirt, having not brought anything of the sort. Seeing him looking around, Mickey Mantle said, “Here, kid,” and gave Yankus his own sweatshirt, with the number seven embroidered in it. That year, Mickey Mantle went on to win the Triple Crown and the World Series. Now word on the shirt’s whereabouts.
  •  Yankus signed with the Yankees and began a minor league career with the Missoula, Montana Timberjacks of the Class C Pioneer League. He later wrote a book, Montana Summer, published in 2000, about his experience in the minors. Turns out, he was pretty good with a double clutch on the team bus. Slider, maybe not so much.
  • He pitched for teams such as Harwich and New Orleans in the Cape Cod Baseball League and later managed the Orleans Cardinals for nine years. 
  • TY had been around Wallingfrd for a long time and at Mem house, most 3rd formers thought the New York Yankees were NAMED AFTER YANKUS!
  • During his coaching career outside of Choate, he helped several players join the major leagues, including Aaron Boone, Todd Helton, Nomar Garciaparra and Frank Thomas. At Choate, Yankus coached Chris Denorfia ’98, who currently plays left field for the San Diego Padres. He has also sent numerous Choate baseball players to Division I colleges, such as Princeton, Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, Columbia, and Duke.
  • After forty-five seasons as head coach of varsity baseball, Coach Yankus heads to the locker room with 503 wins, 288 losses, and 11 ties, giving him a .627 winning average.

But lifetime winning averages on the diamond are one thing. Winning averages over a lifetime are quite another. As Rod Serling once said, there were signs along the way. Next: TY’s favorite signs for baseball- and life!

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