After failing to win the American League pennant for the first time in five years the previous season, the Yankees rode Joe DiMaggio’s hot bat all the way to the A.L. flag in 1941. DiMaggio hit in 72 out of 73 games at one point, establishing in the process an all-time major-league mark by hitting in 56 consecutive games. The Yankee Clipper’s streak provided the impetus for New York’s successful season, since the Yankees were in fourth place when it began on May 15th, but stood all alone, far ahead of the rest of the American League, by the time it ended two months later on July 17th. New York ended the season with a record of 101-53, 17 games ahead of the second-place Boston Red Sox, for whom Ted Williams batted .406.
The Yankees were easily the junior circuit’s most well-balanced team, finishing second in runs scored (830), while allowing the fewest runs of any team in the league (631). The pitching staff performed well even though it lacked a true ace. No one on the staff started more than 27 games, but seven different pitchers started at least 14 contests for the club over the course of the season. Red Ruffing, nearing the end of his career at 36 years of age, finished 15-6 with a 3.54 ERA. Returning to the team after missing most of the previous season with arm problems, Lefty Gomez posted a mark of 15-5. Marius Russo won 14 games and led the starters with a 3.09 ERA and 17 complete games. Johnny Murphy pitched brilliantly in relief all year long, compiling a record of 8-3 and an ERA of 1.98, and leading the league with 15 saves.
On offense, Tommy Henrich had his best year to-date, hitting 31 home runs, driving in 85 runs, scoring 106 others, and batting .277. Red Rolfe scored 106 runs, while Joe Gordon hit 24 homers, knocked in 87 runs, and scored 104 others. The team moved Frank Crosetti to the bench, replacing him at shortstop with 23-year-old Phil Rizzuto, who responded by batting .307 and leading the club with 14 stolen bases. Charlie Keller had an outstanding year, batting .298, scoring 102 runs, and finishing among the league leaders with 33 home runs, 122 runs batted in, a .416 on-base percentage, and a .580 slugging percentage, en route to earning a fifth-place finish in the A.L. MVP voting.
The Yankees, though, would have had a far more difficult time distancing themselves from the rest of the American League had it not been for the tremendous season turned in by Joe DiMaggio. Mired in a slump the first few weeks of the season, DiMaggio began his hitting streak on May 15th, singling off Edgar Smith of the Chicago White Sox. He hit safely in each of the next 55 games as well, shattering Wee Willie Keeler’s previous major-league mark of 44 consecutive games with at least one hit, set 44 years earlier. 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, 193 hits, 11 triples, 43 doubles, a .357 batting average, a .440 on-base percentage, and a .643 slugging percentage. Those figures, along with New York’s first-place finish, enabled DiMaggio to edge out Boston’s Ted Williams for the league MVP trophy. Meanwhile, DiMaggio, Gordon, Dickey, Keller, Ruffing, and Russo all earned spots on the A.L. All-Star Team.
On June 2nd, just as the Yankees began to pull away from the rest of the American League, 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.
Having recaptured the American League pennant, the Yankees subsequently faced the Brooklyn Dodgers in the World Series. 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. However, the inning continued when Brooklyn receiver Mickey Owen failed to catch Casey’s low offering, enabling Henrich to reach first base safely. The Yankees then mounted a four-run rally, giving them a 7-4 victory and control of the Series. They clinched their ninth world championship the very next day, defeating the Dodgers by a score of 3-1.
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- 1941 World Series, Bill Dickey, Brooklyn Dodgers, Charlie Keller, Hitting streak, Hugh Casey, Joe DiMaggio, Joe Gordon, Johnny Murphy, Lefty Gomez, Lou Gehrig, Marius Russo, Mickey Owen, New York Yankees, Phil Rizzuto, Red Rolfe, Red Ruffing, Ted Williams, Tommy Henrich