Obituary: Hank Workman (1926-2020)

RIP to Hank Workman, a renowned baseball player for the University of Southern California who also had a 2-game career in the major leagues. Workman died on March 16 at his home in Santa Monica, Calif., according to the USC Trojans athletics website. He was 94 years old. Workman was a pinch-hitter and first baseman for the 1950 New York Yankees.

Henry Kilgariff Workman was born in Los Angeles on February 5, 1926. According to his obituary, the Workmans were one of the city’s earliest families. Hank Workman graduated from Loyola High School in 1944 and enlisted in the military. He signed up for the Naval Aviation Cadet Training program and was beginning his pre-flight training at St. Mary’s College when World War II ended. After the military, he ended up at USC at a very opportune time for a young ballplayer. Young head coach Rod Dedeaux had just joined the school as the co-head baseball coach and would build up the USC team to a baseball juggernaut. He shared coaching duties with Sam Barry until Barry’s death in 1950.

Source: Binghamton Press, May 19, 1951

Workman played for the Trojans for three years, and the team won its conference title in each of those years (1946-48). He was on the all-CIBA (California Intercollegiate Baseball Association) team in 1946 and 1948. Workman was also among the first All-Americans in USC baseball history, along with Wally Hood and Art Mazmanian. An outfielder at the time, Workman hit .345 as Dedeaux’s clean-up hitter in 1947 and was the 1948 team captain.

Workman hit .341 with 11 home runs during the ’48 season, propelling the Trojans into the NCAA tournament. He homered twice in the first game against Baylor and added another long ball and two doubles against Oklahoma pitching in the second. After the first two rounds, the 6-foot-tall, lefty-swinging outfielder was the talk of the tournament, with multiple teams interested in signing him. USC concluded its championship run by defeating Yale in the College World Series.

Within days of that victory, Workman had signed his Yankees contract and was on the way to join the Newark Bears of the International League. He joined his USC teammate Wally Hood Jr., whom the Yankees also signed. In just 72 games, Workman pounded out 16 home runs and hit .269. The next year, splitting time between Newark and Kansas City (the Blues, an American Association team), he homered 25 times and drove in 74 runs.

USC teammates Jim Brideweiser, left, and Hank Workman, right, get some advice from Hank Greenberg. Source: The Los Angeles Times, March 23, 2948.

Workman had one odd duty while he was with the Yankees. He was interviewed by author Richard Ben Cramer for Cramer’s book, Joe DiMaggio: The Hero’s Life. Workman said that he had to light a Chesterfield cigarette, take one puff, and leave it waiting for DiMaggio when he came in from center field.

Workman spent most of 1950 with the Blues and slashed .267/.357/.456, with 23 round-trippers. He also made a transition to first base, as the Yankees felt his arm wasn’t suited to the outfield. That Kansas City team featured a number of prospects who went on to wonderful careers in the majors, like Whitey Ford, Lew Burdette, Bill Virdon and Billy Martin. The 24-year-old Workman led the team in home runs and RBIs and earned a trip to the major leagues on September 1. He made his debut in a pinch-hitting role on September 4 against the Philadelphia Athletics. He hit for reliever Joe Ferrick and hit a 2-3 groundout to end the game for a 4-3 loss. Then… nothing. The Yankees were in a tough battle for first place in September, and Workman didn’t get a chance to play again until October 1, the last game of the season. He started at first base and went 1-for-4 as the cleanup hitter. He led off the 6th inning with a single off Harry Taylor and scored on a Bobby Brown double.

Workman stayed in the Yankees’ system for three more seasons but never returned to the majors, leaving him with 1 hit in 5 at-bats for a .200 average. He fielded his 6 chances at first base flawlessly.

USC teammates Wally Hood Jr. (center) and Hank Workman (right) sign their Yankees contracts. Also shown are Yankees exect George Weiss (top) and Dan Topping (left). Source: The Los Angeles Times, June 30, 1948.

Workman, despite having spent his entire minor-league career at the AAA level, started the 1951 season with the A-ball Binghamton Triplets. He was assigned to AAA Kansas City but instead returned to Los Angeles, asking the organization to send him anywhere but K.C. “Let Kansas City tell the story from their angle,” was all he would say on the subject, but another teammate who fled the team let it be known that the team’s front office and inferior living conditions were the reasons for their issues.

Workman continued to hit for power, playing mostly on the East Coast. He hit 115 home runs in his 6-year career in the minors and batted .264. He quit baseball after the ’53 season, when he was 27 years old. He ran into an outfield wall and injured his shoulder, cutting his career short.

Returning to California, Workman graduated from Loyola Law School and went to work for the California State Attorney General’s office for several years. He then went into private practice until his retirement. Workman was inducted into the USC Athletics Hall of Fame in 2009.

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