By Tom Ruane
This article is a continuation of the Retro-Review articles. As with the other pieces, this is not intended to be a proper history of the decade. Instead, each review contain a summary of the year's pennant races and postseason as well as a collection of things that interested me while I was helping to proof the box scores for that year and generate the html files for our web-site.
In addition, from time to time I will be focusing on a few of the statistical discrepancies from these years. These are cases where the data being displayed on Retrosheet's web-site differs from either the current official statistics or what was considered official at the time. In many cases, it is unclear which version is correct, but in many others the official view is pretty obviously wrong and at some point ought to be corrected.
Many of the footnotes in the text below simply list a source for a quote or fact, but the cases where they contain additional information (and might be worth clicking on even if the sources don't interest you) are marked with a "+" following the superscript.
Of course, like the earlier articles, this one would not have been possible without the work of dozens of Retrosheet volunteers who worked on digitizing the major league box scores for the 1910s.
Similar articles on the 1900s, 1910s, 1920s, 1940s, 1950s and 1960s are also available on our web-site.
Yearly links: 1930 1931 1932 1933 1934 1935 1936 1937 1938 1939
A note on the scope of the data presented in these articles:
As of this writing, the data used in these articles does not include any of the Negro Leagues that are now considered by MLB to be part of the "Major Leagues" as of December 2020. These leagues are the Negro National League from 1920 to 1931 and 1933 to 1948, the Eastern Colored League from 1923 to 1928, the 1929 American Negro League, the 1932 East-West League, the 1932 Negro Southern League, and the Negro American League from 1937 to 1948.
This omission is not in any way a reflection upon the major league status of those leagues (or for that matter any additional leagues that may come under the Major League umbrella in future years), only that I did not have access to data associated with these leagues while I was researching and writing these articles. In light of this, any data presented in this article, as well as my use of the term "major leagues," should be viewed in light of this omission.
Showboat Fisher was probably a really bad outfielder. The Robins get twelve hits in a row.
Bill Veeck, president of the Chicago Cubs, summed it up: "This is the age of the big punch."1 In 1930 the American League broke records for most runs, home runs and slugging percentage, while the National set highs in home runs, slugging percentage, and modern marks for most runs, hits and batting average. The NL as a league hit .303. In another article, I discussed how that year featured modern baseball's greatest hitting team, the opponents of the 1930 Phillies, but this "team" was not the only one to enjoy great success that year. The 1930 Yankees would set an AL record by scoring 1062 runs that season. Hitting in the middle of that lineup, Lou Gehrig would come within a single RBI of breaking his three-year-old league record, thanks to an incredible 117 RBIs on the road. His home/road splits that season:
G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO HBP SH SB CS AVG OBP SLG Home 76 270 59 94 16 10 14 57 48 39 2 10 6 6 .348 .450 .637 Away 78 311 84 126 26 7 27 117 54 24 1 7 6 8 .405 .495 .794
In general, Yankee Stadium was not a good hitter's park and the Yankees that year hit 20 points higher and scored 120 more runs on the road. On May 22nd, Gehrig hit three home runs and knocked in eight runs. Just to show it wasn't a fluke, he knocked in eight runs again on July 31st. Both of those games, as well as a 7-RBI performance on June 15th, were on the road. That last game was the middle game of a three-game series in Cleveland which saw Gehrig hit 4 home runs and drive in 16 runs. The two 8-RBI games both tied an American League record, which was also done that year by Earl Averill and Carl Reynolds. Prior to this quartet of performances, it had only been accomplished once since the league began keeping track of RBIs in 1920, by Harry Heilmann in 1928.
Of course, Hack Wilson took the season (and the all-time) RBI honors with his record-setting 191 and, unlike Gehrig, he was helped by his home park. Here are his home/road splits:
G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO HBP SH SB CS AVG OBP SLG Home 78 289 77 112 13 3 33 116 65 33 1 10 2 0 .388 .501 .796 Away 77 296 69 96 22 3 23 75 40 51 0 8 1 0 .324 .405 .652
His home record looks a lot like Gehrig's road record. Actually both of these totals (Gehrig's 117 road RBIs and Wilson's 116 RBIs at home) are major league records.
At the time, Wilson was thought to have knocked in 190 runs. But in 1977, a baseball researcher named James Braswell discovered that a run Wilson had driven in during a game on July 28th had been erroneously credited to Charlie Grimm instead. Moving quickly in light of this new evidence, Wilson's RBI total was officially changed--22 years later. Of course, Charlie Grimm's RBI total was left alone, which means that both Wilson and Grimm are currently credited with driving in the same run. Look for Grimm's RBI total to be corrected at some point later this century.
Despite their record-setting offense, the Yankees that year were no match for the Philadelphia Athletics, who were led by Al Simmons and Jimmie Foxx at the plate, and on the mound by Lefty Grove, the league's best pitcher, who finished with an 28-5 mark. As we'll see later, Connie Mack had his own ideas on how to best utilize a pitching staff, and Grove appeared as a reliever in over a third of his games, picking up five wins in that role and, according to modern calculations, nine saves. He picked up victories in six straight appearances in September, including three in relief, culminating in his 28th win on September 16th.
At the time, the A's could have given him two more starts and a shot at 30 victories. There are two reasons why this didn't happen. First, the A's clinched the pennant two days later and their focus shifted to preparing for the World Series instead of personal goals. And perhaps more importantly, at the time it was thought that Grove had only 27 victories, which probably would have put 30 wins out of reach. So instead of making two more starts, Grove pitched only twice more in relief. The reason for the confusion about Grove's victory total during September had to do with the A's 9-2 win in Cleveland on September 13th. In that game, Grove relieved George Earnshaw in the bottom of the fifth inning with the A's already comfortably ahead. Newspaper box scores (including The Sporting News) credited the win to Earnshaw, which followed the conventional scoring of the time. The official scorer, however, gave the win to Grove, no doubt because he had pitched more effectively than Earnshaw, allowing only a hit and a walk over five shutout innings.2+
In the Senior Circuit, the pennant race was a more complicated affair. The Dodgers seemed to have the upper hand on August 9th when they beat the Cards to take a three and a half game lead. The win featured four hits by Babe Herman, including two homers and a double (and pushing his batting average back over .400). Brooklyn followed that game with a disasterous 3-15 stretch that included eight one-run losses. This opened the door for the Cubs, and on August 30th, Chicago clobbered the Cards 16-4 behind Hack Wilson's two home runs and six RBIs to take a five and a half game lead. The Cubs then fell into a slump of their own, giving the Dodgers a chance to climb back into the race. On September 15, behind another four hits by Babe Herman, the Dodgers won their eleventh straight game to re-take the lead. Right on their heels were the Cards, who came into Brooklyn next for a critical three-game series. The first was a dramatic 1-0 ten-inning win for the visiting Cards, as Bill Hallahan outdueled Dazzy Vance in a matchup of the top two strikeout pitchers in the league. The Cards won the next two games as well, both close hard-fought affairs, taking command of the race for good. For the Cards, the sweep was part of a season-ending 31-6 run.
The Cards' turn-around was helped by the strong finishes of Jesse Haines and Flint Rhem, who were a combined 11-16 on August 8th, when St. Louis was in fourth place, twelve games behind the Dodgers, and 15-0 the rest of the way. Rhem's winning streak was interrupted on the eve of the big September series with the Dodgers when the pitcher disappeared for two days. When he returned to the hotel the night after their opening win, at least he had a good excuse for his absence. According to the Chicago Daily Tribune: "He said two men, with guns, had loaded him into a taxicab and taken him to a roadhouse. There, he said, they pumped him with liquor and he didn't remember anything else until tonight"3
The late season slump cost Cubs manager Joe McCarthy his job less than a year after he had led his team to the World Series. Ironically, Rogers Hornsby, whose injuries had been one of the big reasons the team failed to live up to expectations, was named to replace him.
The World Series that year was relatively low-scoring. The Athletics and Cards split the first four games before Jimmie Foxx broke up a scoreless tie in the ninth inning to give Lefty Grove, on in relief after pitching a complete-game loss the day before, his second win. The series shifted to Philadelphia for game six where the A's turned seven extra-base hits (and no singles) into the same number of runs while George Earnshaw held the Cards in check.
This was the second win of the series in which the Athletics had failed to hit a single. In the first game, a 5-2 victory, all five of their hits had gone for extra-bases. Previously, no team had ever won a World Series game without hitting at least one single. It has happened twice since, in the Bill Bevens game of 1947 and the fourth game of the 1952 series. There have been two All-Star games where this has happened: the NL's 3-2 victories in both 1952 and 1995.
One of the biggest hitting stars that season was Bill Terry, who would finish the season with 254 hits and a .401 batting average. He had George Sisler's mark of 257 hits in a season firmly in his sights until getting only 2 hits in his final three games, including a hitless performance in his final game. It would be the 8th time since 1920 that a batter would top the .400 mark. Between 1920 and 1930, 16 hitters would hit over .390 (with Rogers Hornsby and Harry Heilmann each doing it four times). Since then, only two hitters have done this, Ted Williams in 1941 and Tony Gwynn in 1994. For Bill Terry, his performance came in the middle of a streak of six out of seven seasons with more than 200 hits. A late bloomer, all six of them would occur after he turned 30.
Ed Morgan set a Cleveland record when he hit his 19th home run on July 23rd, breaking the record of 18 set the previous year by Earl Averill. Breaking team home run records were pretty commonplace in 1930. Half of the teams in the majors had their single-season home run records either broken or tied that year. Here they are:
HR Team Player 56 CHI N Hack Wilson 38 BOS N Wally Berger 37 PHI A Jimmie Foxx (tied) 35 BRO N Babe Herman 26 CLE A Ed Morgan 22 CHI A Carl Reynolds 19 CIN N Harry Heilmann (tied) 18 PIT N George Grantham (tied)
Wally Berger and Hack Wilson both broke team records held previously by Rogers Hornsby (both Wilson and Hornsby had set the Cubs record with 39 homers the year before). Hornsby had also held the Giants team record for two years (set in 1927, broken by Mel Ott in 1929) and, by the end of 1930 held only the Cardinals' record, which would be finally broken by Johnny Mize in 1940. As for Ed Morgan's record, it would last only a year before being eclipsed by Earl Averill, the previous record holder.
On August 3rd, Harry Heilmann celebrated his 36th birthday by hitting a double in each game of the Reds' double-header loss to the Cards. At the end of the day, he was hitting .362 and was third in the league with 36 doubles. With the exception of one of the biggest games of his career, he would fade over the last two months of the season before arm problems would cause him to miss all of 1931, effectively ending his career.
The most unusual hitting streak of the year was the 27-game streak put together by Heinie Manush. He had started it with the St. Louis Browns before being involved in the biggest trade of the season. In that trade, the Browns sent Manush and General Crowder to the Senators for Goose Goslin. (Say what you will about the Good Old Days, but ball-players certainly had cooler nicknames in the 1930s than they do today.)
Both Goslin and Manush were star left-handed left fielders. In 1928, Goslin had beaten out Manush by one point (.379 to .378) for the AL batting championship4+ and both had been named as outfielders on The Sporting News All-Star teams (Goslin in 1925 and 1926 and Manush in 1928). Goslin was a year older than Manush, was coming off a mediocre year in 1929 and had started slowly in 1930. On the other hand, Goslin was more of a power hitter (his reputation helped somewhat by his six World Series home runs in 1924 and 1925) and he had consistently driven in more runs than Manush. Crowder, a former 20-game winner who had gotten off to a poor start in 1930, was seen as a throw-in in the deal and Washington manager Walter Johnson made it clear that the key to the deal was Manush, whom he considered a significant upgrade over the slumping Goslin. "Of course," he said, "I'm sorry to see the Goose go, but I think he had outlived his usefulness with us and that Manush will give us the kick which Goslin has lacked so far this season"5
So what happened? Manush, who had hit in his last 18 games with the Browns, hit in his first 9 games with the Senators and was hitting .430 with his new team after going 4-4 in the first game of the August 3rd double-header. The Washington Post had started running a "Manush vs. Goslin"6 feature, usually showing that Manush was hitting about 100 points higher than Goose since the big trade. As the season progressed, however, that gap would narrow (and they would stop running the feature). Goslin, who had never hit more than 18 home runs in a season while playing in Washington's cavernous Griffith Stadium, would hit 30 home runs and drive in 100 runs for the Browns on his way to what would be career-high marks in both categories.
For Goslin, the boost in home runs should have been expected. His power had always been hurt by Griffith Stadium. In 1926, for example, he had hit all 17 of his home runs on the road, including 5 in St. Louis' Sportsman's Park. Entering the 1930 season, here are his career marks at home, on the road, and in Sportsman's Park:
G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB AVG OBP SLG Griffith Park 570 2074 338 659 123 69 24 368 209 .318 .386 .478 Away 574 2274 378 777 117 41 84 454 212 .342 .402 .540 Sportsman's Park 81 326 65 132 19 5 24 83 31 .405 .458 .715
So it shouldn't be too surprising that Goslin was glad to go to St. Louis. Or as he put it at the time, "This trade is likely to make a hero out of me for I sure can hit that ball in the St. Louis park and hope to start proving it right away."7
In the short term, this was a deal that was good for both teams. All three players performed much better after the trade. And while Goslin might have been somewhat more productive in 1930 than Manush, "throw in" Crowder might have been better than either of them. He would win 15 games in 2/3 of a season for the Senators that year (with two separate streaks of nine straight complete games) and would lead the league in victories in both 1932 and 1933.
Max Bishop walked 100 or more times in eight consecutive seasons from 1926 to 1933, all without ever appearing in more than 130 games in a year. So it perhaps not too surprising that he would be the first man to walk eight times in a double-header when he turned the trick on May 21st. In the first game, Babe Ruth would hit three home runs in a regular season game for the first time in his career, but his homers (and six RBIs) would not be enough to defeat the A's.
Bishop got three walks in each game of a wild double-header on May 30th. It was part of 21 free passes the A's received in their 7-6 and 15-11 sweep of the Senators. The first contest took thirteen innings to complete and featured six hits by Jimmie Foxx, including two doubles and a triple. Bishop hit six homers that month, equalling his career high in any other year. At the end of May, he had only a .216 batting average, the lowest in the league among regulars, but his on-base percentage was .440, good for fifth best, and his slugging percentage .416. Bishop was also the second player to walk eight times in a double-header when he did it again on July 8, 1934.
Detroit Tigers rookie outfielder Tom Hughes burst upon the scene toward the end of 1930. After getting only a single in his first six at-bats, he began a string of seven straight multi-hit games, a streak that pushed his career batting average to .545. Admittedly, we are picking the cut-off point to match what Hughes did, but here are the players since 1901 with the most hits in their first 33 at-bats:
G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO HBP SH SB CS 1930 Tom Hughes 10 33 8 18 2 3 0 3 2 4 0 0 0 0 1983 Jeff Stone 15 33 9 18 3 4 0 6 0 2 0 0 6 1 1902 Patsy Dougherty 12 33 9 17 0 1 0 6 2 2 0 1 3 1939 Barney McCosky 8 33 10 17 5 0 1 2 5 3 0 1 1 0 1980 Luis Salazar 10 33 5 17 0 2 0 6 4 5 0 1 1 0 1998 Craig Wilson 9 33 12 17 4 0 3 8 3 2 0 2 1 0 2003 Bo Hart 7 33 7 17 2 2 1 5 1 3 0 0 0 0
Unfortunately, the good times didn't last for Hughes. He hit only three singles in the final six games of the season and would never appear in the major leagues again. His defense was a factor in shortening his career. In a brief article over the winter, The Hartford Courant mentioned that he was being farmed out to the minors "so as to become more proficient in the garden, for as an outfielder he merely was a good batter."8
In a similar vein, if you didn't know anything else about Showboat Fisher, you could probably tell he was a really bad defensive outfielder simply by looking at how well he hit and how little he played. 1930 was the only time Fisher was given more than a cursory look from a major league team, and after hitting .374 (with a 1.029 OPS) in 92 games for the pennant-winning Cardinals, he was sent back to the minor leagues. At the time, The Sporting News noted that "Fisher proved to be one of those outfielders best described as a man with a bat in his hand. There's no doubt about his hitting ability.... But he can't cover ground."9 Apart from a brief trial with the Browns in 1932, he would spend the rest of his career in the minors.
On June 23rd, the Brooklyn Robins collected twelve consecutive hits against the Pittsburgh Pirates, tying the major league record originally set on September 17, 1920 by the St. Louis Cardinals. Both of these strings spanned innings. After nine straight singles in the 1920 game, Austin McHenry was thrown out trying to stretch his double into a triple, ending an eight-run fourth for the Cards (Milt Stock had been thrown out trying to stretch his single into a double two batters earlier). And despite starting the fifth with two more hits, St. Louis wouldn't score again. In the latest game, Al Lopez was thrown out trying to score from second on the Robins' tenth-straight hit, Johnny Frederick's single to end the top of their sixth, and then tied the record by starting the seventh with Wally Gilbert's double and Babe Herman's second homer in two innings. And while the Cards collected ten singles and two doubles in their outburst, the Robins' record run included three home runs, a triple and two doubles.
Pittsburgh starter Heinie Meine was on the mound for all ten of those hits to close out the fourth inning. I suspect that had his spot in the batting order not come up in the bottom half, he would have stayed in the game. Apart from a single appearance with the St. Louis Browns in 1922, Meine had been a 33-year-old rookie the year before, and he was dreadful in 1930, with opponents hitting .346 against him. Now dreadful pitching was not unusual in 1930 (after all, the opponents of the Philadelphia Phillies also hit .346 that year), but what was unusual was that Meine became one of the league best pitchers in 1931, leading the league in starts and innings pitched, tying for the lead in wins, and finishing fourth with a 2.98 ERA, less than half of his 6.14 ERA in 1930.
The wildest pitching display of the year was the one put on by Tommy Bridges on August 25th when he walked 12 Browns in a 7-5 victory. He had a 7-1 lead in the top of the ninth inning before issuing his final four passes in front of Rick Ferrell's two-out bases-loaded triple. For Bridges, it was his first major league start and win. In his next start, he pitched his first complete game, allowing 4 hits and walking only a single batter in a 4-1 victory.
Dizzy Dean began his major league career in impressive fashion, throwing a three-hitter in his major league debut. Afterwards, he reminded fans of Art Shires as he predicted that he would be known as "The Great Dean" in 1931.10 Instead, he spent all of the next year pitching for Houston of the Texas League, where he won 26 games and struck out over 300 batters, and St. Louis would have to wait another year to see what he could do in a full season.
Milt Shoffner led the major leagues in balks that year with three and they all came in the third inning of the May 12th game against the Athletics. Of just about all the calls an umpire can make, none are more open to wildly differing interpretations of the rule book than the balk. And in the first month of 1930, the umpire team of Brick Owens, George Moriarty and Bick Campbell absolutely fell in love with the balk. In their first 22 games of the year, this umpiring team called 17 balks, culminating in the five they called in that game. Only four other balks were called in all of baseball up to that point, including a single balk in all of the National League. The league leaders in balks at the close of play on May 12th along with those called by the umpiring crew of Brick, George and Bick:
Pitcher Balks BGB Milt Shoffner 3 3 George Earnshaw 2 2 Waite Hoyt 2 2 Willis Hudlin 2 1 Sad Sam Jones 2 2 Red Ruffing 2 2
I suspect that someone in the league offices had a talk with the three umpires after Milt Shoffner set the major league record that day for the most balks in both a game and an inning. Over the course of the rest of the year, only three more balks were called in the American League, and none of them were called by Owens, Moriarity and Campbell. Shoffner, for his part, would be called for only one more balk over the rest of his career.
Given their seventh place finish in 1930, it is probably fitting that the White Sox had two players on their team who were notable for what they didn't do in 1930. Bud Clancy played an entire game at first-base on April 27th without a chance. His record was preserved when Bill Cissell booted a grounder in the eighth.11 It had been done once before, by Al McCauley of the Washington Nationals on August 6, 1891. and would be done next on June 29, 1937, by Ripper Collins of the Cubs. White Sox left-hander Dutch Henry failed to win a start all season long, with fifteen losses and one no-decision. After picking up a win in a relief appearance to start off the year, he ended his career by losing 17 of 18, including his last thirteen decisions.
Spades Wood got roughed up in his major league debut but then hurled back to back shutouts. Prior to joining the Pirates, he had thrown six shutouts with Wichita of the Western League and so was called by The Sporting News "Organized Baseball's most expert whitewasher."12 He would win only four more games in his major league career (none by shutout) and finish with a 5.61 ERA.
Wilbert Robinson: will the real manager please stand up?
The baseball magnates had seen too many high-scoring games in 1930 and during the off-season both leagues tinkered with the baseball to lower scoring and bring back a more scientific game. The National League was more aggressive in their changes, making the ball cover heavier and raising the stitching, but the American League also altered the stitching, hoping to improve pitcher's control and "steam."13 If reduced scoring was their goal, the National League was more successful than their counterpart, as scoring dropped in the senior circuit during 1931 by more than 20% compared to a more modest 5% drop in the AL.
All of which makes the performance of the 1931 Yankees even more impressive, as they broke the team scoring record for the second year in a row. Once again, Lou Gehrig was in the middle of the lineup and this time he was able to break the AL RBI record, knocking in 185 runs--a record that still stands. At one point in the season, Gehrig homered in six straight games, tying a major league record. Three of those six home runs were grand slams, and by the end of the season he owned the top three seasonal RBI marks in AL history. Included in his 46 home runs were the nine he hit in St. Louis' Sportsman's Park, a record for the most in a visiting park by one player. Jimmie Foxx would tie this the next year, hitting nine in Detroit's Navin Field.
Once again, however, a big year from New York's hitters was not enough to bring them a pennant as the Athletics had winning streaks of seventeen and thirteen games on their way to a franchise record 107 wins. The Cardinals also repeated as league champions, this time by a comfortable margin, and we had the first World Series rematch since 1923. The Cards prevailed in seven games, and the pitching stars for St. Louis were Bill Hallahan and Burleigh Grimes, who won all four of their starts, three of them complete games. And when Grimes tired in the last inning of the seventh game, it was Hallahan who came in to retire the last batter and preserve the 4-2 victory.
The hitting star was Pepper Martin who tied Sam Rice's mark with twelve hits in a single World Series. The mark would stand until Bobby Richardson collected thirteen hits in the 1964 series. Martin got all his hits in the first five games and those twelve hits are three more than the record for a five-game series. Here are the records for a five-game series that are less than totals from the first five games of longer World Series:
Runs Five-Game Series 6 Done many times First-Five Games 8 Roy White (1978) Lenny Dykstra (1993) Hits Five-Game Series 9 Done many times First-Five Games 12 Pepper Martin (1931) Triples Five-Game Series 2 Done three times First-Five Games 4 Tommy Leach (1903) Home Runs Five-Game Series 3 Donn Clendenon (1969) First-Five Games 5 Chase Utley (2009) RBIs Five-Game Series 9 Danny Murphy (1910) First-Five Games 10 Sandy Alomar (1997) Walks Five-Game Series 7 Done three times First-Five Games 10 Barry Bonds (2002) Strikeouts Five-Game Series 9 Done three times First-Five Games 12 Ryan Howard (2009) Stolen Bases Five-Game Series 6 Jimmy Slagle (1907) First-Five Games 7 Lou Brock (1968)
Another record that fell in 1931 was the single season doubles record, when Earl Webb hit his record-tying 64th double in the first game and his record-breaking 65th double in the second game of a September 17th twin-bill with the Indians. The 67 doubles he ended up hitting were more than he had hit in his career either before (55) or after (33) that season and were one of the few bright spots for the sixth-place Red Sox, who managed to score the fewest runs in the league despite all of Webb's two-baggers.
Rogers Hornsby had been his league's greatest hitter during the 1920s, but despite being only 33 years old at the start of the 1930s, was pretty much done as a regular player. 1931 was the last year in which he would get more than 100 at-bats and, while it pales in comparison to his earlier seasons, he did produce one of the biggest games in his career on April 24th, when he hit three home runs in a game for the only time in his career and set a career high with eight RBIs.
Not surprisingly, a lot of National League sluggers experienced a big drop-off in 1931. After all, one of the motivations behind deadening the ball had been a desire to cut down on the number of hitters demanding large raises. While it didn't compare to the drop-off experienced by Hack Wilson, Babe Herman saw his batting average drop by 80 points and his home run total go from 35 to 18. On the bright side, he did become the first National Leaguer to hit for the cycle twice in one season when he accomplished the feat both on May 18th and July 24th. In that last game, Lefty O'Doul also had five hits and Al Lopez chipped in four as part of Brooklyn's 21-hit barrage. All those hits, however, were only good for 7 runs as the Dodgers lost to the Pirates 8-7.
One NL hitter who didn't experience a drop-off in 1931 was Buzz Arlett. Well, one reason was that he was a rookie, and so had no prior record to drop off from. But he was also one of hottest hitters of the league through April and May, leading the Senior Circuit in the traditional triple crown categories as late as May 29th. He was also leading the league in the geekier statistical triple crown (batting average, on-base and slugging percentage) into early June. By the time he reached the majors, Arlett was already 32-years-old, having been a star player for the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League for over a decade. He had been both one of that league's best pitchers (he led the PCL with 29 wins in 1920) and hitters. Before joining the Phillies, he had batted between .344 and .382 in each of the previous six years.
Injuries slowed Arlett after that, and after finishing the year as a pinch-hitter and back-up first baseman, he was sent back to the minors. His major league career may have been over, but his minor league career was still going strong. The next year, he hit a league-leading 54 homers for the Baltimore Orioles of the International League and followed up that up by leading his leagues in home runs the next two seasons as well. The Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) has published three books on Minor League Baseball Stars. Buzz Arlett appears on the cover of the first volume. Inside that cover, it reads: "If a Minor League 'Hall of Fame' were to be established, Russell 'Buzz' Arlett would be one of the first players to be enshrined."14
Second year player Ben Chapman ran wild on the bases in 1931, stealing 61 bases, the most since Sam Rice in 1920 and a total that wouldn't be topped until Maury Wills redefined "running wild" in 1962. Batting out of the fifth spot most of year, Chapman stole 18 bases against the White Sox alone. He was one of the original American League All-Stars in 1933 (a game that featured only four AL substitutions), but is primarily known today for his racist bench-jockeying of Jackie Robinson while managing the Phillies in 1947.
Chapman would be traded in June 1936 for Jake Powell, a player similarly remembered today for his racist comments. Powell was suspended for ten days at the end of July 1938 for saying during a radio interview that in the off-season, he kept in shape by "cracking n***ers over the head with my blackjack."15 The reaction to the uproar was perhaps more damning than Powell's comment. Joe McCarthy defended his player ("I'm pretty sure he meant no harm. Perhaps he just meant to get off a wise crack"16) and put the blame squarely on Bob Elson, the radio announcer, for asking the inflammatory question: "How do you keep in trim during the winter months?" Shirley Povich, writing a few days after the suspension, made light of the comment: "... but Negroes on Powell's off-season beat have little to fear if he is no more effective with a police club than he is with a bat this season."17 When McCarthy chose to have Powell make his first appearance following the suspension in Washington, the southern-most city in the league, the outfielder was welcomed back with a barrage of pop bottles thrown from the stands. Shirley Povich may have been willing to make light of Powell's earlier comments, but he was disturbed by the fan's reaction to his return:
"But there is evidence that a change has taken place in the fiber of Washington fandom.... There are players who are unfailingly booed in Washington.... Not the loud, friendly boos fans had for Babe Ruth, but the angry vicious boos to which they subjected Powell yesterday. It's a new kind of Washington fandom. They are no longer tolerant."18
The New York Times reported that after one barrage of bottles that the "game had to be halted several minutes while five Negro ground attendants gathered the glassware in baskets."19
Back to the game on the field, the Cards and Cubs had the doubling-est double-header in history on July 12th. It all started pretty quietly when the two teams combined for nine doubles in the first game. But they were just warming up and in the second game the Cards hit thirteen and the Cubs added ten more. Four different players had three doubles in the game. The reason for all these two-baggers was an overflow crowd that filled up much of the outfield, turning routine fly-balls into ground-rule doubles.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Cincinnati Reds batters and the Pittsburgh Pirates pitchers both had 45 inning scoreless streaks from July 29th to August 4th. When I first noticed this, I assumed that the Pirates had shutout the Reds in five straight contests, but while they did play each other in the middle three games of their streaks, both of them started and ended against different teams. For Pittsburgh, it began on July 29th with four scoreless innings against the Giants, included a shutout the next day, and ended in the sixth inning of their August 4th loss to the Cards. The Reds, on the other hand, began by being blanked over the last four frames of their win against the Dodgers on July 29th, and then resumed it after their fruitless series with the Pirates with a shutout loss on August 3rd, before they scored in the sixth inning of the first game of their double-header with the Cubs on August 4th. No team's batters would have a longer offensive drought until the Chicago Cubs went without a run for more than 49 innings in June, 1968. And the next pitching staff to eclipse Pittsburgh's mark would be the Cleveland Indians a 47 1/3 inning scoreless streak in August, 1948.
Lefty Grove was once again baseball's top pitcher, winning 31 games for the AL champion Philadelphia Athletics and in so doing, became the first pitcher with 30 or more wins in a season since Jim Bagby in 1920. Grove lost his first and his last starts that year but only lost twice in between to finish 31-4. He had a winning streak of 16 games that year broken by a 1-0 loss in the first game of a double-header with the Browns. The deciding run scored on a misjudged fly ball by left fielder Jimmy Moore, who was subbing for the injured Al Simmons. Grove had a legendary temper and his mood after that loss was not improved when the A's went on to score 10 runs in the second game that day.20
23-year-old Wes Ferrell was already a star pitcher at the start of 1931, having won 21 and 25 games the two previous seasons. He would solidify his position as one of the league's best pitchers that year by topping 20 wins again and pitching a no-hitter on April 29th. In addition to his pitching exploits, he would also became one of his team's best hitters in 1931. After entering the season with only one career home run, Ferrell set a mark that year for homers by a pitcher with nine, including a two-homer, five-RBI game on August 31st. Ferrell would average over 20 wins in his first eight seasons, notching 161 wins before his 29th birthday, but would only go 32-32 over the remaining five years of his career.
When Chicago pitcher Pat Caraway beat the Tigers 10-1 on May 27th, the young pitcher had every reason to believe that he had a long career ahead of him. After splitting twenty decision in his rookie season the year before (with an ERA nearly a run lower than the league average), Caraway's victory gave him a 6-3 mark. He was leading the league with eight complete games, and was among the leaders in wins, innings pitched and ERA. He lost his next game, a close 3-2 decision to Rube Walberg and the first-place Athletics, before getting hit hard in both the opening and closing game of a four-game series with the Senators, losses that evened his record at six apiece. Things would only get worse for the young left-hander. Here are stats before and after the end of May as well as his home/road splits:
G GS CG SHO IP H R ER BB SO W L ERA April-May 10 10 8 1 85.1 68 28 21 24 23 6 3 2.21 June-Sept 41 22 3 0 133.2 200 149 131 77 35 4 21 8.82 Home 25 19 9 1 122.1 123 70 63 46 27 9 10 4.63 Away 26 13 2 0 96.2 145 107 89 55 31 1 14 8.29
During July, he allowed 33 runs over three consecutive appearances, tying Jimmy Ring (August 1922) and Bill Sherdel (June and July 1929) for the highest three-game total since 1905.21+ Only Chubby Dean, in his last three starts of 1940, would match it since. He lost thirteen games in June and July. The last pitcher other than Caraway to lose more than twelve games in a two-month period was Rollie Naylor, who lost fourteen in July and August of 1919,
Caraway continued to pitch poorly in 1932 and his major league career came to an end when he was sold to the minors that July.
George Earnshaw wasn't a great hitting pitcher, but he became the first American League pitcher to collect four hits in back to back games. He went 11-14 in a four game stretch, raising his batting average from .132 to .308. This is the same George Earnshaw who holds the record for most World Series at-bats (22) without a hit.
One of the year's top pitching performances was turned in by an unlikely candidate when Bobby Burke, making his first start in over a month and only his eighth of the season, no-hit the Red Sox on August 8th. Rookie Paul Derringer of the Cards had a 33 inning consecutive streak, the longest one in over five years, including three consecutive shutouts in August and September. The streak was broken on September 13th, when two unearned runs in the fifth inning prevented him from a fourth consecutive shutout and an even longer scoreless streak.
Van Mungo is probably best-known today as the title character in Dave Frishberg's 1969 novelty song, but he was a excellent pitcher in the 1930s and he debuted with a three-hit shutout on September 7th. He went on to pitch one of the most dominant games of the 1930s in his last start of 1935, striking out 15 without a walk in a two-hit shutout of the Phillies. This start had a game score22+ of 98, the highest of the decade. His 238 strikeouts in 1936 was the highest total by a National League pitcher in the decade and he was only 26 when arm troubles curtailed his effectiveness the next year.
Late season addition Jim Mooney gave Giants' fans cause for optimism when he pitched extremely well for the first three weeks of his major league career. When he defeated the Dodgers on September 5th, he had five wins, no losses and a 0.77 ERA over his first seven games. Even after getting hit more freely in his last three starts, he still finished the year in fine shape, with a 7-1 record to go with a 2.01 ERA. Unfortunately, that was as good as it got for Mooney, who would go 10-19 over the rest of his career, with his final appearance in a mop-up role for the Cardinals in game four of the 1934 World Series.
In most other years, Dutch Schesler would have won the "take one for the team" award on July 11th when he gave up 22 hits and 16 runs while pitching the last eight innings of the Phillies 23-5 loss at the hands of the Giants. But on September 6th, Eddie Rommel pitched a complete-game 5-3 victory over the Red Sox, evening his record at 5-5 and giving the Athletics a huge 15-game lead over the second-place Senators. The next day, they arrived home to entertain the Yankees in a Labor Day doubleheader. It started off badly: the first three Athletics pitchers (Roy Mahaffey, Hank McDonald and Jim Peterson) failed to retire a batter as the Yankees went out to a 8-0 lead with none out in the first.
Enter Rommel. I guess Connie Mack figured he wouldn't be tired. After all, he'd only pitched a complete game the day before. Rommel was able to get out of the first inning without allowing another run before getting hit pretty hard over the rest of the game (14 hits and 7 runs). Despite his ineffectiveness, the lopsided score and the fact that Rommel's arm was probably close to falling off, Mack left his pitcher out there for the rest of the game. Of course, there was another game to play that day and even Mack wouldn't think of making Rommel pitch in that one. Instead, Mack sent Rommel out to play the outfield, where he collected two hits in a 9-4 loss to the Yankees. I realize that the past is a foreign country and men were Men back in those days, but these events (as well as one we'll discuss in a moment) make me wonder if Connie Mack didn't have a grudge against his veteran pitcher. I'm guessing he probably didn't, since Rommel became one of his coaches after his arm did eventually go dead, but it does seem like a strange way to treat someone you liked.
Both Bill Sweeney and Les Bell finished their years on an up note. Sweeney hit safely in his last fourteen games, while Bell's season-ending streak was thirteen. What is notable about this is that neither player would appear in a major league baseball game again, the longest career-ending streaks between 1905 and 1983. Here are the players who finished their careers on a hitting streak of ten games or more since 1901:
# Player Team Year(s) 14 Billy Hamilton BOS N 1901 14 Billy Lauder NY N 1903 16 Ed Delahanty WAS A 1903 13 Jesse Burkett BOS A 1905 14 Bill Sweeney BOS A 1931 13 Les Bell CHI N 1931 10 Joe Wood DET A 1943 13 John Castino MIN A 1983-1984 10 Don Mattingly NY A 1995 13 Glenn Williams MIN A 2005 18 Maggio Ordonez DET A 201123+
John Castino hit safely in the last five games of 1983 as well as in all eight games he played before his 1984 season (and career) was cut short by back problems.24 Glenn Williams' hitting streak encompassed his entire thirteen-game career. He was a 27-year-old rookie in 2005 for the Twins and a separated shoulder cut short his season. Joe Wood also only played one year, spending both 1944 and 1945 in the military. Don Mattingly's career-ending streak would have been broken if we had counted his one hitless game in the post-season that year. In that game, he struck out three straight times against Randy Johnson. Johnson struck out Mattingly all four times he faced him in the series, which was unusual, since Mattingly had 46 career at-bats against him during the regular season and had struck out only twice. Jesse Burkett ended his career with a flourish, scoring six runs during Boston's season-ending double-header. Unfortunately, he hadn't hit particularly well prior to his closing streak:
G AB R H 2B 3B HR BB HBP SB AVG OBP SLG Before 135 527 63 126 11 11 4 64 4 9 .239 .326 .324 Streak 13 46 15 21 1 2 0 3 0 4 .457 .490 .565
On September 27th, Wilbert Robinson managed his last game for the Brooklyn Robins. And before the Fall 2021 release, I was all set to follow that sentence with this:
Brooklyn's 12-3 victory that day gave him a final managerial record of 1399-1398 for a winning percentage of .50018. Despite finishing with a winning record (if only by the narrowest of margins), his teams finish in the first division in only 6 of his 19 seasons, including his pennant winning teams in 1916 and 1920.
So what changed? Well, first we need to decide when a manager is no longer a manager. An example here might help: in 1944, Joe McCarthy was ill at the start of the season and didn't manage his first game for the Yankees until May 10th. Art Fletcher managed the team in his absence. But many sources credit McCarthy with managing the entire season. Why? Well the feeling was that the regular manager was really still in charge and managing the team during any absence less than a month or so in duration. Retrosheet decided not to follow this reasoning and have endeavoured to credit substitute managers (where they are known) for filling in during absences of even a single game.
As with most aspects of major league baseball's statistical record, this is a work in progress, and prior to the Fall 2021 release, we had credited Robinson with the record cited above. But during that previous summer, baseball researcher George Henline uncovered two additional instances where Robinson managed the 1902 Baltimore Orioles in place of suspended manager John McGraw. And when you add in the team's 6-14 record during those stints, Robinson ends up with a 1405-1412 record.
Apart from Babe Ruth's alleged called shot, 1932 is primarily known for two things that occurred on the same day: John McGraw's retirement after thirty years as manager of the New York Giants and Lou Gehrig's four-homer game against the Athletics. Part of Gehrig's mythology was that his consistent greatness seldom got the attention it deserved. Despite playing in Yankee Stadium, the largest stage in the baseball world, he was overshadowed by first Babe Ruth and then Joe DiMaggio. Even on his greatest day, when he did something that couldn't be possibly overshadowed by anything else on the baseball field, he was overshadowed by something off the field. And I'm sure there is some truth to this. Still, while McGraw might have stolen the headline that day from Gehrig, Lou completely overshadowed one of Tony Lazzeri's greatest games. Lazzeri hit for the cycle that afternoon, with a grand slam home run to go with a triple, double and two singles, good for six RBIs. Not that anyone noticed.
For the third consecutive season, the Yankees would score more than 1000 runs. This time around, however, they also got enough pitching to win the pennant in a relatively easy race with the Athletics. From May 11th to May 16th, Yankee pitchers would throw four consecutive shutouts (against three different teams) as part of a 40-inning scoreless streak, their longest since the Deadball Era.
When the Chicago Cubs fired manager Rogers Hornsby on August 2nd, the team was closer to fifth place than first. Fortunately for new manager Charlie Grimm, the league-leading Pittsburgh Pirates had just started a ten-game losing streak and by August 25th had dropped 22 of 27 games, giving the resurgent Cubs a comfortable lead they would not relinquish the rest of the way. The Pirates were probably never as good as their record had indicated. When they hit their high-water mark on July 29th, they had a 59-38 record despite having outscored their opponents by only nineteen runs, and they ended the season with 86 wins (good for second place) despite giving up more runs than they scored. The Cubs were helped by the arrival of Mark Koenig, who was purchased from the Pacific Coast League on August 5th and hit .353 over the last two months, a performance that was almost good enough to earn him a full World Series share.
Despite dropping to second place, the Athletics won 94 games, four more than the pennant-winning Cubs in the other league, and in Jimmie Foxx and Lefty Grove had both the best hitter and pitcher in baseball. Foxx made a run at Babe Ruth's home run record, entering September with 48 to his credit. But after two homers on September 3rd, Foxx hit only one in his next two weeks. He finished with a flourish, with five in his last five games, but still fell short of Ruth's mark.
Grove won 25 games and led the league in ERA for the fourth consecutive year. He also had the most complete games and shutouts, but for the first time since joining the Athletics in 1925, did not lead the American League in strikeouts. He was ahead until Red Ruffing struck out four in his last appearance of the regular season on September 21st. With four games left to play, Grove could have started once more in an attempt to catch Ruffing, but he pitched just two more innings in relief, failing to strike out another batter. Officially, he trailed Ruffing by only two strikeouts, but we suspect it was even closer. On July 20th, he was credited with five strikeouts in a game against the St. Louis Browns. His opposing batters, however, were officially charged with six. So he might have missed out on leading the AL for eight straight years by just a single strikeout.
For the third time in six years, the Yankees dismantled their National League opponent in the World Series. It was an especially sweet victory for manager Joe McCarthy, who had been fired by the Cubs, the team being dismantled, just two years earlier. Their four victories were part of a stretch that saw them post a record of 32-4 in eight World Series from 1927 to 1941. This time, they did it primarily with hitting, averaging over nine runs a game, starting with twelve in the opener and wrapping it up with thirteen more in the finale.
Earlier, I had written about Ruth and Gehrig's great performance in the 1928 World Series. Here are the best hitting performances (by on-base plus slugging percentage) for two teammates in World Series history:
Year Team Players G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB AVG OBP SLG OPS 1928 NY A Gehrig/Ruth 4 27 14 16 4 0 7 13 7 .593 .676 1.519 2.195 1990 CIN N Hatcher/Sabo 4 28 8 18 5 1 2 7 4 .643 .697 1.107 1.804 1980 KC A Aikens/Otis 6 43 9 19 2 1 7 15 9 .442 .538 1.023 1.562 1932 NY A Gehrig/Ruth 4 32 15 14 1 0 5 14 6 .438 .550 .938 1.487 1969 NY N Clendenon/Weis 5 25 5 10 1 0 4 7 6 .400 .500 .920 1.420 1989 OAK A D.Henderson/R.Henderson 4 32 10 13 3 2 3 7 6 .406 .513 .906 1.419 2002 SF N Bonds/Snow 7 44 14 19 3 0 5 10 15 .432 .576 .841 1.417 1976 CIN N Bench/Driessen 4 29 8 13 3 1 3 7 2 .448 .484 .931 1.415
And while we're on the subject, here is the list for the League Championship and Division Series:
League Championship Series: Year Team Players G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB AVG OBP SLG OPS 2011 STL N Freese/Pujols 6 45 12 23 7 0 5 18 6 .511 .577 1.000 1.577 1989 SF N Clark/Mitchell 5 37 13 19 3 1 4 15 5 .514 .558 .973 1.531 1979 PIT N Stargell/Garner 3 23 6 10 2 1 3 7 4 .435 .519 1.000 1.519 1989 CHI N Grace/Sandberg 5 37 9 19 6 2 2 12 7 .514 .565 .946 1.511 Division Series: Year Team Players G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB AVG OBP SLG OPS 2007 BOS A Ortiz/Ramirez 3 15 8 8 0 0 4 7 11 .533 .731 1.333 2.064 2020 ATL N d'Arnaud/Swanson 3 20 6 10 2 1 4 12 4 .500 .560 1.300 1.860 2018 HOU N Bregman/Springer 3 23 9 11 1 0 5 7 4 .478 .571 1.174 1.745 1995 COL N Castilla/Bichette 4 32 9 17 4 0 4 9 1 .531 .559 1.031 1.590
By the end of the 1932 season, Sam Leslie had appeared in 133 games in his major league career but had only taken the field in nine of them. He also owned the single season records for most pinch-hits (22), pinch-hit at-bats (72) and pinch-hit appearances (75) in a season. Stuck behind Bill Terry at first-base in New York, Leslie got a chance to play regularly after he was traded to Brooklyn in 1933, but was back with the Giants in time to get two pinch-hits in the 1936 World Series. Another record-setting pinch-hitter in 1932 was Johnny Frederick, who set a major league record with six pinch-hit home runs. Frederick had burst on the scene in 1929 with 206 hits, 82 of them for extra-bases. He picked up 206 hits again in 1930, with somewhat less power, but by 1932 was battling leg problems and struggling to hold onto his centerfield job in Brooklyn. The previous record of three had been set by Ham Hyatt in 1913, Cy Williams in 1928 and Pat Crawford in 1929.
The wildest game of the year also involved the Athletics. On Sunday, July 10th, they started a five-game series with the Indians. Because of Blue Laws prohibiting Sunday baseball in Pennsylvania, the first game of the series would be played in Cleveland and the rest in Philadelphia. To save money, Connie Mack decided to take a bare-bones team to Cleveland on Sunday. The team included only two pitchers, Lew Krausse, a 20-year-old rookie making only his third major league start (and first on the road), and the indestructible Eddie Rommel, who had pitched both of the two previous days. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, Krausse got knocked out after an inning. Rommel went in to pitch in the second and didn't have much either. He had already given up five runs in his first five innings when the A's scored seven runs in the top of the seventh to take a 13-8 lead. Unfortunately, Rommel lost the lead (and then some) by giving up six runs in the bottom half. An error by Ed Morgan led to two runs and a Philadelphia lead in the top of the ninth before the Indians sent the game into extra innings with a run in the bottom. After that, both Rommel and Wes Ferrell, on in relief of Clint Brown, settled down and pitched six scoreless frames. Both teams scored two runs in the 16th, the A's scoring on Jimmie Foxx's third home run of the game, and the Indians rallying behind Johnny Burnett's ninth hit of the game and Ed Morgan's fifth. In the top of the 18th, Foxx singled with two outs for his sixth hit of the game and Eric McNair doubled him home. It was now 18-17 in favor of the A's. In the bottom of the inning, what we must presume was an extremely tired Eddie Rommel took the mound and struck out Earl Averill, induced Joe Vosmik to hit into a ground-out, before finally finishing the game with a strike out of Ed Morgan. The game that wouldn't end was finally over.
When the dust had settled, several records had been set. Cleveland's 33 hits are still an American League record, as is the combined total of 58 hits by both teams. Cleveland had three players with five or more hits, tying the AL record, and the two teams combined with five such players, setting another mark. Johnny Burnett's nine hits in a game is a major league record (no one else even has eight) and Jimmie Foxx had one of the biggest games of his career, with three homers and a double among his six hits in the game to go with eight RBIs. It was the second six-hit game of his career, making him the first American Leaguer to accomplish this feat. In addition to picking up the victory, Rommel also set American League records that still stand for most hits allowed in a game (29) and most innings pitched in relief (17). He also set career highs for most runs (14) and walks allowed (9). On the positive side, he tied his career high with 3 hits in a game and posted his second highest strikeout total.
Both of the pitchers Mack brought with him to Cleveland that day were pretty much finished at the major league level. Rommel would relieve in only five more games before being released in October. That game in Cleveland would be his last major league victory. Lew Krausse would make only one more start, pitching a shutout in his final appearance of the year. He would get farmed out after failing to make the club the next spring and, despite pitching in the minor leagues for another 14 years, would not appear in another major league game. Since 1901, only six pitchers have thrown a shutout in their final major league appearance. The other five are Tacks Neuer in 1907, Rube Ehrhardt in 1929, Don Fisher in 1945, Don Wilson in 1974 (he would die in the following off-season), and Brian Denman in 1982. Lew Krausse's son, Lew Krausse Jr., would also pitch in the major leagues and, also like his father, would debut before the age of 20. As we mentioned, Lew Krausse Sr. ended his major league career with a shutout; Lew Krausse Jr. began his with one. When the Red Sox finally scored in the 7th inning of his second major league start, it broke a 25 inning scoreless streak for the Krausse family spanning over 30 years.
Tommy Bridges had the best pitching performance of the year when he one-hit the Senators on August 5th. He had retired 26 straight batters when pinch-hitter Dave Harris hit a clean single to left with two outs in the ninth. Harris was sent in to bat for Bobby Burke, who had pitched the last no-hitter in the major leagues. Bridges struck out 7 batters in his near perfect game, but officially was not credited with any. That's why his splits page shows 115 strikeouts that year instead of the 108 shown on his player page.
Sloppy Thurston was far from perfect in his August 13th start against the Giants, but did escape with the win despite giving up 6 home runs. All of the damage was done by the Giant's 3-4-5 hitters, as Bill Terry, Mel Ott and Freddie Lindstrom combined for all nine runs scored. The rest of the lineup had only three singles in 26 at-bats against Thurston, who had a 18-4 lead in the middle of the sixth inning and was allowed to complete the game despite all the longballs. He was the second pitcher in the 20th century to give up that many home runs in a game. The first was Larry Benton in 1930 and he also won the game, but not before a 14-0 lead had turned into a 14-12 nail-biter. I'm not sure what it means that both of these pitchers managed to win their games except perhaps that pitchers who don't already have a big lead usually aren't allowed to stay in a game long enough to give up that many homers.
Yankee rookie Johnny Allen didn't lose a game at home all year. His Yankee Stadium winning streak would reach sixteen before it was broken on July 8, 1933. His home and road record while he was a member of the Yankees:
G GS CG SHO IP H R ER BB SO W L ERA Home 47 40 27 4 348 261 111 100 110 242 32 6 2.59 Away 47 38 12 2 267.1 283 177 159 143 153 18 13 5.35
He was traded to Cleveland after the 1935 season, but his home field advantage followed him to League Park. It turned out that he loved home cooking (and friendly crowds) more than he loved any stadium. Starting on June 27, 1936, Allen won 22 consecutive decisions at League Park before finally being defeated there on August 17, 1938. He was one of two pitchers since the end of the Deadball Era to have winning streaks longer than fifteen games at more than one park. The other was Lefty Grove, who won eighteen straight at Shibe Park in 1932 and 1933 as well as twenty consecutive decisions at Fenway Park from 1938 to 1941.
After going 18-11 in 1931, General Crowder struggled for much of 1932 and after his last start of July was tied for the major league lead in losses with 13. He would not lose again for the rest of the year, winning his last fifteen decisions to go from the losingest to the winningest pitcher in baseball. Crowder would go undefeated that season against the White Sox, becoming the first pitcher since the deadball era to win as many as eight games from one team in a season. It has only been done twice since, by Tex Carleton against the Bees in 1936 (he would go only 6-9 against the other six teams), and Bob Buhl against the pennant-winning Dodgers in 1956.
Crowder's winning streak was part of a 38-16 finishing kick for the Senators, who despite their winning ways still lost ground on the pennant-winning Yankees, who were even hotter (40-14) over the same stretch. The Senators' finish was not good enough to save Walter Johnson his managerial job and he would be fired after the season despite leading his team to 94, 92 and 93 wins in his last three years at the helm.
How do you become the first player to strike out five times in a nine-inning game and smile about it afterwards? When you're pitcher George Pipgras and you've just won the third game of the World Series. Afterwards, few people were talking about either Pipgras' hitting or pitching, as most of the attention was focused on the combined four home runs hit by Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth, especially the one by Babe Ruth in the fifth inning off of Charlie Root, Ruth's famous "did he or didn't he" called shot. After giving up only ten homers in 216 1/3 innings during the regular season, the four Root surrendered that day (in less than five innings) tied a career high set two years earlier. And despite those homers, the 7-5 final score made it the closest game of the series, the only time the Cubs managed to bring the tying run to the plate in the final frame.
Players getting 13 or more hits in three consecutive games. One Hitters with no walks or strikeouts.
Player managers Bill Terry of the Giants and Joe Cronin of the Senators, both in their first full years at the helm, led their respective teams to pennants in 1933. Cronin was helped by his two ace pitchers, General Crowder and Earl Whitehill, as well as by off-years from several Yankees, including Red Ruffing and Babe Ruth, who after a fabulous career, was finally nearing the end of the line. Cronin also helped himself when he hit .458 in June, including an AL-record thirteen hits in three consecutive games on June 19th, 21st and 22nd.
At least into August, there was a good two-team pennant race in the American League. On July 4th, the Yankees and Senators were separated by a half-game when 77,365 fans, the largest crowd to attend a major league game since 1928, filled Yankee Stadium to see the two teams play an exciting (if disappointing) double-header. The Senators came from three runs down in the late innings to tie the first game against Lefty Gomez, scoring two in the ninth on a few singles, two wild pitches and a fly ball, before Cronin drove home the winning run an inning later. In the second game, the Yankees almost returned the favor, but a homer by Babe Ruth in the bottom of the ninth left them a run short of sending the game into extra-innings.
Yankee fans were not used to seeing their team lose even one half of a double-header, much less two. Entering the day, New York had swept six straight home twin-bills, dating back to a split with the White Sox on August 28, 1932. And after July 4th, they would sweep their next five, until another split with the White Sox on September 18th.
It was still a close race at the end of July, but the Yankees stumbled in August, and by the time they were embarrassed by Boston 15-2 on the last day of the month, Joe Cronin and company had more than an eight game lead. It was time for the Senators to start preparing for their third World Series appearance, where they would face a team that few expected to contend.
The Giants owed much of their success to an incredible year from Carl Hubbell, who threw 10 shutouts on his way to posting a 1.66 ERA. This was the first time a pitcher had thrown 10 or more shutouts since Pete Alexander's record 16 in 1916 and his ERA was the best in baseball since Walter Johnson's 1.47 mark in 1919. No NL pitcher would post a lower ERA until Bob Gibson in 1968. He pitched especially well at home, with a 13-4 record and a 1.52 ERA, but he pitched brilliantly on the road as well, and his 1.80 road ERA was the second lowest in the league (another Giants hurler, Hal Schumacher, had the lowest).
Hubbell was great all year but he was at his best in July, a month that started with an 18-inning 1-0 shutout of the Cards and finished with three shutouts and a 45 1/3 inning scoreless streak. During the month, he allowed only three earned runs in 69 innings for an ERA of 0.39. At one point in July and August, Hubbell threw 34 consecutive scoreless innings at home, the longest scoreless streak at the Polo Grounds. The second longest streak? Hubbell's string of 33 straight shutout innings that April and May.
It was more of the same for Hubbell in the World Series, as he led the surprising Giants to a five-game win over the Senators. He struck out ten while winning the opener and, although his error on a sacrifice bunt helped Washington tie game four in the seventh inning, he held them scoreless after that until his teammates could push across the winning run in the eleventh. In all, he pitched twenty innings without permitting an earned run in his two starts. The final game went into extra-innings as well, with Mel Ott's home run in the tenth providing the margin of victory. Only a shutout by Earl Whitehill in game three prevented a sweep as the Senators managed to score only eleven runs in the series. For the Giants, it would be their only championship between 1922 and 1954, while the Senators would have to wait until 1987 (and a change of venue) for their next World Series victory.
Somewhat obscured by his 23 wins and the Giants' pennant-winning season was the extremely poor run support Hubbell received all year. Included in those wins were a record five 1-0 shutouts and he also had several low-scoring losses. The Giants may have been a first-place team, but they hit like cellar-dwellers for Hubbell, scoring an average of less than three runs in his starts that season. This got me to wondering if the difference between the Giants offense when he started (2.91 runs per game) and when someone else started (4.39 runs per game) was unusual and the short answer is that it wasn't. The 1.48 run dropoff was not close to a record. The record since 1901 (for pitchers starting at least twenty games) was held by another member of a Giants pennant-winning team: Hugh McQuillan of the 1923 Giants who managed both the worst record (15-14) and lowest ERA (3.41) on the staff due to his team scoring more than two runs less on average (3.97 versus 6.01) in the games he started.
There was one pitcher whose run support was historically low in 1933, but it wasn't Carl Hubbell. We last talked about Paul Derringer when he was pitching three consecutive shutouts as a rookie with the 1931 Cards. After a disappointing 1932 season and two quick losses in 1933, he was traded to the Reds in a six-player deal. In his two starts before the trade, the Cards scored only a single run, and the lack of support followed him to Cincinnati. In his 33 starts that season, the Cards and Reds scored only 71 runs, or slightly more than two runs a game. You'd have to go back to 1909 to find a starter (twenty starts minimum) with worse support. That year, two members of the Senators got fewer than Derringer's 2.15 runs per game to work with: Walter Johnson (1.81 runs per game) and Bob Groom (2.06). Both of them lost at least 25 games. Derringer lost even more and his 27 losses have not been matched since. He didn't seem to catch a break all year. On sixteen occasions, Derringer left a game on the losing side; his teammates never took him off the hook.
Things would get better for Derringer. After losing 21 games in 1934, he would win 20 or more games four times in the following six years, including a 25-7 mark with the pennant-winning 1939 Reds. And no pitcher would get worse run support than Derringer got in 1933 until the 1964 Astros scored only 37 runs in Hal Brown's 21 starts. Brown would go 3-15 and not appear in the major leagues again.
1933 wasn't a banner year for Philadelphia baseball. The Athletics had begun the process of dismantling their championship team, selling off three of their regulars (Al Simmons, Jimmy Dykes and Mule Haas) to the White Sox during the 1932 World Series, resulting in a distant third-place finish. For the Phillies, their hopes rekindled following their unexpectedly strong showing in 1932 (when they posted their first winning record in 15 years), 1933 was a depressing return to form, as they tumbled all the way to seventh place.
But Philadelphia did have one thing to boast about in 1933: both the A's Jimmie Foxx and the Phillies' Chuck Klein led their respective leagues in home runs, RBIs and batting average, making it the only time in baseball history that one city had two triple crown winners. Foxx had followed up his near-record 58 home runs in 1932 with 48 more in 1933. Those 106 homers were the most in consecutive seasons by anyone not named Ruth (who owned the top three marks). His season was full of highlights. On August 14th, Foxx hit for the cycle, driving in an American League record nine runs. In early July, he would have hit for the cycle again, but he hit an extra home run instead of a single. And on June 8th, he finished a string of four consecutive homers when he connected his first three times up against the Yankees.
Klein, whose 28 homers and 120 RBIs paled in comparison to Foxx's totals, had over 200 hits for the fifth consecutive year. It would be somewhat of an understatement to say that he owed most of this to his home park, the Baker Bowl. Here are his career home/road splits at the end of that season:
G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO HBP SH SB AVG OBP SLG Home 411 1707 417 717 140 24 131 469 147 117 4 12 23 .420 .467 .760 Away 412 1660 281 492 106 26 60 258 151 150 5 23 28 .296 .357 .500
Here are the players helped the most by their home park during the 1930s (500 plate appearances minimum):
- - - Home - - - - - - Away - - - Player Year BA OBP SLG BA OBP SLG OPS+ Home Park Chuck Klein 1933 .467 .516 .789 .280 .338 .436 +.531 Baker Bowl Chuck Klein 1931 .401 .465 .740 .269 .327 .421 +.457 Baker Bowl Jimmie Foxx 1938 .405 .512 .887 .296 .414 .533 +.452 Fenway Park Chuck Klein 1932 .423 .464 .799 .266 .340 .481 +.442 Baker Bowl Jack Burns 1933 .363 .423 .553 .203 .270 .264 +.441 Sportsman's Park
Klein's home park advantage of .531 was the highest since at least 1901, topping Cliff Lee's .517 advantage in 1922, also compiled at the Baker Bowl, and it would remain the highest until Babe Young's 1942 season. (Among players with at least 150 plate appearances both at home and away.)
Here are the players hurt the most during the 1930s:
- - - Home - - - - - - Away - - - Player Year BA OBP SLG BA OBP SLG OPS- Home Park Mel Ott 1934 .256 .366 .470 .388 .459 .696 -.319 Polo Grounds Red Kress 1933 .193 .250 .285 .312 .364 .482 -.311 Comiskey Park Frankie Crosetti 1933 .204 .283 .274 .292 .379 .464 -.287 Yankee Stadium Lou Gehrig 1932 .304 .412 .516 .391 .488 .720 -.280 Yankee Stadium Elbie Fletcher 1937 .196 .259 .231 .294 .379 .380 -.269 Braves Field
One thing that struck me about the two lists was how much smaller the disadvantages were. I suspect that there are perhaps two reasons for this. First, I don't think any park during the 1930s hurt hitters nearly as much as the Baker Bowl helped them. And, secondly, I think that hitters who play in a pitcher's park tend to be under-appreciated and are therefore much more likely to get benched or traded than their counterparts in a good hitter's park.
After the year, Klein was sent to the Cubs for three players and a pile of cash. He couldn't have been happy to leave Philadelphia and would never get 200 or more hits in a season again. Despite his dependency upon the Baker Bowl, Klein was rewarded for those five seasons of gaudy offensive statistics when he was posthumously selected to the Hall of Fame in 1980.
Foxx also enjoyed hitting at home. Here's how he hit at Shibe Park in 1932 and 1933:
G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO HBP SH SB CS AVG OBP SLG 1932 77 283 87 110 21 4 31 94 72 47 0 0 2 3 .389 .513 .820 1933 75 274 69 98 11 3 31 96 49 42 1 0 2 1 .358 .457 .759
For Philadelphia fans, the bad times had only just begun. The A's got serious about dismantling their team after 1933, selling off Lefty Grove, Mickey Cochrane and several others before the next season began. The result would be nine last-place finishes before they posted their next winning season (in 1947) and they would never finish as high as third until the advent of divisional play in 1969. Of course, by that time, they had left Philadelphia for Kansas City and then Oakland. And it wouldn't be any better for the Phillies either. Their showing in 1933 would be the start of a string of thirteen consecutive seventh or eighth-place finishes, a record for the eight-team major leagues. The previous record holder? Those same Phillies from 1919 to 1928.
For the second time in three years, there was a sharp decline in scoring in the National League in 1933. Here are the average scores (with total runs) of the games in each league from 1930 to 1933:
Year Total W L Total W L 1930 NL 11.4 7.5 3.8 AL 10.8 7.3 3.5 1931 NL 9.0 6.2 2.8 AL 10.3 7.0 3.3 1932 NL 9.2 6.2 3.0 AL 10.5 7.0 3.4 1933 NL 7.9 5.6 2.4 AL 10.0 6.8 3.2
After scoring more runs than their counterpart in 1930, runs were much scarcer in the NL by 1933 and they would continue to be the lower-scoring league (usually by more than a run a game) until 1943. I couldn't find anything official on the reason for the decline in scoring, but according to John Kieran, writing in the New York Times, the increased number of shutouts "tends to strengthen the suspicion of the ball players that the rabbit has been extracted from the sphere and an apple dumpling put in its place."25
Despite the drop in scoring, eight players hit for the cycle in 1933, a record that wouldn't be equalled until 2009. Both triple-crown winners accomplished this feat as well as two additional members of the A's, Mickey Cochrane and Pinky Higgins. Higgins, playing in his first full season, had replaced the departed Jimmy Dykes at third base. This is the only time that three teammates have hit for the cycle in the same year.
I mentioned above that Joe Cronin set an AL record by rapping out thirteen hits in three consecutive games in 1933. Here is a list of all the players to do that (or better, in the case of Mike Benjamin) since 1901:
# Player Team Start 13 Johnny Kling CHI N 1902- 8-24(2) 13 Joe Cronin WAS A 1933- 6- 9 13 Walt Dropo DET A 1952- 7-14 13 Tim Salmon CAL A 1994- 5-10 14 Mike Benjamin SF N 1995- 6-11 13 Marcus Giles ATL N 2003- 7-27
Mike Benjamin is the outlier on this list. He was hitting .150 prior to his hot streak (with a .490 OPS) and hit just as poorly (.162 with a .416 OPS) afterwards.
Rogers Hornsby was finished as a regular player, but he still managed to set a record when he collected five straight pinch-hits from June 18th to June 24th. Other offensive highlights included two long hitting streaks by Heinie Manush, an AL record six extra-base hits in a double-header by John Stone, and a five-hit major league debut for Cecil Travis. Travis was one of three Senators to collect five hits in their wild 11-10 12-inning victory over the Indians on May 16th. Despite the record-setting debut, Travis collected only four more hits before being sent back to the minors in early June. He would be recalled that September and would end up playing a dozen years for Washington, including starts in both the 1940 and 1941 All-Star games.
The first All-Star game was played in 1933 and, of the nine starters for the winning AL squad, only the pitcher and Babe Ruth failed to finish the game. The game was played according to different conventions in those early years. For example, in 1934 and 1935, two American League pitchers, Lefty Gomez and Mel Harder pitched 17 of the 18 innings.
After going 49-26 in his first three (almost) full years with the Yankees, Red Ruffing had a relapse of sorts in 1933 when a 4-1 start was followed by a 5-13 finish. Despite the disappointing season, Ruffing did end one jinx by winning his first game at Shibe Park after 15 straight losses. Ruffing would not have another losing season until 1947 and would finally even his record at 178-178 (the first time he didn't have more career losses than wins since June 27, 1925) with his three-hit shutout over the Red Sox on May 30, 1938.
After just missing a perfect game in 1932, Tommy Bridges threw two more one-hitters in the first month and a half of 1933. And on August 3rd, Lefty Grove held the Yankees scoreless, the first shutout pitched against New York in more than two years. They came close to being shut out about midway through the streak, but Red Ruffing held the Senators scoreless for nine innings before hitting a home run in the top of the tenth to break up the pitchers duel. It was only the second time in major league history that a starting pitcher had homered to account for the only run in an extra-inning 1-0 game. The first to do this was Tom Hughes in 1906.
Speaking of shutouts, rookie Johnny Marcum began his major league career by pitching back-to-back shutouts, while Russ Van Atta had a major league debut to remember when he blanked the Senators and collected four hits on April 25th. It would be the best game of his career both at the plate and on the mound, and he would never pitch another nine-inning shutout. We'll hear more about Dizzy Dean in the next section, but he won 20 games for the first time in 1933, including a record 17-strikeout game on July 30th. The previous modern record for a nine-inning game was 16, set in 1901 by Noodles Hahn and tied by Christy Mathewson in 1904, Rube Waddell in 1908 and Nap Rucker in 1909. The only Cubs starter who didn't strike out against Dean was the opposing pitcher, Guy Bush. Sportswriters paid more attention to fielding statistics back then, and the game stories duly noted that Dean's catcher, Jimmie Wilson, also set the record for most putouts by a catcher in a game with 18 (in addition to catching all 17 of the strikeouts, Wilson also corralled a pop foul).26
On August 25th, the Dodgers had a problem. Their regular second baseman, Tony Cuccinello, was out with a pulled leg muscle and his normal backup, Jake Flowers, was also on the shelf with a spike wound. So who did they send in to play second? Hack Wilson, their overweight, 34-year-old outfielder. According to the New York Times, Wilson "accepted eleven chances, made two errors and helped give the 6,000 fans one of the most entertaining afternoons they've had in weeks."27 Before the Dodgers could call up Lonny Frey to relieve their infielder shortage, they played three straight doubleheaders. Wilson started five of the games at second. Their other emergency second-baseman was another unlikely choice, regular catcher Al Lopez. The last double-header was played against the Cubs, Wilson's old team, and at least one Chicago sportswriter, Irving Vaughan, thoroughly enjoyed the experiment. The Dodgers, he wrote, "are featuring Hack Wilson as a second baseman in their current contribution to baseball humor." After making three errors in his first three games, Wilson completed his second-base career by playing error-free ball in the double-header, although according to Vaughan, "not one of the dozen chances accepted by the little round man was difficult."28
In my 1923 review, I mentioned that no team since at least 1901 has been no-hit in a nine-inning game without either a walk or a strikeout. On May 4th, Cincinnati Reds' right-hander Si Johnson came very close when he pitched a one-hitter against the Boston Braves without walking or striking out anyone. Leo Mangum, the opposing starter, also didn't walk a batter and the game was completed in 86 minutes. Johnson would throw another one-hitter two weeks later, while walking two batters and striking out one.
It has happened once since, by Bucky Walters in 1944, also against the Boston Braves.
Finally, the White Sox and Yankees played the longest game in the majors that year, an 18-inning 3-3 tie that has the distinction of being the longest game in major league history without either team hitting an extra-base hit.
Blaeholder seven season winning (and losing) streak.
The Giants had the National League pennant pretty well wrapped up when they beat the Cubs in the bottom of the twelfth on September 6th to maintain their seven-game lead over the Cardinals. The lead was still five and a half games when Carl Hubbell won his twentieth six days later. But then St. Louis came to town, and when the visitors took three of four, all three victories credited to either Dizzy or Paul Dean, it started to look like there would be a pennant race after all.
The Dean brothers kept winning, picking up twelve of their combined 49 victories in the last four weeks of the season. On September 21st, Dizzy Dean pitched a three-hit shutout in the opening game of a double-header with the Dodgers, and Paul Dean followed by pitching the first no-hitter in the majors in over three years. It was the team's third straight shutout, but still left St. Louis three games behind the defending-champion New York Giants. The front-runners lost four of their next five games, however, including two straight to the lowly Phillies, to open the door for the Cards, who trailed by only a half-game heading into the last Friday of the regular season.
On that day, Dizzy Dean pitched a shutout against the Reds on two days rest for his 29th victory to force a tie with New York. In a scheduling quirk, no other teams in the league were slated to play that day. Saturday was Paul's turn and while he wasn't as sharp as he had been in his no-hitter eight days earlier, the Reds could convert their eleven hits into only a single run and lost to the Cards 6-1. That, coupled with the Giants' defeat at the hands of Van Mungo and the sixth-place Dodgers, dropped the Cards' magic number down to one. Which became zero the next day when the "Great Dean," pitching with only one day of rest, blanked the Reds again to clinch the pennant. For Dean, it was his 30th victory of the season and his seventh of the month. In the last ten days of the season alone, Dean pitched four complete game victories (three of them shutouts) and finished two more games in relief.
As it turned out, relief pitching was crucial to all three of the thirty-game winners in the 1920s and 1930s. Dean pitched more than a third of his games in relief, winning four of them. When Lefty Grove won 31 games in 1930, he won four out of the bullpen as well. And six of Jim Bagby's 31 wins came in his ten appearances in relief. When Denny McLain joined the thirty-win club in 1968, he became the first pitcher to win at least 30 games as a starter since Pete Alexander in 1917.
As it turned out, another thing that contributed to Dean's thirty-win season was an unusual scoring decision concerning his game on June 27th. Dean had left the contest after giving up a game-tying single to Bill Terry with two outs in the top of the ninth. Jim Mooney came in to relieve Dean, retiring the side without allowing further damage. When Bill DeLancey homered off of Dolf Luque in the bottom of the ninth, the official scorer decided to credit the victory to Dean (who had labored long and hard on a hot afternoon) instead of Mooney (who had pitched to a single batter). I talk about this in greater detail in another article, but this was the last time a win was awarded to a pitcher who had already been replaced on the mound by the time his team scored the final go-ahead run. Had it occurred three months later instead, and represented his thirtieth rather than merely his twelfth win of the season, it would have been much more controversial.
The Cardinals ended the season by going on 20-5, a run that was even more impressive because all but the last six games were played on the road. They did it with pitching. The average score of their games before their hot streak was 5.3 to 4.7 compared to a score of 4.4 to 2.2 during it. Here are the records of their top pitchers from September 5th to the end of the season:
G GS CG SHO IP H R ER BB SO W L ERA Paul Dean 7 6 5 2 58.2 33 8 6 11 43 5 2 0.92 Dizzy Dean 11 7 6 3 64.0 42 8 8 15 41 7 0 1.12 Tex Carleton 8 4 2 0 36.2 31 14 10 6 16 2 1 2.45 Bill Walker 5 5 3 1 36.0 39 11 11 9 23 4 1 2.75
Things were less dramatic over in the American League, as the Tigers used a fourteen-game winning streak in early August to break open what had been a tight race with the Yankees. The streak included three of Schoolboy Rowe's record-tying sixteen straight wins from June 15th to August 25th. The AL record had originally been set in 1912 by Walter Johnson and Smoky Joe Wood and tied by Lefty Grove in 1931. Rowe's year had a nice symmetry to it as he went 4-4, 16-0 and then 4-4, and his record included a perfect 5-0 mark against the second-place Yankees. On offense, the Tigers were led by their 23-year-old first-baseman Hank Greenberg as well as veteran Hall of Famers to be Charlie Gehringer and Mickey Cochrane.
The World Series was an exciting seven-game affair, culminating in one of the most famous routs in history. The Cardinals were already winning 7-0 when Joe Medwick tripled to drive in Pepper Martin in the top of the sixth inning. When Medwick slid into Tiger third-baseman Marv Owen there was a minor altercation (Marv stepped on Joe; Joe kicked Marv) but when the Cardinal left fielder took his position in the bottom half of the inning, it triggered a barrage of produce and bottles from fans in the bleachers.
Commissioner Landis had a reputation as being tough on crime, but he decided to give in to the rowdy fans by banishing the outfielder. This wasn't such a big deal since the Cardinals by that time were safely in front, but it would have been interesting to see what his response would have been if the game had been closer or what the reaction of National League fans would have been had the Tigers staged a miracle comeback with Medwick on the sidelines. Fortunately for Landis' legacy, Dizzy Dean didn't let the Tigers back into the game and the only real consequence of the move was to give Chick Fullis a few innings in place in Medwick in the fruit-strewn left field garden. Marv Owen, by the way, would have a tough time in both the 1934 and 1935 World Series with only three singles in 49 at-bats.
Pete Fox set a record in the series that few noticed when his two doubles in the final game gave him a total of six. Despite all those two-base hits, Fox scored only a single run in the series and knocked in just two. He would collect ten hits in the 1935 World Series, including three more doubles and a triple, but would score just a single run then as well. His record still stands, although Hideki Matsui tied the mark for a post-season series when he also had six doubles in the 2004 League Championship Series with the Red Sox, a record performance that was also overlooked by a much bigger story.
Lon Warneke began 1934 by pitching back-to-back one-hitters, the first pitcher to begin a season in that manner and the the first pitcher to throw consecutive one-hitters at any point during a season since Rube Marquard in 1911. Low-hit games were in fashion in 1934. In addition to Paul Dean's no-hitter, four different Yankee pitchers (Johnny Broaca, Red Ruffing, Jimmie DeShong and Lefty Gomez) threw one-hitters. On the flip side, five different White Sox pitchers (Ted Lyons, Whit Wyatt, Sad Sam Jones, Milt Gaston and Phil Gallivan) would allow 15 or more hits in a game, four of them coming in the same week.
Goose Goslin had come to Detroit in an off-season trade for John Stone and that April would become the first player to hit into four double-plays in one game. Goslin's bad day (it also included a dropped fly ball that directly led to a Cleveland run) was the start of six straight hitless games, an 0-22 slump that dropped his batting average below .200 and got him moved out of the fourth spot in the batting order. The next day, however, Goslin started a 30-game hitting streak that would remove some of the doubts Tiger fans were beginning to have about him.
The second All-Star game featured an historic performance by Carl Hubbell, who struck out five future Hall of Fame players in a row (and six total). He left the game after three innings with 4-0 lead (helped by Joe Medwick's third-inning three-run home run) only to see both Warneke and Van Mungo each give up four runs (and the lead/game). Hubbell would top those six strikeouts only twice during the regular season, on his way to posting his second lowest strikeout/innings pitched ratio of his career.
Three days after the All-Star game, Babe Ruth hit his 700th home run of his career in a 4-2 win over the Tigers, a two-run blast in the top of the third inning off of Tommy Bridges. It came during one of the most serious threats yet to Lou Gehrig's consecutive game streak. He had to be removed in the second inning of Ruth's milestone game, suffering from an attack of lumbago and was considered doubtful for the next game. Despite his back pain, Gehrig was in the starting lineup the next day, batting leadoff and "playing" shortstop. After singling in the top of the first, Gehrig left the game for a pinch-runner (rookie Red Rolfe), ending his career as a shortstop before it really began. By the next day, Gehrig has recovered sufficiently to play the entire game at first base (and go 4-4 with three doubles).
That July 14th game was notable for more than Gehrig's play at short. With special ground rules in effect because of temporary outfield seating erected to handle the crowd, the two teams combined for 34 hits.29 This included ten doubles by the Tigers hitters, most of them drives into those new seats. The Yankees held a three run lead until Detroit rallied in the bottom of the ninth, the winning run the responsibility of Burleigh Grimes, making a brief appearance in the American League before resuming his long NL career.
Mel Ott scored six runs in a game on August 4th, the first time this was done in the 20th century. He would also be the second one to do it ten years later, on April 30, 1944. It was not a coincidence that Ott had his big day at the Baker Bowl, a place Ott terrorized. His two home runs that day were part of eight he hit there that year, tying a National League record which would be broken by Joe Adcock in 1954. And 1934 wasn't an isolated occurrence. A lot of hitters around the league had a reason to be unhappy when the Phillies moved to Shibe Park in July 1938, but few more than Mel Ott. Here are his career stats in the two parks:
G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO HBP SH SB CS AVG OBP SLG Baker Bowl 119 460 139 191 37 4 40 161 83 31 4 10 6 0 .415 .508 .774 Shibe Park 71 268 34 59 10 2 0 32 44 34 1 4 0 0 .220 .332 .272
So Philadelphia went from playing in Ott's favorite to his least favorite park.
Billy Urbanski had an unusual game on June 13th when he had six plate appearances without an official at-bat (four walks and two sacrifices), the first time this had happened since Miller Huggins did it in June 1, 1910 (also with four walks and two sacrifice hits).
The Yankees in 1934 had two good reasons to invent the designated hitter rule. The first was Babe Ruth, who while he could still hit, was an absolute statue in the outfield. The second was rookie Johnny Broaca, who hit a robust .030 that year (two singles in 66 at-bats) for an OPS of .116 (he walked four times). He set a record with three different games of four or more strikeouts and tied Lefty Grove's mark of five strikeouts in a nine-inning game. He would start 1935 by going hitless in his first 18 at-bats (dropping his career batting average down to .024), before getting three hits on May 30th. I can't be sure, but I think it's a pretty safe bet that no other player in history more than doubled their career hits total in a game they entered with more than 80 career at-bats.
Not all pitchers were liabilities at the plate that year, however. Wes Ferrell hit two homers in two different games, connecting twice first on July 13th and then on August 22nd. The last one was a walk-off shot in the bottom of the tenth inning. Ferrell, who came to Boston after a hold-out that spring with the Indians, didn't pick up his first win in a Red Sox uniform until June 5th but still led the team with fourteen victories.
Ferrell wasn't the top home run hitter among major league pitchers in 1934. That honor belonged to the Giants' Hal Schumacher, who set a National League record (since broken) by hitting the first six homers of his career. Before he turned twenty-five, Schumacher was one of the league's top pitchers, averaging more than twenty wins a season from 1933 to 1935. But arm troubles would turn him into a merely good pitcher, and although remarkably consistent, he would never be a top winner again. It was not unlike the tail-end of teammate Carl Hubbell's career. As a matter of fact, in 1940, when Schumacher was winning exactly thirteen games for the fourth year in a row, Hubbell was in the middle of winning eleven games in four consecutive years.
Another consistent pitcher was the St. Louis Browns' right-hander George Blaeholder, who in 1934 won ten or more games for the seventh straight time without having even one winning season. His ERA each year was between 4.22 and 4.72 and he didn't top a .500 winning percentage until his last year, when he posted a 8-4 mark for the 1936 Cleveland Indians, (along with a career-worst 5.09 ERA). Blaeholder struck out 30 batters in 134 1/3 innings that year, or two less than rookie teammate Bob Feller did in just two games that summer.
And the only other pitcher who has had double-digit wins without a winning season in even six consecutive years is Pedro Ramos, from 1957 to 1962.
The Browns finished in sixth place that year and one of the people responsible was Dick Coffman. Here was his record that year against the five teams ahead of his in the standings and the two behind:
G GS CG SHO IP H R ER BB SO W L ERA Ahead 25 11 1 0 90.1 123 75 58 30 27 1 10 5.78 Behind 15 10 5 1 82.2 89 37 29 29 28 8 0 3.16
This is was similar to Herm Wehmeier's performance with the sixth-place 1951 Reds. His splits that year:
G GS CG SHO IP H R ER BB SO W L ERA Ahead 29 15 5 0 118.2 119 65 60 57 58 0 10 4.55 Behind 10 7 5 2 66 48 17 16 32 35 7 0 2.18
A few other pitchers with extreme splits:
1929 STL N Pete Alexander: G GS CG SHO IP H R ER BB SO W L ERA Ahead 10 9 2 0 46.2 65 38 32 11 11 0 7 6.17 Behind 12 10 6 0 85.1 82 27 25 12 22 9 1 2.64 1929 PHI N Ray Benge G GS CG SHO IP H R ER BB SO W L ERA Ahead 23 15 2 0 116.1 179 117 113 50 55 3 11 8.74 Behind 15 11 7 2 82.2 76 30 26 27 23 8 3 2.83 1967 WAS A/BAL A Pete Richert: G GS CG SHO IP H R ER BB SO W L ERA Ahead 19 17 2 0 89.1 86 58 50 34 66 0 14 5.04 Behind 18 12 4 2 97.1 70 24 22 22 65 9 2 2.03 2008 OAK A Dana Eveland: G GS CG SHO IP H R ER BB SO W L ERA Ahead 17 17 1 0 94.2 102 61 60 46 72 2 9 5.70 Behind 12 12 0 0 73.1 70 21 21 31 46 7 0 2.58
Now, you would expect pitchers to have better records against the poorer teams, although perhaps not by such large margins. More surprising are the cases in which pitchers performed much better against the elite teams. A few examples:
1926 WAS A Firpo Marberry: G GS CG SHO IP H R ER BB SO W L ERA Ahead 27 2 2 0 55 37 11 10 26 17 5 0 1.64 Behind 37 3 1 0 82 85 44 36 40 26 7 7 3.95 1956 BOS A Dave Sisler: G GS CG SHO IP H R ER BB SO W L ERA Ahead 17 6 3 0 69.2 50 28 24 29 46 7 1 3.10 Behind 22 8 0 0 72.2 70 53 48 43 47 2 7 5.94 1980 SF N Allen Ripley G GS CG SHO IP H R ER BB SO W L ERA Ahead 14 12 2 0 83.1 68 24 20 22 44 7 4 2.16 Behind 9 8 0 0 29.1 51 35 32 14 21 2 6 9.82
Indians' right-hander Willis Hudlin had things seemingly under control on June 3rd. There were two outs and no one on in the bottom of the sixth inning; he had retired the first five batters he'd faced, and his teammates had just given him a 6-5 lead. And then it all came apart. Nine consecutive hits later, his one-run lead had turned into a six-run deficit and Hudlin's day was over. It wasn't a record (Bill Reidy had given up ten straight ninth-inning hits against Boston on June 2, 1901), but it was close.
Some more dubious pitching achievements that year included Firpo Marberry giving up four consecutive triples on May 6th, Lefty Grove (in by far the worst year of his career) giving up six doubles in the eighth inning on June 9th, Reggie Grabowski giving up a modern NL record 11 hits in an inning on August 4th (the same game in which Ott scored six runs), and Bobo Newsom giving up 20 hits in a 13-2 complete game loss to the Tigers on August 9th.
And an era came to an end on September 20th when Burleigh Grimes, the last legal spitballer, threw his final pitch in the major leagues. Although I don't know if he actually threw any spitballs to him, the last batter Grimes faced that day was Joe Stripp. The 41-year-old Grimes, playing for his third team that year, finished the season with a 4-5 record and a 6.11 ERA. His last win, on September 10th, was the 270th of his career and he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1964.
Sam Jones strikes out his career high in his last major league game.
For the second year in a row, Dizzy Dean led all major league pitchers in victories and for much of the year, it looked like Dean would have a good shot at posting back-to-back thirty-win seasons. When he won his 26th game on September 12th, he was four days ahead of the pace he had set the year before. But the next day, he came into a tie game in the 10th inning and lost. Two days later, he started against the Giants again (his second start and third appearance in the same series) and lost again. And pitching in relief two days later, Dean blew a lead and was charged with his third straight defeat. His chance for another thirty-win season was gone.
While Dizzy Dean was watching his shot at history disappear, the Cubs were putting together one of the best stretch runs in history. When they lost the second game of the double-header on September 2nd, it dropped them into third-place, two and a half games behind the Cards. They wouldn't lose again until they had clinched the pennant, a streak of twenty-one consecutive decisions, the longest in the major leagues since the 1916 Giants. The streak was led by their pitchers. Here's how their top four starters did in September:
Player G GS CG SHO IP H R ER BB SO W L ERA Bill Lee 6 6 5 1 48 36 12 9 11 24 5 1 1.69 Lon Warneke 6 5 5 1 47 36 9 9 7 30 5 0 1.72 Larry French 6 6 5 1 52 54 12 10 12 21 5 0 1.73 Charlie Root 6 5 3 1 44 36 17 13 10 16 4 0 2.66 Total 24 22 18 4 191 162 50 41 40 91 19 1 1.93
Despite being three games back with only five to play on September 24th, the Cardinals had their fate in their hands as they began a season-ending series at home with the Cubs. The math was simple: take four of five and tie; sweep and win the pennant outright. And they had Paul and Dizzy Dean ready to go in the first two games. The two had combined for 49 victories the previous year and they could match that total by taking the first two games of the series. The Cubs countered by sending out Lon Warneke and Bill Lee, who were both looking for their twentieth win of the campaign.
Paul Dean pitched an excellent game to open the series, allowing only a second-inning home run to Phil Cavarretta, but Lon Warneke was even better, and his two-hit shutout clinched a tie for the flag. Chicago swept the ensuing double-header, but only the first one mattered. The Cubs' Bill Lee wasn't as sharp as Warneke had been, but the six hits (and two unearned runs) he allowed looked great compared to the fifteen hits, including four by Freddie Lindstrom, permitted by Dizzy Dean as the Cubs took the opener (and the crown) 6-2.
In the American League, the Tigers were again led by Hank Greenberg, Charlie Gehringer and Mickey Cochrane, and repeated as champions. It was a lot easier than their final three-game margin over the Yankees made it appear. On September 21st, the Tigers clinched the pennant by sweeping the Browns in a double-header behind complete games victories by Tommy Bridges and Elden Auker. At the time, their lead was eight games over New York. Over the last eight days of the season, while the Tigers were preparing to meet the Cubs in the World Series, the Yankees won six of their seven games while the Tigers were losing all but one of their remaining games, making the race seem closer than it actually was.
In the World Series, the Tigers overcame the loss of Hank Greenberg in the second game to defeat the Cubs in six. It would have made a great story if Greenberg's replacement had come off the bench to play a pivotal role in their victory, but Flea Clinton went hitless in the series, although he did score the winning run after reaching on an error in the fourth game. Clinton would play only briefly in parts of the next two seasons and get only ten more hits in his major league career.
On May 25, 1935, Babe Ruth put on one last show for the fans, hitting the final three home runs of his major league career, the last reportedly the "longest drive ever made at Forbes Field."30 The Braves still lost the game (more on that in a moment), but given that Ruth entered the game hitting .153 (to go with a .691 OPS) and had driven in only two runs during the previous five weeks (or ever since their opening day victory over Carl Hubbell and the Giants), it could have been a fitting final bow for the aging star. Instead, Ruth limped through the rest of the month, going hitless (albeit with four walks among his five outs) before making his final appearance at Baker Bowl five days later. By the way, his final two games were the first time Ruth had played at the Baker Bowl since he had pinch-hit against Pete Alexander in the ninth inning of the first game of the 1915 World Series.
As I mentioned above, the Braves lost Ruth's last great game, but then losing was about the only thing that team did well that year. This was a team coming off two straight winning seasons (their first such stretch since their miracle run of 1914-1916), and although their acquisition of the aging Ruth was largely a publicity stunt, there were still high hopes entering that year. Instead, the season was one big train wreck. Both of their Hall of Fame veterans (Rabbit Maranville returned to the team after missing all of 1934 with a broken ankle) had nothing left; the rest of their offense (apart from Wally Berger) was disappointing, and the pitching fell completely apart. The result was a 35-118 record, which included a particularly nasty stretch from August 18th to September 21st where they lost 28 of 30 games, as well as a road mark of 13-65. Against the teams in the first division that year, the Braves had a road record of 3-41. The weird thing is that the collapse didn't cost manager Bill McKechnie his job. He would continue managing them for two more years, guiding the Bees (as the Braves had been renamed following the season) to a winning record in 1937, before quitting to manage the Reds.
Why did their pitching staff fall apart in 1935? One clue is the age of the staff. Here are the oldest pitching staffs (weighted by innings pitched) prior to World War Two (along with the wins in that year and the next):
Year Team Age W Age+1 W+1 1935 BOS N 33.59 38 31.27 71 1931 BRO N 32.95 79 31.83 81 1933 CHI A 32.95 67 32.75 53 1928 STL N 32.93 95 32.78 78 1934 BOS N 32.85 78 33.59 38
All the teams on the list got younger the next year, even if only a little, except for the 1934 Braves. So the short answer to the question is that they tried to squeeze one more year out of very old pitching staff and got burned. In case you're wondering, here are the oldest staffs since the war:
Year Team Age W Age+1 W+1 2005 NY A 34.68 95 32.97 97 2003 NY A 34.25 101 33.49 101 2005 BOS A 34.19 95 32.05 86 2002 NY A 33.63 103 34.25 101 2004 NY A 33.49 101 34.68 95
So maybe old pitching staffs are only a problem if you aren't the Yankees.
Here are the career home run leaders on the day of Ruth's final game:
714 - Babe Ruth 353 - Lou Gehrig 300 - Rogers Hornsby 276 - Jimmie Foxx 251 - Cy Williams 245 - Al Simmons 244 - Hack Wilson 220 - Mel Ott 214 - Goose Goslin 213 - Chuck Klein
The American League had a surprise ending to their three-way batting race in 1935. With four days to go in the season, Joe Vosmik had an eight-point lead over Jimmie Foxx with the Senators' Buddy Myer in third place, ten points behind. Here's what happened from then on:
- - Myer - - - - Vosmik - - - Foxx - - September AB H AVG AB H AVG AB H AVG 25th .34110 5 3 .35140 3 1 .34286 26th 5 4 .34488 27th No games 28th 5 2 .34534 7 1 .34903 6 2 .34275 29th 5 4 .34903 4 1 .34839 4 3 .34579
Vosmik was on the bench at the beginning of the double-header on the last day of the season. But he entered the first game as a pinch-hitter and then finished the second one in a failed attempt to catch the charging Buddy Myer. The last game was called after six innings on account of darkness. Had it lasted long enough for Vosmik to get one more hit, he would have taken the title .34944 to .34903. I wrote about this in greater detail in another article, but this was the greatest margin overcome with both two and four games to go in the regular season since at least 1918.
After Lou Gehrig had three hits in the Yanks' 13-10 win in the opening game of the August 27th double-header, manager Jimmy Dykes and the White Sox had seen enough of New York's clean-up hitter. In their previous four games, Gehrig had pounded out three home runs, three doubles and six singles, good for ten RBIs and a .667 batting average. So White Sox pitchers walked him all five times, twice intentionally, in the second game. The strategy worked, as Gehrig never came around to score and the White Sox ended up taking a narrow 4-3 decision. The five walks tied the major league record, accomplished most recently by Jo-Jo White, who also failed to score despite his five walks.
Pirates' clean-up hitter Pep Young ended the year on a sour note when he became the first non-pitcher to strike out five times in a regulation game in Pittsburgh's 9-6 loss to the Reds in their season finale. Less than a week earlier, Young had set a career high with seven RBIs in a 12-0 win over the Cards. Schoolboy Rowe hit a double, triple and three singles in the Tigers' 18-2 rout of the Senators on August 14th. It was the first five-hit game for a pitcher since Hank Johnson in 1928. It would be done again by Johnny Murphy in 1936, but only one pitcher would get five hits after that, Mel Stottlemyre in 1964. And Augie Galan went the entire year without grounding into a double-play, but did hit into a triple-play on April 21st.
For the second time in less than a year, the Tigers hit ten doubles in a game on July 10th, collecting all ten off the deliveries of Earl Whitehill. Both of their big games ended in 12-11 scores, but this time around they were on the short end, and despite allowing a season high in hits and runs, Whitehill, with some ninth-inning help from Bobo Newsom, escaped with the victory. Speaking of doubles, Ted Lyons hit two of them, driving in four runs, in the second inning of the White Sox's 14-6 victory over the Browns on July 28th.
One of the year's top slugfests took place in the first game of the Tigers and Athletics' double-header on July 13th. Philadelphia knocked out Elden Auker by scoring seven runs in the first two innings. Clyde ("Mad") Hatter entered the game at this point and there was no way manager Mickey Cochrane was going to waste another pitcher with another game to play that afternnon. So Hatter went the rest of the way, despite allowing nineteen hits and eleven runs. Auker and Hatter couldn't retire either Doc Cramer or Jimmie Foxx all day, and Cramer became the second player to collect six hits in a game twice. The first player? Foxx, who did it in 1930 and 1932. Both of Foxx's big games went into extra-innings, so Cramer was the first player to do this twice in regulation contests.
Vern Kennedy pitched the first no-hitter in the American League since 1931. He also hit a bases-loaded triple in the game. Since 1901, here are the pitchers who have hit either a triple or a home run in a complete-game no-hitter:
Pitcher Date AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI Bob Rhoads 9-18-1908 3 0 1 0 1 0 0 Wes Ferrell 4-29-1931 3 2 2 1 0 1 4 Vern Kennedy 8-31-1935 4 1 1 0 1 0 3 Jim Tobin 4-27-1944 3 1 1 0 0 1 1 Earl Wilson 6-26-1962 3 1 1 0 0 1 1 Rick Wise 6-23-1971 4 2 2 0 0 2 3
Willis Hudlin probably felt pretty confident going into his August 24th start against the second-division A's. After all, his mound opponent that day was rookie George Turbeville, pride of Turbeville, South Carolina, who was making only his second major league start. His first, two weeks earlier, had ended when he walked his eighth batter in the bottom of the third inning, and he entered his start against Hudlin with a 9.82 ERA, having allowed 40 baserunners (including 28 walks) in only 14 2/3 innings. Hudlin did end up winning the game, but not until Earl Averill's two-run home run with two outs in the bottom of the fifteenth inning broke a scoreless tie. Despite pitching fourteen straight scoreless innings, Turbeville still had his control problems, walking thirteen batters and throwing three wild pitches. He was helped by his teammates, who turned six double-plays behind him, tying the major league record. The thirteen walks were the most by any pitcher since Skipper Friday walked fourteen in his major league debut on June 17, 1923.
A rookie pitcher who made a better first impression was the White Sox's John Whitehead, who won the first eight starts of his major league career, only to follow that by losing his next six. Even after his luck changed, he wasn't pitching terribly and he finished the year with a 13-13 mark and a 3.72 ERA.
One of his losses in the second half of the season occurred in the second game of the July 28th double-header with the Browns. The heat had been too much for umpire Red Ormsby and, after completing his duties behind home-plate in the first game, he was replaced in the second game by Ollie Bejma of the Browns and Jocko Conlan of the White Sox. When Ormsby was also unable to take the field the next day, he was replaced by Conlan and Browns' coach Grover Hartley.
It's probably never a good sign when your team volunteers your service as a substitute umpire, but in this case Conlan was available because he had broken his thumb several days earlier and hadn't appeared in a game in ten days. 31 The reserve outfielder did have one big day left in his career. On August 20th, he collected seven hits in a double-header against the A's, boosting his batting average from .268 to .367 and, for a day he was the toast of Chicago. Or as only the sportswriters of the day could put it:
"Conlan, whose sparse bloomers had squirmed up and down the Sox bench during many a painful August afternoon, hopped into action in the first game in a manner nothing short of sensational."32
He slumped after that day, however, and after getting his release that fall, headed to the minors to begin his training as a full-time umpire. He would return to the major leagues in 1941, beginning a 25-year umpiring career that would include six All-Star games, five World Series and a plaque in Cooperstown.
Chicago White Sox pitcher Sad Sam Jones made his final major league appearance on September 28th, beating the Detroit Tigers 6-3 for his 229th career win. He also struck out a career-high nine batters. Here are the pitchers since 1901 (not counting those active in 2021) who finished with a career-high in strikeouts (greater than five, and with a minimum of 50 career appearances):
Player Team G SO Date Oscar Jones BRO N 113 7 1905- 8-24 Sad Sam Jones CHI A 647 9 1935- 9-28(1) Mike Thompson ATL N 54 7 1975- 9- 5 Jeff Sellers BOS A 61 10 1988-10- 1 Rocky Childress HOU N 61 8 1988-10- 1 Valerio de los Santos COL N 235 8 2008- 8- 2 Paul Clemens SD N 66 7 2016-10- 2
Not only did the entries for Jeff Sellers and Rocky Childress occur on the same day, but their careers also lasted the same number of games, and they both were outstanding that day. Their combined line for the two games:
IP H R ER BB SO 11.2 1 1 1 3 18
Sellers was five outs from a no-hitter (assuming the Red Sox could have scored a run) before Luis Medina's homer ended his day and, as it turned out, his career.
Tom Baker debuted by getting a double and two singles in three at-bats on August 15th. What made this unusual was that Baker was a relief pitcher mopping up the last five innings of an 11-3 Dodgers loss to the Cubs. Although he ended the year hitting .474 (9 for 19), he was less successful on the mound and finished his career with a lifetime 3-9 mark. His biggest contribution to his team would come in 1937, when the Dodgers sent him to the Giants in exchange for Freddie Fitzsimmons, who would go a combined 22-3 for Brooklyn in 1940 and 1941.
It's of no particular significance, but Bill Lee's six losses in 1935 were spread equally across each month. The last pitcher to lose one game a month while winning more than ten games in a season was his teammate Charlie Root, who did it in 1929. It has been done five times since, by Mike Mussina in 1993, Chien-Ming Wang in 2006, Justin Verlander in 2007 and 2019, and Erasmo Ramirez in 2015. The flip side, winning a single game each month while losing more than ten, was last accomplished by Andrew Cashner, who went 6-16 in 2015. The last member of the two-losses-a-month club (again with more than ten wins) was Kyle Gibson, who went 13-12 in 2014, while James Shields was the last pitcher to win twice each month in 2007. And finally, Whitey Ford is the only pitcher in the last 90 or so years to win exactly three times each month, which he did while going 18-7 in 1955.
You don't lose 115 games without doing quite a few things poorly and in 1935, the Braves went their first fifty games without stealing a base, the longest a team has gone at the start of a season without a steal in major league history. Les Mallon stole their initial base on June 19th.
Sparked by the arrival of rookie Joe DiMaggio, the Yankees ended a rather pedestrian seven-year stretch that had produced only a single pennant and embarked on the most dominant four-year run in modern major league history. It wasn't just that they won four straight pennants (which had been done before) or that they won four straight World Championships (which hadn't), but that they did it all without seeming to break a sweat. There wasn't a single pennant race or close World Series in the streak. Their smallest margin of victory in the American League was their 9 1/2 game lead in 1938, and even that was deceptive, since they had been leading the league by 16 games as late as September 13th and the gap only narrowed in the last few weeks once the pennant had already been clinched and the Yankees prepared for the upcoming World Series.
But of course Yankees fans didn't know this at the start of 1936. They did know that Joe DiMaggio, the best player in the minors the previous year, was slated to join their team, but his arrival ended up being delayed nearly three weeks due to foot problems. When he finally made his debut on May 3rd (with a triple and two singles), New York was a half game out of first, and the Tigers' chances had already been crippled by a season-ending injury to star first-baseman Hank Greenberg. But by the end of the month, DiMaggio was leading the league in batting average, Lou Gehrig was leading in runs scored and on-base percentage, Bill Dickey in RBIs and slugging percentage, and the Yankees were comfortably in first place. Less than a week later, Detroit would suffer another blow when manager Mickey Cochrane, was forced to leave a game with a "fainting spell" after hitting a grand-slam home run in the Tiger's 18-9 victory on June 4th.33 Diagnosed with hyperthyroidism, Cochrane would miss the rest of the season.34 The pennant race was over.
Another contributor to their offensive surge that month was veteran second baseman Tony Lazzeri, whose early season slump (he had hit only .243 with one home run in his first 32 games) ended when he hit a single, double and homer on May 21st. He followed that up two days later by hitting three homers and a single in a double-header, before concluding one of the greatest hot-streaks in history with a triple, three home runs (two of them with the bases filled) and eleven RBIs in New York's 25-2 rout of the A's the next day. He was the first player to hit two grand-slams in a game and also set major league records for the most RBIs in two consecutive games (fifteen) as well as homers in three (six) and four (seven) consecutive games.
Lazzeri batted eighth in all four games. The day after his record setting performance? He also hit eighth. During the year, he batted in the eighth slot in 77 games, driving in 61 runs. As a team, the Yankees got 102 RBIs from that position in the batting order and that got me to wondering if this might be a record, at least in the years before the designated hitter. Well, the short answer is "no." It was only the third highest total from 1920 to 1939. Here are the most RBIs by each team's batting order position over those years, along with the player most responsible for them:
SLOT RBI YEAR TEAM Player 1 99 1930 NY A Earle Combs (82 in 129 games) 2 101 1934 DET A Mickey Cochrane (48 in 67 games) 3 175 1937 NY A Joe DiMaggio (163 in 144 games) 4 192 1930 CHI N Hack Wilson (191 in 155 games) 5 169 1932 PHI A Jimmie Foxx (169 in 154 games) 6 134 1930 STL N George Watkins (45 in 49 games) 7 118 1933 NY A Bill Dickey (97 in 124 games) 8 112 1938 NY A Joe Gordon (70 in 100 games) 9 81 1930 STL N Jesse Haines (12 in 29 games)
One month later, DiMaggio had the first two-homer game of his major league career. It was also his first (and only) two-homer inning, as both of his blasts came in the Yanks ten-run fourth inning. This was the fifth time since 1900 that a player had hit two in one inning, but the second time in two years, as it had been done the previous August by Hank Leiber of the Giants.
Speaking of the Giants, the perennial contenders seemed to have fallen upon hard times in 1936. Up through the middle of July, the NL race was shaping up as a two team battle between the Cubs and the Cardinals, with the Giants far behind. After losing the first game of their twin-bill with the Pirates on July 15th, New York had a 40-41 record, and even after winning the second game, were still in fifth-place, over ten games behind the Cubs. But that win would be the beginning of a 35-5 run that would land them in first place to stay. The Giants were led during their streak by Mel Ott, who would hit .333/.476/.68235+ with 12 homers, 42 runs scored and 40 RBIs, as well as by a quartet of pitchers:
Player G GS CG SHO IP H R ER BB SO W L ERA Carl Hubbell 12 9 8 1 86.1 71 19 19 16 29 9 0 1.98 Freddie Fitzsimmons 8 8 4 0 64.1 60 17 14 11 18 6 1 1.96 Al Smith 10 8 5 1 67.2 74 23 20 16 34 6 1 2.66 Frank Gabler 11 7 2 0 61.1 61 20 19 7 20 6 1 2.79 Total 41 32 19 2 279.2 266 79 72 50 101 27 3 2.32
For Carl Hubbell, those nine wins would be the start of a much longer streak (that we'll discuss in the next section); for Frank Gabler, who was inserted into the starting rotation in place of first Hal Schumacher and then Harry Gumbert, this would be the highlight of his career. After his victory on August 21st, Gabler would go 6-19 with a 6.48 ERA over the rest of his career.
As I alluded to above, the Yankees had little trouble with the Giants in the World Series, storming back after an opening day loss to Carl Hubbell in the rain to take the next three straight, including a record-setting 18-4 rout in the Polo Grounds that featured a Tony Lazzeri grand-slam and five RBIs by Bill Dickey. The Giants held off elimination with an extra-inning win in game five, a contest that ended when pinch-runner Bob Seeds, in his only World Series appearance, was caught stealing in the bottom of the tenth. The next day, the Yankees blew open a close game with seven ninth-inning runs on their way to a 13-5 victory that ended the festivities. Lefty Gomez was the beneficiary of both offensive outbursts, winning his two starts easily despite not pitching particularly well.
Despite Lazzeri's eleven-RBI game, Chuck Klein probably had the biggest day at the bat in 1936 when he became the first National League player of the 20th century to hit four home runs in a game on July 10th. He came close to hitting another homer when his second inning drive sent Paul Waner back to the fence.36 Of course, if that ball had reached the seats, Klein probably wouldn't have had the opportunity to hit his tenth-inning home run. One unusual thing about his big day was that it happened on the road. Klein had returned to the Phillies after a little more than two (mostly disappointing) seasons in Chicago, but at least for 1936, he couldn't locate that old Baker Bowl magic and actually hit slightly better on the road. By 1937, things had returned to normal and he had a huge home field advantage in both homers (13 to 2) and OPS (1.106 to .658). Unfortunately, the Phillies moved out of the Baker Bowl in 1938 and Klein stopped hitting pretty much everywhere.
For the second time in two years, Lou Gehrig came as close as you can to hitting fifty home runs in a season. He hit his 48th on September 13th, but could manage only one more in his last ten games. He hit fourteen circuit clouts against the Indians, setting a record for the most homers against a single team in a season.
Joe DiMaggio feasted on St. Louis Browns pitching all year long. He collected 52 hits against them in 1936, the highest total against a single team since at least 1901. The next most was 48 by Irv Waldron, who took advantage of a mid-season trade to play 27 games against the Detroit Tigers in 1901. Three players had 47: Jack Tobin against the Senators in 1921, and Babe Herman and Freddie Lindstrom against the 1930 Phillies (two other players, Hack Wilson and Johnny Frederick, had 46 hits against the Phillies that year).
Bill Terry closed out his career (at least as a first-baseman) by playing in the World Series. I wondered how rare it was for someone to retire after being good enough to play regularly for a pennant-winner. Well, the last time it had happened before then was in 1929, when third-baseman Norm McMillan got two singles in twenty at-bats for the Cubs' in their five-game loss to the A's. Before that, mid-season acquisition Hank Severeid ended his 15-year major league career by catching every game for the 1926 Yanks. But in the 1936 World Series, two of the Giant regulars, Bill Terry and Travis Jackson wouldn't play in a major league game again after losing to the Yankees. The only other instance I found of two teammates bowing out after playing regularly in a World Series was Paul O'Neill and Scott Brosius, who retired after the 2001 World Series.
Freddie Lindstrom was a World Series star before he was twenty, and by the time he was 25, had already collected nearly 1,100 hits. Considered one of the best third-basemen in the game, the future looked very bright for the Giants' star. But it was pretty much all downhill from there. John McGraw moved him to right-field in 1931 before a fractured ankle ended the experiment that July.37 He was tried in center the next year, but then traded to the Pirates when he failed to hit, and by 1935 was filling in at third base and the outfield for the pennant-winning Cubs. Traded to the Dodgers in the off-season, injuries and a diminished role caused him to call it quits on May 19th.38 He was only thirty years old and was already finished as a major leaguer. Here are his stats both before and after his 25th birthday:
G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO HBP SH SB AVG OBP SLG Before 865 3344 584 1095 174 52 71 475 210 173 9 99 69 .327 .359 .474 After 573 2267 311 652 127 29 32 304 124 103 4 47 15 .288 .319 .412
Given his low walk and extra-base hit totals, he was probably never as good as his batting average led contemporaries to believe. But even forty years after his retirement, he was still held in high regard. In 1976, for reasons that are hard to understand today, Lindstrom was selected to the Hall of Fame.
On August 25th, the renamed Boston Bees collected seven doubles, two each by Gene Moore, Buck Jordan and Tony Cuccinello, in the first inning of their 20-3 win over the Cards. Those three, along with Rabbit Warstler, combined for ten doubles in the game. Warstler had as many doubles in that game as he did in his other 298 at-bats for the Bees that year. And Si Johnson, who started that game for St. Louis and never escaped that ten-run first inning, came back in the second game and lost that one as well.
On July 18th, the White Sox and Athletics tied the American League mark for most run scored in a game when Chicago prevailed 21-14. Both starting pitchers had very similar lines. Losing pitcher Buck Ross pitched a third of an inning more than John Whitehead, allowed one hit less, one run and walk more, and struck out one less batter. It was truly a thin line between a loss and a no-decision that day. Chief among the hitting stars was American League All-Star left fielder Rip Radcliff, who hit two doubles and four singles in the game. The last time two American League teams combined to score 35 runs in a game was in 1925 (also a 21-14 score) and the record would be broken by a single run in 1950.
Two starts after taking the loss that day, rookie Buck Ross pitched his first major league shutout, a six-hit victory over the red-hot Indians. How hot were the Indians? Since 1901, they are the only team to have five different players with hitting streaks twenty games or longer (the Cardinals in 1943 had five such streaks, but two of them were by Harry Walker). And the day before Ross shut them out, all five of the streaks were active (although four them had yet to reach twenty games). Before their loss on July 26th, the Indians had averaged over eight runs in the previous fifteen games, a 12-3 run that had vaulted them from fifth to second place. They never got close enough to the top to make the Yankees nervous, and a losing record over the last two months of the season eventually landed them back in fifth place.
So much for the hitters. Let's talk about the pitchers. Or at least a few good-hitting pitchers.
On June 17th, the Yankees swept the Indians in a double-header, 15-4 and 12-2. In the first game, pitcher Red Ruffing was the hitting star, with two homers and two singles. And in the second game, Yankee pitcher Monte Pearson also led the offense, with four hits and four RBIs. It is the most hits by a team's pitchers in a single day since at least 1901.
One of the best-hitting pitchers in baseball, Wes Ferrell, became the second pitcher to get six RBIs in a game when he hit two home runs on August 12th. A week and a half later, Ferrell was suspended when he walked off the mound during a rally in the bottom of the sixth inning of a 4-1 loss to the Yankees. Manager Joe Cronin said after the game that his star pitcher had been fined $1000 and suspended for the rest of the season.39 The next day, Ferrell explained that it was all a simple mistake, that he had misinterpreted his manager's hand motions on the bench and thought that he had been given the "stalk off the field" sign.40 Cronin and Ferrell patched things up in time for the pitcher's next start, a 7-0 win over the Tigers. It was his 16th win of the campaign and the last shutout of his major league career. He would end the season with an even twenty wins, the sixth and final time he would join the 20-win club.
In Cleveland, 17-year-old Bob Feller first came to widespread attention when he struck out eight Cardinals in only three innings during a July 6th exhibition game41. He made his American League debut on July 19th and for a month pitched in relief with mixed results before making his first major league start. He struck out fifteen in that game and a few weeks later tied the major league record and broke the AL mark when he struck out seventeen in a two-hitter against the A's on September 13th. Since he didn't turn 18 until November, Feller became the first pitcher to strike out his age. In addition to all the strike outs, he also walked nine batters. I'm not sure what the "Feller Rules" were at the time, but they probably didn't include a pitch count limit. Feller didn't have a bad start at home that summer or a good one on the road. His home/road record in his starts:
GS CG SHO IP H R ER BB SO W L ERA Home 5 5 0 42 25 7 5 29 58 5 0 1.07 Away 3 0 0 12 16 15 11 10 12 0 3 8.25
Lefty Grove, who the previous year had bounced back from a sore arm to win at least twenty games in a season for the eighth (and last) time, had the best start of his career in 1936. After shutting out the Tigers on May 5th, his ERA was a league-leading 0.20 (or only one earned run in 44 innings). At the time, he was also leading the league in complete games, shutouts, wins and strikeouts.
Catcher Greek George twice had seventeen putouts in a game that year, setting the AL record. Both times Feller was on the mound. And the April 26th game between the Dodgers and Phillies featured eleven errors. In that game, Ben Geraghty twice reached first on catcher's interference, the first time that had happened in a game. It would not be done again until 1965, when Pat Corrales did it twice in the last month and a half of the season.
Hod Lisenbee won the "Take One for the Team" award in 1936 for his 26-hit complete game on September 11th. Three different White Sox hitters got five hits off Lisenbee in the A's 17-2 loss and the top six hitters in Chicago's batting order went a combined 24-33 against the beleaguered pitcher. It was the only time since 1923 that a pitcher would give up as many as 17 runs in a game, and the last time a pitcher would surrender twenty or more hits.
Tommy Thomas gave up six home runs in his loss to the Yanks on July 27th, but the 16 hits and 10 runs he surrendered doesn't compare to the beating inflicted upon Lisenbee. By the way, Thomas' outing marks the first time in the major league history that a pitcher had given up six home runs in a game and lost. The two previous pitchers to join this club (Larry Benton in 1930 and Sloppy Thurston in 1932) managed to win their games.
The Tigers might have finished a disappointing second in 1936, but they sure looked like champions to the woeful Browns on September 22nd. Detroit set a major league record by scoring 26 unanswered runs when they swept the Browns in a double-header 12-0 and 14-0. It broke the previous mark of 23 set by the Indians over the Red Sox in a 1931 double-header. The 1936 Browns pitching staff set an American League record by allowing 1064 runs scored, but despite getting routed twice that day, ended up splitting their season series with Detroit, their best record against an opponent that year. By the way, the AL team that allowed the second-most runs in a 154-game season was that year's Athletics, who allowed 1045 runs.
All those high-scoring games kept the Browns from playing many extra-inning games. Since 1901, here are the teams with the fewest (not counting 2020):
Year Team G W L RS RA 1901 BAL A 3 1 1 3 2 1936 STL A 3 1 2 1 4 2016 ANA A 4 0 4 1 9
The runs scored (RS) and runs allowed (RA) columns only include extra-inning runs.
And, finally, the discrepancy of the year occurred on August 13th when the Giants' Al Smith faced the Phillies at the Polo Grounds. Here is the official view and what we have:
IP BFP H R ER Official 9 4 3 14 0 Retrosheet 9 40 14 4 3
Once again, this is a case of the data getting entered into the wrong columns on the official dailies.
The Giants repeated as NL champions in 1937, but unlike the Yankees, who waltzed to their second straight pennant, Bill Terry's men had to come from behind to do it. They were trailing the Cubs by four games on August 25th when the two teams met at Polo Grounds for a double-header. In the first game, the Cubs led 7-2 in the bottom of the ninth with a man on second and one out. Bill Lee induced the next two batters to hit routine grounders that should have ended the game, but neither was handled cleanly. The two botched plays were followed a single and Johnny Ripple's game-tying three-run homer. In the bottom of the eleventh, another error by the Cubs' infield, their fourth of the game, set the stage for Harry Danning's game-winning single and the Giants most dramatic victory of the season. The Cubs lost the second game in a more conventional manner and, according to Irving Vaughan of the Chicago Daily Tribune, the "National League flag race, which the Cubs thought was just about straightened out in their favor, is all tangled up again."42
The Giants' victories that day was the beginning of a 13-3 run that landed them in first place. But the race was far from over. When the Cubs won the opening game of their crucial three-game series with New York on September 21st, the victory brought them within a game and a half of the lead. A sweep of the final two games would put them back on top. Instead, Giant rookie Cliff Melton shut out the Cubs the next day, before coming back in the series finale to strike out the last two batters and save the Giants 8-7 victory. For the final week and a half of the season, the Giants feasted on second-division opponents, clinching the flag when Carl Hubbell beat the Phillies 2-1 on September 30th.
For Melton, it was a rookie season to remember. He started by striking out thirteen batters in his major league debut, a 3-1 loss to the Boston Bees on April 25th, and finished with twenty wins and the league's second best ERA. Those thirteen strikeouts set a major league record for the most strikeouts in a pitcher's first game, as well as the modern National League record for the most strikeouts in a losing cause. Melton would strike out nine in his second game, this one a 3-1 win over the same Boston team, but would never strike out more than nine in a game in the rest of his eight-year career.
By taking the NL pennant, the Giants won the right to face the Yankees again in the World Series, and this was even more one-sided than the year before. A seven-run rally in the first game routed Carl Hubbell before three Giants' pitcher got smacked around in the middle innings the next day. In the first three games, the Yankees outscored their cross-town rivals 21-3, and the Giants had twice as many errors as runs scored. A complete game victory by Hubbell the next day spared his team the embarrassment of a sweep, before Lefty Gomez wrapped up the Yankees' second straight title with his fifth straight series victory.
The biggest stories on the mound that year involved two long winning streaks. Both of them had actually begun the previous year. The first, by Carl Hubbell, had started with a shutout on July 17, 1936. It almost ended after three wins when the Reds carried a two-run lead into the bottom of the ninth only to see the Giants rally to win the game and take Carl off the hook for the loss. By the time it finally came to an end, in a 10-3 loss to Brooklyn on May 31, 1937, his streak had reached a major league record 24 games, breaking the previous mark of 20 set by Rube Marquard in 1911 and 1912. During the streak, Hubbell posted a 1.78 ERA in 207 2/3 innings. Although it didn't have an impact on the record, the Giant screwballer did lose one important game during the streak, the fourth game of the 1936 World Series.
Few suspected anything historic was afoot when Johnny Allen won his last two decisions of 1936. The last win was more significant in that it marked the first and only time that he would win 20 games in a season. By the way, it was not a victory he would have received credit for today, since he was relieved in the top of the fifth with his team already ahead 7-1. He was working on a no-hitter when a back injury forced him to the sidelines.43 The game was also notable because of Hal Trosky's seven RBIs, which extended his team record (and league-leading) total to 162, a Cleveland Indian team mark which wouldn't be broken until Manny Ramirez' 1999 season.
And a long winning streak looked even less likely the next spring when, after pitching Cleveland to a 9-2 victory in their home opener, Allen was hospitalized with appendicitis.44 He returned to the starting rotation in mid-May and pitched unevenly, with only the Indian's high-powered offense keeping him out of the loss column, before suffering a second attack of appendicitis and missing another month and a half.45 By the time he returned to the starting rotation in mid-August, Allen had a 4-0 record and a 3.30 ERA in only 62 2/3 innings. He would win all of his next 11 starts, including nine complete games and a 2.20 ERA. Heading into the last day of the season, he had won all 15 of his decisions and wanted to tie the AL mark for most consecutive wins in a season, last set by Schoolboy Rowe three years earlier. So Allen, pitching with only two days rest, faced the Tigers' Jake Wade, a second-year pitcher who had suffered through a disappointing year and entered the game with a mark of 6-10 and an ERA of 5.70. Allen had been given tremendous run support all season, but his teammates couldn't touch Wade that afternoon. Jake pitched the greatest game of his career, a one-hit shutout. Hank Greenberg drove in the only run of the game in the bottom of the first inning. His single gave him 183 RBIs on the season, or one behind Lou Gehrig's AL record. Despite losing the game, Allen did set the record with his 17 consecutive victories over two seasons, a mark that would be tied by Dave McNally in 1968 and 1969 (like Allen, McNally would win the last two games of the first season and the first fifteen of the next), before the record was broken by Roger Clemens in 1998 (with the Blue Jays) and 1999 (with the Yankees).
Actually, it looks like Hank Greenberg tied Lou Gehrig's RBI record after all. At the 2001 SABR convention in Long Beach, California, Herm Krabbenhoft presented convincing evidence that Greenberg drove in one more run that he was credited with in the game on June 20, 1937 and would have been recognized as having tied Gehrig, had not a separate error involving the Yankee slugger been corrected, giving 185 RBIs in 1931.
Gee Walker hit for the cycle on opening day and it started him on the longest hitting streak of the season, one that finally ended after 27-games when he went hitless in three at-bats against Bobo Newsom on May 24th. In the same game, player manager Mickey Cochrane got four hits, continuing his recent hot streak. The next day, the Tigers prepared to face the Yankees in a three-game series. Cochrane's team had won five of six games to climb within a game and a half of the front-running Yanks and his nine hits in the last three games had finally pushed his batting average over .300 after an early season slump. He had missed most of the previous year with a nervous breakdown, but he seemed to be primed for a comeback.
His team faced Bump Hadley that afternoon, a veteran pitcher with a history of wildness, and in what would turn out to be the last at-bat of his Hall of Fame career, Cochrane homered into the right field stands in the third inning to tie the score at one apiece. Two innings later, Cochrane couldn't get out of the way of a high and inside fastball. The ball hit his right temple, fracturing his skull in three places46 and for the next few days, Cochrane was given only a even chance of surviving the beaning.47 He was out of danger by the end of the month and, although he would able to return to manage his team before the end of July, he would not play again. Their second-string catcher Ray Hayworth was also lost a few weeks later when his arm was broken by a pitch from Newsom.48
By August, the Tigers had moved on to plan D or E behind the plate when they gave rookie Rudy York, an outfielder turned catcher turned third-baseman turned first-baseman - well, you get the idea - a chance on August 4th. York hit a homer in that game. Two days later, he homered again, and the day after that and the day after that. And so on. He probably figured that any shortcomings he might have had behind the plate wouldn't matter if he just kept hitting. On the last day of August, he had his biggest game yet, his two homers giving him a major league record 18 for the month.
Gee Walker's hitting streak may have been longer, but Joe DiMaggio put on a more impressive display of batting consistency when he strung together back-to-back 22 and 21-game hitting streaks from June 27th to August 12th. Only an 0-4 performance on July 22nd stood between Joe and a record-tying 44-game hitting streak. Joe hit .421 and slugged .910 during those 44 games and 42 of his 75 hits went for extra-bases, including 19 home runs.
DiMaggio hit for the cycle on July 9th, and less than a month later, teammate Lou Gehrig followed suit. Of course, hitting for the cycle is both an accomplishment and a statistical oddity. A single, double, triple and homer counts, but if a batter stretches one of those hits into something better, it doesn't. Bob Meusel and Babe Herman hold the record by hitting for the cycle three times, but who holds the record if we also count games that were better than a cycle? Let's call them cycles+ and they occur if, for example, a batter hits four home runs in game, or a homer and three triples, or two homers, a double and a single, and so on. You get the idea. Well, here are the leaders in this category:
Player Cyc Cyc+ Total Lou Gehrig 2 8 10 Willie Stargell 1 6 7 Adrian Beltre 3 4 7 Bob Johnson 1 5 6 Joe DiMaggio 2 4 6 Barry Bonds 0 6 6 Juan Gonzalez 0 6 6 Larry Walker 0 6 6 Nelson Cruz 0 6 6 Mookie Betts 1 5 6
And the single season leader? Moises Alou, who did it three times within a six-week period in 2002, each time hitting a single, double and two home runs. The weird thing is the Alou set this record during what was probably the worst season of his career.
The Cardinals may have had a disappointing 1937, but it wasn't Joe Medwick's fault. A year after setting a National League record by hitting 64 doubles, Medwick led the circuit in games played, at-bats, runs scored, hits, doubles, home runs (tied with Mel Ott), RBIs, batting average and slugging percentage. He also had four hits in that year's All-Star game and was hitting .400 as late as August 19th.
Medwick also tied three different records when he hit four doubles in a game on August 4th. The first (and most obvious) one was for the most doubles in a single game, which had been done on numerous occasions, most recently by Frankie Hayes on July 25, 1936. It was also his second game with four extra-base hits that season (tying the major league record last set by Jimmie Foxx in 1933) and the third of his career (tying Les Bell's league mark).
Other hitting performances of note in 1937 include Mel Almada scoring nine runs in a double-header against the woeful Browns, and Ernie Lombardi's six-hit performance in the Reds' 21-10 victory over the Phillies. That game also featured the greatest hitting day of Alex Kampouris' career (three home runs and eight RBIs) and was played at, you guessed it, the Baker Bowl. Pete Appleton only knocked in seven runs all year, but six of them came in one game.
And rookie pitcher Jim Tobin finished the year on a tear both on the mound (with six straight complete games, five of them victories) and at the plate, where his ten hits in his last three games (including three doubles) raised his batting average from .227 to .441 and made him the only pitcher since at least 1914 to collect three or more hits in three consecutive regular season games. He would end up having a respectable career (including 105 wins and fifteen career home runs), but you can probably forgive the Pirates for thinking they had a future Hall of Famer on their hands that winter.
Dizzy Dean started the season like he would win thirty games for a second time. After his first five starts, he had five complete games and a miniscule 0.39 ERA. He hit a dry spell after that, winning only one of his next five starts, a stretch that included a brief suspension for allegedly calling league president Ford Frick and umpire George Barr "the two biggest crooks in baseball today."49 Dean was upset about a balk called on him by the umpire during his loss to Carl Hubbell and the Giants on May 19th. Frick twice tried to get Dizzy Dean to apologize and even had his office write two drafts of an apology letter for the pitcher's signature, but Dean denied he had said anything and refused to apologize. After a few entertaining days, Frick backed down and reinstated the one of the biggest stars in his league in time for Dean to take his regularly scheduled turn in the rotation.
Invigorated by his victory over Frick, Dean started winning again and, after pitching a shutout over the Reds on July 4th for his twelfth victory, was leading or tied for the league lead in starts, complete games, shutouts, wins, balks and ERA. He was also second to Van Mungo in innings pitched and strikeouts. Three days later, he started for the NL in the All-Star game, breaking his toe when hit by a line drive off the bat of Earl Averill on the last play of the bottom of the third inning. Dean would be out only two weeks, and would make seven more starts that season, but would win only once more and strike out only 10 batters in those starts, a far cry from the 110 he had prior to his injury.
Branch Rickey usually knew when to say goodbye to his players and the next spring he would deal Dean to the Cubs at the top of the market, getting $185,000 and three players for his injured star. Two of the players were Curt Davis, and Clyde Shoun, who between them would win 165 more games over the rest of their careers; Dean would win sixteen. In his first appearance against his old team, he would pitch a four-hit shutout, but that would be the only victory of his career against the Cards. In his seven other appearances against them, Dean would go 0-4 with a 7.89 ERA.
It wasn't his major league debut, but Bill Phebus, a September call-up for the second year in a row, pitched a one-hitter in the second start of his career and his first of 1937. The next day, the Washington Post described the rookie as "a tall, muscular youth with more curves than the Marlboro Race Track and a burning, comet-like speedball...."50 And he wasn't a one-start wonder, either, as he followed that up with three more complete games, two of them victories, and finished the month with a 2.21 ERA. He made the team out of spring training the next season, but was seldom used and, after giving up eight runs in a game against the Tigers was sent back to the minors, this time for good.
And the last-place Browns set an unwelcome record when they were swept in nineteen double-headers in 1937 without sweeping any themselves. Their overall record in twin-bills was an unenviable 10-50. Both the 1898 Browns and the 1899 Cleveland Spiders each had eighteen double-losses without a sweep.
Speaking of double-headers, on July 16th, Si Johnson beat Bucky Walters in both ends of a twin-bill as the Cards swept the Phillies. It was an especially bad day for Walters, who had pitched a four-hit shutout in his previous appearance but couldn't make it out of the first inning in the opener before being on the mound for the start of an eight-run tenth-inning that wrapped up a wild 18-10 Cardinal win in the closer. It was the first time since 1908 that one pitcher had defeated another twice in the same day.51 It has happened three times since. On August 17, 1943, Hank Gornicki of the Pirates shut out Nate Andrews and the Braves in the opener before they both came back in extra-innings of the second game to pick up their second decision of the day. The Yankees' Lindy McDaniel won both ends of a twin-bill on May 24, 1970, from the Indians and Fred Lasher (who had arrived on the team only two days earlier), and on June 1, 1976, relief ace John Hiller and the Tigers swept Eduardo Rodriguez (who had gone undefeated in seven decisions the year before) and the Brewers in a double-header.
The fourth-place Cubs fired manager Charlie Grimm on July 19th and replaced him with Gabby Hartnett. The move didn't pay immediate dividends and after getting swept by the Reds on September 3rd, the Cubs had a 23-22 record under Hartnett, who was on the shelf with a fracture of his right thumb,52 and were seven games behind the Pirates. But they salvaged the finale of their series with Cincinnati, swept the Pirates 3-0 and 4-3 behind Bill Lee and Clay Bryant, and by the time they met the Pirates again in the last week of season, they had won seventeen of twenty games, Hartnett had recovered from his injury, and his team was only a game and a half behind the front-runners.
In the opening game of the series, Dizzy Dean made his first start in over a month and held the Pirates scoreless until the ninth inning, when he gave way to Bill Lee with two outs, men on second and third, and the Cubs ahead 2-0. A wild pitch cut the lead in half before Lee struck out Al Todd for the third out. It was the only strikeout for either side in the game.
With first place at stake, the teams played one of the most famous games in league history the next day. In both the sixth and the eighth innings, Chicago fell behind by two runs only to tie the score in the bottom half. Charlie Root held the Pirates scoreless in the ninth, and relief ace Mace Brown looked poised to return the favor. Darkness was descending on the field as the first two Chicago hitters went quietly and Brown quickly got two strikes on Hartnett. The catcher must have been able to see the next pitch because it ended up in the bleachers in deep left centerfield. Hartnett had hit the "homer in the gloaming" and the Cubs were in first place by a half game.
Their positions in the standings were now reversed, but first place was still at stake in the last game of the series. Chicago sent their ace to the hill, Bill Lee. Technically, he was pitching with no rest, since he had been called on to relieve in both of the games since his last start, but pitchers were expected to do those kinds of things back then and Lee responded by holding the Pirates to a single run while the Cubs knocked around four Pittsburgh pitchers for a 10-1 win. The Cubs had swept the Pirates and two days later would clinch the pennant with a win in the second game of their double-header with the Cards.
Lee was the best pitcher in baseball in 1938, leading the majors in both wins and ERA. The highlights of his year were two long scoreless streaks. The first reached 35 innings before it was stopped on June 7th and was part of a string of six consecutive complete game victories during which Lee allowed three earned runs in 55 innings. Lee had started the season in a slump and after the first month of the season had a 1-2 record to go with a 5.45 ERA. His hot string began with a ten-inning shutout and only a run in the bottom of the fourth inning of his next start against the Bees prevented Lee from having five consecutive shutouts and 50 innings of scoreless ball. In September, Lee had an even longer streak, one that reached 38 1/3 innings and featured four shutouts. Those two scoreless streaks are the longest by a Cubs pitcher since the Deadball Era.
For the first few months at least, it looked like the American League might have a pennant race on their hands. Led by Earl Averill and Hal Trosky at the plate and Bob Feller and Johnny Allen on the mound, the Indians led New York by four and a half games on June 28th. But the Yankees were already in the midst of a nine-game winning streak, the beginnings of a 53-12 run, including an AL-record 28 wins in August, that would turn that deficit into a fifteen-game lead. The Yankees averaged nearly eight runs a game during these games. Here's how their regulars hit:
Name G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG Bill Dickey 55 198 39 69 10 2 15 61 33 7 1 0 .348 .442 .646 Joe DiMaggio 66 280 76 96 16 8 17 81 33 9 2 0 .343 .416 .639 Lou Gehrig 66 261 54 78 11 5 14 58 41 37 3 0 .299 .396 .540 Tommy Henrich 54 207 54 58 10 4 12 47 39 15 4 1 .280 .394 .541 George Selkirk 52 180 44 49 6 4 9 43 45 26 5 1 .272 .425 .500 Joe Gordon 66 240 52 63 13 5 14 61 35 40 2 3 .262 .363 .533 Red Rolfe 64 285 66 94 15 2 5 45 32 13 4 0 .330 .397 .449 Frank Crosetti 66 274 63 77 15 3 4 25 52 48 13 6 .281 .407 .401
And three of the Yankee starters went a combined 32-3 with 30 complete games:
Name G GS CG SHO IP H R ER BB SO W L ERA Lefty Gomez 13 13 10 3 107.1 108 33 27 33 55 11 2 2.26 Red Ruffing 14 14 10 1 115.2 101 38 32 36 50 11 1 2.49 Monte Pearson 12 12 10 1 94.1 76 36 33 50 47 10 0 3.15
There was a moment when it looked like the 1938 World Series might be a good one. The home Cubs were leading the second game by a run in the top of the eighth-inning, poised to send the series back to New York knotted at one apiece. They had Dizzy Dean, a big game pitcher on the mound, although one coming off an injury-plagued season. With two outs and a man on first, he was working on a four-hitter and had only weak-hitting Frankie Crosetti standing between him and the ninth-inning. But Crosetti picked that point to hit his first and only World Series home run, wiping out Chicago's lead, and the moment was gone.
One of the biggest stories of 1938 was Hank Greenberg's pursuit of Babe Ruth's 11-year-old single-season home run record. He had a pretty good shot at it too. When he hit his 57th and 58th homers in the Tigers' abbreviated 10-2 victory over the Browns on September 27th, he needed only two homers in his last five games to tie the record. In contrast, when Jimmie Foxx hit 58 home runs in 1932, he needed seven homers in his last five games to tie the record (he hit five). Hank did not hit one in his last few games and Ruth's record remained intact.
Writing in the New York Times in 2010, Howard Megdal wondered if anti-Semitism might have played a role in denying Greenberg a shot at the record.53 Using Retrosheet's data, Megdal points to the slugger's higher than normal walk record in September that year as evidence that "anti-Semitic pitchers had walked Greenberg often to keep him from a fair shot at Ruth." I'm not so sure. Here are Greenberg's stats both before and after the All-Star break:
G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO HBP SH SB CS AVG OBP SLG Before 71 255 60 75 9 4 22 47 57 44 1 1 3 4 .294 .425 .620 After 84 301 84 100 14 0 36 98 62 48 2 2 4 1 .332 .447 .738
He walked in 18.2% of his plate appearances prior to the All-Star break (when he was little threat to Ruth's record) and in 16.9% of his plate appearances after. His highest monthly walk rate (20.7%) was in May. It is true that his walk rate prior to September 1st (16.7) was lower than his walk rate over the rest of the season (20.4), but the difference between the two rates is equal to five walks over the last five weeks of the season, an awfully slender margin to cite as evidence "to resolve a 72-year-old mystery."
While he may not have managed to break Ruth's record, those two home runs he hit on September 27th did extend his major league record for the most multi-homer games in a season. It was the eleventh time he had hit two in a game (and the ninth time since the All-Star break). The previous holder of the record was Jimmie Foxx, who had his ninth multi-homer game two and a half weeks earlier. Before Foxx, the record had been jointly held by Ruth (in 1927) and Hack Wilson (in 1930) with eight. And Greenberg set another record by hitting 39 of his home runs at home. Over the course of his career, he hit much better in Detroit than elsewhere. His batting average, on-base and slugging percentage during his AL career was .343/.441/.691 at home and .295/.380/.541 on the road.
Greenberg was a prolific doubles hitter both before and after, but not during 1938. That year, Greenberg hit only 4.1 doubles per 100 at-bats. In his other seasons prior to World War Two, he had hit more than twice as many (8.6 per 100 at-bats). The change was more pronounced at home, where his rate fell from 9.4 to 3.2. I'm not sure what this means. Perhaps he consciously changed to more of a home run swing in 1938, but if that were the case, why did he change back in time for 1939?
There was other home run news made in Detroit that season, this time by Rudy York, who followed up his record-setting rookie-season by tying the mark for most grand-slam homers in a season with four and becoming the first player to hit three in one month (May). The season mark had previously been set by Frank Schulte in 1911, Babe Ruth in 1919, and Lou Gehrig in 1934. It would be broken first by Ernie Banks in 1955 and then by Don Mattingly in 1987. The next player to hit three grand-slams in a month would be Jim Northrup in June 1968.
And we're still not done with circuit clouts. Despite having a combined 21 multi-homer games, Greenberg and Foxx failed to hit three in one game in 1938 (Greenberg would never hit more than two in a game). Johnny Mize, however, became the first player in major league history to record two three-homer games in one season, when he did it first on July 13th and then a week later. It was an odd year for Mize. After hitting .364 the previous season, he slumped much of the first half of 1938. Here are his splits before and after the All-Star game:
G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO HBP SH SB CS AVG OBP SLG Before 61 215 22 56 9 6 4 28 24 20 0 0 0 0 .260 .335 .414 After 88 316 63 123 25 10 23 74 50 27 4 0 0 0 .389 .478 .750
He also had hit much better at home that season than he did on the road:
G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO HBP SH SB CS AVG OBP SLG Home 81 298 57 111 17 9 22 77 35 26 3 0 0 0 .372 .443 .711 Away 68 233 28 68 17 7 5 25 39 21 1 0 0 0 .292 .396 .489
The second player with two three-homer games in a season? Mize again, when he repeated the feat in 1940.
Merv Connors never quite managed to stick with the White Sox in the late thirties, getting only late-season trials in 1937 and 1938, but he came very close to baseball immortality in 1938 during the second game of the September 17th double-header with the A's. Facing rookie pitcher Jim Reninger (who was making his major league debut), Connors homered his first three times up against Reninger before missing a record-tying fourth home run by only a few feet, having to settle for a double off the left field score board.54 Connors continued to hit well over the remaining two weeks of the season, finishing with a .710 slugging percentage, but he was farmed out at the end of the next spring training and would never appear in another major league game.
One more home run related item and then we'll move on. Entering 1938, only three of the sixteen major league teams had never had a player hit 20 or more home runs in a season: the Pirates, Reds and the Senators. All three teams had a player top this mark in 1938. Rookie Johnny Rizzo hit 23 for the Pirates, Ival Goodman hit 30 for the Reds (including 20 before the All-Star game), and both Zeke Bonura and veteran Al Simmons topped the mark for the Senators.
Jimmie Foxx may have played second-fiddle to Hank Greenberg for home run honors in 1938 (becoming the first player in major league history to hit 50 or more homers and fail to lead his league), but he did do something that had not been done in modern baseball (and has not been done since) when he walked six times in a nine-inning game on June 16th. Walt Wilmot had previously done this while playing for the Chicago Colts in 1891. Foxx hit cleanup during his walk-fest and Harold Clift, who hit fourth for the Browns that day, walked four times. Together, they combined for ten free passes, four runs scored and only a single official at-bat. And another walking record was set that year when Billy Rogell walked seven consecutive times on August 17th, 18th and 19th. It would be tied next by Mel Ott over three days in 1943.
A few more batting highlights from 1938. Pinky Higgins' twelve consecutive hits from June 19th to June 21st set a major league record, breaking the previous mark of eleven set by Tris Speaker from July 8 to July 10, 1920. Higgins' record still stands, although it was tied when Walt Dropo strung together twelve hits in a row on July 14 and July 15, 1952. Bob Johnson tied a rather obscure record when he knocked in all eight of his teams runs on June 12th, equalling George Kelly's feat in 1924. And finally, although it might be more of a battered than a batting highlight, Mel Ott was hit three times by Jim Tobin on September 15th, the first time this was done in the majors since Wally Schang was plunked repeatedly by Rip Collins in 1923 and it would not happen again until Sherm Lollar and Willard Nixon teamed up in 1956.
The top story on the mound in 1938 concerned a second-year lefty named Johnny Vander Meer, who became the first pitcher in major league history to throw back-to-back no-hitters. The second game was not without its drama, as with one out in the top of the ninth, Vander Meer lost the strike zone and loaded the bases with three walks. He then settled down to retire the last two hitters, entering the record books and getting himself a new nickname ("Double No-Hit"). That game was also the first night game at Ebbets Field, but if poor lighting factored in the no-hitter, it didn't prevent the visiting Reds from recording eleven hits and six runs. We are dealing with small sample sizes here, but the Dodgers that year hit only .193 in their eight night games. The National League that season, again in a small number of games, hit nearly 30 points lower in night games. By the late 1940s, the league would consistently hit between six to eight point lower in the night games, with similarly small drop offs in slugging percentage, but by then the lighting might have been much improved over that employed during the late 1930s.
In addition to his sudden fame, Vander Meer's performance that June also earned him The Sporting News ML Player of the Year award. It was a curious choice. He was sensational through the end of June, but had a rough second half, finishing with only fifteen wins, and was arguably no better than the fourth best player on his own team (behind Ernie Lombardi, Bucky Walters and Ival Goodman). Here are his splits before and after the end of June:
G GS CG SHO IP H R ER BB SO W L ERA April-June 16 14 9 3 118.1 73 34 31 50 76 10 2 2.36 July-Oct 16 15 7 0 107 104 55 47 53 49 5 8 3.95
It was only the third year of the award and the previous two winners were also pitchers, including another odd choice. Johnny Allen won in 1937 despite pitching only 177 innings (and winning fifteen games) and despite the presence of batting (Joe Medwick) and pitching (Lefty Gomez) triple crown winners, as well as dozens of other players in both leagues who had better years. Of course, Allen came close to going undefeated that year and was awarded for his near-unblemished won-lost record.
Bob Feller pitched his first complete season in 1938 (he had missed most of the first half of 1937 with arm trouble) and set an American League record with 208 walks. It was the most walks allowed in the major leagues since Cy Seymour led the NL with 213 for the 1898 Giants. Seymour only pitched regularly for three seasons, leading the league in walks each year. He would move to centerfield after that and, in 1905, he would lead the NL in hits, doubles, triples, RBIs, batting average and slugging percentage. There wasn't really the concept of a triple crown back in 1905 (RBIs wouldn't become official until 1920 and homers were not a dominant offensive statistic during the Deadball Era), but Seymour would have come within a single homer of a retroactive triple-crown that year.
But we digress. Bob Feller started his year with a one-hit shutout, the first shutout and one-hitter of his career, and was tremendous in the early going. After his great start, he was much less effective over the middle three months and his season reached a low point when he gave up fifteen hits and nine walks, good for fifteen runs, in a 15-9 loss to the Yankees in his last start of August. It's probably not surprising to see a young pitcher, unaccustomed to a full season's workload, wear down over the course of season, but Feller rebounded in September and ended his season by breaking the modern single-game strikeout record when he fanned eighteen Tigers (including Chet Laabs five times) in a 4-1 loss on October 2nd. Feller would turn twenty years-old in a month and a day, but it was already the fourth game in his career in which he had struck out fifteen or more batters. It would also be his last.
Here are Feller's splits over the beginning, middle and end of the season:
G GS CG SHO IP H R ER BB SO W L ERA April-May 9 9 6 1 71 40 16 13 46 54 6 1 1.65 June-August 22 19 8 0 140.1 144 100 95 124 118 6 8 6.09 Sept-Oct 8 8 6 1 66.1 41 20 18 38 68 5 2 2.44
Prior to striking out 18 in his last start of the season, Feller had fanned ten batters in each of his two previous starts, setting a major league record for the most strikeouts in two consecutive games and tying the mark for the most in three consecutive games (originally set by Walter Johnson in 1910).
He might not have been the best pitcher in the American League in 1938, but I doubt another pitcher in league history has ever dominated the statistical categories, both good and bad, like Bobo Newsom did that year. He led all AL pitchers in starts (tied with George Caster), complete games, innings pitched, as well as hits, homers, runs and earned runs allowed. He finished second to Bob Feller in walks allowed and strikeouts, but his 192 walks would have set the AL record had Feller not beaten him to it, and his 226 strikeouts were the most in the league (by a pitcher not named Feller) since Walter Johnson struck out 228 in 1916. Newsom also finished second in games pitched, won and lost (tied with Buck Ross). Newsom either led or finished second in every major statistical pitching category except for two rather predictable ones: he didn't pitch a shutout all season, and his ERA of 5.08 was the highest for a 20-game winner in major league history, narrowly topping Ray Kremer's 5.02 ERA when he went 20-12 with the 1930 Pirates. Along the way, Newsom attempted to become the first pitcher since 1926 to start and win both games of a double-header on August 7th when he got routed in the second game after pitching a complete game victory in the opener.
Wes Ferrell pitched for both the Senators and Yankees that year and somehow managed to post a 15-10 record despite a 6.28 ERA. It was the highest ERA in the majors among qualifiers for the ERA title and, much like Newsom, was the highest ERA for a 15-game winner in major league history, again narrowly topping a pitcher from 1930, Guy Bush, who also had a 15-10 record while posting a 6.20 ERA for the high-scoring Cubs that year.
Other pitching highlights that year included Monte Pearson pitching the first no-hitter in the history of Yankee Stadium. He is less well-known today than many of his teammates, but Pearson did win all four of his World Series starts from 1936 to 1939, including a two-hit shutout over the Reds in game two of the 1939 Series. Danny MacFayden's highlight was somewhat more obscure. From May 25th to July 31st, he pitched 38 consecutive scoreless innings at Braves Field, the longest string since Bob Smith's streak of 41 innings in 1926. Not that anyone noticed. His home/road splits that year:
G GS CG SHO IP H R ER BB SO W L ERA Home 14 14 12 5 123.1 100 26 21 28 34 10 3 1.53 Away 15 15 7 0 95.1 111 57 51 36 24 4 6 4.81
The Phillies were already losing to the Cubs 9-1 on May 5th when manager Jimmie Wilson sent Hal Kelleher in to pitch the bottom of the eighth inning. Kelleher couldn't get anyone out, but Wilson didn't want to waste another arm in a lost cause. By the time it was over, the Cubs had scored twelve runs (all earned) on ten hits and three walks, and Kelleher had seen his ERA soar from 4.26 to 18.41. It would be his last major league game and a somewhat ironic finale for a pitcher who had begun his major league career with a four-hit shutout less than three years earlier.
And finally, August was a very busy month for the American League. Because of a lot of cancellations earlier in the year, the league was forced to play a record number of games in August. Each team averaged 35 games in the 31 days and the Athletics set a major league record by playing forty, including thirteen double-headers. Two of their regulars, Bob Johnson and Wally Moses, appeared in all of them.
Here are the most and fewest games played each month by the two leagues between 1904 (when they went to a 154-game schedule) and their first expansion (1961 for the AL and 1962 for the NL):
- - - - - NL - - - - - - - - - AL - - - - Most Fewest Most Fewest Month Year # Year # Year # Year # April 1942 64 1919 23 1942 65 1918 21 May 1959 123 1917 85 1944 117 1915 91 June 1957 126 1909 88 1933 122 1905 87 July 1932 131 1919 105 1924 136 1938 98 1955 131 August 1947 134 1911 95 1938 140 1913 102 September 1939 133 1918 11 1904 134 1918 10 October 1910 36 Lots 0 1904 42 Lots 0
The low number of games in September 1918 was due to the regular season ending on September 2nd.
The List of players since 1901 with the most 20+ game hitting streaks.
After starting the season with only four singles in 28 at-bats, Lou Gehrig took himself out of the Yankee lineup following their 3-2 loss to the Senators on April 30th, ending a streak of 2,130 consecutive games. Lou had suffered through an off-year (for him) the previous season. In an December poll of sports writers, his 1938 season had been rated the tenth greatest disappointment of the sport season, behind the Pirates (first), Dizzy Dean (fourth), the Cubs in the World Series (sixth), the Indians (seventh) and the Cards (ninth).55
The Yankees had been hoping for a comeback from their 35-year-old slugger, but he had a dismal spring instead. On March 22nd, Joe McCarthy kept him out of a game with their Kansas City farm club, hoping the rest would help revitalize him. At the time, Gehrig had managed only five singles in 38 at-bats.56 He did have one more big game left in him, hitting two home runs and two singles in the Yanks 14-12 loss to the Dodgers on April 13th,57 but the general consensus as the regular season began was that the end was near for the Iron Horse. And it was. The umpire behind home plate for Gehrig's last game was George Pipgras, who sixteen years earlier had been a little-used rookie along with Gehrig on the 1923 Yankees. As a matter of fact, in Pipgras' first major league win on September 27, 1923, Gehrig made his first start at first-base and hit the first home run of his career. Later on they both starred on three of New York's Championship teams.
According to the New York Times, the players were puzzled by his rapid collapse and Gehrig said: "I just can't understand. I am not sick."58 But of course he was very sick. In June, he entered the Mayo Clinic for tests and returned a week later with a diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as infantile paralysis59 (and today commonly known as Lou Gehrig's Disease), officially ending a career almost everyone knew was already over. For the record, his last appearance on the field for the Yankees was in a June 12th exhibition game against the Kansas City Royals. He batted once, grounding out to second on the first pitch he saw, and handled four routine throws at first base.60 On July 4th, the Yankees honored Gehrig with a ceremony between games of their double-header with the Senators. 61,800 fans filled Yankee Stadium to hear the retired first-baseman declare himself the "luckiest man alive" in his farewell speech, and afterward he told Bill Dickey: "I'm going to remember this day for a long time."61 I'm sure the same was true for everyone in attendance that day.
Despite the absence of their captain, the Yankees didn't miss a beat on the field. In their first game without him, they trounced the Tigers 22-2. Every player in the lineup collected two hits in the game except for Tommy Henrich, who had only one (although that was a three-run home run).
Tiger pitcher Fred Hutchinson had a nightmarish major league debut in that game, giving up eight runs in only 2/3 of an inning for an ERA of 108.00. He would struggle in his first two seasons for the Tigers, but after the war would pitch well for the better part of six seasons, finishing with 95 wins and pitching in the 1951 All-Star game. Still, he must have had grave doubts about his future as a major league pitcher after that first game.
Less than two months later, the Yankees would have an even bigger game, hitting a major league record (since broken) eight home runs in their 23-2 rout of the A's in the first game of their June 28th double-header. And they weren't done hitting. In the second game, their five homers gave them thirteen for the day, a record that still stands. Joe DiMaggio, Joe Gordon and Babe Dahlgren each hit three home runs in the twin-bill. At the end of the double-header, the Yankees record was 48-13, a pace that, if maintained, would have brought them 121 wins.
They weren't quite able to do that. In early July, they lost six straight, including a five-game series to the second-place Red Sox at Yankee Stadium. After losing the first game of their August 13th double-header with the A's, New York's lead over Boston had shrunk to only five games. In the second game, the Yankees routed the A's 21-0, tying a modern major league record for the most lopsided shutout win (first done by the Tigers on September, 15, 1901) and setting an American League record (since tied) by scoring 20 or more runs in a game for the third time in a season.
Nels Potter pitched the last six innings for the A's in that game, giving up 17 hits and fifteen runs. It was the third straight day he had pitched (including a start) and in those games he had given up 30 hits and 27 runs in 14 innings. At one point during the year, Potter had sported a 6-1 record (although with a mediocre 4.86 ERA), but over the last three months Earle Mack (serving as manager of the team while his father was ill) used Potter often in a variety of roles and he was consistently dreadful. His record over that span:
G GS CG SHO IP H R ER BB SO W L ERA July-September 27 15 6 0 126 182 119 106 58 42 2 11 7.57
The Yankees' win in that game was the beginning of a run that saw the Yankees take fifteen of sixteen games and widen their lead from five to thirteen games over the fading Red Sox. During August, the Yankees averaged over eight runs a game. Hitting stars included Joe DiMaggio, who knocked in 53 runs (tying the mark set by Hack Wilson nine years earlier), and Red Rolfe, who scored at least one run in a record 18 consecutive games. He led the league that year with 139 runs scored and did all his scoring while batting in the second spot in the lineup.
He was not the leadoff hitter because for some strange reason manager Joe McCarthy batted shortstop Frank Crosetti first, despite the fact that he was the worst hitting regular player in the American League. It's strange: the Yankees scored the most runs in the league that year with two of the league's three worst-hitting regulars in their lineup (Babe Dahlgren's OPS was the third worst in the AL) and with the worst hitter leading off. Crosetti would hit even more poorly in 1940 and McCarthy would eventually drop him from first to eighth in the order on August 5, 1940. At the time of his demotion, Crosetti had a batting average of .199 and an OPS of .603, both marks the worst among the league's regulars. I have nothing against playing weak-hitting defensive specialists and I also consider most arguments about batting order position to be much ado about nothing. Still, I'm guessing that more than a few Yankee fans during these years got tired of seeing Crosetti hitting first.
Of course, not all the offensive highlights in 1939 belonged to the New York Yankees. On July 4th, while fans in Yankee Stadium were honoring Lou Gehrig, the Red Sox and the A's scored 54 runs in a double-header, tying the mark originally set by the Boston Beaneaters and the Cincinnati Reds on August 21, 1894. There were a lot of hitting stars that day, but none bigger than Jim Tabor, who had three hits, including a double and a homer in the first game, and then exploded for three home runs, including two grand slams, in the second.
The National League produced an unlikely champion in 1939, as the Cincinnati Reds, who had finished in last place only two years earlier, held off a challenge from the Cards to win their first pennant in twenty years. They were led by their two aces, Bucky Walters and Paul Derringer, who won 52 games between them, the most victories by a NL pitching tandem since Pete Alexander and Eppa Rixey combined for 55 wins for the second-place 1916 Phillies. Walters had originally come to the major leagues as a third-baseman, but the Phillies convinced him to become a pitcher after he lost his third-base job during spring training of 1935. His record might not have reflected it (after all, he pitched half of his games in the Baker Bowl and all of his games for the Phillies), but he pitched well in Philadelphia, even making an appearance in the 1937 All-Star game.
On June 13, 1938, the perpetually cash-starved Phillies traded him to the Reds for a couple of players and $50,000. He had a rocky first start with his new team, getting knocked out after two innings (and seven runs), and he went into the All-Star break still looking for a first win in a Cincinnati uniform. He quickly turned things around after that, however, and finished the season as one of the top pitchers on the staff. Here are his splits before and after the 1938 All-Star break:
G GS CG SHO IP H R ER BB SO W L ERA Before 18 16 10 1 111.2 128 75 67 54 37 4 11 5.40 After 21 18 10 2 139.1 131 59 50 54 56 11 3 3.22
Even his strong second half in 1938 couldn't have prepared the Reds and their fans for what Walters had in store for them the next year. He completed 21 of his first 22 starts (he pitched into the tenth inning in his one incomplete game) and in September completed another eight straight. He won the pitching triple crown that year, leading the NL in wins, strikeouts and ERA (he tied for the lead in strikeouts with Claude Passeau) and also led the league in starts (tied with two others), complete games, innings pitched and even balks. He might have managed to win thirty that season if he had pitched better in relief (he lost all three of his relief appearances that year) or if he had been able to handle the Cubs (who beat Walters five times).
Three and a half games behind with eight left to play, the Cardinals headed into Cincinnati on September 26th knowing that they almost had to sweep the four-game series to have a chance at the pennant. But Curt Davis, who was leading the staff in both wins and losses, never made it out of the second inning of the first game, taking the defeat when Junior Thompson held the Cards to a single run. St. Louis would bounce back behind back-to-back four-hit shutouts by Mort Cooper and Bill McGee, before Paul Derringer clinched a tie for the Reds by sending Davis to another loss the next day.
Reds manager Bill McKechnie became the first pilot to take three different teams to the World Series, having previously turned the trick with the 1925 Pittsburgh Pirates and the 1928 St. Louis Cardinals. Dick Williams would do it for the second (and so far last) time with the 1967 Boston Red Sox, the 1972 and 1973 Oakland A's, and the 1984 San Diego Padres.
The 1939 World Series was another easy one for the Yankees. Their starting pitchers dominated the first two games with Red Ruffing and Monte Pearson holding the Reds to a total of six singles and one run. They then managed to win the final two games with neither of their starters pitching into the fifth inning. Lefty Gomez left after hurting his side in the bottom of the first inning of game three62 and Oral Hildebrand was removed after throwing four scoreless innings the next day, also because of a pain in his side.63 In the last game, the Reds were in a position to avoid a sweep when a defensive collapse in the ninth and tenth innings led to three unearned runs, costing them first the lead and then the game.
Across the state of Ohio, Bob Feller was also enjoying the first great season of his career as he made the transition from being one of the most famous pitchers in baseball to being one of the best. He pitched a three-hitter on opening day, and added two one-hitters before the end of June. This time, he didn't go through a mid-season slump, posting a winning-record in each month and won twenty games for the first time with a 12-1 victory over the Browns on September 8th. He might have also won the pitching version of the triple crown had it not been for Lefty Grove, a pitcher almost twice Feller's age, who won the ninth (and last) ERA crown of his Hall of Fame career.
There were two rookie sensations that year. The obvious one was Ted Williams, who hit safely in his first nine games (including his first two-homer game) and never looked back, leading the league with 145 RBIs, a rookie record. The other was the Yankees' Atley Donald. He lost his first major league start in a brief trial the year before, but won his first twelve decisions of 1939, and after defeating the Browns on July 25th, was leading the league with a 2.30 ERA. He pitched poorly over the last two months, losing three of his last four decisions while allowing more than a run an inning.
Given up for dead by the Phillies, Chuck Klein had one last hot streak left in him. He signed with the Pirates on June 7th and less than a month later started a 21-game hitting streak. He was the fourth player since 1901 to have six or more hitting streaks of twenty games or longer. The next player would be Paul Waner, who'd start his sixth streak two months later. Here is the complete list:
Player # First Last Ty Cobb 8 1911 1927 Tris Speaker 6 1912 1923 George Sisler 6 1917 1925 Chuck Klein 6 1929 1939 Paul Waner 6 1927 1939 Pete Rose 7 1967 1982 Ichiro Suzuki 6 2001 2009
Johnny Cooney had an interesting career. Starting out as a good-hitting pitcher for the Braves in the early 1920s, he seemed pretty much washed up by the time he was sold to the Toledo Mud Hens in 1931. While in the minors, Cooney was able to resurrect his career, and he came back in his mid-thirties to play centerfield for the Dodgers and Bees/Braves for more than seven years, making him one of the more obscure players to have a career spanning nearly two and a half decades. Despite high batting averages (he hit .318 and .319 at the ages of 39 and 40), he had little power and didn't walk much. In all, he played 1172 games in his major league career and hit only two home runs, but they came on back-to-back days in September, 1939. By the way, his brother was Jimmy Cooney, a light-hitting infielder who also finished his career with two home runs. Coincidentally, all four of the brothers' homers were hit at the Polo Grounds. Their father, also named Jimmy Cooney, hit four homers in his career, as many as both his sons combined, while playing shortstop for three years in the 1890s.
The marathon of the year was played on June 27th when the Dodgers and Bees played a 23-inning 2-2 tie. In that game, Buddy Hassett had four hits in ten at-bats. The next year, he would become the first player since 1901 to have ten or more at-bats in two different games when he led off for the Bees in their 6-2 twenty-inning loss to the Dodgers. The only other player to do that since was Wayne Garrett, who had ten at-bats in a game in 1973 and 1974.
Mel Harder and Bill Beckmann were locked in a 3-3 duel when the Indians exploded for nine runs in the top of the ninth against Beckmann and reliever' Bob Joyce. But the game was not over, as the Athletics came back to score five of their own, knocking Harder from the game. Those fourteen runs were a league record for ninth-inning scoring and the most in the majors since the Braves and Giants teamed up for seventeen on June 20, 1912. The AL mark would be broken by the Blue Jays and Mariners on July 20, 1984.
The rest of the American League started to worry about the dominance of the Yankees as early as 1936. In the winter meetings that year, Joe McCarthy complained about the reluctance of other teams to deal with the champions. According to The Sporting News: "Joe McCarthy complained that... he had been subjected to a virtual boycott by the other managers. Joe said that it used to be the fashion to try to break down the winner with trades, but nobody so much as offered him the time of day, let alone a pitcher or a utility second baseman. Other clubs fear that trading with the Yankees, who are crafty and canny, would result in nothing more than greater strength for the New York club."64
It would get worse. "A.L. Growing Panicky Over Yankee Domination" was a headline in The Sporting News during September of 1938.65 As they rolled to their fourth straight pennant the next summer, the Yankees were referred to as the "A.L. Problem."66 The Sporting News' New York beat reporter summed up the prevailing sentiment following the season: "The Yankees have won four straight pennants, which is an American League problem. They have won four straight world's titles, which is a National League problem. They are getting ready to make it five consecutive league titles, and achieve a trick never before dreamed of in the major leagues--and that is a problem for all baseball."67
During the 1939 winter meetings, Clark Griffith proposed a piece of legislation that would prohibit the American League champion from acquiring any players in either trades or sales who hadn't first cleared waivers. Initially, Griffith had wanted to stop the Yankees from selling players who hadn't cleared waivers as well, but the other clubs wouldn't go along with him.68 As it was, the league seemed a little embarrassed by the rule, and one reporter suggested that it was only passed because Griffith had just turned seventy and his fellow owners wanted to do him a favor.69
From all the noise, you'd think the Yankees had built their dynasty via a succession of "canny" trades and that simply isn't true. Most of the talent on their team had come directly from the minor leagues. The only pitcher to arrive in a major league trade since the start of the 1937 season was Oral Hildebrand and the only position players who had not originally come to the major leagues as Yankees were Babe Dahlgren, Jake Powell (86 at-bats) and Bill Knickerbocker (13 at-bats). No, the real advantage the Yankees had was outbidding their rivals in signing amateur players for their farm system as well as picking up the occasional player (like Joe DiMaggio) from independent minor league teams.
A host of people worked on making these boxscores available to baseball researchers. They include: Dave Lamoureaux, David Vincent, Bob Allen, Javier Anderson, Greg Antolick, Mark Armour, Chris Bates, Bob Boehme, Steve Bond, Jeff Bower, Tom Bradley, Rob Carron, Jim Clausing, Wade Coble, Clem Comly, Dennis Dagenhardt, Tom Davis, Richard Deegan, Larry Defillipo, Chris Dial, Jeff Eby, Mike Elliot, Steve Elsberry, Ken Fisher, Michael Fornabaio, David Foss, Jim Fraasch, Terry Frala, Jonathan Frankel, Gary Frownfelter, Mike Grahek, Aaron Greenberg, Brian Grinnell, Ed Hartig, Kathy Hartley, Chuck Hildebrandt, David Hoehns, Patrick Hourigan, Hugh Humphries, Howard Johnson, Ryan Jones, John Kalous, Christopher Kamka, David Kocher, Herm Krabbenhoft, Sean Lahman, Gary Lauher, Andre Leclerc, Walter LeConte, Dan Lee, John Lee, Bob LeMoine, Joel Luckhaupt, Trent McCotter, Bill McMahon, Sheldon Miller, Joe Murphy, Jack Myers, Dave Newman, Bill Nowlin, Paul Olubas, Charlie O'Reilly, Eric Orns, Ian Orr, Claude Paradis, Gary Pearce, Rob Pettapiece, Jonathan Pollak, J.G. Preston, Brad Ramirez, Denis Repp, Mike Round, Mark Ruckhaus, Ken Ruppert, Charles Saeger, Carl Schweisthal, Tasha Shaindlin, Stu Shea, Terry Small, Sean Smith, Matt Souders, Tom Stillman, Bob Strab, Tom Thress, Bob Timmermann, Dixie Tourangeau, Steve Vetere, Ron Wargo, Ed Washuta, Ron Weaver, Paul Wendt, Neil Williams, Mark Williamson, Rob Wood, Andrew Zager, Don Zminda and Pete Palmer.
1"Big League Brethren Choose Lively Ball As Their Text," Irving Vaughan, Chicago Daily Tribune. November 14, 1930. Page 35.
2I'm not sure when Mack knew about Grove's corrected victory total or even if it would have made a difference in how the manager used his star pitcher down the stretch. In the statistical summaries that ran every Sunday in The New York Times, Grove's totals were not corrected until the September 28th paper.
3"Rhem, Cardinal Hurler, Tells of Strange Ride." Chicago Daily Tribune. September 17, 1930. Page 21.
4The batting race that year came down to a face-to-face showdown when the Browns and the Senators faced each other on the last game of the season. Both got two hits in the game, allowing Goslin to protect his slim lead. Manush had been more than 20 points behind Goslin entering September but climbed to within striking distance by hitting .495 in that final month.
As a curious footnote to the batting race, the same day that the Washington Post was heralding Goslin's victory over Manush in a race that "was the closest in the American League history", the New York Times was calming reporting "Hornsby, Manush Top Hitters As Major Leagues End Season". The Times credited Manush with only 631 at-bats instead of the 638.
5"Addition of Manush, Crowder Elates Johnson", The Washington Post. June 15, 1930. Page 17.
6For an example, see "Manush Vs. Goslin", The Washington Post. August 6, 1930. Page 11.
7"Addition of Manush, Crowder Elates Johnson", The Washington Post. June 15, 1930. Page 17.
8"Must Learn Outfielding", The Hartford Courant. February 15, 1931. Page C7.
9"Cards Clean House To Replace Stars Plucked From Rochester", The Sporting News. December 4, 1930. Page 1.
10"'Show Me Another Undefeated Major Pitcher' Dizzy Dean's Greeting on Return to St. Joseph", Ken Chilcote. The Sporting News. October 9, 1930. Page 5.
11"Sox Set Record In 2-1 Win Over Browns," Edward Burns. Chicago Daily Tribune. April 28, 1930. Pages 21-22.
12"Wood Carried Whitewash Brush To Majors To Win Shutout Crown", The Sporting News. December 18, 1930. Page 7.
13"Baseball War!", The Washington Post. February 7, 1931. Page 6.
14"Minor League Baseball Stars". (Manhattan, Kansas: The Society for American Baseball Research, 1984), Front cover, inside front cover and page 24.
15"Powell Suspended For Radio Remark", The New York Times. July 31, 1938. Page 63.
16"Demand Removal of Powell From Baseball For Radio Slur", The Chicago Defender. August 6, 1938. Page 2.
17"This Morning With Shirley Povich", The Washington Post. August 1, 1938. Page 13.
18"This Morning With Shirley Povich", The Washington Post. August 17, 1938. Page 18.
19"Powell Survives Bottle Barrages As Yanks Rout Senators, 16-1, 6-2", The New York Times. August 17, 1938. Page 14.
20Jim Kaplan, "Lefty Grove, American Original" (Cleveland: The Society for American Baseball Research, 2000), Pages 144-150.
21If you go back to 1901, the most runs allowed in three consecutive appearances is 40, by Jack Katoll in 1902.
22Game scores were a method devised by Bill James in the 1980s to evaluate a start by a pitcher. You start with 50 points and add point for each hitter the pitcher retires, two points for each inning completed after the fourth inning, and one point for each strikeout. You then subtract one point for a walk, two points for hit, four points for an earned run and two points for an unearned run.
23Baseball researcher Trent McCotter has unearthed another long career-ending streak in 1887:
# Player Team Year(s) 15 Alex McKinnon PIT N 1887
Like the end of Ed Delahanty's career, Alex McKinnon's also died in the middle of his last season. Unlike Delahanty's tumultuous final days, McKinnon died after contracting typhoid fever.
"Al McKinnon Dead". Chicago Daily Tribune. July 25, 1887. Page 3.
24"Surgery May End Castino's Career", Patrick Reusse. The Sporting News. January 28, 1985. Page 36.
25"Sports of the Times", John Kieran. The New York Times. May 29, 1933. Page 11.
26"Cubs Lose to Cards, 8-2, 6-5; Dean Fans 17 for New Record", Edward Burns. Chicago Daily Tribune. July 31, 1933. Page 17.
27"Dodgers Victors Over Reds Twice", Roscoe McGowen. The New York Times. August 26, 1933. Page 8.
28"Cubs Wins; Bush Pitches 2 Hit Game; Dodgers Take 2d, 5-2", Irving Vaughan. Chicago Daily Tribune. August 28, 1933. Page 21.
29"Tigers Halt Yanks To Regain the Lead," James P. Dawson. The New York Times. July 15, 1934. Pages 1 and 4, Section 3.
30"Ruth Hits 3 Homers but Braves Lose, 11=7; Gets an Ovation From Fans in Pittsburg", The New York Times. May 26, 1935. Page 1, Section 5.
31"A Bad Break Which Actually Was a Good One", Arthur Daley. The New York Times. June 24, 1943. Page 29.
32"White Sox Whip Athletics Twice, 13-4, 11-4", Edward Burns. Chicago Daily Tribune. August 21, 1935. Page 21.
33"Tigers Score, 18-9, Making 10 In Third," The New York Times. June 5, 1936. Page 25.
34"Cochrane Leaves For a 10-Day Stay In Detroit Hospital", The Washington Post. June 10, 1936. Page 21.
35This notation (often called "slash stats") shows the player's batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.
36"Klein's 4 Homers Set Modern Mark", The New York Times. July 11, 1935. Page 7.
37"Giants Beats Phils; Lindstrom Injured," John Drebinger. The New York Times. July 10, 1931. Page 16.
38"Lindstrom Ends Baseball Career; Dodgers Grant Retirement Plea," Roscoe McGowen. The New York Times. May 20, 1936. Page 29.
39"Wes Ferrell Fined $1000, Suspended", Louis Effrat. The New York Times. August 22, 1936. Page 8.
40"Took Walk by Mistake, Explains Pitcher Wes Ferrell of Red Sox". The New York Times. August 23, 1936. Page S5.
41"Indians Defeat Cards". The New York Times. July 7, 1936. Page 24.
42"Cubs Lose Twice," Irving Vaughan. Chicago Daily Tribune. August 26, 1937. Pages 17-18.
43"Indians Overcome the Red Sox, 13-2". The New York Times. September 16, 1936. Page 31.
44"Johnny Allen Joins Indians' List of Ailing". Chicago Daily Tribune. May 2, 1937. Page B2.
45"Allen of Indians Recovering". The New York Times. June 22, 1937. Page 32.
46"Pitched Ball Hits Cochrane at Stadium; Detroit Leader's Skull is Fractured". The New York Times. May 26, 1937. Page 1.
47"Wages Grim Struggle as Crisis Nears". The Washington Post. May 27, 1937. Page 21.
48"Bad Luck! Newsom Hurls Ball That Breaks Arm of Hayworth". The Washington Post. June 13, 1937. Page R15.
49"Frick Backs Down and Reinstates Dean After Stormy Two-Hour Verbal War". Los Angeles Times. June 5, 1937. Page A9.
50"Griff Rookie Touched for One Double". The Washington Post. September 7, 1937. Page 18.
51It happened twice before since 1901. On August 8, 1903, the New York Giants' Joe McGinnity pitched two complete game victories, beating the Brooklyn Superbas and Oscar Jones, who started the opener before losing the second in relief. Then on August 4, 1908, the Giants' Christy Mathewson and the Reds' Andy Coakley were on in relief when New York scored the winning run in the bottom of' the twelfth inning in the opener before they both started the second game, Mathewson again winning, this time 4-1 in eight innings.
52"Hartnett's Thumb Broken; Cubs Lose, 8-4", Edward Burns. Chicago Daily Tribune. August 16, 1938. Page 15.
53"Religion Aided a Home Run Chase, and Nay Have Led to Its Failure", Howard Megdal. The New York Times. March 19, 2010.
54"Connors Hits Three Homers as Sox Beat Macks, 8-4, 7-4", Irving Vaughan. Chicago Daily Tribune. September 18, 1938. Page B1.
55"Pirates' Collapse With Pennant in Grasp Voted Greatest Disappointment in Sports". The New York Times. December 20, 1938. Page 34.
56"Henrich in Game at Gehrig's Post; Barrow Observes Work Closely", James P. Dawson. The New York Times. March 23, 1939. Page 33.
57"Dodgers Stop Yanks as Moore Stars", John Drebinger. The New York Times. April 14, 1939. Page 30.
58"Bouyant Gehrig, Long String Ended, Puzzled Over His Batting Decline". The New York Times. May 4, 1939. Page 34.
59"Infantile Paralysis Terminates Gehrig's Playing Career", Arthur Daley. The New York Times. June 22, 1939. Page 30.
60"Yanks Turn Back Kansas City, 4 To 1". The New York Times. June 13, 1939. Page 37.
61"61,808 Fans Roar Tribute to Gehrig", John Drebinger. The New York Times. July 5, 1939. Page 1.
62"Yanks Take 3-0 Lead in World Series by Defeating Reds, 7-3, Before 32,723," James P. Dawson. The New York Times. October 8, 1939. Page 92.
63"Yanks Top Reds for Fourth Straight World Series and Second Sweep in Row," James P. Dawson. The New York Times. October 9, 1939. Page 25.
64"New York Giants Turn Attention to Farming," Daniel M. Daniel. The Sporting News. December 24, 1936. Pages 1-2.
65"A.L. Growing Panicky Over Yankee Domination," Dan Daniel. The Sporting News. September 1, 1938. Page 1.
66"History-Making Yanks to Rule 2-5 Favorites in Series," Dan Daniel. The Sporting News. September 21, 1939. Page 1.
67"Yanks Now Concern A.L. as Much as N.L.," Dan Daniel. The Sporting News. November 19, 1939. Page 3.
68"Barnes and Griffith Compelled to Accept Compromise on Plans." The Sporting News. December 14, 1939. Page 3.
69"Barrow Unmoved by Trade Ban, Calls Slap at Chains a Mistake," Dan Daniel. The Sporting News. December 14. 1939. Pages 1 and 12.