A late-season surge that saw them win 20 of 23 games enabled the Chicago Cubs to edge out three other teams for the National League pennant in 1938. Included in that surge was a nine-game winning streak that catcher/manager Gabby Hartnett punctuated with a ninth-inning, two-out, two-strike game-winning homer against the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Cubs finished the campaign with a record of 89-63, just two games ahead of the second-place Pirates. The New York Giants finished third, five games back, and the Cincinnati Reds came in fourth, six games off the pace.
The Cubs lacked a potent offense, finishing third in the league with 713 runs scored. Third baseman and leadoff hitter Stan Hack led the Chicago attack, placing among the league leaders with a .320 batting average, 109 runs scored, and 195 hits. The strength of the Cubs lay in their pitching, which surrendered a league-low 597 runs to the opposition. Right-hander Bill Lee headed Chicago’s staff, leading all N.L. hurlers with 22 victories, a 2.66 ERA, and nine shutouts. Lee also placed among the league leaders with 19 complete games and 291 innings pitched, en route to earning a second-place finish in the N.L. MVP voting.
The Cubs entered the World Series as heavy underdogs against a New York Yankees team that lost a total of only three games over the course of the previous two Fall Classics. The Cubs fared no better than the Giants did in either 1936 or 1937, losing the Series to New York in four straight games. The Yankees outscored their overmatched opponents by a combined margin of 22-9.
Although the Cubs ended up representing the senior circuit in the World Series, each of the other pennant-contending teams had someone in their everyday lineup who exceed Chicago’s top offensive player in terms of total production. Outfielder Johnny Rizzo had a fine year for second-place Pittsburgh, hitting 23 homers, driving in 111 runs, scoring 97 others, and batting .301. Mel Ott put up big numbers for the third-place Giants. In addition to leading the league with 36 home runs, 116 runs scored, and a .442 on-base percentage, Ott batted .311 and finished among the leaders with 116 runs batted in, 118 walks, and a .583 slugging percentage. Meanwhile, the members of the BBWAA named Cincinnati catcher Ernie Lombardi N.L. MVP for hitting 19 homers, driving in 95 runs, and topping the circuit with a .342 batting average.
Other outstanding performers, notable events, and points of interest from around the league follow:
• June 18 - Babe Ruth joined the Brooklyn Dodgers as a coach for the remainder of the season.
• July 6 – At Crosley Field, home of the Cincinnati Reds, the National League earned its second victory in All-Star competition by defeating the American League by a score of 4–1.
• The Hall of Fame inducted Grover Cleveland Alexander, Alexander Cartwright, and Henry Chadwick.
• Stan Hack of the Cubs became the first member of a losing team to lead all World Series players in batting average (.471) and hits (8).
• Cincinnati's Johnny Vander Meer threw a no-hitter against Boston on June 11.
• Vander Meer became the only pitcher in major league history to throw back-to-back no-hitters when he blanked the Dodgers on June 15.
• Frenchy Bordagaray of the Cardinals established a single-season record by posting a .465 batting average as a pinch-hitter. He collected a total of 20 pinch hits over the course of the campaign.
• The Phillies moved to Shibe Park on July 4.
• Ernie Lombardi grounded into a National League record 30 double plays.
• Joe Medwick led the National League with 122 runs batted in and 47 doubles.
• Johnny Mize topped the circuit with 16 triples, 326 total bases, and a .614 slugging percentage.
• Pittsburgh’s Mace Brown established a new major league record by winning 15 games in relief.
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- 1938 World Series, Babe Ruth, Bill Lee, Carl Hubbell, Chicago Cubs, Ernie Lombardi, Frenchy Bordagaray, Gabby Hartnett, Joe Medwick, Johnny Mize, Johnny Rizzo, Johnny Vander Meer, Mace Brown, Mel Ott, New York Yankees, Shibe Park, Stan Hack