After steamrolling their way through the American League in 1932, the New York Yankees finished second in the junior circuit for three straight seasons. Their 91-59-2 record in 1933 — a 16-win swing from the previous year — and 94-60 record in 1934 put them seven games behind the Washington Senators and Detroit Tigers, respectively, while their 89-60 campaign in 1935 caused them to finish three games behind Detroit.
That stretch proved to be a transitional period for the Yankees, as they bid farewell to one of the most important players in franchise history, Babe Ruth, after the 1934 season. 1936, however, would ring in the beginning of a new era, as the Yankees would go on to win four straight World Series titles and six in eight years, in large part thanks to the team’s young new outfielder, Joe DiMaggio.
Regular Season Record: 102-51-2
Manager: Joe McCarthy
Top Hitter by WAR: Lou Gehrig (9.7)
Top Pitcher by WAR: Monte Pearson (4.4)
World Series: Yankees defeat New York Giants, 4-2
I can only imagine what the modern Yankee fanbase would have thought about the 1936 squad just one week into the season. After being shut out by the Washington Senators over the first two games of the season, the Yankees stumbled to a 3-4 record, putting them two games behind the Chicago White Sox. By May 2nd, however, they had rocketed to an 11-6 record, thanks largely to a five-game win streak that included a sweep over Cleveland. Huh, apparently there’s no real reason to freak out after just a few games after all.
Although it proved to be just another day for the 1936 Yankees, May 3rd would become a liminal moment in the history of the organization, for on that day, DiMaggio made his Major League debut, batting third in the order — in front of Gehrig! — and manning left field. The ascendant icon would split time in both left and center with Ben Chapman and Jake Powell (two decent players who were awful human beings).
DiMaggio made an immediate impact in his first game, driving in a run off St. Louis Browns starter Jack Knott in the bottom of the first inning, though he did not receive an RBI because he reached on a fielder’s choice. He would score the first run of his career on a Chapman double. The following inning, DiMaggio then recorded his first big league hit, singling off Earl Caldwell (Knott was knocked out in the first after recording just one out). In all, Joe D. went 3-for-6, including an RBI triple in the sixth inning, as the Yankees buried the Browns, 14-5.
From that point on, the Yankees season was largely in cruise control, thanks in large part to an offense that led the league by more than three-quarters a run per game (6.87; Chicago was in second with 6.01). To put in perspective just how much better their offense was than everyone else in the AL, their team OPS+ of 115 led second-place Cleveland by a full 15 points.
Led by a pair of Hall of Famers in Red Ruffing and Lefty Gomez, the pitching staff similarly surpassed the rest of the AL, albeit by a much lower amount; their ERA of 4.17 was just 0.22 points better than that of the Boston Red Sox, and although they paced the league in strikeouts (624), they walked more batters (663) than anyone but the Philadelphia Athletics (696), a team with a 6.08 ERA. Even so, the pitching staff was more than effective, and while wins certainly are overrated, it is notable that the Yankees had six different pitchers finish the year with double-digit wins:
Red Ruffing, 20-12
Monte Pearson, 19-7
Lefty Gomez, 13-7
Johnny Broaca, 12-7
Bump Hadley, 14-4
Pat Malone, 12-4
The dominant lineup and pitching staff allowed the Yankees to absolutely crush the rest of the American League. On June 1st, the Yankees had a 4.5 game lead over the pack with a 30-13 record; by the end of the month, that lead had ballooned to 10 games. When the month of September rolled around, they had a more-than-comfortable 16.5 game lead, and before the first week of the month was out, they had clinched the AL pennant with an 88-46 record — just one win shy of their mark from the previous year. Ultimately, the Yankees finished the season a staggering 19.5 games ahead of the second-place Tigers.
The Yankees found themselves up against a familiar foe in the World Series, as they battled their former stadium-mates, the New York Giants, in the championship for the fourth time in their history. The Giants got off to a hot start, as 1936 NL MVP and future Hall of Famer Carl Hubbell threw a complete game, shutting down the Yankees lineup to the tune of one earned run on seven hits and eight strikeouts. Ruffing, meanwhile, was unable to keep the Giants’ bats quiet, although his final line — six runs on nine hits — looks worse than it was thanks to a four-run eighth inning.
The Yankees came storming back in Game 2, however, putting up 18 runs on 17 hits against an assortment of Giants pitchers. The entire lineup got in on the fun, as everyone had at least one hit and scored at least once. Moreover, two more Hall of Famers from this star-laden team came up big. Catcher Bill Dickey and second baseman Tony Lazzeri drove in five runs apiece, and the latter hit a grand slam to right field in the third.
Game 3 was the rare 14-hit pitchers duel, as Hadley outpitched Freddie Fitzsimmons during a 2-1 Yankees win that also put them ahead in the series, 2-1. The only runs in the game came off a Gehrig home run in the second, a Jimmy Ripple home run in the fifth to tie it, and a Frankie Crosetti single in the eighth that drove in the winning run.
The Yankees got revenge on Hubbell in Game 4, lighting him up for four hits in seven innings en route to a 5-2 victory. Pearson, who the team had acquired the previous offseason in an unpopular trade with Cleveland, earned the win. He went the distance in his playoff debut, limiting the senior circuit champs to two runs while striking out seven. It was the start of an impressive run for Pearson, as with a 1.01 ERA in 35.2 innings, he notched easy wins in each of the Yankees’ four World Series at the end of the ‘30s.
The Giants managed to stay alive with a 5-4 victory in extra innings to force a Game 6. The Yankees offense roared to life against Fitzsimmons, driving him out of the game in the fourth inning, but the Giants continued to chip away at the Yankees’ lead, driving Gomez from the game in the seventh clinging to just a 5-4 lead. With the tying run on third, however, fireman Johnny Murphy got Sam Leslie to pop out and struck out former Yankee Mark Koenig to end the threat.
To prevent any hope of a comeback, the Yankees offense absolutely pummeled Dick Coffman and Harry Gumbert to the tune of seven runs in the top of the ninth inning. Relief ace Murphy then proceeded to slam the door shut in the bottom of the inning, retiring Eddie Mayo, Mel Ott, and Harry Danning in order to give the Yankees their fifth World Series title.
With that, the New York Yankees announced the beginning of a new dynasty, headlined by the final years of one all-time great (Gehrig) and the budding superstardom of another (DiMaggio). For the next few years, the American League became their plaything; for the next decade, the pre-season question would not be, “Who will be playing in the World Series?” but rather, “Who will be playing the Yankees in the World Series?”