After surrendering a franchise-record 898 runs to the opposition en route to finishing 16 games behind the first-place Philadelphia Athletics the previous year, the Yankees knew they had to do something if they had any intention of contending for the American League pennant in 1931. Once they decided to part ways with manager Bob Shawkey at season’s end, the first order of business became finding his replacement. To that end, the Yankees turned to Joe McCarthy, who just two years earlier had led the Chicago Cubs to the National League pennant. McCarthy never played in the major leagues, but he managed in the minors for more than a decade before the Cubs gave him his first opportunity to take over the reins of a big-league ball club. McCarthy became available when Chicago management fired him after the Cubs failed to repeat as National League champions in 1930.
Upon his arrival in New York, McCarthy received a less-than-enthusiastic greeting from most Yankee players, who viewed him as a National League interloper. Babe Ruth, in particular, resented his presence since the Bambino aspired to manage the team himself. Although McCarthy never won Ruth over, he gradually earned the respect and loyalty of the other players on the team as he began to mold his kind of undemonstrative and proficient team. McCarthy ended up managing the Yankees for the next 15 years, leading them to eight pennants and seven world championships.
The Yankees showed improvement under McCarthy in his first year at the helm, posting a record of 94-59, while reducing their team ERA from 4.88 to 4.20. Unfortunately, the Philadelphia Athletics continued to play superb baseball, capturing the American League pennant for the third consecutive season by finishing the campaign with a record of 107-45. As a result, New York had to settle for a distant, second-place finish.
Nevertheless, the Yankees made huge strides in 1931. The pitching staff began to take shape as Lefty Gomez and Red Ruffing developed into solid starters at the top of the rotation. Although Ruffing’s 4.41 ERA left something to be desired, he finished the campaign with 16 victories and 19 complete games. Meanwhile, Gomez established himself as the staff ace in his first full season, going 21-9, with a 2.67 ERA and 17 complete games.
While the pitching staff began to round into form, the Yankee offense remained the best in baseball, producing a major-league best 1,067 runs – the most scored by any team in the “modern era.” New York also led the majors with 155 home runs, a .297 batting average, a .383 on-base percentage, and a .457 slugging percentage. Shortstop Lyn Lary had a career-year, batting .280, driving in 107 runs, and scoring 100 others. Third baseman Joe Sewell, acquired from the Cleveland Indians prior to the start of the season, batted .302, scored 102 runs, and struck out only eight times in almost 600 total plate appearances. Ben Chapman, who moved to his more natural position of left field to make room at third for Sewell, batted .315, hit 17 homers, knocked in 122 runs, scored 120 others, and led the American League with 61 stolen bases. Bill Dickey batted .327 and drove in 78 runs. Earle Combs batted .318 and scored 120 runs. Babe Ruth had another phenomenal year, leading the league with 46 home runs, a .495 on-base percentage, and a .700 slugging percentage, while also finishing second with 163 runs batted in, 149 runs scored, 374 total bases, and a .373 batting average. Lou Gehrig was equally magnificent, batting .341, tying Ruth for the league lead with 46 homers, and topping the circuit with 163 runs scored, 211 hits, 410 total bases, and an American League record 184 runs batted in.
The Yankees also took a brief look into the future, calling up for the first time from the minor leagues two players that eventually carved out outstanding careers for themselves. Third baseman Red Rolfe made his major league debut with the club, appearing in one game as a defensive replacement, while 20-year-old outfielder Dixie Walker donned a Yankee uniform for the first time as well, getting three hits in 10 at-bats, for a .300 batting average.By Bob_Cohen
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- Babe Ruth, Ben Chapman, Bill Dickey, Dixie Walker, Earle Combs, Joe McCarthy, Joe Sewell, Lefty Gomez, Lou Gehrig, Lyn Lary, New York Yankees, Red Rolfe, Red Ruffing, Tony Lazzeri