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.
1938 Baseball Season HeadlinesThe 1938 baseball season marked the career endings of some legendary players, including Dizzy Dean and Kiki Cuyler. Read about some of the other headlines from the 1938 baseball season below.
Bill McKechnie won flags
with a record three
different National League
Bill McKechnie Boosts Reds
In last place in 1937, manager Bill McKechnie pushed the Reds to fourth in 1938, their first season under his command. McKechnie won flags with a record three different National League teams, and some analysts credit him with an American League pennant, too.
Dizzy Dean Done In
Dizzy Dean's spectacular career took a nose dive in the summer of 1937, when an Earl Averill line drive broke his toe. Dizzy, pitching with the injured foot, altered his motion and hurt his arm; he pitched a 13-10 record that year. He was never the same again. He would win only nine more games in his career.
Stan Hack Posts 320 BA
The Cubs' Stan Hack was unique in that he was a third baseman who could run but had little power. In recent years, several authorities on the game have mounted a case that he belongs in the Hall of Fame, but testament is against him. Fellow players do not remember Hack as having been anything exceptional, and the record books support them. In 1938, Hack hit .320 with 67 RBI. For his career, he hit .301 with no power. He averaged ten steals a year.
Al Simmons Has Final Hurrah
After knocking in 100 or more runs in his first 11 seasons, Al Simmons began to fade. However, he enjoyed one last big year with Washington in 1938, when he hit .302 with 21 homers and 95 RBI. In his later years, Simmons drove to reach 3,000 hits, and he bounced from team to team trying to reach his goal. He fell 73 short. Simmons was a hard hitter on the field and off. He loved to party and often hit the booze the night before a game. If he lived a cleaner life, he may have reached his 3,000th hit.
Jimmie Foxx Nails 50 Dingers
Jimmie Foxx holds the season franchise home run record for both the Athletics and the Red Sox. Like Pinky Higgins, though, he had better slugging marks in Shibe Park than in Fenway. In 1938, Foxx blasted 50 homers and drove in 175 runs, however -- numbers Higgins never approached.
Kiki Cuyler Retires
Kiki Cuyler finally hung up his spikes in 1938. He hit .273 his last season with 23 RBI. Over his career, he hit .321 and led the league in steals four times. Kiki has one of the most mispronounced names in baseball. His nickname was once "Cuy," which then became "Cuy-Cuy." Though his name is pronounced "Ky-ky," it is often said as "Kee-kee."
See the next section for more headlines from the 1938 baseball season.
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More 1938 Baseball Season Headlines
Following are more headlines from the 1938 baseball season, including Ernie Lombardi's 1938 National League batting title.
Johnny Vander Meer: Two No-Nos
During his minor league apprenticeship, Johnny Vander Meer looked liked another wild lefthander. His performance for the Reds in 1938 made believers of his skeptics, as he hurled back-to-back no-hitters in June. In his next start, he hurled three no-hit innings before yielding a hit to Boston's Debs Garms. However, Vander Meer had to return later to the minors before he became a finished pitcher. For his career, he was a mediocre 119-121. He was always tough to hit, but had serious problems with control.
Bill Dickey Best Behind Plate
In 1938, Bill Dickey hit .313 with 27 home runs and 115 RBI. He also hit .400 in New York's 1938 World Series sweep of the Cubs. Dickey, considered by some as the greatest catcher in American League history, caught 1,712 games in his career. He never played another position, not even for a single inning. Dickey saw it all with the Yankees. He played with Babe Ruth during the tail end of Ruth's career. He teamed with Lou Gehrig for many years and played with Joe DiMaggio for a few. And even when New York won five straight World Titles in the late 1940s and early '50s, Dickey helped the team as a coach.
Ernie Lombardi Takes 1938 National League Bat Title
Ernie Lombardi was the only catcher in major league history to win an undisputed batting title. In 1938, he hit .342 and had well over the number of plate appearances that modern rules require for a hitting leader. Another Reds catcher, Bubbles Hargrave, had just 326 at-bats when he won in 1926. Lombardi took a second crown in 1942 with a mere 309 at-bats.
Bill Lee Tops National League in Wins
In 1938, Bill Lee got good support from his Cubs teammates during the regular season (22 wins, best in the National League), but next to none in the 1938 World Series. He made two starts and pitched well, yet lost both when his teammates scored just one run in his 12 innings on the mound and made two critical boots behind him. Lee was brilliant during the season, leading the league in winning pct. (.710), ERA (2.66), starts (37), and shutouts (nine). At one point, he posted 32 consecutive scoreless innings. His trademark was his extremely high leg kick.
Bob Feller Racks Up 240 Ks
Bob Feller, who joined the Indians in 1936 as a 17-year-old, became the team's ace as a 19-year-old. In 1938, Feller went 17-11 and led the American League in strikeouts (240). He also limited opponents to a .220 batting average -- the best mark in the American League. By the age of 21, Rapid Robert would win 82 games. Feller probably missed out on between 80 and 90 wins due to the war.
Find highlights from the 1938 baseball season on the next page.
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1938 Baseball Season HighlightsThe 1938 baseball season provided the decade's top home run-hitting year. Hall of Famers Hank Greenberg and Mel Ott were among the big hitters that year. Find highlights from the 1938 baseball season below.
- The Yanks win their third straight American League flag, tying the loop record.
- The Chicago Cubs win in the National League.
- The Yanks sweep the 1938 World Series.
Henry Chadwick was
inducted into the Baseball
Hall of Fame in 1938.
- The Hall of Fame inducts Pete Alexander, Alexander Cartwright, and Henry Chadwick.
- Red Ruffing wins two complete games in the 1938 World Series.
- Stan Hack of Cubs leads all Series players in BA (.471) and hits (8) -- the first member of losing team to do so.
- The Yanks have now lost a total of three games in their last six World Series appearances.
- Jimmie Foxx is the American League MVP.
- Cincinnati's Ernie Lombardi is the National League MVP.
- Lombardi is the first catcher to win a consensus bat title (Bubbles Hargrave in 1926 had less than 400 at-bats).
- Hank Greenberg hits 58 homers to lead the American League.
- Lou Gehrig has 100 or more RBI for a major league-record 13th consecutive season.
- Cincinnati's Johnny Vander Meer no-hits Boston on June 11.
- Vander Meer becomes the only pitcher in major league history to throw back-to-back no-hitters, as he blanks the Dodgers on June 15.
- Bob Feller fans modern record (since broken) 18 batters in a game.
- Feller's 240 Ks top the majors.
- The National League strikeout leader Clay Bryant of Chicago has just 135 strikeouts.
- Feller gives up a 20th-century record 208 walks.
- Feller sets teenager records for Ks, walks, starts (36), CGs (20), and innings (278).
- Cub Bill Lee leads the majors with 22 wins.
- Gabby Hartnett's homer vs. Pittsburgh on Sept. 28 puts the Cubs in first to stay.
- Cardinal Frenchy Bordagaray hits record .465 as a pinch hitter and gets 20 pinch hits.
- Reds rise from last in 1937 to fourth in 1938 in first year under Bill McKechnie.
- The National League wins the All-Star Game 4-1 at Cincinnati.
- The Phils move to Shibe Park on July 4.
- Gehrig hits the last of his career record 23 grandslams.
- Greenberg hits a record 39 homers at home.
- On April 19, Dodger Ernie Koy and Phillie Heinie Mueller each homer in their first major league at-bat in same game.
To learn more about baseball, see:
More 1938 Baseball Season Highlights
Following are more highlights from the 1938 baseball season, including the broadcast of home games by all three New York teams.
- Gabby Hartnett is the last full-time player/manager to win a National League pennant.
- Yankee Monte Pearson no-hits Cleveland on August 27.
- Red Sox Pinky Higgins collects a major league record 12 hits in 12 consecutive at-bats.
- Ernie Lombardi grounds into a National League record 30 DPs.
- The Giants, Dodgers, and Yankees allow their home games to be broadcast on a regular basis.
- Foxx wins the American League bat crown (.349) and also leads in RBI (175), and total bases (398).
- Hank Greenberg leads the American League in runs (144) and ties for lead in walks (119).
- Stan Hack's 16 steals are an all-time low by a National League leader.
- Red Ruffing tops the American League in wins (21).
- Pitcher Red Lucas retires with 114 career pinch hits, a major league record to this juncture.
- Mel Ott tops the National League in homers (36) and runs (116).
- For the seventh straight year, Ott plays 150 or more games in a 154-game season.
- Ducky Medwick paces National League in doubles (47), RBI (122), and runs produced (201).
- Johnny Mize leads the National League in triples (16), SA (.614), and total bases (326).
- Bill Lee tops majors in shutouts (nine) and ERA (2.66).
- Hank Steinbacher of the White Sox goes 6-for-6 on June 22.
- Bobo Newsom wins 20 games for the Browns despite a 5.08 ERA.
- Boston finishes 9-1/2 games behind the Yankees -- it is the closest any American League team finishes from 1936-1939.
- Phils trade Dolph Camilli to Dodgers for Eddie Morgan and cash.
- In December, Giants swap Dick Bartell, Hank Leiber, and Gus Mancuso to Cubs for Bill Jurges, Frank Demaree, and Ken O'Dea.
- In April, the Cards send Dizzy Dean to the Cubs for three players and $185,000.
- Washington trades Joe Kuhel to the White Sox for Zeke Bonura.
- The Reds send Eddie Miller to the Braves for five players.
- The Dodgers hire Larry MacPhail as general manager.
- Monty Stratton, a 15-game winner with the White Sox, loses his leg after the season in a hunting accident.
- Tuberculosis forces Washington's John Stone to quit the game and enter a sanitarium.
- Detroit hits a record ten grandslams.
- Virgil "Fire" Trucks of Andalusia in the Alabama-Florida League fans 418 batters.
- George McQuinn of the Browns has a 34-game hitting streak.
- Mace Brown of Pittsburgh wins 15 games in relief to set a major league record.
- Vince DiMaggio of the Braves sets a major league record by fanning 134 times.
- On June 16, the Browns walk Jimmie Foxx a record six times in one game.