Wednesday, June 6, 2012

1942 World Series: Wait, the Yankees lost?

The Teams
National League: St. Louis Cardinals (106-48) - Sixth World Series (won in 1926, 1931, 1934)
American League: New York Yankees (103-51) - 13th World Series (won in 1923, 1927, 1928, 1932, 1936, 1937, 1938, 1939, 1941) 

What Happened
If people complain about the Yankees having an unfair advantage now, they should have been baseball fans during the true Yankee glory days. Starting in 1923, when they beat the Giants for their first World Championship, through 1953, the Yankees made it to the World Series 18 times and lost only twice. Consider that for a moment. During that 30-year stretch, the Yankees won 16 championships, and all other Major League teams combined to win 14. Meanwhile, the current Yankees have won only two championships since the years started to have a 2 in front of them.

Only two teams stood between the Yankees and complete domination during that stretch. In 1926, the Cardinals beat the Yankees in a seven-game classic, a series that ended with Babe Ruth getting caught stealing for the final out of Game 7. The other came in 1942, when the Cardinals got to the World Series with one of the best teams in franchise history.

The Cardinals were great in 1942 partially because of good luck, as they hadn't started losing key players to serve overseas yet. They took advantage of a slightly weakened National League - and the addition of rookie Stan Musial - to win 106 games, two better than the Dodgers.

However, the Yankees were still good, with names like DiMaggio, Dickey, Keller, and Gordon still hanging out in their lineup like they had been throughout the 1930s. Behind those hitters - and with the help of four Cardinals errors - the Yankees took a 7-0 lead entering the bottom of the ninth. The Cardinals fought back, though, getting four runs in the ninth and loading the bases for the aforementioned Musial. But the rookie ended the game by grounding out, and the Yankees took the first game of the series.

The Game 1 win was the high point of the series for the Yankees, as the Cardinals spent the next four games absorbing the Yankees best body punches before responding with uppercuts of their own. In Game 2, Charlie Keller's game-tying home run in the 8th inning could have been devastating for the Cardinals, but instead Enos Slaughter and Musial got back-to-back two-out hits in the bottom of the inning for the win. After a complete-game shutout by Ernie White in Game 3, the Cardinals took a 6-1 lead in Game 4, only to see the Yankees tie it with a five-run sixth inning, sparked by a three-run home run by Keller. Again, though, St. Louis responded, scoring twice in the seventh and once in the ninth. A win from the championship, they came from behind twice to tie Game 5 before Whitey Kurowski won the series with a two-run home run in the ninth.

The Cardinals celebrated, and so did the rest of America. The Yankees had won the last eight World Series they played in, and would win the next seven they entered. For one year, the country got to enjoy watching the Yankees slink off the field while someone else celebrated a championship.

Defining Game
Phil Rizzuto started Game 1 in style, putting the Yankees up with a leadoff home run. Slaughter responded with a tying home run in the fourth, but DiMaggio put the Yankees back ahead in the bottom of that inning. St. Louis tied it again in the sixth. That set the stage for the climactic ninth, which became interesting very quickly after Whitey Kurowski wrapped a two-run home run around the left field foul pole to give St. Louis the lead. Joe Gordon and Bill Dickey were the first two batters for the Yankees in the bottom of the ninth, and both reached. But the rally was killed when catcher Walker Cooper - who had tied the game with a sacrifice fly in the sixth - picked Gordon off of second for the first out. After a rare postseason blunder, the Yankees went down in order.

This would have been a tough series to pick an MVP, as no Cardinal really stood out above the rest. In situations like this, voters often voted on the player who had the most recent big play, and that would have been Kurowski with his series-winning home run in Game 5. It wouldn't have been a great choice, as Kurowski only batted .267 for the series, but he did leave the Cardinals in runs batted in, so it wouldn't have been terrible.

(Home team shaded; winners in Bold)

New York 730 62
St. Louis 442 94

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

53. 1942 - St. Louis (N) def. New York (A) 4-1
56. 1974 - Oakland (A) def. Los Angeles (N) 4-1
57. 1955 - Brooklyn (N) def. New York (A) 4-3
58. 1979 - Pittsburgh (N) def. Baltimore (A) 4-3
59. 1987 - Minnesota (A) def. St. Louis (N) 4-3
Numbers 60-69
Numbers 70-79
Numbers 80-89
Numbers 90-99
Numbers 100-107

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