Many baseball players from the New Orleans area signed professional contracts in the 1930s and 1940s. Ray Yochim rode the wave, along with other signees from his high school that included future major-leaguers Lou Klein, Mel Parnell, George Strickland, and Jack Kramer. Yochim missed three formative years of his professional development as a pitcher owing to his service during World War II. With the combination of the missed seasons and several injuries later in his career, he never fully realized his potential or matched his schoolmates’ careers. He appeared in only four major-league games during 1948 and 1949.
Raymond Austin Aloysius Yochim was born on July 19, 1922, in New Orleans, Louisiana, to Joseph and Josephine (Beiswinger) Yochim, native New Orleanians of German descent. The Yochims owned a boarding house, in which they also lived, near Tulane Avenue and Carrollton Avenue in the Mid-City area of New Orleans. Josephine tended to the boarding house, while Joseph maintained railroad tank cars for the Pan American Refinery in New Orleans.1
Ray was one of six children. His younger brother Lenny also played briefly in the majors and spent 37 years as a Pittsburgh Pirates scout. Lenny represented New Orleans in Brooklyn Against the World in 1946 and was the starting pitcher in the first game of the three-game series.2 The Yochim baseball brothers were opposites in physical traits; Lenny was a left-hander, swarthy with dark hair and eyes, while Ray was a right-hander with a fair complexion, blond hair, and blue eyes. Ray’s entry in professional baseball spurred Lenny’s desire to follow suit after completing high school. “Ray loved baseball very much,” Lenny recalled. “He worked very hard at it. I wish I had the same intensity or desire or work ethic that he had. I’d have been a better pitcher.”3
Yochim pitched for S.J. Peters High School as a junior in 1940, when he was a second-team choice for the city’s All-Prep squad.4 In his senior year, he was named captain of his baseball team; he played first base in addition to pitching.5 Mel Parnell and future minor-leaguers Pete Modica and Nelson Nocheck were also pitchers on the Peters team.
In successive games during the 1941 prep playoffs, Parnell and Yochim struck out 17 and 19 batters, respectively.6 Peters challenged Jesuit High School for the city championship but was unable to overcome the undefeated Blue Jays. Yochim was again selected to the second team of the city’s All-Prep squad after he led the league in strikeouts.7
St. Louis Cardinals scout Wid Matthews was high on Yochim and signed the 6’1” 170-pound righthander to a contract in May, scheduling him to report to Sacramento.8 He was optioned to Class-C Fresno, where he appeared in five games and posted a 2-1 record with 19 strikeouts. After St. Louis Cardinals general manager Branch Rickey put out a call to minor-league affiliates to fill a pitching slot in Springfield, Missouri, Yochim was sent.9
With Class-C Springfield, Yochim joined fellow New Orleanian John “Fats” Dantonio, a catcher who was in his fourth minor-league season. He appeared in 16 games, winning seven and losing seven. While attending a Cardinals tryout session in New Orleans, Rickey commented how the local American Legion program had been a reliable source of professional players. Among his praises for several local players, he said about Yochim, “Ray Yochim, ex-Legion boy, looks great; he should be an extra-good pitcher.”10
Yochim and Dantonio got promotions in 1942 when they were signed by the hometown New Orleans Pelicans for the upcoming season.11 Yochim had two winning decisions in six games, although his WHIP was 2.000 in 26 innings. He was sent to Class-B Columbus (South Atlantic League) in late May. His first few outings with Columbus were impressive, suggesting that he might get recalled by the Pelicans.12 However, he fell on tough times and wound up with a 3-15 record and 4.65 ERA in 21 appearances. In an article about the Columbus team, The Sporting News referred to him as “one-bad-inning right-hander.”13
With World War II in full swing, Yochim enlisted in the Marines in late 1942, but wasn’t scheduled to report for duty until late April 1943. In the meantime, he worked out with the Pelicans in New Orleans during spring training to stay in shape, although he had been sold to Rochester after the 1942 season.14
Yochim was initially stationed in San Diego, where he was able to play on military service teams. Major leaguers on those teams were impressed with Yochim in an 11th Naval District tournament in which he won five games and lost one. They observed that he would fare well against better competition once he got back into professional baseball. Yochim readily took the advice the major leaguers offered. For example, Harry Danning warned him about telegraphing his pitches. His success fueled his passion for the game. Yochim said, “I like baseball. I like to pitch and I hope to make the grade in the big leagues someday. But baseball will have to wait until we get done with this job defeating the Japs, Germans, and the other members of the Axis team.”15
On facing Joe DiMaggio in a service league game in San Diego, Yochim said, “I had never pitched to a major leaguer before and there was the great DiMaggio before me. Then I got an awful case of the nerves, but I got by. I fed him curves all day and he never hit a ball out of the infield.”16
There was also an account of Yochim walking three batters in a service ballgame in Hawaii, but none of them reached second base. His catcher picked one runner off first, while Yochim trapped two off the bag.17
The April 19, 1945, edition of The Sporting News reported that Yochim had been killed in action in Iwo Jima.18 But then the next week’s edition retracted its report of Yochim’s and Harry Hughes’s death. The newspaper cited that it had been contacted by Hughes’s wife, who said she had received a letter from her husband dated April 15 that he “was managing a Marine Corps team and enjoying good health.”19 Furthermore, she indicated Yochim’s death was doubtful “since her husband shared a tent with (him).”20 The origin of the erroneous death report was attributed to the sinking of a ship in the Iwo Jima area on which Yochim was supposed to be aboard.21 Ray’s son Craig Yochim said his father explained to him that he had been relieved of his assignment and removed from the fateful voyage because he was told he was needed for the baseball team. Craig said his dad told his superiors at the time, “I came here to fight. They’re killing my buddies. I didn’t join the Marines to play baseball.”22
Yochim, like most ballplayers returning from military service, resumed his baseball career in 1946. He was assigned to Triple-A Rochester, where the initial assessment after his first six starts was that he needed more experience in pacing himself, because he was weakening in the later innings.23 He turned in a solid season with a 4-4 record and 3.81 ERA, including five complete games in 11 starts.
He followed that by becoming the workhorse of the Rochester rotation in 1947. He led the team with 227 innings pitched in 38 games, including 29 starts. He finished with a 14-15 record and 3.57 ERA and was added to the Cardinals’ roster after the season.
Coming out of spring training in 1948, the Cardinals were high on Yochim and carried him as an extra pitcher on the big-league roster. He made his major-league debut on May 2, getting a relief appearance in the ninth inning of a blowout game which the Chicago Cubs won, 13-4.24 He walked three batters but didn’t give up a run in his only appearance of the season.25 He was sent back to Rochester, where he struggled in nine games, recording a 1-4 record and 6.40 ERA. In late June, he was reassigned to Triple-A Columbus, the Cardinals’ affiliate in the American Association, with Alex Patterson moving over to Rochester. He made a turnaround with the Red Birds, posting a 5-1 record and 3.13 ERA.
St. Louis had high expectations for Yochim when he started the 1949 season with the big-league club. He pitched in three games in mop-up relief in May for a total of 2 1/3 innings. When former Cardinals players Lou Klein, Fred Martin, and Max Lanier were reinstated by baseball’s commissioner after being lured by Mexican League president Jorge Pasquel to play in Mexico, Yochim was one of three players the team elected to demote.26 He was assigned to Columbus in early June. While playing for the Red Birds on June 30, he was hit by a pitched ball from Kansas City pitcher Frank Hiller and suffered a fracture just under his left eye and on the chin. While on the injured list, he was permitted to go to New Orleans to be with his wife, who was expecting their first child. 27
Following the 1949 season, Yochim filed for free agency with the Cardinals on the claim that he was underpaid $650 while pitching for the Cardinals and Columbus. Under National Association rules at the time, a player was entitled to become a free agent if his contract had been breached. However, National Association president George Trautman acknowledged an unintentional bookkeeping error and said that Yochim was ultimately paid. Yochim’s appeal was denied by the National Association.28
The Birmingham Barons, an affiliate of the Boston Red Sox, purchased Yochim from Columbus for the 1950 season. He was 10-4 when he was hit on his right elbow by a pitch. Afterwards, he was only 5-6 for the rest of the season. Yochim underwent surgery over the winter to remove bone chips.
At age 28, Yochim’s arm didn’t respond well to the operation. When he resumed his career the next season, he experienced numbness in his elbow, believed to be caused by a nerve that became compressed during surgery. 29 For the rest of his career he was a journeyman pitcher. He became a baseball gypsy, bouncing around with numerous teams and never pitching a full season for any of them. He also sat out entire seasons on two occasions.
Yochim started 1951 with Birmingham again, but he was soon sold to Class-B Fort Lauderdale. He posted a 2-13 record (including a one-hitter against Miami) for a team that won only 38 games.30 Once again, the New Orleans Pelicans signed him to be used as a reliever. In a game against Nashville, he was hit in the shin by a batted ball, which affected him for the rest of the season. The Pelicans wound up releasing him, and he was later picked up by rival Little Rock for the final few games of the season.31
Yochim started the 1952 season with Little Rock but appeared in only five games. At Class-B Texarkana, he had a 4-9 record in 19 games while helping the team fight for a playoff spot in the Big State League. They finished in third place and lost to Austin in the playoffs. Yochim hit five home runs in 75 at-bats and batted .307.
Yochim tried out with Nashville in spring training in 1953 and was signed for the start of the season. However, he was released in mid-April and later played for Class-C New Iberia and Class-D Leesburg. He finished the season with a combined record of 9-11 and 4.20 ERA.
He was pitching for Class-D Panama City in 1954 when he became the team’s third manager, succeeding George Marquette in July. By the time he assumed the helm, the team was already well out of contention for the league title and wound up finishing last.
Yochim didn’t play in Organized Baseball in 1955, although he stayed active by pitching in local semipro leagues in New Orleans. He became a coach for his hometown Pelicans in 1956, but he only worked at home games.32 Class-AA Shreveport signed Yochim as a free agent at the end of July with hopes that he could help their bid for the first division in the Texas League. He was 2-1 in 11 games.33
He was back in New Orleans in 1957 playing in a semipro league again. Local baseball fans enjoyed games in which he pitched for the Yochim All-Stars against the Shell Oilers, whose pitcher was his brother Lenny.34
The Yochims weren’t the only pair of major-league brothers from New Orleans during their era. Charlie and Tookie Gilbert also played professionally in the 1940s and 1950s, including stints in the majors. The Gilbert brothers were the sons of former major-league player and legendary minor-league manager Larry Gilbert.
Yochim served as a part-time coach again for the 1958 Pelicans. Manager Charlie Silvera mutually agreed with Pelicans ownership to leave the team in August because of health problems. His condition involved a lack of calcium in his blood, and he had failing knees from all his years as a catcher. Yochim, who had been working as the pitching coach, was named player-manager on August 19.35 He made occasional relief pitching appearances, picking up two wins.
Ray’s minor-league career totals included a 78-94 record in 270 appearances over 13 seasons. He pitched 3 1/3 major-league innings in four appearances in parts of two seasons with no decisions.
Parnell, Yochim’s former high school teammate and All-Star pitcher with the Boston Red Sox, was named the manager of the Pelicans in 1959, dashing any hopes Yochim would return in the role.
At Mel Ott’s funeral in New Orleans in November 1958, Yochim conceived the idea for an organization called the “Diamond Club of Greater New Orleans,” whose members would be former professional and semipro players and interested parties (umpires, scouts, sports writers, and sports announcers). Yochim said, “The idea is to save pro baseball for New Orleans by promoting it as a sport. There isn’t going to be any forced solicitation for funds.” He added, “The only prerequisite is that you want to talk good about baseball, not knock it.” Ray served as the first president of the organization from 1959-1961.36 It became a popular social club with regular meetings and annual inductions of former baseball figures from the New Orleans area into its hall of fame. Ray was inducted in 1972.37
Among the jobs Yochim held after his retirement from baseball were real estate agent, clerk and checker on the New Orleans riverfront of the Mississippi River, and employee of the Fair Grounds Race Course.38 He was married to Jacqueline (Ray), and they had four children: Myron, Craig, Raymond Jr., and Diane. 39 Myron played baseball and ran track for Loyola University in New Orleans.40
Craig said his father told him he felt he could have helped the Cardinals had they stuck with him longer. But the elder Yochim thought he had been buried in the minors, so that the big-league club could retain him. Craig said he remembers seeing his father play in old-timers games in New Orleans. He recalled, as an 18-year-old, asking his father to pitch batting practice to him, in preparation for a Dixie Seniors baseball tournament. Craig said, “He could still throw hard. I couldn’t touch him. I complained to him, ‘C’mon, dad, let me hit one.’” 41
Following a lengthy illness, Yochim died on January 26, 2002, at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in New Orleans at age 79. He is buried in Metairie Cemetery in New Orleans.
This biography was reviewed by Rory Costello and Michael Tow and fact-checked by Evan Katz.
The author conducted a telephone interview with Craig Yochim, son of Ray Yochim, on December 6, 2021.
In addition to the Notes, the author consulted the following:
New Orleans Times-Picayune.
1 Author’s interview with Lenny Yochim’s daughter Jamie Jacob, on March 2, 2021, and email exchange on August 26, 2021.
2 Val Flanagan, “Brooklyn Play Opens Tonight,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, August 7, 1946: 13.
3 Gary Bedingfield, Baseball in Wartime (website), accessed December 6, 2021, https://www.baseballinwartime.com/player_biographies/yochim_ray.htm.
4 “Blue Jays Place 6, Wildcats 3, Tarpons 2, Bees 1 on All-Star Prep 9,” Times-Picayune, May 26, 1940: Section 4, Page 5.
5 “Ray Yochim is Captain of Peters Diamond Team,” Times-Picayune, March 25, 1941: 16.
6 Optowski, Stan, “Peters Meets Fortier, Jesuit in Successive Prep League Playoff Contests,” Times-Picayune, May 4, 1941: Section 4, Page 5.
7 “1941 All-Prep Selections,” Times-Picayune, May 25, 1941: Section 4, Page 5.
8 William Keefe, “Cards Get Yochim,” Times-Picayune, June 5, 1941: 15.
9 “Cardinals Send Ray Yochim to Springfield Club,” Fresno Bee, July 17, 1941: 3-B.
10 Stanford Opotowsky. “Legion-Airing,” Times-Picayune, “August 10, 1941: Section 4, 3.
11 “Five New Men Are Signed by Local Outfit,” Times-Picayune, April 9, 1942: 18.
12 Zipp Newman, “Dusting ‘Em Off,” Birmingham News, July 1, 1942: 28.
13 “Columbus, Ga., Shows Power Despite Loss of Man-Power,” The Sporting News, August 27, 1942: 9.
14 William Keefe, “Lively Scene at Pel Park,” Times-Picayune, April 8, 1943: 18.
15 “Ray Yochim Impresses Major League Stars with Pitching,” Times-Picayune, July 18, 1943: 20.
16 “In the Service: Stopped DiMag with Curves,” The Sporting News,” November 2, 1944: 12.
17 “Service Dept.,” Port Arthur (TX) News, June 8, 1945: 11.
18 “Necrology,” The Sporting News, April 19, 1945: 12.
19 “Wife Refutes Reports Hughes Lost in Action,” The Sporting News, April 26, 1945: 20.
20 “Wife Refutes Reports.”
21 Gary Bedingfield, Baseball in Hawaii During World War II (n.p.: Baseball in Wartime Publishing, 2021), 256-257.
22 Author’s interview with Craig Yochim.
23 George Behon, “Thompson’s Terrific…Yea-a, Yochim!” Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle, August 18, 1946: 3C.
24 Martin Haley, “Cubs Hand Cardinals Worst Drubbing of Year, 13-4,” St. Louis Globe-Dispatch, May 3, 1948: 19.
25 This appearance made the Yochim brothers the 215th pair to appear in the majors. Baseball Almanac (website), accessed January 10, 2022, https://www.baseball-almanac.com/family/fam1a.shtml.
26 George Leonard, “Yochim Hopes to Conquer Dell Jinx as Vol Hurler,” Nashville Banner, March 18, 1953: 23.
27 “American Association: Columbus,” The Sporting News, “July 13, 1949: 46.
28 “Ray Yochim Loses Free Agency Appeal Over Salary Error,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 27, 1950: 4B.
29 George Leonard, “Yochim Hopes to Conquer.”
30 “Braves Yochim Wins One-Hitter,” Palm Beach (FL) Post-Times, May 25, 1951: 19.
31 “Travelers Sign Ray Yochim,” Louisville Courier-Journal,” August 13, 1951: Section 2, 5.
32 George Leonard, “Appendectomy for Hertwick,” The Sporting News, May 30, 1956: 23.
33 “Sports Sign Ray Yochim,” Shreveport (LA) Times, July 31, 1956: 7B.
34 “Yochims Rival Hurlers Tonight,” Times-Picayune, May 24, 1957: 29.
35 Bill Keefe, “Yochim Replaces Silvera as Pelican Skipper,” Times-Picayune, August 20, 1958: 20.
36 Buddy Diliberto, “From the Bench: Good Words for Baseball,” Times-Picayune, December 11, 1958: 42.
37 John Joly, “Nostalgia Reigned at Dinner,” Times-Picayune, October 29, 1972: Section 6, Page 14.
38 “Deaths: Raymond Austin Aloysius Yochim,” Times-Picayune, January 29, 2002: B-3.
39 Author’s interview with Craig Yochim.
40 Author’s interview with Craig Yochim.
41 Author’s interview with Craig Yochim.