Building a Winner: Crossing the Jordan

Joe Medwick

Joe Medwick

With the coming of the 1940s, the Brooklyn Dodgers were finally, after 20 years, in position to contend for the National League title. By 1940 the team had put together many of the components necessary to make a legitimate run at a pennant. The next few pieces of the puzzle would come together in 1940.

With manager Leo Durocher now doing more managing than playing, the Dodgers needed a new shortstop. They found him in minor leaguer Harold “PeeWee” Reese. How good was he? He managed to make the Hall of Fame. With Dolph Camilli again leading the team in home runs, RBIs, and WAR Brooklyn also had a first-rate first baseman. Cookie Lavagetto at third fell back somewhat from his 1939 campaign, but held firmly on to his position. Pete Coscarat was at second. He hit under .250, but was fourth on the team in home runs (nine) and fifth in RBIs (55). They may have been fourth and fifth on the team, but the Dodgers were looking, at the end of the season, for something better than nine homers and 55 Ribbys.

The outfield had a full makeover. Although Gene Moore and Ernie Koy were still on the team (they got into a combined 34 games) the starters were totally different from 1939. New guy from 1939, Dixie Walker, now held one position. He hit above .300 and had 66 RBIs. Joe Medwick, a future Hall of Famer who’d won the Triple Crown, came over from St. Louis to take the second position. He’d fallen off from both the Gas House Gang pennant year of 1934 and the triple crown. He did manage to hit .300 in Brooklyn and had 14 home runs for the team. Thirty year old Joe Vosmik came over from the American League (Boston) to take the third slot. But the more important news, at least in terms of what would happen in 1941, was 21-year-old rookie Pete Reiser who got into 58 games, hit .293, and played with wild abandon in the outfield.

Catcher Babe Phelps hit .293, but at 32 was aging fast. His backups included Gus Mancuso who was even older and Herman Franks who hit all of a buck-83. He caught a  staff that included returning starters Fred Fitzsimmons, Luke Hamlin, and Whit Wyatt. As early as 1940, Hugh Casey was beginning to fill a relief roll. He still started 10 games, but appeared in 44. There was one significant arrival on the mound, Curt Davis. He’d come to Brooklyn from St. Louis in the same trade that brought Medwick to the Dodgers (Koy was one of the players going the other way). He went 8-7, but would make his arm known the next season.

All this got the Dodgers 88 wins and second place in the National League (behind Cincinnati). By the end of 1940 most of the pieces were in place for a significant pennant run. There was still work needed at second. Another starter would be necessary. And with an aging catcher, new blood behind the plate was needed. The Dodgers would look to address all these issues before the 1941 season ended.

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5 Responses to “Building a Winner: Crossing the Jordan”

  1. glenrussellslater Says:

    Excellente! And interesting. And well-researched. What more can I say?

    Glen

  2. The Baseball Bloggess Says:

    I’m going to keep my fingers crossed for those ’41 Dodgers. 🙂

  3. William Miller Says:

    Of course, one big IF is, how good a player would Pete Reiser have been if he hadn’t clobbered himself against outfield walls so often as a young player? Imagine a healthy Pete Reiser in an outfield alongside Duke Snider and Carl Furillo?

  4. keithosaunders Says:

    My Dad liked to tell the story of going to Ebbets field and seeing Pee Wee Reese as a rookie. Someone in the stands sitting behind him remarked, “Look at him, he’s a baby! How can they pitch to him?!”

  5. Precious Sanders Says:

    “How good was he? He managed to make the Hall of Fame.”

    I love how you phrased that. Like, “No biggie, really. He just managed to get himself enshrined in the temple of baseball greats, that’s all.”

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