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Best Teams Ever - Part II
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1920-1946 White Balls and White Players

(with merely best team of the year in grey)

1920 Cleveland Indians 98-56 (5-2): Tris Speaker, Steve O'Neill, Stan Coveleski, Jim Bagby

1921 New York Yankees 98-55 (3-5): BABE RUTH, Roger Peckinpaugh, Long Bob Meusel

          New York Giants 94-59 (5-3): Dave Bancroft, Frankie Frisch, Ross Youngs

1922 New York Giants 93-61 (4-0-1): Frisch, Bancroft, Frank Snyder, Youngs, Art Nehf

1923 New York Yankees 98-54 (4-2): BABE RUTH, Mesuel, Herb Pennock, Bullet Joe Bush

1924 New York Giants 93-60 (3-4): Frisch, Youngs, High Pockets Kelly, Travis Jackson

1925 Washington Senators 96-55 (3-4): Walter Johnson, Goose Goslin, Bucky Harris

1926 St. Louis Cardinals 89-65 (4-3): Rogers Hornsby, Les Bell, Jim Bottomly, Flint Rhem

         New York Yankees 91-63 (3-4): RUTH, Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri, Meusel, Earle Combs

1927 New York Yankees 110-44 (4-0): RUTH, GEHRIG, Combs, Lazzeri, Meusel, Waite Hoyt

1928 New York Yankees 101-53 (4-0): GEHRIG, RUTH, Lazzeri, Combs, Hoyt, G. Pipgras

1929 Philadelphia Athletics 104-46 (4-1): Jimmie Foxx, Mickey Cochrane, Al Simmons

1930 Philadelphia Athletics 102-52 (4-2): Cochrane, Simmons, Lefty Grove, G. Earnshaw

1931 Philadelphia Athletics 107-45 (3-4): Cochrane, Simmons, Grove, Earnshaw, Foxx

         St. Louis Cardinals 101-53 (4-3): Chick Hafey, Bill Hallahan, Burleigh Grimes, J. Martin

1932 New York Yankees 107-47 (4-0): Gehrig, Ruth, Lazzeri, Bill Dickey, Combs, R. Ruffing

1933 Washington Senators 99-53 (1-4): Joe Cronin, Ed Whitehill, Heinie Manush, Joe Kuhel

1934 Detroit Tigers 101-53 (3-4): Charlie Gehringer, Hank Greenberg, Mickey Cochrane

1935 Chicago Cubs 100-54 (2-4): Gabby Hartnett, Billy Herman, Stan Hack, Lon Warneke

1936 New York Yankees 102-51 (4-2): Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Dickey, Ruffing, Frank Crosetti

1937 New York Yankees 102-52 (4-1): DiMaggio, Gehrig, Dickey, Lefty Gomez, Ruffing

1938 New York Yankees   99-53 (4-0): Dickey, DiMaggio, Gehrig, Joe Gordon, Ruffing

1939 New York Yankees 106-53 (4-3): Dickey, DiMaggio, Charlie Keller, Gordon, Ruffing

1940 Cincinnati Reds 100-53 (4-3): Bucky Walters, E. Lombardi, P. Derringer, F. McCormick

1941 New York Yankees 101-53 (4-1): DiMaggio, Keller, Gordon, Tommy Henrich, Dickey

1942 St. Louis Cardinals 106-48 (4-1): Enos Slaughter, Mort Cooper, J. Beazley, S. Musial

1943 St. Louis Cardinals 105-49 (1-4): Stan Musial, Walker Cooper, Cooper, Marty Marion

1944 St. Louis Cardinals 105-49 (4-2): W.Cooper, Musial, M.Cooper, Max Lanier, J.Hopp

1945 Chicago Cubs 98-56 (3-4): Phil Cavarrettta, Stan Hack, Andy Pafko, Claude Passeau

1946 Boston Red Sox 104-50 (3-4): Ted Williams, Johnny Pesky, Bobby Doerr, D. DiMaggio

 

In 1920 the same year the U.S.A. prohibited the sale of alcohol throughout the U.S., both of the Major Leagues phased in rules prohibiting foreign substances on baseballs. Spitball throwers (there were 17 pitchers officially identified as such) would be grandfathered out of the leagues. From now on, only clean baseballs would be used throughout the game – no more retrieving the ball from the stands - no more letting infielders spit tobacco or liquorice juice on the ball.

 

The Reds fell to third place. From the Stephen A. Reiss edited Encyclopedia of Major League Baseball Clubs (Greenwood Press 2006) in the Cincinnati Reds chapter written by Edward J. Reilly:

While spitball pitchers were grandfathered in, the new rules badly hurt Slim Sallee and Hod Eller, who decorated their pitches with paraffin or whatever was available, or defaced the ball with a fingernail or small emery board. Sallee went from 21 wins to 6 and Eller went from 19 to 13, and the following year to 2.

 

The White Sox fell to second just a game ahead of the surging New York Yankees - who now had Babe Ruth. Playing a mixture of outfield, firstbase, and pitcher for a total of 95 games for the Red Sox, Ruth led the league in home runs in 1917 with 11, then in 1918 he increased his playing time to 130 games and smashe the Major League record for home runs with 29. As an exclamation mark, he pitched two victories in the World Series giving up 2 runs in 17 innings. The Yankees were just able to buy him straight off the Red Sox for cash. In Ruth’s first year in pin stripes, he hit 54 home runs. George Herman Ruth revived the popularity of baseball and changed the way the game was played.

 

As further evidence that the players were getting better and better, there was a large increase in the pool of players who played in the Majors. The previous decades saw large numbers of Irish and German immigrants dominating the Majors – typically from rough urban centers. It was ruthless spikes in your face baseball. Thanks to Ban Johnson's new American League, the rough play declined and many college educated players populated the teams of the teens. As the popularity of the game spread, by the 1920s rural southern boys began to dominate the game.

 

1920 Cleveland Indians 98-56 (5-2): Tris Speaker, Steve O'Neill, Stan Coveleski, Jim Bagby

 

In April of 1916 – a little less than four years before the Red Sox sold Ruth to the Yankees, the Red Sox had sold another superstar to the Cleveland Indians. Tris Speaker was a towering talent. Unfortunately, his career completely coincided with Ty Cobb’s. Speaker was the Chrysler Building to Cobb’s Empire State Building. (Sorry, those buildings hadn’t been built yet, but that is the best analogy I could think of to convey what Cobb and Speaker were to the rest of the league - if you looked at midtown Manhattan’s skyline a bit later in the century.) In 1919 Speaker became Cleveland’s manager as well as their superstar. A year later manager Speaker assembled enough supporting talent to win the pennant and the world championship. The cast included catcher Steve O'Neill, outfielder Elmer Smith, pitchers Jim Bagby and Stan Coveleski and shortstop Ray Chapman, who was fatally struck by a pitch on August 16, – and Chapman’s equally outstanding replacement: twenty-one year old Joe Sewell.

 

1921   New York Yankees 98-55 (3-5): BABE RUTH, Roger Peckinpaugh, Long Bob Meusel

           New York Giants 94-59 (5-3): Dave Bancroft, Frankie Frisch, Ross Youngs

1922 New York Giants 93-61 (4-0-1): Frisch, Bancroft, Frank Snyder, Youngs, Art Nehf

1923 New York Yankees 98-54 (4-2): BABE RUTH, Mesuel, Herb Pennock, Bullet Joe Bush

 

New York owned all pennants for the next three seasons 1921-1923. John McGraw's Giants took the first two championships, but Ruth’s Yankees managed by Miller Huggins won the third of these meetings. The Yankees were further aided by the fledging Red Sox who sold their manager Ed Barrow to the Yankees becoming their General Manager. Barrow in turn traded for some of his former players he knew would bring success to the Yankees including budding pitching star Waite Hoyt and veteran catcher Wally Schang. Credit must be given to owner Jacob Ruppert who co-bought the Yankees in 1915 and invested in the talent that started their march towards nearly a half century of dominance. By 1923, the Yankees were strong enough to claim they were the best team ever. Most say that Babe Ruth shot past Cobb as the most outstanding hitter ever with OPS+ well over twice that of the league average. Cobb was a consistent 200 OPS+ for ten years. His average OPS+ for 1909 through 1918 was 195 actually. Ruth was a 219 OPS+ his last year in Boston, then hit 255, 238, 181, and 239 through 1923 with New York. He continued to average 207 OPS+ for another nine years after. Cobb was superior to Ruth defensively and on the base paths, of course. But then, Ruth was an outstanding pitcher, but then Cobb once demonstrated he could hit home runs if he wanted to, he just didn’t like that kind of baseball . . . well, pardon the digression – this is supposed to be about teams. Despite Detroit’s three pennants in a row ’07-‘09, they were never the best ever during Cobb’s era. Ruth’s Yankees achieved new heights of greatness in ’23, ’27, and ’32.

 

74,200 fans came to Yankee Stadium’s first game ever on April 18, 1923. It was tailored to Ruth’s strengths built just on the Bronx side of the Harlem River from Manhattan’s Polo Grounds which the Yankees had shared with the Giants since 1913 – and where the New York Mets would play in 1962 and 1963 before Shea Stadium was completed.

 

Perhaps, the new dimensions led to the Yankees having five starting pitchers with ERA in the low to mid 3.00s and over 230 innings: Bullet Joe Bush, Bob Shawkey, Sad Sam Jones, Waite Hoyt, and Herb Pennock. They each relieved a large handful of games, too. You might surmise that they had five man rotations back then. They just didn't have much of a bullpen at all. Bush led the Yankees with 276 innings, while most teams had a pitcher with over 300 innings. You used your best pitchers as much as you could, but if you had five good ones, they all were used judiciously.

 

1924 New York Giants 93-60 (3-4): Frisch, Youngs, High Pockets Kelly, Travis Jackson

1925 Washington Senators 96-55 (3-4): Walter Johnson, Goose Goslin, Bucky Harris

 

In 1924 the New York Giants became the first Major League team to win four pennants in a row - unless you count the 1885-1888 St. Louis Browns of the American Association or the 1872-1875 Boston Red Stockings of the National Association as Major League teams. All four Giants teams won between 93 and 95 games in a 154 game schedule. The leaders of this regime were secondbaseman Frankie Frisch, shortstop Dave Bancroft, and outfielder Ross Youngs. They were well aided by catcher Frank Snyder, firstbaseman George High Pockets Kelly, outfielder Irish Meusel (brother of Yankees’ outstanding outfielder Bob Meusel), pitcher Art Nehf, and thirdbaseman Henie Groh. After the first three pennants the Giants (presumably McGraw) boldly traded Bancroft and their productive outfield platoon of Casey Stengel and Bill Cunningham for a couple of players who didn’t amount to much. However, the trade made way for younger stars: shortstop Travis Jackson and outfielder Hack Wilson. That gave them the new blood to sustain their pennant streak a year longer than any real Major League team had before.

 

The 1924 Washington Senators, however, with Walter Johnson in his 18th season winning the pitching triple crown of ERA, wins, and strikeouts beat the Giants in the World Series. Their secondbaseman Bucky Harris had just taken over as manager and created the first relief pitching star: Firpo Marberry. Though it would be many decades before such a statistic was counted, Marberry led the league in saves for the next three seasons and led in games finished in four of the next five. The following year Johnson took over as manager and put Marberry in the rotation. He was back and forth in these roles for the rest of his career. During his Bucky Harris years he typically pitched 150 innings in 8 starts and 47 relief appearances. I won't go deeply into the history of relief pitching, but despite the Senators' success of winning back to back pennants - this strategy of using one of your better pitchers in relief - especially when the game is still on the line - didn't catch on for decades.

 

Worthy of mention was the Senators hitting star of their first two pennants as well as their third and last pennant in 1933: Goose Goslin. (He also played for Detroit in the World Series of 1934 and 1935.) Much more could be said about Goslin's poor fielding, inept baserunning, and lack of dedication to improvement, but his hitting excellence - especially in his first two World Series and his clownish behaviour made him popular with the fans. Another Hall of Famer for the Senators in the mid 20s was a fading but still productive Sam Rice. Joe Judge was Washington's consistently above average firstbaseman for 16 years 1916-1930. Former Yankee Roger Peckinpaugh was Harris's keystone partner. They were both fine hitters offensively and the team finished second in double plays turned.

 

In a tit for tat, after the Senators upset the Giants in the '24 World Series, they were upset by the Pirates in the 1925 World Series.

 

Long time Pirate Fred Clarke ended his Hall of Fame career as a player and manager in 1915. During the 1925 season, the Pirates were a winning ballclub for the eighth year in a row, but couldn’t find their way to first place. Owner Barney Dreyfuss was looking for the missing spark that would ignite a pennant winner out of his talented ballclub, so he hired Clarke to sit on the bench and help Manager Bill McKechnie however he could. The result was their first championship since the one they took so commandingly in 1909. Outfielders Max Carey and Kiki Cuyler, thirdbaseman Pie Traynor, and firstbaseman George Grantham were that team's most wanted Buccaneers. Dreyfuss made Clarke a V-P and brought him back to the bench for 1926. That didn’t go so well. The team was hampered by various ailments and by August players wanted Clarke out.

 

Max Carey (born Maximillian Carnarius) was the team captain and still outstanding in their championship season. He also happened to be the first player to wear flip down sunglasses. However a flu, a terrible season at age 36, and likely being one of the players not getting along with Clarke led to his getting waived in 1926.

 

One of Bowie Kuhn's earlier acts as the commissioner of baseball in 1969 was to conduct a poll to find the greatest players of all-time. Pie Traynor beat out the just retired Eddie Matthews and perennial MVP candidates Brooks Robinson and Ron Santo for the honor as greatest third-baseman ever. Was he that good? Active players must not have been eligible and Matthews' retirement may not have been official or too recent to be eligible. Otherwise the selection is a perplexing one using the statistical knowledge we have today. Perhaps, there was some inertia in recognizing who was the greatest ever as Matthews didn’t establish his greatness until the ‘50s, while Pie Traynor was the automatic pick for best thirdbaseman ever for decades until then.

 

From the contraction of the National League in 1900 to the return of WW II veterans in 1945, Pittsburgh had one of the most consistently strong franchises in baseball. The Waner brothers (Paul: Big Poison; Lloyd: Little Poison) came up in ’26 and ’27 and kept the Pirates’ winning record streak going to 1930 for a 13th year in a row. The Pirates returned to the World Series in 1927, but were wiped out in four games to the monumental Yankees of that year. That would be Pittsburgh’s last World Series until they upset the Yankees in 1960 – then went on to upset the Baltimore Orioles twice in the 1970s – all in 7 game series.

 

1926   St. Louis Cardinals 89-65 (4-3): Rogers Hornsby, Les Bell, Jim Bottomly, Flint Rhem

 

Branch Rickey essentially started farm systems in 1920. By 1926, his St. Louis Cardinals won their first championship - the year he stepped down as their manager to become the Cardinals full time "business manager".  Five of the starting eight 1926 Cardinal regulars as well as their entire bench came up through Rickey's dedicated minor league teams. Commissioner Judge Landis tried to thwart Rickey's farm system by releasing 70 players, but it endured and was soon copied by the rest of the Major League teams.

 

Rogers Hornsby was the star player and new manager of this championship team. He would be 30 that April and had been a Cardinal since he was 19. By 20, he was their best player - by far. By 21, he was probably the best player in the National League. For the six consecutive years leading up to 1926, Hornsby led the league in batting average, on-base average, and slugging average - all three categories all six years. Hitting .400 and 40 home runs, he was a Babe Ruth who played second-base. Having to manage the Cardinals to their championship, Hornsby's personal stats fell off considerably. He demanded a five year $50,000 contract, was turned down, and off he was traded to the New York Giants. Thanks to Rickey's direction and farm system, the Cardinals remained contenders and occasional champions for the next 24 years.

 

1926 New York Yankees 91-63 (3-4): RUTH, Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri, Meusel, Earle Combs

1927 New York Yankees 110-44 (4-0): RUTH, GEHRIG, Combs, Lazzeri, Meusel, Waite Hoyt

1928 New York Yankees 101-53 (4-0):  GEHRIG, RUTH, Lazzeri, Combs, Hoyt, G. Pipgras

 

It is often suggested the 1927 Yankees are the greatest team of all-time. Books about it have been written. The ’27 Yankees finished 19 games ahead of the 2nd place team (Athletics). That is still a record – all the more impressive considering teams have fewer teams to compete against in the standings since divisional play began in 1969. Lou Gehrig matured into one of the greatest hitters of all time. Added to Babe Ruth the Yankees had two the league’s two biggest superstars in their prime. This was the year Ruth hit 60 homers. The pair barnstormed after the season bringing in over a quarter million fans - and essentially doubling their income. Of course, the '27 Yankees were not a two man team with Earl Combs completing the great outfield with Ruth and Long Bob Meusel at his sides. The line-up was dubbed Murderer's Row. In 1926 Tony Lazzeri and Matt Koenig took over the middle infield at ages 22 and 21. They thrived both with the bat and glove as the Yankees' ERA went down from 4.35 to 3.86. After a year of maturity, it went down even further to 3.20. Waite Hoyt emerged as a pitching ace. A thirty year old rookie Wilcy Moore led the league in ERA.

 

As the '28 Yankees floated back somewhat towards earth, Connie Mack's rebuilt Philadelphia Athletics came back for a fierce challenge. This team had a 20 year old Jimmy Foxx in his first year and 41 year old Ty Cobb and 40 year old Tris Speaker both in their last year. Catcher Mickey Cochrane, outfielders Al Simmons and Bing Miller, infielders Jimmy Dykes and Max Bishop, and pitching great Lefty Grove were all near the top at their positions. By some analysis Grove may have been the most outstanding pitcher of all-time.

 

1929 Philadelphia Athletics 104-46 (4-1): Jimmie Foxx, Mickey Cochrane, Al Simmons

1930 Philadelphia Athletics 102-52 (4-2): Cochrane, Simmons, Lefty Grove, G. Earnshaw

1931 Philadelphia Athletics 107-45 (3-4): Cochrane, Simmons, Grove, Earnshaw, Foxx

         St. Louis Cardinals 101-53 (4-3): Chick Hafey, Bill Hallahan, Burleigh Grimes, J. Martin

 

The Yankees prevailed in '28, but the Athletics dominated the league in 1929 as Foxx emerged as a superstar. Foxx and Simmons gave Philadelphia a pair to rival Gehrig and Ruth. George Earnshaw emerged as a 2nd ace to pair with Grove. This '29 collection of Athletics won 104 games and the World Series in five against the Chicago Cubs featuring Rogers Hornsby playing for his fourth team in four years. But for the ’27 Yankees, this would have been the greatest team ever.

 

Near the end of the 1929 season, the Yankees’ skipper Miller Huggins died quickly from the strep infection erysipelas. A month later, the U.S. stock market crashed plunging the world into the Great Depression.

 

The Athletics repeated their championship in 1930, then a third pennant in a row in 1931. It was also their third consecutive season with over 100 victories. This time they won 107 games with their third outfielder Mule Haas and their third starter Rube Walberg making important contributions along with the usual excellence from the rest of the core. Comparing the three year dynasties of the Athletics with the Yankees team they just deposed, you could certainly make a case for Mack's boys return to the top. Both teams won three pennants in a row and two championships in a row. The Yankees totalled 302 victories those three years, the Athletics totalled 313 - and they came after with the attendant improvements in quality of play.

 

The 1931 World Series was a rematch of the 1930 Seiries pitting Connie Mack's mighty Athletics against Branch Rickey's Cardinals who had now won three of the last four N.L. pennants. The manager of the 1928 Cardinals pennant was Bill McKechnie who had great success with the Pirates from '22-'26. Despite his one pennant his first year with St. Louis, he didn't manage during the early part of 1929, then in 1930 he was replaced by Gabby Street - the former Washington Senators catcher who caught a baseball dropped 555 feet from the Washington Monument. Steet returned the Cardinals to the top of the National League his first year. The Cardinals had a championship and their best season to date in 1931 Street's 2nd year. Leading their success on the field were Chick Hafey, Frankie Frisch, Jim Bottomley, Pepper Martin, Bill Hallahan, and Burleigh Grimes.

 

1932 New York Yankees 107-47 (4-0): Gehrig, Ruth, Lazzeri, Bill Dickey, Combs, R. Ruffing

 

The New York Yankees of 1932 may well have been even greater than the Yankees of 1927. Based on my league progression rate of 1 win and 1 loss per season, they were. After three years of Philadelphia dominance, new manager Joe McCarthy steered the Yankees past them with the development of catcher Bill Dickey, outfielder Ben Chapman, pitchers Lefty Gomez, Red Ruffing and Johnny Allen, and shortstop Frankie Crosetti, while Ruth, Gehrig, Combs, and Lazzeri continued their excellence. At age 37, Ruth still had an OPS+ twice the league average.

 

Tony Lazzeri was expelled from school at age 15. He went to work heating rivets and tossing them to the riveters, which helped develop his strength. Earl Combs has been described as quiet, charitable, religious, intelligent, and generous - sounds something like Lou Gehrig, except Combs was from Kentucky and Gehrig was born right in Manhattan. Bill Dickey hailed from Louisiana. That is far from New York in miles and culture, but he was Gehrig's room-mate and they got along well. Bob Feller proclaimed Dickey "the best [catcher] I ever saw". He was known for being easy going off the field. However, he once lost his famous cool in a game. In a 1932 game Carl Reynolds knocked into Dickey on a play at the plate. Dickey dropped the ball, so Reynolds ran back towards home to make sure he touched the base. Dickey slugged him in the jaw and broke it in two places.

 

1933 Washington Senators 99-53 (1-4): Joe Cronin, Ed Whitehill, Heinie Manush, Joe Kuhel

 

1933 was a year of stars. In Chicago's Comisky Park the first all-star game was played. Philadelphia owned Triple Crown winners in each league: Jimmie Foxx and Chuck Klein. Both pennant winners were led by each team's star player as their manager: Washington's shortstop Joe Cronin and the New York Giant's firstbaseman Bill Terry. Fans of Washington's Heinie Manush and New York's Mel Ott and Carl Hubbell may disagree on that last point. In fact Hubbell did win the MVP Award that year even though he was a pitcher. Terry finished second on the team and fourth overall, while Ott didn’t receive any MVP votes. Looking at them with present day sophistication, we would be aghast as Ott had the better O+S, while playing in more games. Terry was the perennial MVP candidate at that point in his career, while Ott was just getting his career warmed up and actually receded a bit in 1933. The following year Ott became a regular MVP candidate for the next 12 years. The Giants took the Senators in five games, despite the Senators' much superior season record. Neither team was close to reaching the height of greatness of the previous year's Yankees.

 

1934 Detroit Tigers 101-53 (3-4): Charlie Gehringer, Hank Greenberg, Mickey Cochrane

1935 Chicago Cubs 100-54 (2-4): Gabby Hartnett, Billy Herman, Stan Hack, Lon Warneke

 

As the depression led Connie Mack to once again sell off his star players, the reviving auto industry may have helped Detroit afford one of those stars. For 1934 Detroit's owner Frank Nevin grabbed Mickey Cochrane to catch and manage a promising team just coming into its prime built around secondbaseman Charlie Gehringer, pitcher Tommy Bridges, and a 23 year old firstbaseman Hank Greenberg - a player Nevin forced the previous manager Bucky Harris to play. Under Cochrane's intensity, sensitivity, and guidance the Tigers matured into 101 game winners and developed a new pitching star in Schoolboy Rowe. For that leadership and pitcher handling more than his formidable hitting, Cochrane earned his second MVP award. Arguably an above average player emerged at every position including four outfielders: Pete Fox, Jo-Jo White, Gee Walker, and the goofy former Washington star Goose Goslin. Billy Rogell and Marv Owen covered the left side of the infield. With Gehringer and Greenberg, the Tigers’ infield was known as the Battalion of Death. Although the Tigers were dazed by the Dean brothers pitching and lost a 7 game series to the Gas House Gang Cardinals, they came back against the Cubs in '35 and won Detroit's first World Series in five tries.

 

Hank Greenberg was the MVP in 1935. His rise to fame against the prejudices of the day would be echoed almost a generation later when Jackie Robinson came along. One parallel between Greenberg and Robinson that is not always mentioned is that they were both considered handsome men by Euro-Christo-American standards. I think that helped mainstream American society step across those divides.

 

It is hard to imagine today the vile language and behaviour Greenberg endured every day simply because he was Jewish. In 1936, proudly bigoted New York Yankees outfielder Jake Powell purposely smashed into Greenberg and broke his wrist. That ended Greenberg's season at 12 games. Detroit ended up in second place to the Yankees who proceeded to reclaim the World Championship.

 

Back in '35, the Chicago Cubs had a very strong team (100-54) including the MVP who was their catcher Gabby Hartnett. They also had a great secondbaseman that year in Billy Herman. Their firstbaseman was even younger than Greenberg; Phil Cavarretta turned 19 after the mid point of the season. He and his Cubs would have a rematch with Greenberg and his Tigers 10 years later, which the Tigers also won. The 1935 Cubs cannot be discussed without giving a shout out to manager Charlie Grimm, thirdbaseman Stan Hack, and pitchers Lon Warneke, Larry French, and Bill (not Spaceman) Lee.

 

1936 New York Yankees 102-51 (4-2): Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Dickey, Ruffing, Frank Crosetti

1937 New York Yankees 102-52 (4-1): DiMaggio, Gehrig, Dickey, Lefty Gomez, Ruffing

1938 New York Yankees   99-53 (4-0): Dickey, DiMaggio, Gehrig, Joe Gordon, Ruffing

1939 New York Yankees 106-53 (4-3): Dickey, DiMaggio, Charlie Keller, Gordon, Ruffing

 

The New York Giants returned to the World Series for the next two years: ’36 and ‘’37. From 1929 to 1939 outfielder Mel Ott was consistently around 1.000 OPS, but never higher than his league leading OPS of 1.036 in 1936: .588 from Slugging Average and .448 from On Base Average. 5'9" Master Melvin was tutored by McGraw and his best coaches on the New York team from the age of 17. The season he turned 20, he hit 42 homers, a .445 OBA, and 1.035 OPS. Carl Hubbell took the MVP award in '36 - his second - for pitching 303 innings of league leading 2.31 ERA and netting a 26-6 record. Hubbell was a screwball pitcher originally signed with Detroit. However, the Tigers’ 1926 manager Ty Cobb made Hubbell stop using his screwball for fear it would injure him. That move was a career disaster sinking Hubbell deep into the minors before he was rescued by John McGraw and the Giants. Hubbell and Ott became close friends. Shortstop Dick Bartell emerged as the third strong MVP candidate on both of these pennant seasons. Bartell was a sparkplug type who didn’t always get along with his team-mates. He played for five different teams in his prime including two stints with the Giants. Leading this group was the frequent MVP candidate Bill Terry who is remembered for batting .401 in 1930. In 1933, his first full season as the Giants’ manager, he directed his team to a World Championship. By 1936 Terry was 37 years old and decided to bench himself, then retire as a player. The Giants couldn't match their rivals from the other side of the Harlem River in either World Series.

 

That would be the Yankees, of course, the first team to win four World Series in a row (1936-1939). Thus, we have yet a new Yankees team that could claim to be the best ever - and it didn't take the four consecutive years of championships to make the claim. Both the '37 Yankees and the '39 Yankees could legitimately claim that honour. With Babe Ruth now retired after a dismal year with the Braves, the Yankees found a new superstar to replace him: a magnificent 21 year old centerfielder who batted .323 with 44 doubles, 14 triples, and 29 home runs in his first season: Joe DiMaggio. Though Gehrig, Lazzeri, Dickey, Crosetti, Gomez, and Ruffing were still going strong, DiMaggio wasn't the only new blood giving the team the energy required for its new height. Canadian George Selkirk (called "Twinkletoes") averaged .299/.420/.510 those championship seasons. Dartmouth man Red Rolfe averaged .308/.386/.451. DiMaggio? .341/..397/.622 - and kept that pace for another 9 seasons afterwards; Dickey? .326/.415/.565 preceded by 7 great seasons and a few more to spare afterwards. Gehrig? In 13 seasons of playing every single game though 1937, his career averages were .344/.451/.643. In 1938, however, he slipped to .295/.410/.523. Gehrig went on a disciplined heavy exercise regimen during the winter to regain his form, but he only felt weaker and collapsed. He was misdiagnosed with a gall bladder problem. His play in spring was frighteningly bad and he collapsed a couple more times. Yet, his consecutive game streak was still alive, so he played the first 8 games of the regular season batting .143 - all singles. He took himself out of the next game and never played again. This biography from James Lincoln Ray has an eloquent summary of Gehrig's retirement, including his deservedly famous speech.

 

One thing that amazes me about these Yankees is that they came back even stronger in '37 after winning the championship in '36 without making any major improvements. In my 47 years as a baseball nut, I’ve noticed champions that stand pat generally fall short the following year. Only by bringing in some significant new blood is it possible to repeat.  Specifically, the '73 A's filled ‘72’s weaknesses by adding Ray Fosse and Billy North and making Gene Tenace a full time player. By the post season of 1974, they moved Reggie Jackson to DH and added Claudell Washington to their outfield eliminating their last weakness (DH).  The 1975 Cincinnati Reds seemed the perfect winning machine, but in '76 they were even better with the addition of Rookie of the Year pitcher Pat Zachry. The '77 champion Yankees had an excellent reliever in Sparky Lyle, but in '78 they added an even better one in Goose Gossage. The Toronto Blue Jays changed regulars at 6 positions between their back to back championships of '92 & '93. Getting rid of old or mediocre players, they added Paul Molitor, Rickey Henderson, Dave Stewart, got back Tony Fernandez, and gave shots to Pat Hentgen and Ed Sprague. When the Yankees won their second consecutive championship in 1998, they had traded for Roger Clemens - because they could afford him. However, in 1999 the Yankees were another exception to my theory, as they handily defended their championship with almost the exact roster they had in '98.

 

In 1938, Joe Gordon, Tommy Henrich, and Spud Chandler became prominent members of the Yankees dynasty. When Gordon first arrived at the Yankees camp in '37, Lazzeri taught him the tricks of the trade despite knowing he was grooming his replacement. Gordon played for Newark that year, but Lazerri was slowing down and broke his hand that August. The next year, Lazerri was released and Gordon hit 25 home runs as a rookie. He followed that with 11 consecutive all-star games. As a member of the Indians in '48, Gordon was one of the few welcoming and helpful team-mates to Larry Doby when he was first breaking the colour line in the American League.

 

In 1939, although Babe Dahlgren was a sad replacement for Gehrig at first base, the Yankees debuted a new star outfielder: Charlie Keller. For the next four seasons, the Yankees had four stars in their outfield stars: DiMaggio, Selkirk, Henrich, and Keller. After a three year absence to fight in WW II, DiMaggio and Henrich rejoined Keller in the Yankees outfield for another four seasons, though, by then Keller was mainly a back-up and in 1949 Henrich played mostly first-base. Though most teams cannot afford it today, there is a history of success with excellent four man outfields.

 

This dynasty of the greatest team ever had a pair of pitching co-aces: Lefty Gomez and Red Ruffing who pitched together for 12 seasons: 1931-1942 plus a bit of 1930. That was the longest pairing of aces up to that time. Only two other pitching team-mates have surpassed that length of time. Detroit’s Hal Newhouser and Dizzy Trout started pitching together from the last weekend of the 1939 season through 1952. Their record was passed by Tom Glavine and John Smoltz who pitched as Braves team-mates nearly 14 seasons (July '88 - 2002).

 

The '39 Yankees tallied 106 victories, by far the most since 1932. Considering that win total with the fact that it was their fourth consecutive championship and that it was won with a Series sweep makes the 1939 Yankees another best team ever. It would take the Yankees’ winning five world championships in a row to top that. The ’39 Yankees were the last team to score on average of more than two runs per game as their opponents – and that average was 2.70 more runs! They were quite worthy of the best ever accolade.

 

After a one year interruption in 1940 by the still dangerous Greenberg-Gehringer-Bridges-&-Rowe Tigers now with the powerful Rudy York, the Yankees went on to win another three consecutive pennants and another World Series championship. In fact, they had now begun the dynasty of all dynasties that lasted 29 years (1936-1964) with pennant interruptions only in '40, '44-'46, '48, '54, and '59.

 

1940 Cincinnati Reds 100-53 (4-3): Bucky Walters, E. Lombardi, P. Derringer, F. McCormick

 

Buried again in notoriety were the Cincinnati Reds who won pennants in 1939 and 1940.  Here is the third outstanding team built by Bill McKenchie (see '25 Pirates and '28 Cardinals) and this was the best of them.  Pennants only eluded McKenchie in his stint with the Boston Braves/Bees (1930-1937), though they were a dismal franchise for the 23 years before he tried to bring them alive and they soon became dismal again after he left, but they did have four +.500 teams during his tenure there.

 

Cincinnati sinkerballer Bucky Walters won the pitching triple crown in 1939: wins, ERA, and strikeouts. Just as important he led in innings as well and would for three years in a row. In 1940 Walters lead the league again in wins and ERA and was the biggest star of that year's World Series. By modern analysis (well, Bill James, at least), Walters is considered the most deserving player for the Hall of Fame from this era who isn't in - over many who are. One who is in - is his catcher Ernie Lombardi, who won the MVP award in 1938. Firstbaseman Mike McCormick and outfielder Ival Goodman provided two more highly potent bats to the line-up. Johnny Vander Meer having pitched back-to-back no hitters the previous year had a couple of off years in '39 and '40 and fought to stay in the rotation. For a second starter the Reds had Paul Derringer, who had the best winning percentage of .781 (25-7) in 1939 along with a 2.93 ERA and 301 innings. He had an outstanding 10 year run with the Reds (1933-1942), but was a bigger story off the field. He once punched a nurse out cold. After he beat up a New York City business rep in a Philadelphia hotel, he was ordered to pay $8,000 restitution to avoid jail - and to be allowed to pitch in New York. So obsessed with his appearance, Derringer was rumoured to make five changes of clothing a day. However, on the mound he was the Control King. During both of these pennant years Derringer lead the league in fewest walks per inning.

 

1941 New York Yankees 101-53 (4-1): DiMaggio, Keller, Gordon, Tommy Henrich, Dickey

 

1941 - the year of DiMaggio's streak - was another all New York World Series, this time the 100 win Brooklyn Dodgers were the challengers and they came up typically short losing the Series 4 games to 1 to the Yankees who won 101 games.

 

The Yankees first World Series came during the Babe Ruth years. They were 22-15-1 in his era with 4 championships sweeping the last three Series (1927, 1928, and 1932) he participated in.  Their W.S. W-L record from 1936 to 1951 - the Joe DiMaggio years was 41-15 with 10 world titles. Rookie Mickey Mantle was essentially DiMaggio’s back-up in 1951 – DiMaggio’s last year. The Mantle Yankees of 1952 to 1964 were 36-34. They won 6 of those Series. Reggie Jackson was considered the biggest star on the Yankee championship teams of the 70s, but missed their World Series in ’76 as he wasn’t a Yankee, yet. Team leader Thurman Munson died in a plane crash in 1979, so he was not present for their 1981 Series. So, the Willie Randolf – Ron Guidry Yankees of '76 to '81 were 10-12 with two Series rings each.  Don't forget the odds are much more daunting against making it to the World Series these days with almost twice the number of teams. The present day Derek Jeter – Mariano Rivera Yankees (starting in 1996) are 25-13 in the World Series with 5 championships in seven appearances. So, you can rank the eras: easily 1. DiMaggio, then 2. Jeter-Mo (considering the number of teams), 3. Mantle, 4. Ruth, and a distant 5. Randolf-Guidry. A Yogi Berra era (overlapping DiMaggio and Mantle’s) would rival Joey D’s: 49-37 also with 10 championships.

 

1942 St. Louis Cardinals 106-48 (4-1): Enos Slaughter, Mort Cooper, J. Beazley, S. Musial

1943 St. Louis Cardinals 105-49 (1-4): Stan Musial, Walker Cooper, Cooper, Marty Marion

1944 St. Louis Cardinals 105-49 (4-2): W.Cooper, Musial, M.Cooper, Max Lanier, J. Hopp

 

For a team to beat the Yankees in a World Series in the DiMaggio era was a special feat. Branch Rickey's St. Louis Cardinals in 1942 was such a team and they won 106 games during the season proving it was no fluke. However, as the 1939 Yanks had just recently won 106 games with only 45 losses to St. Louis's 48 - and did so on their way to their fourth consecutive championship, the '42 Cardinals cannot make a fair claim as the best team ever, at least by our criteria. Besides, some players had already left the Major Leagues to fight in World War II including Hank Greenberg and the Dodgers' solid thirdbaseman Cookie Lavagetto, thus inflating the Cardinals’ record.

 

Though, the DiMaggio-less Yankees came back to win the World Series in '43 with Spud Chandler, Charlie Keller, and Bill Dickey leading the team, these Cardinals were not one year wonders either as they dominated the ever depleted Major Leagues for the three years 1942-1944 winning 105 games or more each year. Then they came back in 1946 with the veterans back in the game to win their third championship in five years.

 

The ‘42 Cardinals emerged as this minor dynasty upon Stan Musial's rookie season. He finished 12th in MVP voting, then won the award three times over the next five years. In his 6th season, his OPS+ was in the double the league average stratosphere. He was the runner-up MVP the next three years after that. He was in the top 10 for another 6 years beyond that. Twenty-one years after his rookie season at age 41, Stan the Man finished 10th in MVP voting. He finished his career with more total bases than anyone before him and an On-Base Average of .417.

 

Another Cardinal receiving strong consideration for MVP during this reign was their catcher Walker Cooper. Excelling on defense as well as hitting, he was an all-star from 1942-1950. His brother and team-mate Mort was a pitcher and was also a top 10 MVP candidate those three years winning the award in '42 with his his triple crown 22-7 record, 1.78 ERA, and 194 strikeouts in 279 innings. (Yes, major league pitchers have been striking out more and more batters as the years go.)

 

Another outstanding player called up with Musial was Whitey Kurowski. He had one arm shorter than the other thanks to an infected bone as a child that had to be severed. Kurowski overcame the pain of throwing with that arm, vulnerability to outside pitches, and an inhabitability to hit to the opposite side to escape his coal mining roots and become one of the top all around thirdbasemen in the game. He was the first to have three 20 home run seasons. Unfortunately, the pain became so overwhelming his career was cut short in 1948.

 

Playing beside Kurowski was Marty Marion a regular all-star for a decade and won the MVP award in 1944. With Marion at shortstop, the Cardinals led the N.L. in ERA in '42, '43, '44, '46, '47, and '49.

 

Enos Slaughter was 5'9" and played with the Ty Cobb school of intensity. He was a consistent all-star or MVP candidate from his second year with the Cardinals (1939) until his last season with them (1954). Slaughter had 2383 hits in his career, but he missed three prime years to the war. He was the runner-up MVP in 1942 and finished third in the voting when he returned in 1946.

 

Returning with Slaughter that year was a young pitcher named Howie Pollet, who from age 19 to 22 had a career ERA of 2.21. Returning from the war three years later the 24/25 year old led the league in ERA (2.10) and wins (21-10) and innings pitched (266). His previous career high inning total was 118. His ERA averaged 4.00 the rest of career.

 

1945 Chicago Cubs 98-56 (3-4): Phil Cavarrettta, Stan Hack, Andy Pafko, Claude Passeau

 

After missing three and a half late prime seasons, Hank Greenberg returned from the war just in time to team up with back-to-back MVP / pitching ace Hal Newhouser and upset the Chicago Cubs in the 1945 World Series. This proved to be the last of the four Greenberg Tigers pennants, none of which was dominant enough to pass a Yankee team as best ever.

 

1946 Boston Red Sox 104-50 (3-4): Ted Williams, Johnny Pesky, Bobby Doerr, D. DiMaggio

 

With the players back from the war, the Red Sox amassed an impressive 104 win season. Though, their win total was not enough to be more impressive than the 1939 Yankees, the Red Sox had much that was very impressive. They had a young slugger who was even more productive than Musial. Ted Williams finished fourth in MVP voting his rookie season in 1939.  Every season he played from 1941 to 1949, he finished either first or second in MVP voting. He may have been underrated, too, as baseball fans didn't give much thought to walks or On-Base Average in those days. Teddy Ballgame consistently led the league in walks. However, he fought in World War II, so he missed three young prime years. (He missed most of two more prime years to fight in Korea as he received MVP voting the rest of his entire 22 year career.) When Williams returned in '46, the Red Sox had enough support to win the pennant. Perhaps, if the Red Sox weren’t the slowest team in the Majors to integrate players of pre-American-slave-era-sub-Saharan-African descent, Ted Williams would have had a chance to play in more than this one World Series. They did stay very strong for the next five years finishing no lower than third. The finished only 1 game out of first place in 1948 to Cleveland who were the quickest in the league to play some Negro League stars and finished 1 game behind the Yankees in 1949 who were the next greatest team ever.

 

Johnny Pesky (born John Paveskovich to Croatian parents in Portland, Oregon) finished third in MVP voting in 1942 - as a 22 year old rookie, then came back in '46 and finished fourth. Joe Cronin had been the Red Sox player/manager since 1935. Up until 1942, he was their future Hall of Fame shortstop, but he brilliantly and selflessly gave Pesky that starting shortstop gig and kept himself as a bench option through the war years. In 1946, he guided Boston to their only pennant between 1918 and 1967.

 

Bobby Doerr was the other half the Red Sox’ fantastic DP combo. He returned from the war around mid 1944. He was dubbed by Williams as "the silent captain of the Red Sox". Joe's brother Dom DiMaggio returned in '46 and resumed his all-star excellence to Boston's centerfield. The Red Sox had a pair of aces that year: southern boys Tex Hughson and Boo Ferris who threw sinking fastballs. Great team - but they didn't even win the championship.

 

The end of the war, the increasing number of night games, and an increasingly urban affluent mobile population led to nearly a doubling of attendance in 1946.

John Carter