Monday, February 27, 2012

1939 World Series: Four Straight

The Teams
American League: New York Yankees (106-45) -  11th World Series (Won in 1923, 1927, 1928, 1932, 1936, 1937, 1938)
National League: Cincinnati Reds (97-57) - Second World Series (Won in 1919)

What Happened
The 1939 season started on quite a downer for the Yankees. Legendary first baseman Lou Gehrig took himself out of the lineup after only eight games, never to play again. The Yankees were devastated at the loss of their captain because of what was then a little-known disease.

For most teams, losing a legend and leader like Gehrig would have meant the end of the season. Not these Yankees, though. They hadn't won three straight World Series by being a one-man team. They went through their proper bit of mourning, then went about dominating the American League. Some historians say this Yankee team, and not the 1927 one, was the best baseball team of all time. With a healthy Gehrig, they might have broken the single-season wins record. Even without him, they won 106 games and were never really challenged in their run through the league.

Waiting for them in the World Series was the Cincinnati Reds, who made the World Series for the first time since "winning" the tainted 1919 series. They were eager to get rid of the bad taste from that win, and they had the team to do it, with two 25-game winners in the starting rotation and a good lineup led by Hall-of-Fame catcher Ernie Lombardi. In the first game, Cincinnati's Paul Derringer matched Red Ruffing pitch for pitch, with each giving up one run on four hits through eight. In the bottom of the ninth, the Yankees' own Hall-of-Fame catcher, Bill Dickey, ended the game on a walk-off single.

Following Game 1 was two games of Yankee dominance; Monte Pearson carried a one-hitter into the ninth in a 4-0 win in Game 2, while the Yankees took advantage of tiny Crosley Field to hit four home runs in a 7-3 Game 3 victory.

Defining Game
Game 4 was a true classic. After Derringer and Oral Hildebrand took dueling shutouts into the seventh inning, when the Yankees got on the scoreboard with a pair of solo home runs. The Reds responded with three in the bottom of the inning then one more in the bottom of the eighth. Three outs from forcing a fifth game, the Reds instead fell apart, letting the Yankees come back to tie the game.

In the top of the 10th came one of the weirdest plays in World Series history. With runners on the corners and nobody out, Joe DiMaggio hit a single to right that scored the go-ahead run. When right fielder Ival Goodman bobbled the ball, the Yankees' Charlie Keller tried to score from first. Goodman's throw got to home plate at the same, and Keller crashed into Lombardi. Keller knocked the ball away, but more importantly, knocked Lombardi dizzy. With Lombardi still recovering, DiMaggio came soaring around third and slid home to score the third run. Despite diving up a devastating "Little League" home run, the Reds fought back in the bottom of the 10th, putting the first two runners on base before going down.

Despite the Reds' valiant effort, the Yankees were just too good. Their fourth straight championship came easily, a fitting close to baseball's first great dynasty.

This was still the era before official MVPs were named, but this one would have been a slam dunk. Keller batted .438 with a double, a triple, and three home runs. With that, plus being prominently involved in the series-deciding three-run play, he would have been an easy pick.

(Home team shaded; winners in Bold)

Cincinnati 1 0 3 4
New York 2 4 7 7 (10)

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

85. 1939 - New York (A) def. Cincinnati (N) 4-0
86. 1910 - Philadelphia (A) def. Chicago (N) 4-1
87. 1905 - New York (N) def. Philadelphia (A) 4-1
88. 1965 - Los Angeles (N) def. Minnesota (A) 4-3
89. 1961 - New York (A) def. Cincinnati (N) 4-1
Numbers 90-99
Numbers 100-107

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