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This Day in Yankees History: A game of true importance

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September 24, 1931

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The Great Depression was a dark time in United States history, as unemployment rose to a staggering 25%. Many baseball players just considered themselves lucky to be able to rely upon natural athletic talent for income. It was during this unfortunate period that the New York Yankees played some of the most important games in their history. The exhibitions did not even count in the standings, but that hardly mattered. On September 24, 1931, the Yankees, New York Giants, and Brooklyn Robins (not yet the Dodgers) played against each other in an unusual doubleheader.

A few weeks earlier on September 9th, the Yankees and Giants played the first matchup of the three at Yankee Stadium, where a tremendous crowd of 60,549 attended and raised $59,642.50 for Mayor James Walker's unemployment fund. The Yankees and Giants treated the fans to their star-studded regular lineups, which contained 11 Hall of Famers combined (Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Bill Dickey, Tony Lazzeri, Joe Sewell, Earle Combs, and Lefty Gomez on the Yankees, and Mel Ott, Bill Terry, Freddie Lindstrom, and Travis Jackson on the Giants). Hall of Fame managers Joe McCarthy and John McGraw piloted both clubs, and there was even a Hall of Fame umpire, Bill Klem. The Yankees won 7-3, with the Bambino treating the crowd to a majestic homer leading off the eighth inning. The City had two more games planned to raise money for the unemployed, and they took place on the 24th, 81 years ago today.

Now on September 24th, two games were played at the Polo Grounds, with the first a classic National League New York/Brooklyn affair. The Robins, named for Hall of Fame manager Wilbert Robinson, had Hall of Famers of their own like catcher Al Lopez and his rookie backup Ernie Lombardi, but they were no match for the Giants. Bill Walker shut them out for eight innings and third baseman Johnny Vergez clubbed a two-run homer to help the Giants win 3-1. After a few events between the games to pass the time, like Ruth slugging a ball 421 feet while batting righthanded with a fungo bat and Ben Chapman firing a ball 392 feet on the fly, Brooklyn took on the Yankees.

The rivalry between the two squads was not nearly what it would become years later, as they had never met in a World Series, but Brooklyn certainly did not want to lose both of their exhibition games against crosstown foes. Nonetheless, the Yankees officially won the New York City showdown by taking the second game 5-1. Pitchers Ed Wells and Fred Heimach pitched scoreless ball for four innings, but Yankee homers from Gehrig, Dickey, and light-hitting shortstop Lyn Lary gave the "Bronx Bombers" a five-run lead. Gehrig's two-run shot was the most impressive blow of the day, a shot off the upper right-center field stands that was a great distance from the playing field. Wells gave up a run in the eighth, but he went the distance for a complete game win.

The doubleheader drew 44,119 and $48,135, resulting in a final pool of $107,777.50 for New York's unemployed from the exhibition. Brooklynites could never have been happier about two losses than they were that day.

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