The Yankees marched on in the 1938 baseball season, this time winning by 9-1/2 games over Boston and 13 over Cleveland. Neither of the American League's top two hitters, however, wore pinstripes.
Third-time MVP Award-winner Jimmie Foxx of Boston had what is probably the best non-Triple Crown season in American League history, driving in a league-leading 175 runs (tied for fourth on the all-time list), banging out 50 home runs, and winning the batting title at .349. Detroit's Hank Greenberg made the first serious challenge in years to Babe Ruth's single-season home run record before finishing at 58 homers, which tied him for second most ever; Greenberg also led the American League in runs scored with 144 and was second in RBI with 146. Greenberg and Foxx were each issued 119 free passes by terrified American League pitchers.
Other highlights of the decade's top home run hitting year -- and one of the best for offense in general -- were Cleveland outfielder Jeff Heath's .343 batting average and league-leading 18 triples and Red Sox shortstop Joe Cronin's circuit-topping 51 doubles. Cleveland's strikeout king Bob Feller set the modern record for walks issued in a season with 208; Bobo Newsom, the St. Louis Browns pitcher, walked 192, the fifth-highest total in modern history.
Although the Yankees placed few hitters among the league-leaders, their offense blended beautifully to produce 966 runs, the most in the American League. Lou Gehrig hit .295 with 29 homers, Joe DiMaggio batted .324 and drove in 140 runs on 32 home runs, and Bill Dickey hit .313 with 27 round-trippers. Joe Gordon took over from veteran second baseman Tony Lazzeri and contributed 25 homers and 97 RBI.
Yankee pitching was also the league's best, compiling a 3.91 ERA (the only American League team mark under 4.00), compliments of the 21-7 Red Ruffing and 18-12 Lefty Gomez, second and third in ERA at 3.32 and 3.35; Boston's Lefty Grove was limited by injury to only 21 starts, but led all American League hurlers with a 3.07 ERA. New York's third and fourth starters, Spud Chandler and Monte Pearson, combined for a 30-12 record.
The Depression-inspired phenomenon of night baseball contributed to one of baseball's most famous records in 1938, when Cincinnati's Johnny Vander Meer threw his second consecutive no-hitter in the first under-the-lights game ever held in Brooklyn. (The novelty of the Ebbets Field lights, which drew a capacity crowd as well as the Dodgers hitters' unfamiliarity with night baseball, contributed to the occasion.)
Vander Meer's feat has never been equaled, although Howard Ehmke came within one hit in 1923 as did Ewell Blackwell in 1947. A wild left-hander with an overpowering fastball, Vander Meer led the National League in strikeouts three times but was never a consistent winner; he went on to finish his 13-year career with a 119-121 record.
The Chicago Cubs won a close National League race over Pittsburgh, New York, and Cincinnati that came down to a late-season Cubs-Pirates meeting. The game was decided by catcher/manager Gabby Hartnett's ninth-inning, two out, two-strike homer and capped a nine-game winning streak, part of a 20-3 stretch run that vaulted the Cubs over the top.
Mel Ott won another home run title with 36, and Cincinnati catcher Ernie Lombardi, who caught Vander Meer's no-hitters and won the batting title at .342, was voted National League MVP. Cubs ace Bill Lee went 22-9 to lead the league in wins, and Lee and teammate Charlie Root finished first and second in ERA at 2.66 and 2.85.
The 1938 World Series was an utter mismatch, as the New York ballclub swept the Cubs in four straight by a combined score of 22-9. The Yankees pitchers recorded an ERA of 1.75 to their opponents' 5.03.
Check out the next page for some of the headlines from the 1938 baseball season.
- 1937 Baseball Season
- 1939 Baseball Season
- Baseball History
- How Baseball Works
- How the Baseball Hall of Fame Works
- How Minor League Baseball Teams Work
- Babe Ruth