DiMag’ Tops Yankee Heap
BOSTON – Joe DiMaggio didn’t start the 1938 season quite the way he wanted to. Due to a contract squabble with management, the young centerfielder held out for a pay raise, one that he felt was well-deserved after an MVP-like season in 1937. In the process, he missed all of spring training, as well as the first twelve games of the season. Begrudgingly agreeing to the terms of his new contract by the end of April, Joe met with Colonel Ruppert at his Brewery on the 25th to officially sign his contract, one that stipulated a $25,000 salary, minus the time he had lost in reporting.
It was not until the last contest of April, in a game at Griffith Stadium against the Senators, that DiMag finally got into the lineup. In front of 16,000 hollering Washington fans, the centerfielder reached first on a fluke single which Washington’s John Stone kicked around in right field after missing a shoe-string catch. The Yankees won 8 to 4, and passed the .500 mark for the first time that season.
Returning to New York on May 3, DiMaggio showed his face to almost 7,000 hometown fans. Though the crowds at Yankee Stadium hooted and jeered their star for his holdout and apparent greed, the centerfielder contributed to the 5-1 Yankee win with a pair of doubles, as well as a number of long bombs that went foul by such a small margin that everyone in the building jumped to their feet with anticipation, eyes glued on the direction of the horse-hide sphere.
DiMaggio continued to hit, and the Yankees continued to win. The team pulled off six straight wins in mid June. During this time, the Yanks had a firm hold on second place, having kept even pace with the Cleveland Indians, who were leading the league. Behind New York awaited Boston, seemingly the only other club in the league vying for a pennant birth.
By the time the Yanks met the Sox for a three game series in Boston on July 8, New York was riding high on a nine-game winning streak. The result of that run saw the pinstripers knotted with Cleveland for first place, after a win and a tie in Washington before the All-Star break. Up to that point, DiMaggio continued hitting well above a .300 clip, and scored the lone American League run in the mid-summer classic two days before the Boston series.
The first game was played to a ladies’ day crowd of 26,000, with each team using three pitchers. The Sox gave up eight hits, and an astonishing 13 walks. Yankee pitchers Joe Beggs and ‘Spud’ Chandler were the goats, giving up nine runs between them – a plateau the Yankees could not surmount. DiMaggio added a single that scored a run in the sixth, but the Yankee winning streak was snapped on a 9-8 loss.
Saturday’s game gave the Yankees an opportunity to return the favor. With all of the Yankees – save Gehrig and the pitchers – batting safely, three more Boston hurlers were sacked for seventeen hits, including four home runs, a triple, and two doubles. The explosive New York offense was good for a hefty eleven runs to Boston’s six. Yankee second baseman Joe Gordon was the star of the game with two round trippers, though DiMaggio was not far behind, missing the cycle by a home run.
Sunday, July 10 saw Fenway Park besieged by sweltering heat and rabid fans, but also crystal clear skies. 28,000 screaming rooters came to see the marquee match-up of the three-game set – Robert ‘Lefty’ Grove versus Vernon ‘Lefty’ Gomez. Though he was the oldest pitcher in the business at 38 years of age, the season’s halfway mark saw Grove looking for his league-leading thirteenth victory. Gomez, having a slow start to his season, was in search of his seventh.
Yankee shortstop Frank Crosetti opened the game with a clean single to left. Third sacker Red Rolfe popped out to short center, which Boston’s ‘Doc’ Cramer bobbled and dropped; but was able to force Crosetti at second with a toss to the shortstop. With Rolfe reaching first safely, DiMaggio doubled off of the left field wall, sending the redhead to third. Though, unlucky left fielder’s throw into the infield caromed off of the sliding DiMaggio’s leg and back into the outfield, scoring Rolfe for the first peg of the game.
After that run in first inning, the Yanks threatened again in the third. Two quick outs were sandwiched in-between singles by Gomez and right fielder Myril Hoag, with DiMaggio and the heart of the order waiting. Pictured is the result of the composed pitcher’s offering: DiMaggio quietly knocked Grove’s pitch to Joe Cronin at short, who easily recorded the third out. The Boston lefty had retired the side with only seven pitches.
After Gehrig was left on first base, with Bill Dickey, Jake Powell and Hoag making easy outs, the Red Sox made their push in the fourth. By that time, it seemed that Gomez had relatively little trouble with the BoSox, giving up a single to Foxx in the first, a single to Chapman in the second, and a walk in the third, which ended in a double play ball. Though, things would start to unravel for Gomez.
First sacker Jimmie Foxx and Cronin led off their half of the fourth with singles. Third baseman ‘Pinky’ Higgins laid down a bunt, and with both Gomez and Gehrig going for the ball and the infield falling out of position, Higgins reached safely, loading the bases. Chapman’s long liner to DiMaggio sent Foxx home. After DiMaggio handled a fly ball off of the bat of second baseman Bobby Doerr for the second out, Gomez walked catcher Gene DeSautels and Grove, forcing in another run, and putting the Sox ahead 2-1.
In the sixth, the Yanks regained the lead. With two men out, Dickey bounced a single over Foxx’s head at first, and then made it to second after Powell reached by slapping a base-hit off of Higgins’ glove. Joe Gordon then sent a long fly into right centerfield, dropping in for a triple when Chapman lost the ball in the blazing sun, thus scoring Dickey and Powell.
The see-saw battle continued in the seventh, with the Sox scoring three. With one out, left fielder Joe Vosmik whaled a 420-foot triple to deep center. A 3 and 2 count on Cronin led to a double into left, scoring Vosmik with the tying run. Cronin later moved to third after Higgins beat out a high-bouncer to Rolfe. Chapman walloped a double against the top of the left field wall, and with Cronin and Higgins crossing, the score was now 5-3. Though the Sox argued that the ball went into the screen and bounced out – making it a home run – umpires Cal Hubbard and Bill Summers tabbed it a double.
In the eighth, Gehrig tripled past Chapman and scored on Powell’s single, but Gordon hit into a double play, closing the inning and leaving the Yanks still one run behind.
The ninth inning would be the undoing of Gomez. Desautels led off with a single, and Grove sacrificed him to second. Gomez blocked Cramer’s smash and tried to catch Desautels at third, but missed. By that point, Joe McCarthy had seen enough. He brought in Irving ‘Bump’ Hadley to take the mound, hoping that the right hander would stop the bleeding. He induced a groundout by Vosmik, though Desautels was able to score. Hadley would fan the mighty right-handed Foxx, but going into the ninth the Yanks were still two runs behind.
In that last half frame, the venerable Grove made quick work of the boys from the Bronx, striking out Yankee pitcher Red Ruffing – who was sent in to hit for Hadley – as well as Crosetti. Red Rolfe meekly grounded out to Higgins, ending the game.
Though the Yank’s weekend trip to Boston may not have been pleasant for their place in the standings, as they were now two games behind Cleveland, Joe DiMaggio must have returned to New York with the comfortable feeling of a man who was earning a large salary. At the half-year mark, he was leading the Yankees with a .330 batting average – certainly a mark befitting a $25,000 a year plutocrat.
And though the masses at the Stadium continued to boo the former holdout, he answered them with stellar ball playing through the late summer months. He ended his 1938 season with 32 home runs, 140 runs batted in, a .324 batting average, and an anemic 21 strikeouts – numbers that led the club. To top matters off, DiMaggio took a dominant Yankees team to the World Series, taking first place from the Indians for good on July 13, and easily beating the Chicago Cubs in four games during the fall classic.
With that, the Yankees had their third consecutive crown, and a torchbearer worth every penny.