New York Yankees
The DiMaggio eraThe Yankees run during the 1930s could also be facetiously called the "McCarthy era", as manager Joe McCarthy (no relation to the infamous Senator of the same name) would guide the Yankees to new heights. Just as Gehrig stepped out of Ruth's considerable shadow, a new titan appeared on the horizon, in the person of Joe DiMaggio. The young center fielder from San Francisco was an immediate impact player, batting .323, hitting 29 homers and driving in 125 runs in his rookie season of 1936.
Behind the thundering Yankees bats of DiMaggio, Gehrig and Frank Crosetti, and a superb pitching staff led by Red Ruffing and Lefty Gomez and anchored by catcher Bill Dickey, the Yankees reeled off an unprecedented four consecutive World Series wins during 1936-1939. They did it without Gehrig for most of 1939, as the superstar's retirement due to ALS saddened the baseball world.
The strongest competition for the Yankees during that stretch was the Detroit Tigers, who won two pennants before that Yankees four-year stretch, and one after. When the Yankees did get into the Series, they had little trouble. During Game 2 of the 1936 Series, they pounded the Giants 18-4, still the World Series record (through 2005) for most runs by a team in one game. They took the Giants 4 games to 2 in that Series, and 4 games to 1 the next year. They also swept the Chicago Cubs in 1938, and the Cincinnati Reds in 1939.
After an off season came the Summer of 1941, a much-celebrated year, often described by sportswriters as the last great year of the "Golden Era", before World War II and other realities intervened. Ted Williams of the Red Sox was in the hunt for the elusive .400 batting average, which he achieved on the last day of the season. Meanwhile, DiMaggio, who had once hit in 61 straight games as a minor leaguer with the San Francisco Seals, began a hitting streak on May 15 which stretched to an astonishing 56 games.
A popular song by Les Brown celebrated this event, as Betty Bonney and the band members sang it: "He tied the mark at 44 / July the First, you know / Since then he's hit a good 12 more / Joltin' Joe DiMaggio / Joe, Joe DiMaggio, we want you on our side." The last game of the streak came on July 16 at Cleveland's League Park. The streak was finally snapped in a game at Cleveland Stadium the next night before a huge crowd at the lakefront.
Modern baseball historians regard it as unlikely that anyone will ever hit .400 again, barring a change to the way the game is played; and as virtually impossible that anyone will approach DiMaggio's 56-game streak, which is so far beyond second place (44) as to be almost a statistical anomaly.
The Yankees made short work of the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1941 Series. Two months and one day after the final game of the Yanks' 4 to 1 win, the Pearl Harbor attacks occurred, and many of the best ballplayers went off to World War II. The war-thinned ranks of the major leagues nonetheless found the Yanks in the post-season again, as they traded World Series wins with the St. Louis Cardinals during 1942 and 1943.
The Yanks then went into a bit of a slump, and manager McCarthy was let go early in the 1946 season. After a couple of interim managers had come and gone, Bucky Harris was brought in and the Yankees righted the ship again, winning the 1947 pennant and facing a much-tougher Dodgers team than their 1941 counterparts, in a Series that went seven games and was a harbinger of things to come for much of the next decade.
Despite finishing only 3 games back of the pennant-winning Cleveland Indians in 1948, Harris was released, and the Yankees brought in Casey Stengel as their manager. Casey had a reputation for being somewhat of a clown and had been associated with managing excruciatingly bad teams such as the mid-1930s Boston Braves, so his selection was met with no little skepticism. His tenure would prove to the most successful in the Yankees' history up to that point. The 1949 season is another that has been written about poetically, as a Yankees team that was seen as "underdogs" came from behind to catch and surpass the powerful Red Sox on the last two days of the season, in a faceoff that could be said to be the real beginning of the modern intense rivalry between these teams. The post-season proved to be a bit easier, as the Yankees knocked off their cross-town Flatbush rivals 4 games to 1.
By this time, the Great DiMaggio's career was winding down. It has often been reported that he said he wanted to retire before he became an "ordinary" player. He was also hampered by bone spurs in his heel, which hastened the final docking of the "Yankee Clipper". As if on cue, new superstars began arriving, including the "Oklahoma Kid", Mickey Mantle, whose first year (1951) was DiMaggio's curtain call.
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