Max Blue / Historic Teams
A true story...
In 1940, America was at peace with the world, but just barely. A ghastly war was raging in Europe, and despite heroic efforts by President Franklin Roosevelt, the following year would see the U.S. enter the conflict. In the summer and fall of the year, Roosevelt, while campaigning for a third term, was entertained with the rest of the country by a riveting American League pennant race featuring a desperate season ending charge by the New York Yankees. The year 1940 was the only year between 1936 and 1943 that the Yankees did not win the pennant. They lost because they had trouble beating the St. Louis Browns, the symbol then and for all time of baseball futility. Jaybird and Me tells about one of those Yankee losses to the Browns in the summer of 1940.
JAYBIRD AND ME
By Max Blue
Hot air. In June it settles on St. Louis and remains, welcome as impetigo, until the middle of September, stirred only occasionally by a passing thunderstorm. In the entire month of July, 1940, and well into August, for that matter, the St. Louis daytime temperature never dropped below 90 and out near second base at Sportsmans Park, where the Cardinals and Browns play ball, you could bet it's a good ten degrees hotter, and that's where Jaybird and me are headed.
Jaybird is a year and half older than me, and he knows how to figure batting averages since he already finished 6th grade while I'm still trying to remember my times tables, although I do know how to tell time. But we both know a four bagger when we hear one and last night on the radio we heard Walt Judnich hit two to help the Browns beat the Yankees which happens about as often as our Dad gets a 15 pound catfish on his trot line. Judnich is a rookie center fielder the Yanks let go because they got DiMaggio, and now he has 17 homers on the year, same as DiMaggio. When I asked Jaybird if he thought the Yanks might swap DiMaggio for Judnich he didn't think so because DiMaggio hit .381 last year with 30 homeruns and126 runs batted in. But on the other hand, Jaybird says, if Judnich got to play 22 games a year batting against Browns pitching he might hit .381 too, maybe more. Jaybird knows about batting averages and things like that.
Jaybird and me have knothole passes, yellow for the Browns and red for the Cardinals, which means we get in free. We go to all the week day games unless they happen to be at night, which is beginning to happen more all the time. Jaybird and me get to the ballpark by riding the Delor Street bus to Grand Avenue where we transfer to the streetcar which takes us past Chippewa and Gravois, Arsenal, and Chouteau, and a bunch of other streets until we come to Grand and Olive where pretty soon you can see the light standards on top of Sportsmans Park. Jaybird says we live about 10 miles from the ballpark and I believe him. Sometimes it takes almost two hours to get to the park, and one time against Washington we missed a grand slam by Harlond Clift in the first inning because of a car crash which held up traffic although we got there in time to see Johnny Berardino hit two. But Eldon Auker, the Browns best pitcher, was throwing puffballs that day and Washington got two in the 9th to win 11-10. It costs a dime apiece to get to the park and back, and sometimes if Jaybird and me have been good, Mom gives us an extra nickel for peanuts or something. Jaybird handles the money.
We got an early start today because we heard on the radio last night that before the game today the regular Army is giving a machine gun demonstration and we don't want to miss it. When I ask Jaybird if this is supposed to help the Browns beat the Yankees again he says no, it is because there is a war in Europe. When I ask him where is Europe he says it is across the ocean somewhere on the other side of New York. Then I ask him where is New York, and Jaybird says it is somewhere on the other side of East St. Louis. Jaybird knows a lot of things. When I asked Jaybird why Grampa, who most of the time tells jokes and talks like Jimmy Durante, was yelling about Roosevelt's third term last night instead of listening to the ballgame, Jaybird says it's because Grampa doesn't like Roosevelt's new deal. Jaybird is right about that all right, onetime I heard Grampa say on Easton Avenue you could get shot for a deal like that. I asked Jaybird what does Grampa think is so bad about the new deal and Jaybird tells me Grampa thinks it is socialist. Before I can ask, Jaybird tells me that a socialist is somebody who doesn't like baseball. Jaybird knows a lot.
After we pass Grand and Olive Jaybird and me start to talk about baseball. Jaybird knows everything about baseball, he can tell you the starting lineup of all 16 major league teams including their batting average and how many homeruns they hit this year and last year, and probably even some years before that. But now he is explaining to me why in St. Louis more people like the Browns than the Cardinals even though last year the Browns lost over 100 games, and finished 64 games behind the Yankees, and the Cardinals finished second, only four and one half games behind Cincinnati. (I have to remember to ask Jaybird what a half game is.) Jaybird says the reason is that people feel good about a team that does better than anybody thinks they should, and even though the Browns only won 43 games they were so bad it was about 20 games more than anybody expected. The Cardinals on the other hand had guys like Johnny Mize, Joe Medwick, Terry Moore, Enos Slaughter, Pepper Martin, and Mickey Owen, and for them not to win the pennant was a disgrace. When I asked Jaybird how come a kid like him who only just finished 6th grade knew about things like this he told me it was something he learned in his last life and carried over. In his last life Jaybird was an inventor.
So this year the Browns have almost the same team except for this rookie Judnich and a few others, and when they won a doubleheader from the Yankees in St. Louis on June 16th, then beat the Red Sox four straight and actually moved into the first division one point ahead of the Yankees on June 25th it seemed almost like a miracle. Jaybird says it is a miracle because this is a Yankee team that last year won 104 ballgames and has won nine straight World Series games including last year when they did it without Gehrig, and also they had six guys on the all-star team including two pitchers. Jaybird says also not to forget that last year the Browns won only four games from the Yankees all year and lost 18 times. Some people say that a miracle is something that happens even though it is impossible, but Jaybird says the odds against the impossible are probably no better than a thousand to one and Jaybird is willing to accept as a miracle anything that happens when the odds against it are a hundred to one or better. But then something happened and here we are one month later and the Browns are back in last place. What happened was a 14 game losing streak when they played in Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, New York, Boston, and Philadelphia. Maybe the Browns had trouble sleeping on those trains. Jaybird says the odds against a 14 game losing streak, even for the Browns, are pretty high but he doesn't think it is a miracle that the Browns lost 14 straight; a calamity, and maybe even a tragedy, but not a miracle.
The streetcar finally stops at Grand and Dodier. We get off and walk across the street to the ballpark which when you stand right next to it you have to bend your neck so far back you are looking straight up if you want to see the top of the grandstand. This Sportsmans Park is a big ballpark. Jaybird and me always say so. The field is laid out so that if a left-handed batter hits one clear out of the park it will land on Grand Avenue; we saw Johnny Mize do that once. If a right-handed hitter hits one out of the park it will land on Dodier Street. One time we saw Joe Medwick hit a ball so hard it would have gone all the way to Fairgrounds Park which is about 10 blocks away except that Medwick doesn't lift the ball like Mize, he just hits line drives and this ball knocked some numbers off the scoreboard which is about 50 feet high on top of the leftfield bleachers. Speaking of Medwick, even Jaybird can't figure out why the Cardinals traded Medwick to the Dodgers in June on the same day the Germans took Paris although he has some ideas. He thinks the Dodgers are like the Nazis and Medwick is like Paris. When I ask if he doesn't think the Yankees are more like the Nazis than the Dodgers he says the Yankees are the Nazis of the American League and we should be careful they don't get Johnny Mize. Jaybird is really smart.
The other streets that surround the park are Spring which runs down the left field line, and Sullivan which runs down the right field line. The knothole gang always sits together in seats down the left field line behind the bullpen. It lets us see into the Browns or Cards dugout behind first base. Knotholers have to enter the park from an entrance on Spring Street, which is also where the ballplayers enter and leave, and where we stand after the games to get autographs from the players if we're lucky. After stopping to watch a floating crap game laid out on a blanket at the corner of Spring and Dodier, Jaybird and me show our knothole passes and go through the turnstiles which I always think is like going into a cave. It's kind of dark and it¹s cooler than out on Spring Street where the sun is boiling down; it smells like hot dogs and stale beer. When you go in you see all these steel beams and girders over your head like a giant erector set. Jaybird and me always run up the concrete ramp to get out of the cave as quick as we can. Also we can't wait to see the field as we come to the end of the ramp. The first view of the green outfield and the brown infield with the white bases in their proper places is always the best. No matter how many times I see it I always get a little thrill which runs down into my toes; Jaybird says the same. He says it's because we know that something new and different will happen out there today, and that there is a good chance it will be exciting and maybe even thrilling. Jaybird is really smart.
The game starts at one o'clock, but we always try to get here in time for batting practice and usually we bring our gloves in case of a foul ball. You should see some of the scrambles for foul balls when they come into the knothole section. One of the kids had been to a game in Chicago and he said if you catch a foul ball you get to keep it, but here in St. Louis you have to give it back because balls cost money and the Browns don't have very much money. Jaybird says that even though the St. Louis fans like the Browns they don't like them enough to pay money to see them play. Most of the games there are more kids in the knothole section than in all the rest of the park, which holds more than thirty thousand. This is true today even though the Browns beat the Yankees last night, and there is a machine gun demonstration before the game today. All I can tell you about the machine guns is they make a lot of noise and they made a big mess in a hurry out of some straw targets that were set up in center field. Jaybird and me agree it is more fun to watch batting practice, which was cut short today because of the machine guns.
Down in the middle of the knothole section is a big crowd of kids waving their arms and yelling at a fat kid with thick glasses and wearing a Browns baseball cap. It is Benjie the Book, and he is taking bets on the game, which he always does although it looks like today there is more action than usual. When Jaybird and me get closer we find out why. It is because Benjie is covering all bets and spotting the Browns five runs, ties to the Book. When I ask Jaybird what does he think, he says maybe this is a good bet because the Yankees have lost four straight and the Browns have been scoring a lot of runs lately, mainly because Judnich and Rip Radcliff are in a good groove. On the other hand, Jaybird says if you're going to bet against the Yankees maybe you ought to get some odds no matter how many runs you get from the Book, and besides if we lost our streetcar money we would have to walk home which he reminds me is about 10 miles. Jaybird thinks about things like that.
The players line up for the Star Spangled Banner, and I mention to Jaybird it looks to me like the Yankees are bigger than the Browns. Jaybird says it is because in New York they eat better with bagels and cheesecake and things like that. I also notice that some of the Yankees are chewing tobacco and a couple even spit during "the rockets red glare". Jaybird says Nazis do things like that. When the game finally starts, Vernon Kennedy, a 20-game loser last year, is pitching for the Browns, and he gets the first guy, Knickerbocker, who is playing because Crosetti had a bad night, out on a long fly to Judnich. But then he walks Red Rolfe and gives up a hit to Henrich. DiMaggio now raps a double play ball to Berardino at short that gets a 900-voice groan from the knothole section when he kicks it into right field. Instead of three outs and no runs we are losing 1-0 with one out, two runners on, and Charley King Kong Keller, swinging three bats and drooling over his chance to hit next against Vernon Kennedy. Kennedy walks Keller to load the bases, and Bill Dickey unloads them in a hurry with a belt onto Grand Avenue. The next batter is Flash Gordon and he hits one up against the scoreboard in left, which finishes the day for Vernon Kennedy and leaves the Browns behind 6-0. Benjie the Book is smiling and says he will now cover all bets and give the Browns seven runs, but nobody is playing. Jaybird says he has a feeling and not to worry because the Browns haven't even been to bat, but I can't help thinking the Yankee pitcher is Monte Pearson and he pitched a two-hit shutout in the World Series against Cincinnati last year and was on the American League all-star team when they played right here at Sportsmans Park a couple of weeks ago. Also he beat the Browns on a five-hitter back in June. Jaybird reminds me that DiMaggio, Keller, Dickey, and Gordon were also on the all-star team so it's no big surprise that these guys can hit. Jaybird also says if he was the Browns¹ manager instead of Fred Haney he would not take Vernon Kennedy out of the game because it is not unusual for Vernon Kennedy to give up six runs in a game though not usually all in the first inning. When the Browns won that doubleheader from the Yankees back in June, Kennedy scattered six runs over nine innings in the first game, but more important he hit a homerun off Red Ruffing and the Browns got 11 runs.
So Haney is taking Vernon Kennedy's bat out of the game and bringing in a new pitcher, Lefty Mills. And the knotholers are getting restless because they know that Lefty Mills has as much chance of holding the Yankees as the evil emperor Ming the Merciless has of beating the real Flash Gordon in the 25th century. But Mills gets Babe Dahlgren on a ground ball and strikes out Monte Pearson to end the inning. The knotholers go crazy because they never saw Lefty Mills strike out anybody before. Now it is between innings and to take our minds off the Browns some loudmouth kid in the row behind us is yapping that Joe Medwick is a no-good bum and the Cardinals should stick one in his ear every time he comes up like Bob Bowman did the first time Medwick batted against the Cardinals in Brooklyn just after the trade. Now most of the knotholers are like Jaybird and me who think the Cards gave away the pennant when they sent Ducky Joe to Brooklyn because in the last three years Medwick either scored or batted in more than seven hundred runs for the Cardinals and the knotholers were here to see at least half of those beautiful runs and to marvel at how hard Medwick could hit a baseball. So we start telling this guy to shut his loud mouth about Medwick unless he wants a bag of peanuts stuffed in it. But he keeps yapping Medwick is a no-good bum because he wanted to get paid eighteen thousand dollars and the next thing you know, four guys pick him up, one for each arm and leg, walk down the aisle and dump him over the railing onto the field while the whole knothole gang is going nuts. Jaybird says it is not a good idea to yap bad things about a three fifty hitter in the presence of some of his friends, and that if a guy is as good as Medwick he should get paid whatever he thinks he's worthbecause maybe he has a sick grandma or something.
So. Back to the game. Out on the mound, where the temperature is maybe 110 degrees, is the Yankee right-hander Monte Pearson, trying to keep from laughing with his six run lead, and yet to throw a pitch. But Pearson, along with his manager Joe McCarthy, Benjie the Book, and everybody else except maybe Jaybird, is in for a surprise because just like Vernon Kennedy, he will be in the shower before the first inning is over. The first four Brownie hitters are left-handed and Pearson starts by walking Joe Grace, which if you are Benjie the Book is not a good sign because anybody can tell you if you have a six run lead it is not such a hot idea to put runners on base free, even if they are Browns. Pearson now stomps around the mound like he is not so happy and strikes out George McQuinn who happens to be the only Brownie to make the all-star team though he did not get to play. But Wally Judnich, and Ripper Radcliff smack doubles and the Browns have two runs. After Berardino flies to DiMaggio in deep center, Harlond Clift delivers a two-out RBI single to center although the knotholers were yelling, "we want a homer". Joe McCarthy, the head Nazi, now comes out of the dugout with a hook for Pearson who is steaming in more ways than one because he figures with Lefty Mills pitching for the Browns the Yankees will probably score a couple of dozen more runs and it looks to him like an easy win and what is the big deal about three runs. But McCarthy brings in Atley Donald who strikes out Jeep Heffner to end the inning with the Yankees ahead 6-3. Jaybird wonders if they got Atley Donald's names reversed.
In the top of the 2nd we get another surprise when Lefty Mills puts the Yankees down in 1-2-3 order, although Rolfe and Henrich hit the ball pretty hard, and has now retired five in a row. Atley Donald begins the 2nd by walking Bob Swift, the Browns' catcher, and a towel comes sailing out of the Yankee dugout. Nobody can tell whether they threw the towel at Donald or the Ump but the plate Umpire, a guy named Basil, is looking hard at the Yankee dugout, and although we are too far away to hear what he says there is no doubt he is not a happy Ump. Jaybird says Umpires are never happy, especially when they have to work at 110 degrees, and he read where the Umpires are trying to get the league to hire four Umpires for each game instead of three so they don't have to hear people singing "Three Blind Mice" when they come out to start the game. But Jaybird says no matter how many Umpires they have it won't help their eyesight, and also it's just as easy to sing "Four Blind Mice". Jaybird also thinks the pitches must be really bad to be called balls because when it's 110 degrees the strike zone gets bigger. Anyway, Swift scores on a hit by Grace and the score is now 6-4.
But Lefty Mills has done about all he can do and gives up a homerun and triple to DiMaggio and Keller in the third and a two run homer to Henrich in the fourth, and the Yankees have their six-run lead back at 10-4. DiMaggio, who they are starting to call Jolting Joe, has now hit in 17 straight games. After four homeruns, a triple, and some up-against-the-wall outs in only four innings it is easy to see why they call these guys the Bronx Bombers. Jaybird says he thinks Lefty Mills is really a brave guy to stand that close to the Yankee hitters when he can't throw the ball any harder than that. But Atley Donald, who the Yankees call Swampy, is not having much luck either, especially with Grace, Judnich, and Radcliff, and the Browns score three in the 4th and send him to the showers with none out in the 5th when they score again and now trail by only two runs. Meanwhile the Browns are getting something that Jaybird calls a small miracle in itself: good middle inning relief pitching. Slick Coffman, who Jaybird says they ought to call Bones because he is so skinny, pitches a scoreless 5th, and Roxie Lawson blanks the Bombers in the 6th, 7th, and 8th.
Jaybird has noticed something else he now points out to me. Guys are sleeping in the Yankee bullpen down the right field line. We can look across the field from our spot here in left field and see three guys sitting with their legs stretched out and their black caps, with the white NY, pulled down over their eyes and their arms folded across the gray traveling uniform and the black NEW YORK on their chests. Jaybird thinks it has something to do with the game last night or more likely what happened after the game. He has heard stories about visiting ball club parties in the Chase Hotel, and he says if the party had to wait until after the night game it is possible some of the Yankees maybe even didn't sleep at all last night. It would not be the first time Jaybird says, because our Dad told us about a time a few years ago when, after thrashing the Browns as usual, he saw Babe Ruth and some other Yankees whooping it up in Belleville which is 30 miles away over in Illinois. That was before they even had lights at Sportsmans Park, and the Yankees were playing a different kind of night game which now maybe they have passed on to the present Yankee team along with how to hit a baseball.
In the 6th the Browns tie the score at 10 with two runs off Grandma Johnny Murphy who is pitching like he is half asleep even though he is probably the best relief pitcher in the league over the last five years, and usually handles the Browns like they were knotholers. And the knotholers of course go nuts, and let go our air attack which we having been building since we came into the Park and noticed all the old score cards laying around from last night's game. These scorecards are perfect for paper airplanes and when the Browns tie the score, a fleet of old scorecards sails onto the field and King Kong Keller, the Yankee left fielder, ducks for cover.
In the top of the 7th, Twinkletoes Selkirk gets a wake-up call on the end of the Yankee bench to pinch hit for Murphy because Grandma has given up five hits and even walked a guy in only two innings. But Twinkletoes does not have time to get the sleep out of his eyes before Roxie Lawson strikes him out with some kind of dipsy-doodle pitch that leaves Twinkletoes scratching his head and glaring at the knotholers who are chanting kay-O, kay-O, kay-O, as he slinks back to the bench dragging his bat behind him.
In the bottom of the 7th, after the knotholers stretch and sing "Take Me Out To The Ballgame", Judnich smacks his fourth hit, another double, and Radcliff rips his fourth hit, a single to right off Lefty Russo, just up from a nice nap, and the Browns take a 12-10 lead. Jaybird says it is a good sign to take the lead in the lucky 7th, but he hopes it does not wake the Yankees up. Jaybird, like I said before, knows everything about baseball, and tells me Radcliff is 34 years old and the oldest guy on the field. Also with this rap he is now hitting over .370 which leads the league, about 40 points higher than DiMaggio. Jaybird says it is quite amazing to see an old guy like Radcliff hit like that, especially since not only is he old, he is also a shrimp standing next to Bill Dickey at the plate - about half a foot shorter than the Yankee catcher, and weighs maybe 160 pounds soaking wet.
The big news in the 8th is that Roxie Lawson gets Henrich, who already has three hits, on a line drive to Judnich to end another scoreless Yankee inning, and so does not have to face DiMaggio with runners on base. In the home 8th the 5th Yankee pitcher, Oral Hildebrand becomes the first one to get the Browns out without giving up a run. So we get to the 9th with the Browns ahead 12-10 and the knotholers, who really care about this game, yelling for Roxie to hold 'em. Jaybird tells me that Roxie Lawson is the second oldest guy on the field and anybody can see he probably weighs less than Rip Radcliff though he is taller. He is what they call a string bean. Today, in the 9th inning, he is a cooked string bean. Roxie has been pitching since the 6th inning, shutting out the Yankees on one hit, and though it is no longer 110 on the mound it is still hot enough to make Roxie look like he just came out of the shower with his uniform on, which Jaybird says maybe he did.
Roxie Lawson is the only Browns pitcher other than Auker and Bill Trotter with a winning record, and over the years, pitching mostly for Detroit against Ruth, Gehrig, Foxx, Appling, and all the rest, he has won almost 50 major league games including his glory year of 1937 when he won 18 and lost 7 for the Tigers. Roxie Lawson knows how to pitch, and as he takes a deep breath and hitches up his sagging pants to face DiMaggio leading off the Yankee ninth he is rummaging near the bottom of his bag of tricks. Jaybird says DiMaggio is almost impossible to trick because with his legs spread out like that and his hands held back, any ball near the strike zone, no matter what the speed or how it is spinning, is more than likely going to be struck a hideous blow by DiMaggio¹s flashing bat. This time is no exception. Roxie winds and delivers. DiMaggio waits and waits and waits, then uncoils and sends a shot towards the hot corner that would have hit Harlond Clift right between the eyes except that Clift is a major league third baseman and he gets his glove up in time to catch the ball although the force of the blow turns him completely around. DiMaggio, one step out of the box, kicks the dirt in disgust. The knotholers scream in delight and mock DiMaggio on his way back to the dugout.
But Roxie is not only a cooked string bean he is also as done as a baked potato and gives up a double off the top of the right field pavilion to Charley Keller on the next pitch. Buddy Rosar, in the game for Dickey who is no Spring chicken himself, singles to left putting the tying runs on base and bringing up Flash Gordon. The knotholers are pleading for Roxie to hold em' but Roxie is looking towards the bullpen where he sees Bob Harris and Emil, Hillbilly, Bildilli throwing half-hearted warm-up pitches like they wished they were someplace else. Roxie sighs, goes back to work and gets an out even though Flash Gordon hits the ball so far into center field that Keller walks home and Buddy Rosar takes second after the catch. Now it is 12-11, but there are two outs and all Roxie has to do is get Babe Dahlgren, a two fifty hitter who is trying to take Lou Gehrig's place as the Yankee first baseman. The knotholers are all on their feet and start the chant- "We want an out! We want an out! We want an out!" Kids, more often than not, do not get what they want. We wanted an out. What we got was a puny pop fly off the end of Dahlgren's bat that fell safely out of the reach of Grace, McQuinn, and Heffner, fair by a foot down the right field line, allowing Rosar, running all the way with two outs, to easily and arrogantly score the tying run. The knotholers go quiet, searching for a chant. Roxie Lawson, wise in the ways of Yankee mystique, not to say stinking good luck or bad luck as the case may be, calls for the ball and eyes the next batter, measuring him for a shroud. The next batter is a pinch hitter, Colonel Buster Mills, currently hitting over 400. Roxie knocks him down with a pitch behind his head. Mills dusts himself off then hits the dirt again as Roxie shows he is not kidding, and the knotholers have a good laugh. Fred Haney now calls time and goes to the mound for a conference. Roxie is nodding his head like he knows what he is doing, and after Haney goes back to the dugout he knocks Colonel Mills down two more times, waves to the knothole section, and heads for the showers. The knotholers are cheering him like he was the Lone Ranger and Tonto rolled into one. After the last knockdown it looked for a minute like there might be a fight when Mills took a couple of steps toward the mound and some of the Yankees came out of their dugout, but nothing came of it. Jaybird thinks they figured it was too hot to fight.
Frank, the Crow, Crosetti is in the on-deck circle to bat for Bill Knickerbocker as Bob Harris, the Browns 5th pitcher, throws a few pitches to get the feel of the mound since he certainly does not need to warm-up. When I point out to Jaybird that according to the scorecard, Crosetti is only hitting about 200, Jaybird says not to underestimate Crosetti who is smarter than the average cookie and can figure out ways to beat the odds when the situation is tight. Bob Harris has only been in the league two years and somebody forgot to tell him not to throw one too close to Crosetti in a tough spot. The Crow stands in close, sticks out his butt and takes one for the club, and the bases are loaded for Robert Red Rolfe, a left-handed hitter who though he is hitting 75 points below Henrich, the next hitter, is still no bargain. The knotholers are on their feet again and turn up the volume though some kids have lost their voice- "We really want an out! We really want an out! We really want an out!" And this time we get it though not without a gasp when Rolfe's skyscraper infield pop is juggled and then caught by McQuinn.
When right-hander Steve Sundra takes the mound for the Yankees to pitch the 9th with the score tied at 12 he becomes the 6th Yankee pitcher and 11th in the game, a new major league record. Steve, Smokey, Sundra, like all the Yankee pitchers, is a big guy and though he throws a pretty good fast ball it is about a foot shorter than last year when he was undefeated and won a dozen games. Also he was the losing pitcher last night when Judnich torched him for two homers, and Judnich is scheduled to bat second here in the ninth. Jaybird thinks Smokey Sundra is about to get smoked again.
McQuinn, the Browns all-star first baseman, is wearing an oh for five collar as he leads off the 9th. The knotholers have seen this classy left-hander reach the right field pavilion more than a few times and start the chant, "We want a homer! We want a homer! We want a homer!" McQuinn connects, but gets no lift. It is a sharp ground ball that Babe Dahlgren treats like it was a copperhead snake. He knocks it down; picks it up; drops it; picks it up again and throws to Sundra covering the bag. Too late, McQuinn beats it easily. Error Dahlgren. Puffing Sundra. Eager Judnich, standing in with the winning run on first before Sundra even gets back to the mound. Judnich is a big guy, bigger than DiMaggio, bigger than anybody else on either the Browns or the Yankees except maybe Red Ruffing. He stands a good half-foot taller than Buddy Rosar, now catching for the Yankees. The Yankees seem vulnerable without Bill Dickey looking down imperiously at the mere batter.
Judnich is a rookie, only 23 years old; doesn't he know about respect for your betters? Is he the symbol of a new era for the Browns? For the country? For the world? Who is this guy really? At the moment he is a guy picking himself up out of the dirt as Sundra's first pitch missed his head by inches. He steps out of the batter's box, picks up a handful of dirt, glares out at Sundra, hears the knotholers pleading for a homer. In the next moment he is rounding first base watching his 5th hit of the day sail 50 feet over the great DiMaggio's helpless head, over the 426 foot sign into the top rows of the center field bleachers. Game over: Browns 14 Yankees 12. The knotholers charge the field. Browns¹ players pour out of the dugout itching to get their hands on Judnich, like it was the 7th game of the World Series. Yankees hurry to get off the field. Jaybird and me stand and watch. Benjie the Book comes over and says, "Hey, Jaybird, you comin' to the game tomorrow? Bring some extra dough, I'm givin' the Browns plus five." When Jaybird asks about odds, Benjie the Book just laughs. Jaybird and me stand and watch for a long time, letting it all sink in. Finally Jaybird says, "Anything is possible."
What Happened Next
The next day it was still over 100 degrees at Sportsman's Park. Red Ruffing pitched nine full innings for the Yankees, giving up 12 hits, including homers by Berardino and Clift, and eight runs. Walt Judnich had a triple. The Yankees got 16 hits, three doubles by Henrich, two doubles by DiMaggio, two homers by Gordon, and 13 runs. Benjie the Book cleaned up. On August 5th, Johnny Whitehead who won only one other game all year, pitched a no-hitter for the Browns against Detroit knocking the Tigers out of first place.
On August 8th the Yankees lost to the Red Sox, falling below .500 at 50-51 and leaving them 10 games behind Detroit and Cleveland. The Yankees then won 38 of their remaining 53 games, but finished in 3rd place, two games behind Detroit and one game behind Cleveland.
On August 25th the Yankees were 64-54, five and a half behind Detroit. The Browns were 51-72, 21 out. Rip Radcliff still led the league at .353. In the month since Judnich stunned the Yanks, DiMaggio had nine homeruns and 36 runs-batted- in and had raised his average to .339. In the same time Judnich had four homeruns and 19 RBI.
On August 29th the Browns played a Thursday doubleheader at Yankee Stadium before 7,865 people and lost both games, 10-3 and 6-5 in 13 innings. In the first game the Yankees scored all 10 runs in a nightmare 5th inning off Vernon Kennedy, Lefty Mills, and Hillbilly Bildilli. The inning featured one double, five singles, five walks, and one error. In the inning the Yankees had the base loaded nine separate times. In the second game Judnich homered off his cousin Smokey Sundra and Eldon Auker took a 4-1 lead into the 9th. Auker was called a submarine pitcher because his delivery came from below his knees rather than from the more usual above the head. The pitch resulted in a ball that was sinking as it crossed the plate and on this day it must have been sinking more than usual as first baseman George McQuinn had 18 putouts indicating that most of the balls were being hit on the ground for infield outs. With two on and two out in the 9th, DiMaggio, not in the lineup because of a pulled groin muscle, hobbled to the plate to pinch-hit for Dahlgren. Auker got two strikes then delivered a low and outside sinking fast ball he must have thought was a near perfect pitch. DiMaggio hit it into the lower right field grandstand to tie the score. It must have been about this time when they started calling him the Yankee Clipper. McQuinn homered in the 11th, but the Yankees tied it on a two-out single by Buddy Rosar after a Keller double. In the 13th Auker was still pitching, and with two out he gave DiMaggio an intentional walk to load the bases. He would rather pitch to Crow Crosetti. But the crafty Crow beat out a two-strike bunt towards third and the winning run scored.
On September 12th, another Thursday, over 33,000 people in Cleveland saw the Yankees beat Bob Feller, a 27 game winner, 3-1 in the first game of a doubleheader to take over the league lead. The second game was stopped after five innings because of rain and darkness, Cleveland winning 5-3.
On September 14th Congress passed the Draft Act with Republicans opposed by 2-1. President Roosevelt asked for 1.6 billion training dollars. Wendell Willkie, Republican presidential nominee, said there are only four men in the world that consider themselves indispensable- Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, and Roosevelt. New York Mayor LaGuardia announced that he prefers Roosevelt with his known faults to Willkie with his unknown virtues. Nazi bombers pounded London with all-day air raids.
On the same Saturday, the 14th, before 57,000 fanatics in Detroit, the Yankees, trailing 4-0 to Bobo Newsom with his 17-2 record, scored 16 runs in the middle four innings. Gordon hit two homeruns and DiMaggio went four for five with three RBI. The Yankees moved to St. Louis for a four game series with the Browns. The Yankees were two games behind Detroit and one half game behind Cleveland with 17 games to play. The Chicago White Sox and the Boston Red Sox were also in the race, trailing the leader by only five games.
On Sunday, 17,000 Browns¹ fans, knotholers not included, saw the Browns stick a knife into the Yankee heart with another doubleheader sweep, 10-5 in the first, trouncing Ruffing, and in spite of DiMaggio's 30th homer, and 2-1 in the nightcap on Eldon Auker's eight hitter and a two-run homer by Joe Grace in the 5th inning. On Monday, the Browns twisted the knife; they were all over Lefty Russo for seven runs in the first inning on the way to a 16-4 romp. Vernon Kennedy scattered six hits for his 11th win against 16 losses. The Browns hit five homeruns including Tony Lucadello's first two major league homeruns, one from the left side and one from the right side. Others are by Radcliff (7th), McQuinn (16th), and Chet Laabs (10th). DiMaggio hit number 31. With the win, the Browns moved past Washington into 6th place. The Yankees fell four games behind Cleveland. The Brown worm had turned, but was squashed on Tuesday as the Browns make four errors and Atley Donald fired a six-hit shutout in a 9-0 Yankee win. But the damage was done, the Yankees were three and a half games behind Detroit with 13 to play and DiMaggio re-injured his groin muscle. Radcliff went two for three in the loss, but ended the four game series still leading the league- Radcliff .3499, DiMaggio .3498. John Drebinger, New York Times beat writer whined, "After three harrowing defeats, each in itself sufficient to sear the souls of men, the Yankees cast aside their jaded spirits and frazzled nerves today to lay violent hands on their arch tormentors."
On Wednesday, the 18th, the last place Philadelphia A's tormented Detroit, some might say in retaliation for a 14-0 humiliation in the first game of a doubleheader, by scoring nine runs in the 9th inning of the second game to win 13-6 and knock the Tigers out of first place. The next day Detroit hammers the A's 13-2 and 10-1, and gains a flat-footed tie with Cleveland at 85-61. The Yankees split a doubleheader with the White Sox as DiMaggio, showing that the heart of a champion does not die easily, limped off the bench to strike a pinch-hit double to start the game winning rally in a 9-8 second game Yankee win. New York is four back at 80-64. Cleveland and Detroit each have eight games remaining, six against each other.
On Friday, the 20th, in Detroit, the Tigers win 6-5, scoring five in the 8th and pinning the loss on Bob Feller who faces three batters in relief and gives up hits to all three. On Saturday, Schoolboy Rowe blanks the Indians 5-0, but on Sunday Feller wins his 27th game and hits a homerun leading Cleveland to a 10-5 win and leaving them one game behind Detroit with five games to play. The Yankees beat Boston for their 4th straight win, and trail the Tigers by three and one half games.
On Tuesday in St. Louis the Browns give the desperate Indians a taste of Eldon Auker and the arch tormentors beat Cleveland for the 11th time in the season, 7-2. But the Indians recover to beat the Browns 4-2 on Wednesday while Detroit is winning two from the White Sox. The season ending three game series between Cleveland and Detroit will begin on Friday in Detroit with Cleveland two games behind and the Tigers needing a single win to clinch the pennant. By winning a doubleheader from the White Sox on Thursday, their 7th and 8th straight wins, the Yankees put themselves in position to win the pennant pending the results of the Detroit-Cleveland series.
The series opened in Cleveland on Friday, the traditional Ladies Day, before a howling mob of 45,553 including 15,000 ladies determined to do their part. The ladies pelted the Tigers, and especially left-fielder Hank Greenberg, with rotten fruit. They dropped a basket full of green tomatoes and empty bottles on bullpen catcher Birdie Tebbets head, knocking him unconscious. Cleveland has Bob Feller, by far the league's best pitcher, rested and ready to go. Feller has 27 wins and over 250 strikeouts. Feller overpowers the Tigers as expected, giving up only three hits, but makes one mistake- a hanging curve to Rudy York who smokes it out of the park for the only runs in a 2-0 Detroit pennant-winning victory. The Tiger shutout is thrown by Floyd Geibel, called up from the minor leagues in September and not eligible for the World Series. Geibel's entire major league career consisted of only four games.
The Detroit championship is assured on the same black Friday (Japan, Germany, and Italy announced the tripartite axis alliance on this day in Berlin) when the Yankees lose to the last place Philadelphia A's 6-2, going down to pitcher Johnny Babich, like Walt Judnich a former Yankee farm-hand, for the 5th time this season. Lefty Russo keeps the Yankees in the game through the 6th, but Grandma Johnny Murphy and Smokey Sundra let it get away in the 7th and 8th.
The record shows that Joe DiMaggio won the 1940 American League batting championship with a .350 average followed by Luke Appling, .348, Ted Williams, .344, and Rip Radcliff, .343. It does not show that Radcliff was the league leader until the last 10 games when he went 10-40. Radcliff did lead the league in hits with an even 200. DiMaggio won the title on his last at-bat of the season, a 12th inning and game-winning hit.
On the final day of the season, Eldon Auker and the Browns beat the White Sox 2-1 for his 16th win and the Browns finished in 6th place with a 67-87 record, 23 games behind Detroit. It was a 42 game improvement over 1939. Nineteen forty was the only year the Yankees did not win the pennant between 1936 and 1943. In 1944, Chet Laabs hit two homeruns in Sportsmans Park on the final game of the season to complete a four game sweep of the Yankees and give the Browns the only championship they ever won (not counting the ones they won in their Baltimore Oriole incarnation). DiMaggio was in the Army at the time, but so was Walt Judnich.
Jaybird was right. After almost 60 years Jaybird and me have only misty memories of the Summer of 1940 when we saw maybe 35 Cardinals and Browns games along with the raucous knotholers. But we both remember the day Judnich beat the Yankees 14-12 with a 2-run ninth inning homer. In my mind's eye I can see Judnich, with his sweeping left-handed swing, lift the ball from somewhere below his knees and pop it deep into the center-field bleachers.
Hindsight helps us to understand how an experience like that, coming at an impressionable age, has the power to shape a life. It is not hard to imagine that a thousand or so kids who were there have gone through life, like Jaybird and me, knowing that the glass is half full, not half empty.