By Robert Malchman
November 30, 2023
NOTE - Longtime reader Robert Malchman shared this great article with us.
THANK YOU PROFESSOR!
I read with interest Paul Sr.’s review of “The Kid” Blasts a Winner by Bill Nowlin about Ted Williams’ game-winning home runs. From the cover image, I noted that the first one took place on May 4, 1939. I knew that Williams came up that year, but hadn’t thought much about when during that season. Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games streak (and playing career) ended May 1, 1939, and the thought popped into my head, did the Red Sox play the Yankees with both Gehrig and Williams in the same game? I knew, of course, that Joe DiMaggio played with Gehrig and against Williams, but could they all have been on the field the same day?
The answer is “yes.” It was one game only, Opening Day, on April 20, 1939, at Yankee Stadium. It was a cool, overcast day, with a high of 59 degrees after two days of rainouts, so that it would be the only one of the three-game opening series to be played. Perhaps as a result of the weather or delays, the expected crowd of 60,000 topped out at 30,278.
Because of the postponements, reported The New York Times, the match-up of “Leftys” – Grove vs. Gomez – would not occur, with the latter being replaced by another future Hall of Famer, Red Ruffing. He would be backed by four other future HoFers, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Bill Dickey and Joe Gordon, plus All-Stars Frank Crosetti and Red Rolfe. But there would have been no reason for Grove to despair, as the Sox likewise put four future Hall Members on the field: Williams, Jimmie Foxx, Joe Cronin and Bobby Doerr, and two former All-Stars in Doc Cramer and Joe Vosmik.
World Championship banner was raised. Mayor LaGuardia threw out the first pitch, and Babe Ruth was loudly cheered.
Cramer led off the game with a single but advanced no further. The Yankees struck first when Dickey homered to deep right leading off the second. The only other run of the game came in the fifth. After Rolfe’s grounder eluded first baseman Foxx for an error, Jake Powell tripled to the right field corner for an unearned run. After an intentional walk to DiMaggio, however, the rally ended when Gehrig grounded into a double play to second.
The game settled into a pitching duel. Ruffing bent repeatedly, leaving a runner on base every inning, but shutting out the Red Sox. He and Grove each scattered seven hits and struck out five, with Grove walking two (both DiMaggio) and Ruffing one.
The Yankees thus won 2-0. The hitting stars of the game were Powell, 3-for-4, including the triple and RBI; and Dickey, 2-for-3 with the home run and a double. DiMaggio was 1-for-2 with the two walks, and two fine plays in center: “In the fourth Jolting Joe picked a low line drive inches off the grass [hit by Jim Tabor,] and in the sixth he galloped out to the right center bleacher wall to haul in a clout by Cronin.”
On the BoSox side, it was Williams’ first Major League game, and he went 1-for-4 with two strikeouts, his first hit a double to right-center, right after DiMaggio’s pick of Tabor’s sinking liner. As the Times columnist put it: “Between strike-outs, Rookie Ted Williams of the Red Sox bounced a double off the right-field bleacher wall. He takes a nice swing. But sometimes he takes too many of them in one turn at bat.” There would be 2653 more hits to come, and 1939 marked the most strikeouts in a season for Williams (64), which he never again came within 10 of in any of his 18 other seasons.
As for Gehrig, it was his eighth-to-last game, and it was a bad one: 0-for-4, two GIDPs to Doerr at second, two more LOB with two outs in the first on a flyout to Williams in right, and a dropped throw for an error in the ninth. Even the Times columnist, who certainly didn’t know about Gehrig’s illness, had a note of pity in his comment: “Lou Gehrig didn’t get any hits and twice he banged into double plays. But the blows that led to the twin-killings were well-meant and solidly slapped.” It’s basically a “participation trophy” inscription. It’s the only thing, even nearly 85 years after the fact, that makes sorrowful the idea of seeing a game with Gehrig, DiMaggio, Williams, Ruffing, Grove and five more Hall of Famers. But I still wish I could have seen it.