After failing to win the American League pennant for the first time in five years the previous season, the New York Yankees recaptured the A.L. flag in 1941, finishing the season with a record of 101-53, 17 games ahead of the second-place Boston Red Sox. Yet, the pennant race seemed relatively insignificant during the warm summer months as New York’s Joe DiMaggio and Boston’s Ted Williams continued to etch their names into both the record books and baseball lore. DiMaggio established an all-time major league record by hitting successfully in 56 consecutive games. Meanwhile, Williams also reached legendary status by becoming the last player to compile a batting average in excess of .400.
The Yankees found themselves mired in fourth-place in the American League standings on May 15th when Joe DiMaggio delivered a seemingly meaningless single against White Sox pitcher Edgar Smith during a 13-1 loss to Chicago at Yankee Stadium. The Yankee centerfielder went on to hit successfully in the next 55 games as well, posting a .409 batting average during his streak, while also hitting 15 home runs and driving in 55 runs. The Yankees followed DiMaggio’s lead, compiling a .750 winning percentage over that stretch, to distance themselves from the rest of the league. After having his streak stopped by the Cleveland Indians on July 17th, DiMaggio hit safely in each of his next 16 games, making it 72 out of 73 games in which he collected at least one safety. He finished the year with 30 home runs, 125 runs batted in, 122 runs scored, a .357 batting average, 193 hits, 11 triples, 43 doubles, a .440 on-base percentage, and a .643 slugging percentage.
While DiMaggio captivated the nation for two months with his remarkable hitting streak, Ted Williams continued to accomplish wondrous things in Boston. Once the Yankee Clipper’s streak ended in mid-July, baseball fans everywhere began focusing on the Splendid Splinter’s pursuit of the magical .400-mark. After raising his batting average to a high-water mark of .436 in late June, Williams saw his average slip to .3995 heading into play on the season’s final day. Red Sox manager Joe Cronin gave Williams the option of sitting out Boston’s double-header against the Philadelphia Athletics so that his average could be rounded up to an even .400. However, Williams decided to play both games and ended up going 6-for-8 on the day, to finish the season with a batting average of .406. No other player since has reached the .400-mark.
The tremendous success experienced by both DiMaggio and Williams over the course of the season left the members of the BBWAA with an extremely difficult choice when it came time to select the American League’s Most Valuable Player. DiMaggio’s record hitting streak left a strong impression in the minds of the voters. The centerfielder also led his team to the league championship, and virtually everyone in the sport considered him to be a superior all-around player to Williams. But the overall numbers Williams posted over the course of the season far exceeded the figures compiled by DiMaggio. While DiMaggio’s 30 home runs, 125 runs batted in, 122 runs scored, .357 batting average, .440 on-base percentage, and .643 slugging percentage were certainly nothing to scoff at, they paled by comparison to Williams’ 37 homers, 120 runs batted in, 135 runs scored, .406 batting average, .551 on-base percentage, and .735 slugging percentage. Nevertheless, the voters opted for DiMaggio, who received a total of 291 points in the balloting, to the 254 that Williams received.
While DiMaggio was clearly the driving force behind New York’s successful run to the pennant, he had a considerable amount of help from his teammates. Easily the American League’s most well-balanced team, the Yankees finished second in the junior circuit with 830 runs scored, and they also allowed their opposition fewer runs than any other team in the league (631). Although no one on their pitching staff won more than 15 games, the Yankees had a deep starting rotation that included seven pitchers who started at least 14 games for them over the course of the season. Meanwhile, Tommy Henrich, Joe Gordon, and Charlie Keller all had outstanding seasons on offense. Henrich hit 31 home runs, drove in 85 runs, scored 106 others, and batted .277. Gordon hit 24 homers, knocked in 87 runs, and scored 104 others. Keller batted .298, scored 102 runs, and placed among the league leaders with 33 home runs, 122 runs batted in, a .416 on-base percentage, and a .580 slugging percentage.
The Yankees subsequently faced the Brooklyn Dodgers in the World Series, hoping to win their fifth world championship in six years. After taking a two-games-to-one lead in the Fall Classic, the Yankees appeared defeated in the fourth contest when Dodger hurler Hugh Casey apparently struck out Tommy Henrich with two men out in the top of the ninth inning, with the Dodgers clinging to a 4-3 lead. However, the inning continued when Brooklyn receiver Mickey Owen failed to catch Casey’s low offering, enabling Henrich to reach first base safely. Joe DiMaggio followed with a single, Charlie Keller doubled, Bill Dickey walked, and Joe Gordon doubled, to give the Yankees a 7-4 victory. They clinched the Series the next day, defeating the Dodgers by a score of 3-1 on Tiny Bonham’s four-hitter.
Other notable events from around the league and players who distinguished themselves over the course of the season included:
• June 2 - Lou Gehrig finally succumbed to the disease that came to bear his name. Ironically, his passing occurred 16 years to the day after he began his historic consecutive games played streak. Gehrig was a few weeks shy of his 38th birthday.
• July 8 - At the All-Star Game at Detroit's Briggs Stadium, Boston's Ted Williams hit a game-winning three-run homer off Chicago Cubs pitcher Claude Passeau with two men out in the bottom of the ninth inning. The blast gave the American League a dramatic 7-5 victory.
• July 16 - Joe DiMaggio's hitting streak ended at 56 games against the Cleveland Indians.
• July 25 - Lefty Grove of the Boston Red Sox earned his 300th career win, which also turned out to be his last.
• November 25 – The Cleveland Indians named shortstop Lou Boudreau their new manager. He took over for Roger Peckinpaugh, who moved up to the front office as Cleveland’s general manager. At age 24, Boudreau became the youngest player to manage a team in the 20th century.
• Jimmie Foxx notched his 13th consecutive 100-RBI season, tying Lou Gehrig’s major league record.
• Washington Senators shortstop Cecil Travis placed second to Ted Williams in the A.L. batting race with a mark of .359. Travis also knocked in 101 runs, scored 106 others, and led the league with 218 hits.
• Cleveland Indians outfielder Jeff Heath hit 24 home runs, drove in 123 runs, batted .340, and led the league with 20 triples. By also collecting 32 doubles, Heath became one of a select few in major league history to surpass 20 home runs, 20 triples, and 20 doubles in the same season.
• Bob Feller led the major leagues with 25 wins, 260 strikeouts, and 343 innings pitched. His 343 innings pitched were the most compiled by any major league hurler since 1923.
• Feller enlisted in the Navy at the end of season.
- 1941 World Series, American League, Bill Dickey, Bob Feller, Brooklyn Dodgers, Cecil Travis, Charlie Keller, Claude Passeau, Edgar (AE) Smith, Hugh Casey, Jeff Heath, Jimmie Foxx, Joe Cronin, Joe DiMaggio, Joe Gordon, Lefty Grove, Lou Boudreau, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Owen, New York Yankees, Roger Peckinpaugh, Ted Williams, Tiny Bonham, Tommy Henrich