National League: St. Louis Cardinals (101-53) - Fourth World Series (won in 1926)
American League: Philadelphia Athletics (107-45) - Eighth World Series (won in 1910, 1911, 1913, 1929, 1930)
Connie Mack famously managed the Philadelphia Athletics for 50 seasons, but he had a built-in advantage to his longevity: since he also owned the team, who was going to fire him? One thing that helped him stick around was his ability to build great teams around him. By the time the 1931 season rolled around, ten future Hall of Famers had spent significant time playing for the A's, and Philadelphia had won five championships and seven pennants.
The A's were likely never better than they were in 1931. Coming off two straight championships, Philadelphia rolled to a franchise-record 107 wins, cruising past the American League and into their second straight World Series matchup with St. Louis.
But here is where Mack's managerial philosophy may have cost the A's. His theory was to sign powerful, young players, settle on a batting lineup he liked, then let his players play. That was all well and good when his stars were going good, like they were in Game 1, when Hall of Famers Mickey Cochrane, Al Simmons, and Jimmie Foxx combined for five hits, five runs batted in, and three runs in a 6-2 Philadelphia victory. But in the tighter games, when things weren't going quite right, that could backfire. Exhibit A is Game 2. While St. Louis used small ball to generate its two runs - scoring on a sacrifice fly and a squeeze bunt - Philadelphia relied on the clutch hit. When that didn't work, the games looked like in Game 2, when the A's drew 7 walks against Bill Hallahan, but didn't score in part because of an 0-for-5 day with runners in scoring position. To make matters more frustrating, Mack never pinch hit for pitcher George Earnshaw, despite Earnshaw twice coming up with multiple runners on base after the fifth inning.
Game 2's lack of strategy was confusing, and Mack's decision to use Lefty Grove on two days' rest for Game 3 was equally puzzling. It's true that Grove was the best pitcher of his era, but he had uncharacteristically struggled in Game 1, giving up 12 hits to eke out a win. Despite his struggles, he went back out there on short rest; not surprisingly, he struggled again, giving up 11 hits and striking out only 2 in 8 innings. Meanwhile, Burleigh Grimes didn't give up a hit until the 8th and the Cardinals took the series lead.
Mack made the same mistake in Game 4, sending out Earnshaw on short rest, but this time it worked, as Earnshaw pitched a complete-game shutout to tie the series. St. Louis responded with a complete game from Hallahan and a 3-for-4 day from Pepper Martin to take a 3-2 series lead back home to St. Louis. Game 6 was all Philadelphia as Grove - pitching on a more standard three days rest - struck out 7 in a complete game to send the series to a seventh game.
With Grove unavailable after a complete game the day before - yes, unavailable even by Mack's standards - Earnshaw was the pick for Philadelphia to pitch Game 7. Against 7 of the 9 St. Louis hitters, he was unhittable. Too bad the two hitters who could hit him in Game 7 - Andy High and George Watkins - batted back-to-back in the order where they could do some damage. First came the first inning, when High and Watkins opened the game with back-to-back singles. After they were bunted over a base - the number 3 hitter dropping a sacrifice bunt? It was a different time, for sure - High came in to score the game's first run on a wild pitch. After a walk, Earnshaw struck out Ernie Orsatti; with the ball in the dirt, Cochrane had to throw to first for the out, and when he did, Watkins broke for home, scoring when Foxx committed an error on the return throw.
Leading 2-0, St. Louis waited around for High and Watkins to bat again. In the third, High again began the inning with a single, which was immediately followed by a Watkins home run. Leading 4-0, the Cardinals turned to Grimes, the future Hall of Famer, to finish things off. Grimes pitched masterfully until the 8th, when he started to tire. With two on in the eighth, Grimes got a break when Cochrane's two-out line drive deflected off Grimes right to the first baseman for the final out.
With two out in the ninth, Grimes had trouble getting the last out. With a runner already on, Jimmy Dykes walked and Dib Williams singled to load the bases. Doc Cramer drove in two on a single, bringing up Max Bishop representing the go-ahead run. Bishop got a hold of one, flying to deep center field, but Sportsman's Park was deep enough to hold it. Martin closed his glove on it, and the Cardinals had won their second championship. The Athletics slunk back to Philadelphia, never to return to the World Series - at least not until 1972, when they had moved twice and were playing in Oakland.
Hallahan was very good - 18 innings pitched, 12 hits allowed, only 1 run - but Martin was otherworldly. A .500 average, four doubles and a home run, five stolen bases, five runs batted in, five runs scored - he dominated the series. Even though he did all his damage in the first five games, he's the easy choice for this series.
(Home team shaded; winners in Bold)
I'm ranking all the World Series, from worst to best. Here are the ones I've done so far:
72. 1931 - St. Louis (N) def. Philadelphia (A) 4-3
73. 1967 - St. Louis (N) def. Boston (A) 4-3
74. 1968 - Detroit (A) def. St. Louis (N) 4-3
75. 1920 - Cleveland (A) def. Brooklyn (N) 5-2
76. 1945 - Detroit (A) def. Chicago (N) 4-3
77. 1940 - Cincinnati (N) def. Detroit (A) 4-3
78. 2009 - New York (A) def. Philadelphia (N) 4-2
79. 1984 - Detroit (A) def. San Diego (N) 4-1
Simultaneously, I'll rank all the Game 7s. The ones that have appeared in my countdown so far:
16. 1940: Cincinnati 2, Detroit 1
21. 1968: Detroit 4, St. Louis 1
22. 1931: St. Louis 4, Philadelphia 2
29. 1965: Los Angeles 2, Minnesota 0
31. 1967: St. Louis 7, Boston 2
32. 1945: Detroit 9, Chicago 3