Gerrit Cole didn’t hesitate at the mention of Tommy Kahnle.
“Psychopath, that guy,” the Yankees’ ace said before the Daily News could even ask a question. That reaction – along with the ensuing praise for Kahnle – neatly summarizes the prevailing sentiment.
Kahnle, on his third stint with the Yankees organization after reuniting with the team over the offseason, is as eccentric as they come in pinstripes. While the Yankee Way is often associated with scrubbed-down and buttoned-up individuals, Kahnle’s free spirit has captured the attention of fans and teammates alike throughout his 13 professional seasons.
“I first come in, I probably seem a little over the top,” said Kahnle, who turned 34 on Monday. “But I could tell guys, the more they’re around me, the more they start to kind of like it. It keeps guys loose and they have fun.”
After talking to Kahnle and 13 of his past and present teammates, The News compiled a collection of short stories that show just how rambunctious the pitcher can be.
Without further ado, here are The Tales of Tommy.
Shaving in shame
Amid struggles and injuries, the Yankees sent Kahnle back to the minors in 2018. It was there, at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, that Michael King first met his future big league teammate.
It’s also where King was introduced to Kahnle’s most bizarre habit.
“I don’t think this is bad. I think he’d be fine with this,” King said before dropping the bomb. “He shaves his whole body when he doesn’t do well in a game.”
Added Clarke Schmidt: “That is a true story. I’ve seen it in person.”
King made this unusual discovery after Kahnle relieved the former starter in a game. Kahnle allowed some runs that day in the minors.
“So then the next day, I walk in, and – I said whole body. It’s like from waist up,” King said, correcting himself. “He is covered in shaving cream. Just shaved his whole body. I was like, ‘What?’
“He’s like, ‘It’s a punishment. It’s a punishment. You want to be hairy.’ I was like, ‘Okay… sounds good, dude.’”
Kahnle, who began his third Yankees stint with a lengthy scoreless streak, still practices this penalty. Schmidt said he caught his teammate shaving prior to the All-Star break after runs scored on Kahnle’s watch in a game against the Cubs.
“They love this, don’t they?” Kahnle said when asked about going above and beyond the requirements of the Yankees’ notorious grooming policy. “I don’t know who told you – probably King.”
When asked if he really shaves his entire body, Kahnle offered one caveat.
“We’ll just say entire body, not the legs,” he said.
Kahnle added that he does this whenever he allows a run, even if the pitcher before him earned it. He said that he started shaving in college at Lynn University. A starter back then, it was more of an “everyday thing.”
No one taught Kahnle this sacrifice, nor was it part of some hazing ritual. It’s just a thing that he chooses to do.
“I do some weird stuff, man,” he admitted.
A ‘killer’ on the mound – and in the clubhouse
As rowdy as Kahnle can be, his teammates love the energy he brings. They also appreciate his dedication and competitive spirit.
“He puts the work in behind the scenes,” Aaron Judge said. “And then when he’s on the mound, he’s a bulldog. He’s a killer out there.”
Kahnle was also a killer in the locker room hours before a recent game at Angel Stadium.
With an unusual number of bugs hovering inside on a muggy summer day, he patrolled the visiting clubhouse with an electric fly swatter. A man on a mission, Kahnle ran around the room, tapped on light fixtures and kicked a garbage can in hopes of scaring insects out of hiding. “Ahhhhh!” he yelled in excitement whenever he zapped a helpless fly to death.
“That’s a light Tommy,” Schmidt insisted. “He’s doing stuff like that a lot. He’s just always doing stuff that people are like, ‘What the hell’s this guy doing?’
“Imagine what he’s like without media in here.”
Once Kahnle’s hunt ended, he tucked the fly swatter into his back pants pocket. Satisfied with his body count, he returned to his locker.
“I think I’ve killed about 40 mosquitoes today,” the pitcher proudly said. “I love this thing. It’s awesome.”
Poor aim to blame for a flooded apartment
While Kahnle’s fly swatter allowed him to play the part of exterminator in Anaheim, a different weapon made him the pest who needed controlling when he was in Low-A ball.
“I don’t know what was happening, but somehow, he broke the sprinkler in his apartment and the whole apartment flooded,” recalled Kyle Higashioka, a present and minor league teammate of Kahnle’s. “It was the fire sprinkler. The whole apartment flooded and there was a whole scene.”
The water impacted other Yankees minor leaguers who were living at the complex, as ballplayers had to evacuate to the street.
“The fire department came,” Kahnle said. “And then me and my roommates, we just went and spent the night in other guys’ places.”
But when asked how he set the sprinkler off, Kahnle resisted an explanation.
“Oh gosh,” he said. “I flooded it. That’s all we need to know.”
Fortunately, a minor league roommate pointed the News in the right direction.
“I don’t want to give any misinformation, but I remember a couple instances with airsoft guns that got a little dicey as far as that apartment went,” said former Yankees prospect Kramer Sneed. “I think he was just running around and he accidentally shot one of those fire sprinklers at the ceiling. It caused the chain reaction.”
When asked directly if he shot a sprinkler, Kahnle initially dodged the question.
“I have no idea,” he said at first. But when told that the information came on good authority, he relented. “I can confirm that,” Kahnle said with a laugh before jogging away.
While Kahnle got in some trouble for that shooting, it didn’t deter him or Danny Burawa, another minor league roommate, from playing with airsoft guns.
“I don’t know which one it was,” Sneed said of an incident the following year. “They popped my air mattress with an airsoft gun. So I was pissed for a couple days sleeping on the floor, trying to get a new air mattress in there. I wasn’t a bonus baby like those guys.”
Loud, caffeinated and restless… Most of the time
DJ LeMahieu first met Kahnle as a member of the Rockies. He says nothing has changed.
“He’s pretty much the same as long as I’ve played with him,” the infielder said. “This is my third stint.”
But Schmidt had never spent significant time around Kahnle before this season. He was a little taken aback at first.
“I was like, ‘This guy’s just loud.’ Like he wasn’t even playing. So I didn’t know what to think of it,” Schmidt said of his first impressions. “Now I love it. It’s like you start to fall in love with it.”
The word “loud” is inescapable when talking to teammates about Kahnle. According to Nick Ramirez, his fellow reliever loves to scream movie quotes. One favorite is Mel Gibson’s “Give me back my son” line from the 1996 flick “Ransom.” Another popular shout is the wrestling quote, “For life.”
Kahnle also likes to make random noises throughout a typical work day.
“There’s a lot of just like, ‘AH!’ BAH!’” Ramirez tried to explain. “And then he’ll bang on the overheard cabinets on the plane. Just like to the beat of the song.”
Indeed, Kahnle tries to make the most of every flight, as he often hosts video game tournaments in addition to causing a raucous. Once a notorious Red Bull drinker, he now prefers other pre-workout and energy beverages to get wound up for plane rides. Never mind that others often use that time to rest.
“He gets excited for the flights,” Ron Marinaccio said. “Almost more than he gets excited for the game.”
Ramirez remembers Kahnle being particularly excited for the Yankees’ long flight home from Los Angeles in June. Kahnle had just come off the injured list, and he knew he wasn’t pitching in the Yankees’ series finale against the Dodgers. Yet he started chugging a P4 energy drink in the bullpen during the ninth inning, much to Ramirez’s horror.
“I was like, ‘Tommy, what are you doing?’” Ramirez recalled. “And he was like, ‘I’m getting ready for the flight.’ At that point I was sitting next to him on the plane and I was like, ‘Oh boy, here we go.’”
Added Clay Holmes: “That was the first time I’d seen that.”
Kahnle proceeded to tell his teammates that none of them were sleeping on the cross-country flight home.
“But then he fell asleep,” Ramirez said. “Make sure you ask him about that.”
“That’s what they say?” Kahnle said when confronted with the accusation. “I don’t know where they come up with this stuff.”
But King confirmed that Kahnle is prone to crashing after caffeinating.
“Honestly, we need to start taking pictures, because he fell asleep on the plane out here, too,” King said when the Yankees were in Anaheim. “And he just keeps denying it. So I need to snap a picture of him actually falling asleep.”
While Kahnle has slept through a few flights, his rep remains intact.
“He’s got more energy than my 3-year-old,” said Ramirez, who also called Kahnle “one of my favorite teammates.”
Other peers, old and new, shared similar sentiments as Ramirez.
For all the chaos Kahnle brings, his antics are mostly appreciated, even if Aaron Boone has to tell him to “pipe down” every once in a while.
“He’s just a special human being to have that kind of energy every day,” Cole said. “It’s a good attribute to a team, honestly. He definitely brings us energy, that’s for sure.”