Grave Story: Pinky Whitney (1905-1987)

Pinky Whitney began and ended his career with the Philadelphia Phillies, spending 10 of his 12 seasons with the team. During his first tenure, he reached 200 hits twice and batted over .300 three times, and the Phillies were awful. The second time around, he received his only All-Star nod and hit .341 one year, and the Phillies were… still awful. And so, a good-hitting, slick-fielding third baseman who generated 18.8 WAR in his career has been largely forgotten, because he played on too many forgettable teams. Whitney played for the Phillies (1928-33, 1936-39) and Boston Braves (1933-36).

Arthur “Pinky” Whitney was born in San Antonio, Texas on January 2, 1905. He entered pro ball when he was 20 years old and spent two seasons, 1925 and 1926, with the Decatur Commodores of the Three-I League. He hit .326 and .286 respectively and rapped 9 home runs in each season. By the time he finished up the 1927 season for the New Orleans Pelicans with a .336 average and .461 slugging percentages, Whitney clearly was ready for the majors. The Cleveland Indians, who had signed him with a $3,500 bonus in 1924, didn’t want him for whatever reason, so the Phillies drafted and brought Whitney to the big leagues in 1928. He proceeded to hit MLB pitching just as well as he did minor-league pitching.

Pinky Whitney trots home after hitting his first of two home runs on the day versus the Cardinals on May 18, 1938.
Pinky Whitney trots home after hitting his first of two home runs on the day versus St. Louis on May 18, 1938. Whitney drove in 5 of the Phillies 6 runs, but the Cardinals scored 11 to win. Source: The Morning Post, May 19, 1936.

For the first five years of his career, Whitney established himself as one of the NL’s top third basemen. He hit .301 with 10 home runs and 105 RBI in his rookie year of 1928. He had 200 hits in 1929 and 207 in ’30 with .327 and .342 batting averages, respectively. He led the NL in games played by appearing in all 154 Phillies games in 1932. While he missed another .300 season by 2 points, he drove in a career-high 124 runs. He wasn’t just a hitter, either. He led all NL third basemen with a .960 fielding percentage in 1932 and finished second the other five seasons. Unfortunately, the Phillies didn’t have much talent beyond Whitney and future Hall of Famer Chuck Klein and finished no higher than 4th place during this time.

So how did the Phillies pay Whitney back for his good work? After an early injury and a slow start, they shipped him off to the Boston Braves for a couple of players and cash. Whitney’s SABR bio notes that the Phillies were cash-strapped and needed to make a deal. The change of scenery was no good for Whitney. His career batting average with the Braves was just .258, almost 50 points lower than his average in Philadelphia.

After scuffling with the Braves for parts of four seasons, Whitney was dealt back to the Phillies in 1936 and immediately recaptured the old magic. He hit .294 with the Phils in 114 games and was selected to the NL All-Star team. He singled off Schoolboy Rowe and hit a sacrifice fly off Lefty Grove as the NL beat the AL 4-3. He also hurt his thumb fielding a Lou Gehrig grounder, and the injury bothered him the rest of the season. In 1937, Whitney finished second in the NL with a .341 batting average. It was his last great year. His playing time decreased over the final two seasons of his career, and he ended his MLB career in 1939 with a .187 batting average in 34 games.

Whitney’s career totals are a .295/.343/.415 slash line and a .758 OPS. He had 1,701 hits (303 doubles, 56 triples and 93 homers) and 927 RBI. He struck out just 438 times in 5,765 at-bats. He had a career .961 fielding percentage at third base and led the NL three times in that category.

The Sporting News reported that Whitney returned to his native San Antonio after his retirement from baseball. He operated a bowling alley, managed an amateur baseball team and worked for the San Antonio Spurs. He and his second wife also developed a passion for designing jewelry pieces. Pinky Whitney died on September 1, 1987 from cancer. He is buried in San Antonio’s Mission Burial Park South.

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