#102: 1937 World Series

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Note: Leverage Index is an average of the leverage of situations, with 1 being average, below 1 being low-pressure, and above 1 being high-pressure.

In most cases, 4-game sweeps are less fun, less competitive, and less exciting than longer Series. It is no surprise, then, that the first 9 entries on this list were all sweeps. There are still 10 more sweeps to go, and most of them will be covered pretty soon. #101 is notable, perhaps, in being the first Series in the countdown that wasn’t a sweep. In the bottom 15 of the entire list, 1937 is the only non-sweep. The extra game gives it some extra juice; otherwise it’d have been covered much earlier. The average leverage of the 5 games in this Series was a paltry 0.775. Among the 110 Series, that’s the 5th lowest. On a pitch by pitch basis, it was the 5th least interesting Series ever played, saved a little bit only by that one extra game.

Mel Ott and Lou Gehrig greet one another prior to the 1937 World Series.

The Teams

The 1937 New York Giants (95-57) were the last great hurrah of the Giants of the early 1900’s. John McGraw became manager in 1903 and retired during the 1932 season, turning the managerial reins over to star 1B Bill Terry, who managed into the early 40’s (1937 was Terry’s first year as a manager without player attached to the title). From 1903-38, a period of 36 years, New York won the NL 13 times, finished 2nd another 12 times, and were in the top half of the league another 8 times. Only 3 times in 36 years were they 5th or worse in the NL. After a 3rd place finish in 1938, they’d fall on lean times until the Durocher era of the 1950’s. From 1939-1949, the Giants were 5th or worse 9 times. In ’37, they were defending NL champs, having lost to the Yankees the previous year. They were above average in both run scoring (4.8 r/g, +0.3 over avg) and run prevention (4.0 r/g, -0.5 over avg). The offense was led by OF Mel Ott (.294/.408/.523), who led the NL in HR (31) and BB (102). SS Dick Bartell (.306/.367/.469) led the team with 38 doubles, was second to Ott with 14 homers, and finished just ahead of Ott in the MVP vote in 6th place. Outfielders Jimmy Ripple (.317/.362/.420) and Jo-Jo Moore (.310/.364/.440/ 37 2B / 10 3B) were excellent as well. Notable for this Giants squad was its deep bench: Harry Danning (.288/.331/.438), Wally Berger (.291/.359/.548/ 12 HR), Sam Leslie (.309/.380/.414), and Hank Leiber (.293/.347/.429) weren’t full-time players but they were above average ones. The starting rotation was stellar, led by “The Meal Ticket”, reigning NL MVP Carl Hubbell (22-8, 3.20), who led the NL with 159 K’s. The Rookie of the Year award was a decade away from inception, but had it been around, 25-year old starter Cliff Melton, nicknamed “Mountain Music” for his tendency to sing songs he’d learned growing up in Black Mountain, NC, would have been a front-runner. The rook went 20-9 with a 2.61 ERA and led the team with 7 saves. Hal Schumacher (13-12, 3.60), Harry Gumbert (10-11, 3.68), and Slick Castleman (11-6, 3.31) rounded out the starting 5.

The New York Yankees (102-52) were a juggernaut, leading the AL in both scoring (6.3 r/g, +1.0 over avg) and run prevention (4.3 r/g, -0.9 over avg). The defending champs won the AL by 13 games thanks to big stars all over the diamond, placing 5 Yankees in the top 9 of the MVP vote. 1B Lou Gehrig (.351/.473/.643) led the league in walks (127), OBP, and OPS, each for the final time, and added 37 2B, 37 HR, and 158 RBI. Sophomore superstar CF Joe Dimaggio (.346/.412/.673) led the league in runs (151) and hit career high marks with 46 HR (MLB leader), 167 RBI, and 15 3B. Dimaggio had nearly three times as many extra-base hits (96) as he did strikeouts (37). C Bill Dickey (.332/.417/.570) hit 29 homers and struck out just 22 times. In less than 300 PA, OF George Selkirk (.328/.411/.629) hit 18 homers and drove in a whopping 68 runs. The pitching staff was led by the 2-headed monster of future HOF-ers Lefty Gomez (21-11, 2.33) and Red Ruffing (20-7, 2.98). The two combined for 47 complete games and 10 shutouts, which helped offset a fairly shaky bullpen. As for the rest of the rotation, Bump Hadley (11-8, 5.30) was an outlier in a bad way, as fellow starters Monte Pearson (9-3, 3.17), Kemp Wicker (7-3. 4.40), and Spud Chandler (7-4, 2.84) were all above average hurlers.

Game 1

Gomez and Hubbell dueled as expected early, with each holding the opposing side scoreless through 4 innings. In the top of the 5th, the Giants broke through against Gomez, with Jimmy Ripple being pushed home on a Gus Mancuso ground rule double. In the bottom of the 6th, however, Hubbell fell apart. He started the inning by walking his opposing number, Lefty Gomez. What followed wasn’t any better: a single by Frankie Crosetti, a single by Red Rolfe to load the bases, a 2-run single by Dimaggio (and advancement to 2nd on the throw home), an intentional walk to Gehrig, a RBI single by Dickey to make it 3-1… let’s pause to catch our breaths. With the bases still loaded, Hubbell got Myril Hoag to ground into a force-out at home for the first out. But then Selkirk singled home Gehrig and Dickey for a 5-1 lead, and Hubbell was pulled from the game. Reliever Dick Coffman, with runners at the corners and one out, got exactly what he wanted from batter Tony Lazzeri – a ground ball. Unfortunately the ball ate up 2B Burgess Whitehead, allowing the run to score. He then walked Gomez (again!) to load the bases, retired Crosetti, and walked in a run when he was unable to find the zone against Rolfe. When the dust had cleared, the Yankees led 7-1 and had increased their win expectancy from 48% to 98%. Lazzeri added a homer later and the Yankees cruised to a 8-1 opening win. At this moment, let’s break away for a fun list. Only 10 pitchers have been walked twice in a World Series game:

  • Bill Dinneen, 1903, Game 2: Dinneen wasn’t a feared hitter, slashing a career .192/.252/.219, but he at least had an eye for the strike zone, walking in 6% of his plate appearances.
  • Ed Walsh, 1906, Game 5: Like Dinneen, Walsh wasn’t very good with the stick (.194/.231/.255), but it’s fun to note that Walsh led the league in both wins (40) and saves (6) in 1908. It was his only time leading the league in wins, but he led the league in saves 5 different times. A regular Jose Mesa, this guy.
  • Lefty Tyler, 1918, Game 4:  Tyler’s two walks both led off innings, and both were from Babe Ruth. Tyler could hit a little (.217/.284/.274), and in 1916 had 3 home runs.
  • Art Nehf, 1922, Game 5: Arthur Neukom Nehf, sadly was born too early. Had he been born 25 years later, Neukom “NUKE ‘EM” Nehf would be known today as one of the greatest names in sports history. Nehf was a career .210/.281/.279 hitter, but maybe those Yankee pitchers were onto something – Nehf exploded in 1924 with a 5 HR season.
  • Lefty Gomez, 1937, Game 1: Gomez (.147/.194/.159) wasn’t much of a hitter, but his best year did happen to be ’37, when he slashed .200/.236/.219 and even stole a base. Gomez remains the only pitcher walked twice in a single World Series inning.
  • Don Larsen, 1957, Game 3: Larsen was actually a reliever in this game, which seems amazing by today’s standards, but in 1957, not so much. He entered the game in the 2nd when Bob Turley got into a jam, and got the Yankees out of it. His manager was so impressed he let him, in relief, go 7.1 innings to finish out the game. Obligatory Craig Kimbrel reaction shot:
    Stay in that bullpen, Craig. You stay there until the inning says 9! The rules say so!Larsen was a pretty good hitter, batting .242/.291/.371 with 14 homers for his career, with 4 of those coming soon after this Series in 1958.
  • Don Drysdale, 1963, Game 3: Perhaps the least surprising entry on this list, Drysdale, who received Ball Four from Jim Bouton twice in Game 3 (SEE WHAT I DID THERE), was a feared hitter in his day. Perhaps he shouldn’t have been as feared as he was, with just a .186/.222/.295 career line, but he did hit 29 homers, and his 1965 season (.300/.331/.508, 7 HR, 140 OPS+) remains one of the best pitcher hitting seasons in history.
  • Whitey Ford, 1964, Game 1: Opposing pitcher Ray Sadecki got burned early by pitching to Ford, giving up a tie-breaking RBI single in the 2nd. So he just walked him his next two times up, and both times exited the inning unscathed. Ford (.173/.256/.200) wasn’t much of a hitter, but had oddly gotten more walks than hits during the 1964 season.
  • Jim Palmer, 1971, Game 2: Palmer’s walks were the biggest, because both came with the bases loaded! Cakes was a .174/.200/.215 hitter before the AL opted out of facing him again and adopted the much safer DH rule.
  • Al Leiter, 1997, Game 7: Jaret Wright always struggled with strike zones, and there’s no greater example of that than his inability to find it against Al Leiter in 1997. Leiter was a heck of a pitcher, probably underrated by today’s fans, but Leiter was about as useful with a bat as one of Joker’s henchmen. He batted .085/.142/.102 over 613 plate appearances in his 19 year career. He never homered. He never even walked. In fact, because of his minor league path in the Yankees system, Al Leiter, who was drafted in 1984 at the age of 18 and played professional baseball for 21 years, was walked just twice in his career, both times by Jaret Wright in Game 7 of the 1997 World Series.

Average leverage: 0.80

Game 2

The Giants got to Yankees co-ace Ruffing in the first, with Ott driving in Bartell on a single for their second straight 1-0 lead of the Series. Again, the Yankees answered in the middle innings, this time scoring two in the 5th on singles from Selkirk and Ruffing. An inning later it was Selkirk and Ruffing again, this time with a pair of two-run doubles, pushing the lead to 6-1. Dickey singled home Dimaggio in the 7th and Hoag brought in Gehrig with a sac-fly for another 8-1 lead, which held up ’til the end. Ruffing was the star of the game, going the distance on the mound, striking out 8, and going 2-4 with 3 RBI at the plate.

Average leverage: 0.72

Game 3

In one manner, Game 3 didn’t go like Games 1 and 2 for the Giants. In this one, they never had the lead, as Lazzeri singled home Selkirk in the 2nd for a 1-0 lead. In the 3rd, a Dickey triple scored Gehrig to make it 2-0, and a Selkirk single brought home Dickey for a 3-0 lead. Gehrig added a sac-fly RBI an inning later, and Hoag singled in Selkirk with some help from the Giants defense in the 5th. In the 7th, the Giants finally scratched the scoreboard on a RBI double from 1B Johnny McCarthy, but that would be all, and the Yankees cruised to a 5-1 victory. Through 3 games, the AL champs had outscored the Giants 21-3.

Average leverage: 0.62

Game 4

Looking for the sweep, Joe Dimaggio started the scoring in the top of the 1st with a sacrifice fly. In the bottom of the 2nd, however, the Giants finally strung together some hits, sequenced as follows: single, single, RBI single (1-1), single where runner was out because he was struck by the batted ball (seriously), RBI fielder’s choice where no out was recorded (2-1), RBI single (3-1), RBI single (4-1), K, walk, 2-run single (6-1), and groundout. Incredulously, the strikeout was Ott. In the top of the 3rd, the Yankees scored on a Mel Ott throwing error to cut things to 6-2, but they couldn’t mount any kind of comeback. The Giants added a run in the 7th, and Gehrig hit a solo homer in the 9th as the NL New York held on for a 7-3 win, escaping the sweep and sending the Series to Game 5. Gehrig’s homer came off Hubbell, pitching in relief in his final World Series game.

Average leverage: 0.58

Game 5

Gomez faced Giants Game 2 starter Melton, and Melton got into a hole in the 2nd when Hoag led off with a homer. An inning later Dimaggio homered for a 2-0 lead. In the bottom half, however, Mel Ott hit a 2 run homer to tie things back up at 2-2. In the 5th, the Yankees struck again – Gomez singled home Lazzeri for a 3-2 lead, and Gehrig doubled home Gomez later in the inning for a 4-2 advantage. In the 6th, the Giants got 2 on with no outs, but a failed sac-bunt, a strikeout, and a groundout left them with nothing. No better opportunity presented itself, and Gomez set them down 1-2-3 in the 9th to close out the game and the Series. Gomez again went the distance, striking out 6 and going 1-4 with that RBI single.

Average leverage: 1.155

Dimaggio’s Game 5 HR put the Yankees up 2-0.

Summary

Though no MVP was given at the time, it’s hard to think it wouldn’t have been Lefty Gomez, who threw two complete game victories, walked twice in the biggest inning in one of them, and drove in the go-ahead run in the Series-clinching other one. George Selkirk drove in 6 runs and scored 5, both Series highs, but the Series lacked standout players. Contributions came from everywhere in even doses on the Yankee side.

The championship was the Yankees’ 2nd in a row and 6th overall. They were the first team to 6 titles, and this was the year in which NYY took the lead in World Series titles and never gave it back. By the time another team got their 6th championship, the Yankees had 10. By the time another team had 10, the Yankees had 26.

Average leverage: 0.775


About Brent Blackwell 172 Articles

Brent Blackwell also writes for College Football By The Numbers at www.cfbtn.com.

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