There are a number of great rivalries in baseball: Cards-Cubs, Dodgers-Giants, Yanks-Red Sox, and others. In postseason baseball there is nothing quite like the rivalry between the Yankees and the Dodgers. They’ve played each other more than any other World Series combination (with the Yankees usually winning). This is a look at the World Series that started that rivalry, the 1941 World Series.
Joe McCarthy, since the early 1930s managed to lead the New York Yankees to World Series triumphs five times, the last win coming in 1939. His offense finished high in almost every major American League category. They were second in runs, slugging, OPS, total bases; first in home runs; third in walks, batting average, OBP; and fourth in triples. Only in doubles were they down the list at seventh. The staff was equally as effective. They finished first in hits, runs, and saves (although the stat wasn’t around yet). They were second in ERA and shutouts while finishing third in strikeouts.
The infield, two years removed from the tragic loss of Lou Gehrig, consisted of Johnny Sturm at first, Hall of Famers Joe Gordon and Phil Rizzuto up the middle, and Red Rolfe at third. Rizzuto’s .307 led the infield in average while Gordon led in both homers (24) and RBIs (24). His 5.2 WAR also led the infield and was third on the team. Rizzuto’s WAR was at 4.5. Rolfe’s WAR stood at 1.1 while Sturm was at a minus two. The backups were two middle infielders: Jerry Priddy and Frankie Crosetti. Both managed a single home run while Priddy had more RBIs and Crossetti a slightly higher batting average.
There is a school of thought that states this Yankees outfield was, across the board, the best Yankees outfield ever. Charlie Keller was in left. He hit .298 with 33 home runs, 122 RBIs, and OPS+ of 162 for 6.6 WAR. Tommy Henrich was in right. He hit .277 with 31 home runs, 85 RBIs, a 136 OPS+, and 4.6 WAR. Of course the center fielder was Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio. The Clipper hit .357, had 30 homers, 125 RBIs, only 13 strikeouts in 541 at bats (read that closely), had an OPS+ of 184, and 9.1 WAR, all to go along with the 56 game hitting streak and an MVP Award. The backups were George Selkirk and Frenchy Bordagaray. Frenchy hit .260, “Twinkletoes” Selkirk had six home runs and 25 RBIs. They combined for a -0.1 WAR (Selkirk’s was at least a positive number).
Hall of Famer Bill Dickey and Buddy Rosar did almost all the catching. In many ways their season mirrored each other. Dickey hit .284, Rosar .287. Dickey’s OPS+ was 109, Rosar’s was 101. Dickey’s 2.6 WAR exactly doubled Rosar’s 1.3. Dickey had seven home runs and 71 RBIs while striking out only 17 times in 348 at bats. Rosar played many less games, but had 10 strikeouts in 209 at bats. Ken Silvestri was the third catcher. He got into 17 games and hit .250.
Although there were a couple of stars involved, the staff really worked as a “staff.” Marius Russo led the team with 27 starts while Red Ruffing, Spud Chandler, Lefty Gomez, and Atley Donald all started at least 20 games. Marty Breuer and Ernie “Tiny” Bonham had 18 and 14 starts while no one else had more than eight. Ruffing and Gomez, the two members of the Hall of Fame, each put up 15 wins while Russo had 14. Chandler had 10 and both Donald and Bonham, as well has Breuer had nine. Russo’s WAR was 3.0, Bonham managed 2.6, and Ruffing 2.0. The reliever was Johnny Murphy. His ERA was 1.98 in 77 innings pitched, all in relief. He had 15 saves but managed to walk 40 opponents while striking out only 29. His ERA+ was a team leading 200.
Although they’d lost to Detroit in 1940, the Yankees of 1941 were still very much the same team that had won consecutive World Series crowns in 1936, ’37, ’38, and ’39. In the coming World Series they would face an upstart team that hadn’t been to a championship since 1920 and hadn’t won one since Iron Man Joe McGinnity and the turn of the century.