Tuesday, January 10, 2012

1938 World Series: The first three-peat

The Teams
American League: New York Yankees (99-53); 10th World Series (won in 1923, 1927, 1928, 1932, 1936, 1937)
National League: Chicago Cubs (89-63); Ninth World Series (won in 1907, 1908)

What happened
In 1937, the New York Yankees became the seventh team to win a second straight World Series. They entered the 1938 season trying do the one thing those previous six teams had failed to do: win a third straight title. With six future Hall of Famers in their clubhouse, getting back to the World Series would be no problem.

Standing between the Yankees and their date with destiny was the Chicago Cubs, who won their fourth National League championship in nine seasons. While they had four future Hall of Famers of their own, a couple of their stars were at the end of their careers. It didn't look like much of a matchup.

The Yankees' Hall of Famers took control of the series and never let the Cubs into it. In Game 1, catcher Bill Dickey's 4-for-4 day backed up Red Ruffing's complete game for a 3-1 win. In Game 2, Joe DiMaggio's ninth-inning home run clinched the victory for Lefty Gomez. In Game 3, it was Joe Gordon, the future Hall of Fame no. 8 hitter, who hit the go-ahead home run for New York in the fifth. In the last game, every Yankee got a hit, including starting pitcher Ruffing, as they completed the sweep to become baseball's first back-to-back-to-back World Series champs.

It was a domination in every way. The Yankees used only four pitchers the entire series. Nine Yankees drove in a run in the series, and five different players homered. The Yankees won easily despite a pedestrian effort from their star of stars, the great Lou Gehrig.

Gehrig had only four singles in the series for New York, the first World Series of his career without an extra-base hit. This after finishing a season where he hit below .300 for the first time since his rookie year. At first, Gehrig's struggles were dismissed as those of somebody who had played every game for 12 years and might finally be wearing down. Knowing what we know now, it is instead likely that Gehrig started suffering the earliest effects of ALS during the 1938 season. Gehrig played only eight games in 1939 before retiring, meaning the 1938 World Series was his last appearance in the postseason.

Defining Game
Game 4. The Yankees took a 4-1 lead into the eighth inning, happy to take that lead home and celebrate a third straight title. But then the Cubs cut it to 4-3 with a home run by Ken O'Dea in the top of the eighth. That just made the Yankees angry. They used four hits, two walks, two wild pitches and a stolen base to add four more runs. It was their last half-inning at bat in 1938, and it was the fitting cap to a dominating season.

There was no official MVP of this series, and it would have been hard to pick one. The best choices would have been either Gordon - who batted .400 with a team-high six RBI from the no. 8 spot - or Ruffing, who gave up only three runs in two complete-game victories. Or, you could have picked a Yankee name out of a hat and picked a legitimate MVP.

The Scores
(Home team in Bold)

New York 3 6 5 8
Chicago1 3 2 3

The List
I'm ranking all the World Series, from worst to best. Here's the ones I've done so far:

103. 1938 - New York (A) def. Chicago (N) 4-0
104. 1998 - New York (A) def. San Diego (N) 4-0
105. 1989 - Oakland (A) def. San Francisco (N) 4-0
106. 1928 - New York (A) def. St. Louis (N) 4-0
107. 1917 - Cincinnati (N) def. Chicago (A) 5-3

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