Even More Golden Age Baseball
Golden Age Baseball IV
- Golden Age Baseball IV
Fifth in a series on golden age baseball, succeeding Golden Age Baseball, More Golden Age Baseball, and Even More Golden Age Baseball.
After Gehrig: The Hole at First Base
One of the charms of New York Yankees history has been their ability to rapidly, if not immediately, replace their superstars. Babe Ruth had scarcely faded from the Yankee outfield when Joe DiMaggio was on the scene. The Yankee Clipper's last season saw the arrival of Mickey Mantle. Whitey Ford was there to take up the slack as the Reynolds-Raschi-Lopat combine started to show its age.
But the illness-induced retirement of future Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig, a career .340 hitter, left a hole at first base that the Bombers struggled repeatedly to fill for a decade-and-a-half. Babe Dahlgren, who replaced Gehrig and thus gained his greatest fame as the answer to a trivia question, lasted two years, batting .235 and .264. Next were Johnny Sturm and Buddy Hassett for one season each, neither producing anything like the pop the Iron Horse had provided.
Nick Etten settled in from 1943 through '46, even leading the league with 22 home runs in 1944 and in runs batted in with 111 the following year. But with the regulars back from war service in 1946, he was a .232 hitter with nine homers and was replaced late in the season by rookie Bud Souchock. The Yanks caught a break in '47 with a .304 season by castoff George McQuinn, but that veteran ran out of gas the following year, falling to .248.
In 1949, his first season in the Bronx, Casey Stengel tried platooning two rookies at first base, but by mid-campaign, he had called in Old Reliable rightfielder Tommy Henrich to handle the job. Joe Collins got a shot at it in 1950, but his .234 hitting had Stengel reaching for the veteran Johnny Mize for 72 games. Collins's hitting improved over the next few years, going as high as .286, with as many as 18 home runs, but by 1954, he was dividing the initial sack with Bill Skowron.
Skowron, nicknamed Moose, broke in with a .340 average as a part-timer in 1954, and by '56, he was the regular first baseman. With five seasons above .300 and home run totals as high as 28, he was the first authentic slugger to play first base for the Yankees since the tragic departure of the incomparable Gehrig.
!946: The Williams-Musial Faceoff Fizzles
Baseball fans smashed all previous attendance records as the regulars came back from World War II service to play in 1946. They were rewarded by two notable, if sharply contrasting, pennant campaigns. The Boston Red Sox, led by Ted Williams, Johnny Pesky, and the best Sox pitching staff since the Babe Ruth era, ran away with their first American League flag in 28 years by 12 games. The St. Louis Cardinals, featuring Stan Musial and other veterans of their three consecutive pennants in the early 40's, had to break a tie in a playoff to beat the Brooklyn Dodgers.
But with Williams and Musial having both had Most Valuable Player Award seasons, it was natural to expect a contest of champions between the two. It didn't turn out that way. Williams, a .342 batter that year, hit a mere .200 in this, his only Series appearance, his uncharacteristic ineptitude with the bat attibuted largely to an arm injury incurred the week beore. Musial, the 1946 NL batting champ at .365, fared not much better with .222.
The thunder of the superstars was stolen by Musial's outfield mate, Enos (Country) Slaughter, who batted .320 and scored the Series-winning run on an epic dash from first base, and Harry (The Cat) Brecheen, who won three game, including the seventh in relief.
Surprise alternate stars are part of World Series lore. Think Dusty Rhodes in 1954, Don Larsen in '56, Mickey Lolich in '68. It's some of what makes baseball great.
Thomson and Branca: A Historical Footnote
Ralph Branca, a 21-game winner at age 21, seemed to have limitless prospects as he retired the first 12 New York Yankees he faced in the 1947 World Series opener. The Yanks jumped all over the Brooklyn Dodgers righthander in the fifth inning and went on to take the game and the Series.
That disappointment, of course, was trivial compared to what we all know awaited him just four years later. On October 3 this year, the baseball world will observe the 60th anniversary of "The Shot Heard 'Round the World," Bobby Thomson's pennant-winning home run off the unlucky Branca. By that time, the one-time Brooklyn ace had faded to a barely-above-.500 pitcher, and an injury the following year would force him to play out the string without ever regaining the heights of 1947.
But an August 14 New York Times article provided a curious historical footnote to the upcoming anniversary. Times reporter Joshua Prager, in a book about Thomson's homer, "The Echoing Green," had noted that Branca's mother, Kati, nee Berger, had emigrated from Hungary at the beginning of the 20th century. An inquiry from a reader led to a genealogical search that revealed that Mrs. Branca had been born to a Jewish family, many of whom later were killed by the Nazis at Auschwitz.
Raised as a Catholic and still devout, Ralph, now 85, had never been told of his late mother's religious origin until author Prager presented the information to him. He quickly inserted the fact into his upcoming autobiography, "A Moment in Time," due out in September.
Bob Gibson: The Best of the Postwar Pitchers?
Bob Gibson may have been the best pitcher of the postwar era. Arguments could be made for Gibson's contemporaries, Warren Spahn, Nolan Ryan, Sandy Koufax and Juan Marichal, of course, but the case for the St. Louis Cardinals ace righthander is powerful.
Gibson came up with the Cardinals in 1959, but didn't really hit his srtride until an 18-9 season in 1963. Winning 19 in 1964 and adding two victories over the New York Yankees in the World Series, he went on to five 20-win seasons in the next six. In the one year he slipped to 13 as a result of injuries, he recovered soon enough to beat the Boston Red Sox three times in the 1967 Series.
Gibson's 1968 record has to rank with the best in history. He went 22-9 and led the league in strikeouts with 268 and shutouts with 13. Most outstanding of all, his leading earned run average of 1.12 was the lowest since the pre-1920 deadball era and lower than the best ever achieved by Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Cy Young, and Grover Cleveland Alexander. Not surprisinly, he won both the Cy Young and Most Valuable Player Awards as the Cardinals won their second straight pennant.
The dominant righty chalked up two more wins i the 1968 World Series, setting a one-game Series strikeout record of 17. Seemingly poised to become the first to win three games twice, he hurled six scoreless innings in Game 7 but bowed finally to Detroit Tiger Mickey Lolich's third victory.
Pitching for 17 seasons, all with the Cards, Gibson finished 251-174 with an earned run average of 2.91. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1981.
Anyone Remember Phil Cavarretta?
World War II big league baseball was heavily populated by oldsters past their prime and youngsters who wouldn't have gotten a second look in normal times. But there were a few who were fine players before the war, shone as never before or after during the hostilities, and still played well for years after the stars came back.
Phil Cavarretta was one of the latter group. Joining the Chicago Cubs at 18 in 1934, he became a fine first baseman and hit as high as .286 before the war. In 1944, he stepped it up to .321, with a league-leading 197 hits, and had a Most Valuable Player season in 1945, batting .355, driving in 97 runs and leading the Cubs to their most recent National League pennant. Although he hit as many as 10 home runs in a season only once, he managed to bang one in the World Series as he hit .423 in a losing seven-game battle with the Detroit Tigers.
With the regulars back in 1946, Cavarretta dropped to a still-respectable .294 and bounced right back up to .314 in 1947. He continued with the Cubs through 1953, going across town to finish his career with two years with the White Sox. Phil hit .316 as a part-timer in 1954 and retired after the next seaon with a .293 lifetime batting average.
He never regained the peak he attained in 1945, but he was a well regarded player through a long career.
Doubleheaders in the Golden Era
Sometimes it's easy to realize how old we are. Today's New York Times article on yesterday's day-night Yankees-Orioles doubleheader was dominated by managerial and player complaints about having to play doubleheaders.
The complaint wasn't highlighted because of a lack of action to report: the scores were 8-3 and 17-3, there was a 12-run inning, home runs, etc. It's just that, as Yankee skipper Joe Girardi put it, two games in one day are hard on the players as well as the managers's ability to maneuver his persnnel. Girardi, making clear that preferably there be no doubleheaders, suggested that if one was unavoidable, the games be limited to seven innings each and the rosters be increased to provide more players for deployment. His sentiments were echoed by othes.
Mind you, doubleheaders are no longer scheduled; they occur only to make up for postponed games as a last resort when open dates are unavailable. But we golden agers remember when they were an occasional bargain planned for and long anticipated. Everybody played a "twin bill" on Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day, and there were others on Sundays that were special family, or at least father-and-son, treats. And those were all daytime games, with maybe 20 minutes in between for the players to rest.
With the arrival of night baseball and its eventual dominance, the day-night doubleheader was introduced. That enabled the owners to charge two admissions, but we rarely heard what a strain this was on the team. It sounds strange to hear that today's players, supposedly bigger, healthier, and better conditioned than those of yesteryear have trouble enduring two nine-inning games when their predecessors didn't. And their predecessors didn't have designated hitters, middle inning relievers, setup men, and closers, or as many late-inning double-switch replacements.
We're not comparing today's players to a century ago, when Iron Man McGinity was said to have earned his nickname pitching and winning both ends of doubleheaders. We're just talking about our baseball golden era, a few short decades ago.
The St. Louis Browns: A Study in Failure
Baseball fans of the immediate postwar years of the late 40's and early 50's have no trouble recalling the relentless success of the New York Yankees. A world championship in 1947 was followed, after a one-year interval, by an unprecedented and probably never-to-be equalled five in a row from 1949 through 1953.
Not as well remembered by most is that there was a mirror image to the Yanks in that era, the St, Louis Browns. Having won their only American League pennant in 1944, the Browns finished seventh or eighth every year but one from 1946 though 1953, soaring as high as sixth in an eight-team league only once. Their performance in that stretch was characteristic of their sad history in the league from 1902 through that last season: they had only 11 winning records, they finished last ten times and lost 100 or more games eight times.
Other than 1944, when the Brownies' AL flag was tainted a bit by the absence of most regulars in World War II service, their only glory year was 1922. Hall of Famer George Sisler's .420 hitting, Ken Williams's league-leading 39 home runs, and Urban Shocker's 24 wins led to a second place finish, only one game off the Yankees' pace.
After that, it was basically mediocrity or worse, as the totals above show. The Browns were never able to compete successfully for the fans of St. Louis with the National League Cardinals, with whom they shared the old Sportsman's Park. There were occasional authentic stars like the slugging 40's shortstop, Vern Stephens, and Ned Garver, who won 21 games for the '51 Brownies, winners of only 52 all seaon. But they were few and far between, and often had to be sold or traded for financial reasons once their value was establ;ished.
Bill Veeck, who had owned a World Series-winning franchise in Cleveland, bought the Browns in 1951 and tried to pump up business with talent as well as gimmicks like midget Eddie Gaedel, who memorably batted once that year. But it was too late, and by 1953 Veeck had to selll the club to a Baltimore group for movement to Charm City.
Reviving a famous 1890's name, the team became the Orioles. It took them until 1966 to win their first pennant, this time accompanied by a world championship, and by 1969 they had won twice as many as their predecessors ever did.
The Scooter and PeeWee
Many recall the 1950's arguments in New York among Yankee, Giant, and Dodger fans about the best center fielder in baseball. Some of those arguments about Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, and Duke Snider are still going on, though a number may be taking place in retirement communities now.
But many have forgotten that there was also a vigorous debate at that time about the best shortstop, at least involving the Yankees and Dodgers. Phil (Scooter) Rizzuto and Harold (PeeWee) Reese were strikingly similar vital contributors year after year in pennant chases, usually winning ones, and faced each other six times in the World Series. Their careers substantially coincided, Reese playing from 1940 through 1958, and Rizzuto from 1941 to 1956, with both missing 1943-1945 from baseball while serving in the military.
Both were excellent fielders. Rizzuto was especially adept at snaring difficult pop flies; Reese had the better arm. Scooter averaged .273 at the plate; PeeWee .269 but with somewhat more home run pop (seven seasons in double figures to none for the Scooter). Phil had two ,300 seasons, includng .324 in 1950 that helped win him Most Valuable Player honors, while PeeWee had one year abve .300. Both often upped their hitting under World Series pressure, Rizzuto batting over .300 in four of his nine appearances and Reese in three of his seven. Both were also base stealing threats in the more leisurely 50's running game, and PeeWee had the edge here, too.
Perhaps most important, they were both valued by their teammates and managers for their intangibles and inspirational qualities. Reese was the Dodgers captain and Rizzuto was admired for his hustle and ingenuity. PeeWee was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1984, a surprising ten years before the Scooter, who by that time had become more famous as the Yankees broadcaster.
Baseball's First Immortals: The Charter Members of the Hall of Fame
By the 1930s, baseball was clearly established as the national pastime. Although the origins of the sport were much disputed, there was documentary evidence of games played by organized teams going back to the 1840's. A commission appointed in 1905 to clarify the origin had settled on the laying out of the first diamond in 1839 by Cooperstown, New York schoolboy Abner Doubleday, later to be a Civil War general.
Establishing the Hall
In 1935, learning that the village of Cooperstown was planning to conduct a centennial celebration of baseball in 1939, National League President Ford Frick proposed the establishment of a Baseball Hall of Fame to coincide with the event. Private funds were raised for the acquisition and refitting of buildings and the collection of memorabilia, books, and other documents. Frick enlisted the Baseball Writers Association of America to vote annually on players, managers, and executives worthy of induction into the Hall.
The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum was dedicated on June 12, 1939. The writers had determined that selection for the Hall would require being named on 75 percent of ballots cast. The first five inductees, elected in 1936, were Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson, and Walter Johnson. Cy Young, the "winningest" pitcher of all time, did not make the cut, at least in part because his pre-1900 service was to be considered by a separate committee. He was voted in the next year.
The Fabulous five
Ty Cobb, who played from 1905-1928, still holds the highest career batting average at .367 and most league batting titles, 12. For many years, he also held the lifetime records for most basehits and stolen bases and the season high for stolen bases. These records were not broken until after the length of the season was extended by eight games in the 1960's. He hit over .400 three times, with a high of .420. Perhaps most of all, he was known as a fierce competitor and feared baserunner.
Babe Ruth remains a unique symbol of all-around excellence years after his most prominent records have been exceeded. An outstanding left-handed pitcher with a World Series consecutive scoreless innings record in 1916 and 1918, he transformed the game with his unprecedented home run hitting. He became the first to hit more than 30 in one year, peaking at 60 in 1927, and totaling 714 for his career. He led his league in homers 12 times while compiling a lifetime batting average of .342. His career slugging percentage record still stands. It is generally accepted that the excitement that his home run hitting brought to the game helped win back many fans who had become disillusioned by the Black Sox scandal of 1919.
Honus (Hans) Wagner is regarded by many as the greatest shortstop ever. An eight-time National League batting champion, he averaged .327 for 21 seasons, was an excellent, far-ranging fielder, and was a constant baserunning threat with 722 lifetime steals.
Christy Mathewson won 373 games, almost all for the New York Giants. He had a winning percentage of .665 and a career earned run average of 2.13. He won more than 30 games in four different seasons and his three shutouts in one 1905 World Series have never been equalled.
Walter Johnson won 417 games for the Washington Senators, who were a losing team for the better part of his tenure. His career earned run average was 2.17 and he still holds the record for lifetime shutouts with 110. He held the records for career strikeouts and most consecutive scoreless innings for over half a century.
Article originally published at Suite101.com
The Legend of Dizzy Dean
Dizzy Dean was probably the most colorful major leaguer of the Depression 1930's. The pitching star of the St. Louis Cardinals rough-and-tumble Gashouse Gang," he combined with his younger brother Paul to dominate the 1934 season and World Series as no brothers, if any pitching duo, ever have.
Jay Hanna Dean had a more than typically difficult upbringing in rural Arkansas. In 1932, at 22, he was in his first full season with the Cardinals, winning 16 games. He improved to 20 the following year, leading the National League with 26 complete games and setting a record for strikeouts in a single game at 17.
Dizzy peaked in 1934 with one of the finest seasons a pitcher has had since the deadball era. He went 30-7, leading the NL in percentage, strikeouts, and shutouts as well. Brother Paul, a rookie, won 19, more than vindicating a pre-season pledge by Ol' Diz that the brothers would win 45 that year. They each won two games in the bitterly contested World Series against the Detroit Tigers to bring the championship home to St. Louis. In a doubleheader that season, Diz pitched a three-hitter followed by a no-hitter by Paul, at which the older brother loudly complained that had he known what the kid brother would do, he would have pitched a no-hitter, too.
Paul, nicknamed Daffy, won 19 again in 1935 to go with Dizzy's league-leading 28 and another stunning combined 47, but Paul never won more than five in a season after that. Diz went on to win 24 in 1936 and had 12 at the halfway mark in 1937, when an injury effectively ended his superlative level of performance. Hit on the toe by a line drive while on the mound in the All Star game, Dizzy found himself unable to pitch with his regular stride. Trying to develop an alternate delivery, he severely injured his arm and won only one more game that season.
Even with the known impairment, the Chicago Cubs were willing to trade three players and cash to the Cardinals to get Dean. Used sparingly, Ol' Diz went 7-1 for the Cubs with a 1.61 earned run average, making an appreciated contribution to their 1938 pennant win and earning a start in the Series against the Yankees. He hung on until 1941, retiring at 31, except for a brief one-game appearance with the St. Louis Browns in 1947.
By that time, Dean was into a new career as radio broadcaster of Cardinals and Browns games, and from there he moved on to TV's "Game of the Week." In both slots, he entirely
revolutionized play-by-play coverage with folksy humor, an occasional rendition of the "Wabash Cannonball," and a mangling of the English language that drew protests from educators.
Dizzy Dean was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1953. It was well accepted that his modest victory total of 150 woud have been far higher had it not been for the 1937 injury.
Johnny Mize Joins the Yankees
One of the early "golden touch" features of Casey Stengel's stewardship of the New York Yankees was his acquisition and utilization of castoff former National League stars. Starting in 1949, his first year, they included Johnny Mize, Johnny Hopp, Johnny Sain, and Ewell Blackwell.
Mize was at the head of that parade. A lifetime .312 hitter and four-time NL home run champion with a high of 51 in 1947, he was agile enough at first base to have earned the nickname "Big Cat." In 1949, though, he had fallen to .263 and 18 homers. At 36, the aging slugger didn't figure in the rebuilding plans of the also-ran New York Giants, who sold him across the river to the Yanks late in the seson..
Mize appeared in only 13 games for the Bronx Bombers, primarily as a pinch hitter, and it was in that role that he paid quick dividends in the World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers. Sent up to hit in the pivotal third game with the bases loaded in the ninth inning of a 1-1 tie, Mize rapped a two-run single that proved the difference. He also successfully pinch hit in his only other appearance in the Yanks' five-game victory.
More demands were placed on Mize the following year. Surprisingly pressed into full-time service in mid-season in 1950, he responded with 25 home runs and 72 RBI's in 90 games to help the Yankees fend off a determined challenge from the Detroit Tigers. He never matched that production again, but he remained a valuable pinch hitter and spot player through 1953. His last "highlight" was batting .400 with three homers in a hard-fought seven-game Series win over the Dodgers in 1952.
The Big Cat retired after the '53 season with 359 home runs, a total that would undoubtedly have been much higher but for three years in World War II military service in his prime. Mize was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1981.
Putting the All Star Game on the Map
Baseball's now-familiar All Star Game was launched as a supplement to the Chicago World's Fair in 1933. Dreading an anemic turnout in that depth-of-Depression year, the Fair's sponsors welcomed the initiative of the local press to stage a contest that summer between the best players of the National and American Leagues. The AL won, 4-2, and, appropriately, the fabled Babe Ruth hit a home run.
While it was not immediately clear that the baseball "sideshow" would become an annual event, there was enough interest to try a second game, this time at New York's Polo Grounds in July 1934. Selected as the N.L.'s starting pitcher was Carl Hubbell of the Giants, who would be working on his home field. Hubbell, the previous year, had begun what was to be a run of five consecutive 20-victory seasons and an eventual ticket to the Baseball Hall of Fame. He was best known for a screwball that broke away from batters.
But Hubbell's opening efforts were far from auspicious. He yielded a single and a walk to the first two hitters and now would have to face Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Jimmie Foxx. Ruth, the holder then of all season and lifetime home run records, was already fading and would hit a personal low of 22 home runs that year. But Gehrig was still in the ascendancy and would bat .363 with a personal high of 49 home runs that season. And Foxx, who had set the home run record for right-handed hitters at 58 only two years earlier, would bat .344 with 44 homers in 1934. Undaunted, Hubbell employed his screwball to strike all three out.
With thousands of fans agog from that feat, Hubbell began the next inning by striking out Al Simmons, a former batting champion who would also hit .344 that year, and Joe Cronin, a lifetime .301 hitter, before allowing another man on base. His five consecutive victims, all future Hall of Famers, included three of the greatest sluggers of all time and a fourth who had once hit .390. The A.L.'s ultimate 9-7 win was decidedly anticlimactic.
Although Hubbell's accomplishment of that day has been largely forgotten, it was spoken of with awe by generations of baseball fans. Perhaps it was the background of the Depression, the big-name stars involved, the novelty of a game between the best of both leagues, or the powerful hold baseball had on much of the American public in that era.
Clearly, watching (or hearing) Carl Hubbell mow down five of the best in baseball caught the popular imagination and helped make the fledgling All Star game a much-anticipated annual institution.
Originally published at Suite101.com.
Paul Waner: A Yankee with 3000 Hits
As the adored Yankee captain, Derek Jeter, is about to become the first of his franchise to achieve 3,000 hits as Yankee, weve been reminded of several members of that exclusive club who were Yankees for a time. The most peculiar case is probably that of Paul Waner.
Waner, a Hall of Famer who patrolled right field for the Pittsburgh Pirates for 15 years, had a lifetime batting average of .333. Known as "Big Poison" while his brother Lloyd, "Little Poison," Waner covered cener field for the Pirates, he led the National League in hitting three times, with a high of .380 in 1927. He was so consistent that he even batted .333 in his only World Series appearance that year.
When he "slumped" to .290 at the age of 37 in 1940, Waner was released by Pittsburgh and then bounced between the Brooklyn Dodgers and Boston Braves from 1941 through part of 1944. It was in 1942, playing for the manpower-strapped wartime Braves, that he got his 3,000th hit against his old team. Were it not for the loss of players to World War II military service, the 39-year-old Waner might not have still been active.
Released by the Dodgers in September, he was picked up by the Yankees and played nine games for them, getting the last of his 3.152 hits for the Bronx club. In May of 1945, after appearing in one game, he was relased for the last time and retired.
The '33 Senators: The Last Pennant
This one's for my friend Abe, a native Washingtonian who still remembered the capital's last baseball title, the 1933 American League pennant. He could well recall some of the heroes of that team, which beat out the Yankees of Ruth and Gehrig by seven games.
Abe talked most about Buddy Myer and "General" Crowder. Myer was the excellent second baseman who batted .302 that year, one of four .300 hitters on the club. The others were his keystone partner, player-manager Joe Cronin, at .309, first sacker Joe Kuhel at .322, and the highest, outfielder Heinie Manush at .336.
As for pitching, Alvin (General) Crowder won 24, and Earl Whitehill capably seconded him with 22. Three other pitchers won in double figures and the staff ERA was 3.82, second in the league. Amazingly, their 68 complete games, astounding sounding today, ranked only fifth in the then eight-team league.
The Senators, who won 99 games, lost to the New York Giants in the 1933 World Series. Having already won two AL titles and a World Series in the 20's, it seemed reasonable to expect success in the future. But Abe and his fellow fans were to be denied that pleasure. The Senators relocated to Minnesota in 1961 and became the Twins. Washington got an expansion version of the Senators that year, but they were gone in a decade without a championship. Abe got interested in the Nationals, but they hadn't got much above .500 when he passed away the other day.
Maybe now he can tell Buddy Myer, General Crowder, and the others how long and well he remembered them. He will be long and well remembered himself, by many.
Murderers Row: How Good Were the '27 Yankees?
The 1927 New York Yankees are often cited as the greatest baseball team ever. Comparisons over decades and eras are usually flawed because of changed conditions; think spitballs, lively ball,night baseball, transcontinental air travel, etc.
But it's worth taking a look at the club dubbed Murderers Row on an absolute basis to judge how remarkable they were. The Yanks went 110-44, a league record that stood until1954, and won the pennant by 19 games over the Philadelphia Athletics. The team batting average was .307 and they hit a then record 158 home runs.
Individual stats have to begin with the incomparable duo of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, who set season records for home runs and runs batted in, respectively. The Babe's 60, more than any other team in the league that year, lasted until 1961, while Lou's 175 was eclipsed only two years later by Hack Wilson's 191. (Lou later drove in 184 to pad his AL record.)
In 1927, Gehrig hit a team-leading .373 and Ruth .356. As for Ruth's outfield partners, centerfielder and leadoff hitter Earle Combs also batted .356, while Bob Meusel hit .337. Tony Lazzeri, who played next to Gehrig at second base, hit .309. Most of them, including Ruth, were fine fielders, as were shortstop Mark Koenig and third baseman Jumpin' Joe Dugan, who batted below .300.
A balanced pitching staff was led by Waite Hoyt, 22-7, lefthander Herb Pennock, 19-8, and Urban Shocker, 18-6. Wilcy Moore, primarily a reliever although he started 12 games , was 19-7 The team ERA was 3.20.
Not surprisingly, the Yanks swept the Pittsburgh Pirates in the World Series. (The Pirates had to wait until 1960 for revenge.)
Whitey Ford, Chairman of the Board
Ed (Whitey) Ford, a native New Yorker, joined the Yankees in mid-season 1950, helped them take the pennant and World Series that year, and went on to become not only the Yanks' top winner, but the alltime major league leader in winning percentage for pitchers with at least 200 victories.
The left-hander's debut with the Yankees suggested great things to come. Called up from the minor leagues to make his first srtart on July 1, Ford ran off nine wins before taking his only loss of the season in late September. In the fourth game of the World Series, the rookie took a 5-0 shutout into the ninth inning, got two outs and yielded two runs only when an outfielder lost a fly ball in the sun. Relieved for the final out, he was credited with the first of his eventual record ten Series victories.
Ford spent the next two seasons in the Army during the Korean War. His return in 1953 found the brilliant trio of Allie Reynolds, Vic Raschi, and Ed Lopat still effective but past their peaks, and Whitey took over as the ace of the staff with 18 wins. He went on to a 236-106 career record, all with the Yankees, for a .690 percentage. He was Stengel's big game pitcher, often being held out of his turn in the rotation so that he could oppose the top contenders and opposition aces. The Yanks won pennants every year in the 1950's except 1954 and 1959, and Whitey got the nickname of Chairman of the Board as the leader of a team that seemed to win with corporate efficiency.
Ralph Houk, who succeeded Stengel in 1961, pitched Ford in regular rotation, thus giving him more starts. Whitey responded with his career year, his first 20-win season at 25-4, the Cy Young Award, and two more Series wins in which he completed a streak of 33 consecutive scoreless innings begun in 1960 to break an old Babe Ruth record.
Ford won 24 in 1963 and pitched effectively through 1965, but arm troubles had begun in 1964, necessitating surgery in 1966. Whitey tried the repaired arm in 1967, but it was a failure and he retired. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1974.
Larry Doby, the Forgotten Pioneer
Jackie Robinson deserves all the accolades he receives as the man who broke the color line in baseball. But many fans are unaware that only 11 weeks after Jackie's epochal debut in Brooklyn, Larry Doby was the first African-American to play in the American League.
Doby, at 24 four years younger then Robinson, had been a star for the champion Newark Eagles in the Negro League in 1946. Cleveland Indians owner Bill Veeck had been following with interest the moves of Brooklyn general manager Branch Rickey to get Robinson into his club's lineup. With that accomplished at the start of the 1947 season, Veeck accelerated his search and signed Doby. who made his first game appearance on July 5.
Appearing in only 29 games that summer, Doby was a mere curiosity until the following year, when he hit .301 in 121 games, playing a prominent role in the Indians' successful pennant run. In the World Series, he stepped a bit out of Robinson's shadow by becoming the first of his race to hit a home run in the Fall Classic. In fact, the rangy centerfielder became a consistent home run threat, hitting 20 or more for the next eight seasons, leading the league twice.
His second HR title came in 1954, when he also led the league in runs batted in to help power the Indians to another pennant. On the strength of that performance, Doby was second in the balloting for Most Valuable Player that year. He played through 1955 at Cleveland and rounded out a 13-year career with the Chicago White Sox and Detroit Tigers.
Doby coached for several clubs and finally got a chance to manage from Veeck, who by that time had also moved on to the White Sox. Larry managed for part of the 1978 campaign, but when the Sox failed to snap out of their losing ways, he was not rehired.
Larry Doby was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1998.
1948: A 4-Horse AL Race
In 1947, the New York Yankees convincingly returned to the top of the baseball world with a 12-game margin in the American League pennant race and a seven-game triumph over the Brooklyn Dodgers in the World Series. Was another dynasty in the making?
That would have to wait another year as the AL experienced a historic four-team race in 1948. With the '46 and '47 runnerup Detroit Tigers dropping back, the Cleveland Indians and Philadelphia Athletics moved up to contest the Yanks and the '46 league champion
Boston Red Sox. On July 24, the A's, led by the octogenarian Connie Mack, actually moved into first place in a bid for their first pennant since 1931. On August 3, the contenders were in a virtual four-way tie, each 18 games over .500.
In early September, the upstart A's finally faded, but the others pressed on, pulling into a triple tie at 91-56 with only a week left in the schedule. Future Hall of Famers were playing key roles on each club. Ted Williams, who would lead the league in batting at .369, was powering the Red Sox, while Joe DiMaggio, who would top the league in home runs and runs batted in, carried the Yankee offense. Both had quality pitching, too, as did the Indians, who added two 20-game winners, Bob Lemon and Gene Bearden, to their long-time ace, Bob Feller, who actually had "only" 19 that year. Cleveland was also getting a career year from player-manager shortstop Lou boudreau, who would hit .355 and win the Most Valuable Player Award.
The Sox eliminated the Yanks on the next-to-last day and finished in the first tie in the league's history with the Indians, with the rules calling for a one-game playoff. Boudreau chose the rookie Bearden to go for his 20th win in Boston, while Bosox manager Joe McCarthy went with the veteran Denny Galehouse, who had had a mediocre 8-8 season. Bearden controlled the powerful Sox lineup while Boudreau went four-for-four with two home runs to give Cleveland their first pennant since 1920. Almost anticlimactically after the long flag race, they beat the Boston Braves in six games for the world championship.
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