Considered by many baseball historians to be the greatest team ever assembled, the 1939 New York Yankees compiled a regular-season record of 106-45, en route to capturing the American League pennant by a 17-game margin over the second-place Boston Red Sox.  By scoring a league-leading 967 runs, while allowing the opposition to cross the plate a total of only 556 times, New York posted a run-differential of 411 – the largest in major-league history.  The Yankees led all of baseball with 166 home runs, a .374 on-base percentage, and a .451 slugging percentage, while also topping all American League clubs with a team ERA of 3.31.  Four Yankee players finished in the top ten in the A.L. MVP voting, with Joe DiMaggio winning the award for the first time in his career.  Meanwhile, nine members of the team earned All-Star nominations, with five of those men also earning a spot on The Sporting News All-Star Team at season’s end.  The Yankees accomplished all they did despite suffering a series of devastating blows that would have demoralized a lesser team.

After winning their record third-straight world championship in 1938, the Yankee family was saddened just a few months later by the loss of team owner and President Jacob Ruppert on January 13, 1939.  Ruppert, who first purchased the Yankees in 1915, helped build them into a dynasty with his willingness to pursue top talent, exhibited best by his purchase of Babe Ruth from Boston in 1919. 

Meanwhile, on the field, the 1939 campaign began in ominous fashion with star centerfielder Joe DiMaggio embroiled in a bitter contract dispute with team management.  The Yankee Clipper ended up missing the first few weeks of the season after settling for $27,500 – an increase of only $2,500 over his previous year’s salary.  At the same time, Lou Gehrig hardly appeared to be himself as he struggled throughout Spring Training.  Coming off the least productive season of his career, Gehrig seemed even more sluggish than he did one year earlier.  After batting just .143 and driving in only one run in the season’s first eight games, the Iron Horse failed to take the field for the first time in 2,130 games on May 2, informing manager Joe McCarthy he didn’t wish to hurt the team anymore.  Babe Dahlgren replaced Gehrig at first base during a 22-2 victory over the Tigers in Detroit, ending the Yankee captain’s string of 13 consecutive seasons in which he appeared in every one of the team’s games.  After undergoing a series of tests, it later surfaced that Gehrig suffered from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, a rare and incurable neurological disorder that has since become more commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease.  As word spread throughout the baseball world of Gehrig’s dire situation, the newly-opened Hall of Fame elected to make the first baseman one of its first members.  Meanwhile, the Yankees honored their captain with a special day at Yankee Stadium on July 4th, in which his teammates, past and present, paid tribute to him.  During the emotion-filled ceremonies, the Yankees retired Gehrig’s number 4, after which he made perhaps the most memorable speech in sports history, telling a teary-eyed, standing-room-only crowd that he considered himself to be “…the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”

The Yankee players somehow managed to block out the many distractions that surrounded them, performing brilliantly on the field throughout the entire campaign.  Although only one New York pitcher won more than 13 games, seven members of the staff finished in double-digits in victories.  Atley Donad won 13 games, while Lefty Gomez, Bump Hadley, and Monte Pearson each posted 12 victories.  Red Ruffing served as the staff ace, finishing the year with a record of 21-7, a 2.93 ERA, 22 complete games, and a league-leading five shutouts.  

On offense, the Yankees had nary an easy out in the lineup.  Red Rolfe batted .329, knocked in 80 runs, and led the league with 139 runs scored, 213 hits, and 46 doubles.  George Selkirk batted .306, hit 21 homers, knocked in 101 runs, and scored 103 others.  Rookie outfielder Charlie Keller drove in 83 runs and batted .334.  Frank Crosetti scored 109 runs, while his double play partner Joe Gordon hit 28 homers and knocked in 111 runs.  Bill Dickey hit 24 home runs, drove in 105 runs, scored 98 others, and batted .302.  With Gehrig no longer a member of the team, Joe DiMaggio clearly established himself as New York’s best player, leading the league with a .381 batting average, while hitting 30 homers, knocking in 126 runs, and scoring 108 others, despite appearing in only 120 games.  DiMaggio’s brilliant performance earned him league MVP honors.

The Yankees subsequently faced the Cincinnati Reds in the World Series, which turned out to be only slightly more competitive than the previous year’s Fall Classic.  New York swept Cincinnati in four straight games, outscoring their opponents by a combined margin of 20-8.  Charlie Keller was the hitting star, batting .438, hitting three home runs, knocking in six runs, and scoring eight others.  The four-game sweep enabled the Yankees to capture their fourth straight world championship (no other team had yet to win more than two consecutive World Series).  The Yankees lost a total of only three games over the course of those four World Series.

By Bob_Cohen
1939 World Series, Atley Donald, Babe Dahlgren, Bill Dickey, Bump Hadley, Charlie Keller, Cincinnati Reds, Frankie Crosetti, George Selkirk, Jacob Ruppert, Joe DiMaggio, Joe Gordon, Joe McCarthy, Lefty Gomez, Lou Gehrig, Monte Pearson, New York Yankees, Red Rolfe, Red Ruffing, Tommy Henrich


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