Wednesday, January 13, 2010

PTWSW #36: The 1939 New York Yankees

Manager: Joe McCarthy
Record: 106-45
Ballpark: Yankee Stadium
Owner: Jacob Ruppert Estate
GM: Ed Barrow
Coaches: Earle Combs, Art Fletcher, Johnny Schulte

Future Hall of Famers: Bill Dickey, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig, Lefty Gomez, Joe Gordon, Red Ruffing

All-Stars: Frankie Crosetti, Bill Dickey, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig, Lefty Gomez, Joe Gordon, Johnny Murphy, Red Rolfe, Red Ruffing, George Selkirk

Team Leaders, Batting

Joe DiMaggio, .381 (AL leader)
OBP: George Selkirk, .452
SLG: Joe DiMaggio, .671
OPS: Joe DiMaggio, 1.119
2B: Red Rolfe, 46 (AL leader)
3B: Red Rolfe, 10
HR: Joe DiMaggio, 30
RBI: Joe DiMaggio, 126
BB: George Selkirk, 103
SB: George Selkirk, 12

Team Leaders, Pitching

Red Ruffing, 21
SO: Lefty Gomez, 102
ERA: Red Ruffing, 2.93
IP: Red Ruffing, 233.1
CG: Red Ruffing, 22
SHO: Red Ruffing, 5 (AL leader)
K/BB: Red Ruffing, 1.27
SV: Johnny Murphy, 19 (AL leader)


Oldest Player: Lou Gehrig (b. June 19, 1903) was the oldest to play for them that year, but the oldest among those who played all season was Bump Hadley (b. July 5, 1904).

Youngest Player: Charlie Keller (b. September 12, 1916)

First to Leave Us: Again it was Lou Gehrig (d. June 2, 1941), but if you count only those who played with some degree of regularity it was Jake Powell (d. November 4, 1948).

Last Survivor: Tommy Henrich (d. December 1, 2009)

First in Majors: Yet again, take Lou Gehrig (debut June 15, 1923) out of the picture and it's Red Ruffing (debut May 31, 1924).

Last in Majors: Charlie Keller (final game September 14, 1952)

First to Play For the Franchise: Yada yada...Lou Gehrig...yada yada...Bill Dickey on August 15, 1928.

Last to Play For the Franchise: Charlie Keller (September 14, 1952)

Pre-union Team: The 1933 Indians had four: Wes Ferrell, Oral Hildebrand, Bill Knickerbocker and Monte Pearson.

Reunion Team: The 1940 Dodgers, 1941 Braves, 1942 Browns, 1943 Senators and 1946 Browns each had two.

Other: Yankee Stadium hosted the All-Star Game that year. The host team was well-represented, with ten of its men named to the squad.


Joe DiMaggio, AL MVP

Season Summary

In a whirlwind year, the Yankee franchise fielded one of its greatest teams ever. It began on a sad note, when longtime owner Jacob Ruppert died in January. That left business manager Ed Barrow in full control of the team's operations. In spring training a few months later there was another unusual development: Lou Gehrig, the Yankees' iconic first baseman, looked noticeably different. He hadn't just lost a step, he barely resembled a professional ballplayer. Sure, he was getting old, but a dropoff this severe was unprecedented. Gehrig took himself out of the lineup after eight regular season games, ending his gameday participation streak at 2,130 matches. After seeing no improvement for a month he went to the Mayo Clinic, where it was revealed that he had ALS and would never play baseball again. On July 4 the Yankees held "Lou Gehrig Day" at the ballpark, where Gehrig gave his now-famous "luckiest man on the face of the earth" speech. He remained in the dugout the rest of the season as a non-playing team captain.

On the field, none of this fazed the Bronx Bombers. They romped to another pennant, getting off to a 45-11 start and never looking back. According to Pythagorean calculations, their final 106-45 record was actually worse than it should have been. They left the second-place Red Sox in their dust by 17 games. The Yanks' biggest strength was run prevention. Their team 131 ERA+ and .730 DER were both miles ahead of the competition. That defense was important, as their strikeout and walk rates were only slightly better than league average. Even with Babe Dahlgren and his 76 OPS+ replacing Gehrig, the Yankees had by far the AL's best mark in that statistic. They also scored the most runs per game and outslugged the competition by 42 homers. Their patience at the plate allowed them to post the league's best OBP despite their second-best batting average.

After such a dominant season, did the Cincinnati Reds stand much of a chance in the World Series? Well, the Yankees swept, but the Reds made it closer than you'd have expected. The Yankees needed extra innings to win Game 1. They won Games 2 and 3 with relative ease, though they only got five hits in the latter. It helped that four of the five knocks were homers. The Reds had a chance to avoid the sweep in Game 4, but the Yankees rallied for two runs in the ninth to tie it, then won with three runs in the tenth.

With the Yankees having won a record fourth straight World Series after a fourth straight uneventful pennant race, the American League adopted a new rule for 1940: Teams were forbidden from making trades with the reigning pennant winner until they were no longer the defending AL Champs. It worked, as the Tigers brought an end to the Yankees' streak next year. After realizing the unintended restriction it placed on the middle-class Tigers, the owners repealed the rule in 1941.


Baseball Reference
Baseball Almanac
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