Joe McCarthy's Yankees of the 1930s and '40s were known for their sharp defense. With terrific Hall of Fame defenders like second baseman Joe Gordon, shortstop Phil Rizzuto, and graceful center fielder Joe DiMaggio, this excellence was hardly a surprise. The fact that they had a Hall of Fame catcher behind in the plate in Bill Dickey, who led the league with an incredible 59% caught stealing rate, only made them better. These players helped lead the American League in fielding percentage in '42, and they almost broke the major league record for double plays in a season. That year, they turned 190 twin-killings, six short of the 196 they turned in the previous season. Their double play talents were on display when the Yankees took on the lowly Philadelphia Athletics on August 14, 1942.
Longtime owner/manager Connie Mack's Philadelphia teams were just awful in those days, and the Yankees led them by 32 games entering the day's action. The distance between the eventual AL champions and the cellar-dwellers was evident, as the Yankees blew them out 11-2. They lit up Philadelphia's starter, Phil Marchildon, for seven runs on nine hits in five innings, then tacked on four more runs against reliever Bob Harris. They sent five doubles to the outer regions of Shibe Park, and right fielder Tommy Henrich added a two-run homer to center field in the four-run fifth inning. However impressive the hitting was, the story of the day was not what the Yankees did on offense, but rather their defensive feats. They set a major league record by turning seven double plays against the Athletics. To put it in perspective, over half of the Philadelphia outs came on seven pitches.
Hall of Fame pitcher Lefty Gomez was the benefactor of all the double plays, and the California southpaw needed all the help he could get at this point late his career. This victory would be his last of his 189 major league wins. The Yankees used several different kinds of double plays to set the record. Ace defenders Rizzuto and Gordon helped turn three of the double plays mostly on their own, with Rizzuto starting it twice on a flip to Gordon, and Gordon starting it once on a flip to Rizzuto. Third baseman Red Rolfe turned one as well, going around the horn for the twin killing. Dickey got a "strike 'em out, throw 'em out" double play, sending a perfect strike to Rizzuto to gun down the runner. They even got a weird double play, as first baseman Buddy Hasset got an out at first on a grounder, then threw to Dickey at home to force a rundown that ended on a tag by Rolfe (a rare 3-2-5 double play). They broke the record of six set originally by the '25 Cincinnati Reds when reliever Johnny "Fireman" Murphy started a 1-6-3 double play himself. Since the Yankees' terrific defensive day, their record of seven double plays has been tied three times, but only once in nine innings (Astros vs. Giants on May 4, 1969). No AL team has matched the record.
The Yankees turned a record seven double plays in a game 70 years ago today.