The 1936 baseball season opened without Babe Ruth in a major league uniform for the first time since 1913. Released by the Yankees at the conclusion of the 1934 campaign, Ruth spent the early portion of 1935 with the National League’s Boston Braves, before announcing his retirement at the end of May.
Although Ruth’s absence left a huge void in the middle of the Yankees’ lineup in 1935, they did relatively well, finishing second in the American League, just three games behind the pennant-winning Detroit Tigers. Nevertheless, New York’s second-place showing marked the third consecutive time they failed to advance to the World Series. In an effort to return to the Fall Classic, the Yankees turned to the West Coast prior to the start of the 1936 campaign, acquiring the rights to Joe DiMaggio from the Pacific Coast League’s San Francisco Seals. Billed as “the perfect ballplayer” by those who saw him play in the PCL, the 21-year-old centerfielder quickly established himself as one of the sport’s finest all-around players. Moving seamlessly into the number three spot in New York’s batting order, DiMaggio provided the perfect right-handed complement to the left-handed hitting Lou Gehrig.
With Gehrig and DiMaggio leading the way, the Yankees ran away with the American League pennant, finishing 19 ½ games ahead of the second-place Detroit Tigers, with a record of 102-51. New York’s potent offense scored a league-leading 1,065 runs, falling just two runs shy of tying the all-time mark the team established five years earlier. Yankee pitchers also compiled the lowest team ERA in the league, posting a mark of 4.17, en route to allowing the opposition a total of 731 runs.
Red Ruffing anchored New York’s pitching staff, compiling a record of 20-12, 25 complete games, and 271 innings pitched, while posting a 3.85 ERA. Monte Pearson finished second on the team with 19 victories, while Lefty Gomez added another 13 wins.
The Yankees’ greatest strength, though, remained their potent lineup. Leadoff hitter Red Rolfe batted .319 and scored 116 runs. Shortstop Frank Crosetti batted .288 and placed among the league leaders with 137 runs scored and 18 stolen bases. George Selkirk and Tony Lazzeri combined to drive in 216 runs. Bill Dickey established himself as the league’s premier catcher by hitting 22 home runs, knocking in 107 runs, scoring 99 others, and batting .362. Joe DiMaggio displayed his all-around brilliance by hitting 29 homers, driving in 125 runs, scoring 132 others, batting .323, collecting 206 hits and 44 doubles, and leading the league with 15 triples. He also accumulated a league-leading 22 outfield assists.
Yet, the heart and soul of the team remained Lou Gehrig. The 33-year-old first baseman led the American League with 49 home runs, 167 runs scored, 130 walks, a .478 on-base percentage, and a .696 slugging percentage. He also finished among the leaders with 152 runs batted in, 205 hits, 403 total bases, and a .354 batting average. Gehrig’s exceptional performance earned him recognition as the American League’s Most Valuable Player.
New York subsequently experienced its first Subway Series since 1923 when the Yankees faced the National League champion New York Giants in the Fall Classic. Giant hurlers Carl Hubbell and Hal Schumacher kept the Series interesting for a while, with Hubbell ending the Yankees’ 12-game winning streak in Series play by defeating them in Game One. But the Yankees ended up dominating the Fall Classic, taking the Series in six games, while outscoring their National League counterparts by a combined margin of 43-23.
The Tigers might well have provided significantly more competition to the Yankees for the right to represent the American League in the World Series had they not experienced a great deal of misfortune early in the year. After knocking in 16 runs in the season’s first 12 games, Hank Greenberg suffered a broken wrist in a collision at first base that put him on the shelf for the rest of the year. Detroit suffered another huge loss when player-manager Mickey Cochrane broke down from exhaustion just 33 games into the campaign. Charlie Gehringer did his best to keep the Tigers’ ship afloat, batting .354, driving in 116 runs, scoring 144 others, and collecting 227 hits and 60 doubles. However, New York’s exceptional team balance proved to be too much to overcome.
The Cleveland Indians, who finished fifth in the league, 22 ½ games behind the pennant-winning Yankees, ended up tying the Tigers for second in the circuit with 921 runs scored. The tandem of Hal Trosky and Earl Averill paced the Indians on offense. Trosky led the league with 162 runs batted in and 405 total bases, finished second with 42 home runs, batted .343, and scored 124 runs. Averill hit 28 home runs, drove in 126 runs, finished second in the league with a .378 batting average, scored 136 runs, and led the A.L. with 232 hits.
Meanwhile, Luke Appling had the finest season of his career for the third-place White Sox. Appling won the batting title with a mark of .388, finished second in the league with a .474 on-base percentage, knocked in 128 runs, scored 111 others, and collected 204 hits. His .388 average remains a major league record for shortstops.
Other notable events from around the league and players who distinguished themselves over the course of the season included:
• February 2 – The baseball writers voted for the first players to be named to the new Baseball Hall of Fame. Ty Cobb‚ Babe Ruth‚ Honus Wagner‚ Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson each received the requisite 75 percent of ballots cast to gain induction. Active players were eligible in this first election‚ with Rogers Hornsby finishing ninth‚ Mickey Cochrane 10th‚ Lou Gehrig 15th‚ and Jimmie Foxx 19th. Hal Chase finished 25th, with 11 votes, while two writers placed Shoeless Joe Jackson’s name on their ballots, placing him 36th in the voting.
• May 3 – Joe DiMaggio made his major league debut in left field in the New York Yankees' 14–5 victory over the St. Louis Browns. DiMaggio collected three hits in six trips to the plate, with a triple, a run batted in, and three runs scored.
• May 24 – The Yankees defeated the Philadelphia Athletics 25–2. Second baseman Tony Lazzeri drove in 11 of New York’s runs with two grand slams, a third home run, and a triple. With his last blast, Lazzeri amassed seven home runs in four successive games to set a Major League record.
• August 23 – 17-year-old Bob Feller made his first career start for the Cleveland Indians, striking out 15 St. Louis Browns during a 4-1 victory.
• September 23 – Feller established a new American League record (since broken) by striking out 17 batters in a game.
• Ed Coleman of the Browns set a new American League record with 20 pinch hits (since broken).
• Joe DiMaggio’s total of 132 runs scored remains an American League rookie record.
• Boston’s Lefty Grove won his seventh ERA title with a mark of 2.81.
- 1936 Hall of Fame, 1936 World Series, American League, Babe Ruth, Bill Dickey, Bob Feller, Carl Hubbell, Charlie Gehringer, Earl Averill, Ed Coleman, Frankie Crosetti, George Selkirk, Hal Schumacher, Hal Trosky, Hank Greenberg, Jimmie Foxx, Joe DiMaggio, Joe McCarthy, Lefty Gomez, Lefty Grove, Lou Gehrig, Luke Appling, Mickey Cochrane, Monte Pearson, New York Giants, New York Yankees, Red Rolfe, Red Ruffing, Tony Lazzeri