1937...and the Joes Show
1937. The depression was waning, but Europe was headed towards war...
During this year, the Golden Gate Bridge opened, Amelia Earhart disappeared, and Howard Hughes took flight, breaking his own trans-continental flight record. Snow White debuted in the theaters, the fantasy novel The Hobbit is released, and a former Chicago Cubs radio announcer made his big screen debut...Ronald Reagan.
The German airship Hindenburg burst into flames while trying to 'dock' at Lakehurst Naval Air Station in new Jersey. The first “Blood Bank” opened in Chicago, which had seen an increase in polio cases during the year, causing schools to stay closed.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt is sworn in for the second of his four terms.
On the sports front, Joe Louis became the Heavyweight Champion in boxing. The Brown Bomber beat Jim Braddock in June, and would go on to hold the title for almost twelve years.
Around the world, King Edward VII abdicated the throne to marry an American woman, and King George VI had his coronation in May. Neville Chamberlain became the British Prime Minister. The Toyota Motor Company is founded in Japan, and Japan invaded China.
But it was two Joes that dominated on the diamond...
The 1937 baseball season was one of the top offensive producing seasons in Major League history. The American League tallied a .281 batting average as a league, while the national League batted at a .272 clip.
This translates into a bad year for pitchers, as the combined ERA was 4.27 across the leagues, with the National League pitchers outperforming their American league counterparts by 21.4%. Which stands to reason, since the National League hurlers didn't face Hank Greenberg, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig or Rudy York. The American League, as a whole, scored 506 less runs than they did in 1936, but hit 48 more home runs.
The top American League teams (Yankees, White Sox, Tigers) steamrolled the weaker teams (Browns and Senators). The St. Louis Browns finished fifty-six games behind the pennant winning Yankees. The Senators fared a little better, only missing by forty-six and a half games. The Browns finished the season with the tenth worst winning percentage in American league history (.299) That fast will come into play in a little while, when we compare players to their team performances.
(The Tigers scored thirty-six runs against the Browns during a doubleheader in August)
At season's end, the Power Rankings looked like this:
YankeesWorld Series ChampsWhite Sox3rd in ALTigers2nd in ALGiantsNL ChampsIndians4th in AL
And as it played out, the Yankees defeated the Giants in five games in the Series.
The 1937 season began on an unusual note.
The Giants were visiting the Dodgers at Ebbets Field. Dick Bartell of the Giants stepped to the plate against Van Lingle Mungo. Mungo and Bartell had a bit of a history, having gotten into a fistfight the previous season. And prior to that, Bartell had a few other run ins with Dodger players, previously spiking Joe Judge and Lonny Frey in earlier seasons.
Bartell stepped to the plate, and Mungo fired a fastball for a strike. Suddenly a big soft tomato flew out of the stands, its hurler unknown, and also landed a strike, right in the middle of Bartell's chest. It took him a moment to realized that he had not been shot, as the umpire allowed him time to change his jersey before the game resumed.
Undaunted from that point on,the Giants won 1-0 over the Dodgers on their way to the National League pennant. The Giants outlasted the Cubs to win the title by three games.
On a side note, the Reds would finish in last place in 1937, and then wouldn't finish in last again until 1982.
The All-Star Game is believed to have claimed its first career in 1937. Earl Averill of the Indians hit a line drive that broke Dizzy Dean's toe. The Cardinal's pitcher altered his delivery after the incident, which led to elbow and shoulder issues. He finished the season at 13-10, but won just sixteen more games over the next four seasons.
In Chicago, construction began on reconstructing the bleachers. The plan was to build the bleachers in concrete, instead of wood, and have them fronted by a brick wall. In September of that year, the now iconic ivy was planted to cover the brick facade.
The also iconic scoreboard was installed for the 1937 season. To date, no batted ball has ever hit the scoreboard at Wrigley Field. Golfer Sam Snead did hit it with a golf ball teed up at home plate in 1951.
There were two rookie pitchers that each won twenty games in the National League. Jim Turner of the Boston Braves, and Cliff Melton of the New York Giants. Melton had an unfortunate nickname that almost wrecked his big-league career before it started...Mickey Mouse.
Some players made note of his 'floppy jug ears', and would tease him about it, which infuriated Melton. Word spread quickly that if someone yelled Mickey Mouse while Melton was pitching, it would affect his pitching.
During Spring Training in 1936, opposing manager Ray Schalk called Melton Mickey Mouse, and Melton charged into the dugout and knocked Schalk out cold.. Three more times over the next month, players would dare to call Melton by his nickname, and three more times, Melton would get the knockout. (His being 6 foot 6 and 205 pounds combined with what seemed to be blind rage helped with his pugilistic exploits.
Fortunately, he was able to overcome his anger issues, and went on to win twenty games in 1937.
And speaking of Jim Turner, he became the first Brave pitcher to lead the league in ERA.
Reds catcher Ernie Lombardi became the first catcher to amass six hits in one game.
Cubs outfielder Augie Galan became the first switch-hitter to homer from each side of the plate in the same game. And Frank Demaree got six hits in the first game of a double-header, and two more in the nightcap, giving him eight hits on the same day.
There were two Triple Crown winners in 1937. War Admiral set the horse racing world on fire, guided by jockey Charley Kurtsinger, and winning the Big Three races.
And Cardinals slugger Joe “Ducky” Medwick won the National League's Triple Crown, the last National Leaguer to do so. (He wound up in a tie for the home run lead with Mel Ott. He did hit a home run that was negated because that game was eventually forfeited by the Phillies) He also became the fourth player to lead the National League in homes and doubles in the same season. It would be 1973 until Willie Stargell of the Pirates would do it again.
Medwick became the first player to get four hits in the All-Star Game that summer.
Medwick, Hall of Fame outfielder from Carteret, New Jersey, made a name for himself as a cocky, surly young man during his minor league days. A shrewd negotiator, he studied the Sporting News weekly, and figured out which major league team had the biggest need for an outfielder. He decided that St. Louis, though a solid team at the time (1930), their outfield was aging. Signing with the Cardinals would help fast-track himself to the big leagues.
He made several stops along his minor league career, most notably in Houston, where he earned the nickname “Ducky”, allegedly because he may have waddled a little as he walked. Some of the ladies took to calling him “Ducky-Wucky”, which he hated. But unlike Cliff Melton, Medwick took the nickname in stride.
An opportunistic executive, Houston Bulls team president Fred Ankenman contracted with a local candy company to produce a “Ducky-Wucky” candy bar to be sold at the Bulls home games.
Medwick decided that since he had to endure the Ducky-Wucky moniker, he could at least earn some profit for his troubles, so he demanded a cut of the sales of the chocolate bar. So at this point, nineteen year-old minor league outfielder had what only Babe Ruth and Charles Lindbergh had, which was a chocolate bar named after them (Take that, Reggie Jackson)
(special mention of friend Gary Cierdakowski and his great book “The League of Outsider Baseball” for these special Joe Medwick tidbits)
He easily made it through several levels before reaching St. Louis during the 1932 season. He would hit .300 or better in his first eleven seasons, and would eventually be elected to the Hall of Fame.
1937 became the second consecutive year where two American League sluggers amassed both 200 hits and 40 home runs. Lou Gehrig and Hank Greenberg in 1936, Greenberg and Joe DiMaggio in 1937.
In Detroit, rookie catcher Rudy York hit thirty-five homers, just the third rookie to hit 35 or more in his first season. Eighteen of those thirty-five (51.4%) were hit in August. And he still owns the record for the highest slugging percentage by a rookie, at .651.
Hank Greenberg joined Lou Gehrig in the exclusive 200 hits + 100 walks club. This was Greenberg's first time, and Gehrig's second. No one else had done it before Gehrig.
Hank also became the first player with 200 hits and 100 strikeouts, the seventh American League player with 40 homers and 40 doubles, and the first Tiger to hit 40 homers in a season.
He also set the record for Runs Batted In by a right handed hitter in the American League, and still holds the all-time record for most teammates driven in. He drove in 183 runs, hitting 40 homers, so 183-40=143 teammates driven in)
And it was a teammate that won the Most Valuable Player Award that year...Charlie Gehringer.
Over to the Bronx, where the Yankees would best the Giants in the Fall Classic, pitcher Lefty Gomez became the first pitcher to win both the All-Star Game and a World Series game in the same season.
But Joltin' Joe DiMaggio set all sorts of marks in what many believe was his finest season of his illustrious career. In taking a bit of sage advice from the legendary Ty Cobb, Joe changed from a forty ounce bat to a thirty-six ounce bat. He shared the Yankee spotlight with the great Lou Gehrig, and surpassing him at points during the season, Dimaggio became an almost immediate superstar.
In just his second year, the twenty-two year-old center-fielder hit .346 with 46 homers, 167 runs batted in and scored 151 runs. (Three Yankees drove in 130 or more runs, and four players scored 125 or more runs)
He was the youngest player to hit .330 with 40 or more homers in a season, and had the fourth highest Total Bases total in AL history (418)
DiMaggio was the second player to hit 40 or more homers while striking out less than 50 times. Lou Gehrig was the other to do it, and he did it twice.
And Joe became the first player to homer in a World Series Game during three different decades, the thirties, forties and fifties.
And it was a Duck (Ducky Medwick) and a Jolt (Joltin' Joe DiMaggio) that each reached 400 total bases, just the third time that more than one player reached 400 Total Bases in the same season (1930 and 1936)
So, let's get to the stats. Starting in the weak pitching American League, our initial numbers bring us this list of top performers:
PITCHERTEAMW-LERAVOTESMonty StrattonWhite Sox15-52.40No votesLefty GomezYankees21-112.339th in MVPJohnny AllenIndians15-12.5513th in MVPRed RuffingYankees20-72.988th in MVPLefty GroveRed Sox17-93.02No votesTed LyonsWhite Sox12-74.15No votesThornton LeeWhite Sox12-103.54No votesEldon AukerTigers17-93.88No votesJohn WhiteheadWhite Sox11-84.07No votesJack WilsonRed Sox16-103.70No votes
And then compared to their teams performances, remembering the Browns and A's numbers may skew these initially, we get:
Oral HildebrandBrowns8-175.14No votesJack KnottBrowns8-184.89No votesJohnny AllenAbove
George CasterA's12-194.34No votesWes FerrellRed Sox14-194.90No votesRed RuffingAbove
Monty Stratton of the White Sox is one of baseball's forgotten heroes. He wasn't interested in baseball much as a young man, but was approached to pitch for a local semi-pro team near his home in Texas. He pitched very well, and was noticed by scouts, and made his way to the White Sox rotation in short order.
1937 was his breakout year, and although he would win fifteen games in 1938, his career was ended by a horrific hunting accident, where he accidentally shot himself in the leg, severing an artery, and causing an amputation of the leg. He would never pitch in the majors again...
But he did pitch again...
Amazingly, after a few years, and the help of his wife/catcher, Stratton was able to teach himself to pitch again, and was able to take the mound in 1948 for the Sherman Twins of the East Texas League (Class C ball) And he pitched well enough to win eighteen games.
The made a movie, The Monty Stratton Story that starred Jimmy Stewart.
(Thanks again to Gary Cieradkowski)
Also of note is Yankee pitcher Lefty Gomez. A colorful character for the business like Yankees, Lefty was always judged to be a little off-center. But what a pitcher he was.
My favorite story involving him happened during this season. In the World Series, Game 1 I believe, Gomez stepped off the mound and signaled for catcher Bill Dickey to come out to the mound. Dickey trots out, confused as to what was going on, and Lefty asked him, “You still got them hunting dog puppies?”
“Huh?” Dickey responded
“You know, them puppies that you had. I had a friend ask me to ask if you had any of them puppies left, and I just now remembered to ask. Do you?”
Dickey didn't answer, just shook his head and went back behind the plate.
I do not know if Lefty's friend ever got a puppy or not.
Anyway, our top overall pitching performances for 1937 in the American League were;
Tommy Bridges (Tigers 15-12 4.07)
Now over to the National League, where the pitchers fared a little better, our initial rankings are:
PITCHERTEAMW-LERAVOTESJim TurnerBraves20-112.384th in MVPCliff MeltonGiants20-92.6111th in MVPLou FetteBraves20-102.885th in MVPCarl HubbellGiants22-83.203rd in MVPDizzy DeanCardinals13-12.69No votesTex CarletonCubs16-83.15No votesDanny McFaydenBraves14-142.93No votesVan MungoDodgers9-112.91No votesSlick CastlemanGiants11-63.31No votesRuss BauersPirates13-62.88No votes
And now looking at how they did compared to their teams, we get:
Lee GrissomReds12-173.2619th in MVPTex CarletonAbove
Luke HamlinDodgers11-133.59No votesDizzy DeanAbove
Peaches DavisReds11-133.59No votesDanny McFaydenAbove
Gene SchottReds4-132.97No votes
That brings our list of top national League pitchers for 1937 to:
Now, to the very potent American league hitters, with runs produced per game, the initial numbers are:
PLAYERTEAMHRRBIAVGRP/GVOTESJoe DiMaggioYankees46167.3461.802nd in MVPLou GehrigYankees37158.3511.654th in MVPRudy YorkTigers35101.3071.3323rd in MVPBill DickeyYankees29133.3321.365th in MVPCharlie GehringerTigers1496.3711.491st in MVPZeke BonuraWhite Sox19100.3451.38No votesJimmie FoxxRed Sox36127.2851.35No votesBob JohnsonA's25108.3061.26No votesHal TroskyIndians32128.2981.31No votesJoe CroninRed Sox18110.3071.317th in MVP
And against their teams performances, we get this ranking:
Harlon CliftBrowns29118.3061.2413th in MVPZeke BonuraAbove
Wally MosesA's2586.3201.1311th in MVPBeau BellBrowns14117.3401.1917th in MVPRudy YorkAbove
Billy WeberA's770.2921.16No votesBill DickeyAbove
Which brings our top offensive list to this:
Now, on to the National League, our initial list is:
PLAYERTEAMHRRBIAVGRC/GVOTESJoe MedwickCardinals31154.3741.501st in MVPJohnny MizeCardinals25113.3641.3210th in MVPGabby HartnettCubs1282.3541.062nd in MVPDolph CamiliPhillies2780.3391.18No votesFrank DemareeCubs17115.3241.3115th in MVPBilly HermanCubs865.3351.189th in MVPWally BergerBraves/Giants1765.2851.15No votesMel OttGiants3195.2941.087th in MVPArky VaughanPirates572.3221.10No votesPaul WanerPirates274.3511.088th in MVP
And then compared to their teams, we get this list:
Gene MooreBraves1670.2830.96No votesTony CuccinelloBraves1180.2710.96No votesHeinie ManushDodgers473.3330.9521st in MVPErnie LombardiReds959.3340.76No votesBabe PhelpsDodgers758.3130.77No votesMel OttAbove
That brings our overall National League hitters ranking to:
Dick Bartell (Giants 14HR 62RBI .306AVG 1.09 RC/G, 6th in MVP)
The post season awards for Most Valuable Player were awarded to Charlie Gehringer and Joe Medwick. There was no post-season pitching awards given at this point in baseball history. Since it is my blog, I will make a note for pitcher of the year for each league, which would be the top of my overall list for pitchers in each league.
Some years, the pitcher is the player of the year, bust most times not. In a heavily offensive season, like this season in particular, the top league overall ranking (combining hitters and pitchers) are very hitter heavy.
With that being said, my top five overall performers in each league are:
Monty Stratton (Pitcher of the Year)
Jim Turner (Pitcher of the Year)