After the Philadelphia Athletics’ mini-dynasty in the late-1920s and early-1930s, the Yankees won “just” one World Series between 1931 and 1935, and that victory came in 1932. But a new, impressive period of success would come for the Bombers. By 1937, the Yankees had won their sixth World Series championship and second in a row after taking the title in 1936 led by the phenomenal rookie Joe DiMaggio.
From 1936 to 1939, the Yankees would win four straight championships led by Joe McCarthy, with additional victories in ‘41 and ‘43. Together with the ‘50s, the late-’30s and early-’40s were the best years for the franchise when it comes to World Series glory.
Regular season record: 99-53
Manager: Joe McCarthy
Top hitter by rWAR: Joe DiMaggio (5.7)
Top pitcher by rWAR: Red Ruffing (5.3)
World Series result: Yankees sweep Chicago Cubs, 4-0
The Yankees’ 1938 team wasn’t as magnificent as the 1937 edition from a statistical standpoint. That squad from the previous season won 102 games, had multiple players over 8.0 rWAR, and had typical top seasons from Joe DiMaggio (165 wRC+) and Lou Gehrig (176 wRC+).
The ‘38 Yankees had a rather disappointing April: They opened the season with an away loss against the Red Sox, and finished the month with a 7-6 record. Then, after dropping the first May game, they won seven in a row and started resembling the New York Yankees team that dominated in the two years prior.
The Yankees would encounter more bumps along the way, including losing five of six games between May 22nd through the 29th and eight of nine in September, but there were also very high points. They had additional six, seven, and nine-game winning streaks at different points in the long campaign.
DiMaggio once again led the Bombers offensively during that 1938 season, but had his lowest wRC+ ever, 137, excluding his rookie season and his last year. Even with that being the case, he was excellent, slashing .324/.386/.581 with 32 home runs, 129 runs, and 140 RBI.
1938, however, marked the beginning of the end for another Yankees legend. Gehrig had excellent numbers for the league’s standards — he posted a .295/.410/.523 triple-slash with 29 homers, 114 RBI, and a 133 wRC+ — but they were a far cry from his peak performances. He went just 4-for-14 in the World Series, with four singles. Something was evidently wrong. According to the book “Sluggers! History’s Heaviest Hitters,” doctors diagnosed a gall bladder problem and put Gehrig on a bland diet, further sapping his strength. He appeared in a handful of games next season and removed himself from the lineup for good in early May; the all-time great would never play again.
But back to our 1938 squad. Even without peak DiMaggio and Gehrig, there was plenty of firepower in the lineup, with peak Bill Dickey having one of his finest seasons — hitting .313/.412/.568 with 27 home runs, 115 RBI, and a 142 wRC+ — and other contributors such as Joe Gordon, Red Rolfe, and Tommy Henrich.
Lefty Gomez didn’t quite pitch like he did the year before, but he was solid nonetheless with an 18-12 record and a 3.35 ERA in 239 innings. Red Ruffing had a similarly good year from the rotation, winning 21 games and finishing with a solid 3.31 ERA in 247.1 frames. Their ERA+ was 136 and 138, respectively.
At the end of the regular season, the Yankees won the pennant in convincing fashion, with a 9.5-game cushion over the second-ranked squad, the Boston Red Sox. They swept the Cubs in the World Series, taking the first two games at Wrigley Field and finishing the job at Yankee Stadium. They outscored their foe 22-9 in the four games.
Wrigley Field, Chicago, Oct 5, 1938 - 43,642 have packed the house for Game 1 of 1938 World Series between Yankees and Cubs. And behind the fine pitching by Red Ruffing and perfect hitting of catcher Bill Dickey (4 for 4) the Yanks took the series opener 3-1. Time of Game: 1:53 pic.twitter.com/hOBDfoRDIh— Old-Time Baseball Photos (@OTBaseballPhoto) October 5, 2021
Not surprisingly, the American League MVP award for the 1938 season didn’t go to a member of the New York Yankees. Not because there weren’t deserving candidates (it wasn’t DiMaggio or Gehrig’s best performance, but they played at a really high level), but the great Jimmie Foxx was just on another level: Double-X slashed .349/.462/.704 with 50 home runs and 175 RBI.
The Yankees had seven players in the 1938 All-Star Game: DiMaggio, Gehrig, Dickey, Gomez, Ruffing, Rolfe, and reliever Johnny Murphy. Six Hall of Famers made their mark on that team: DiMaggio, Gehrig, Dickey, Gomez, Ruffing, and Gordon. The greatness of those late-1930s Yankees is evidenced by the fact that the 1938 group had the worst win-loss record for a World Series winner since the 1935 Detroit Tigers (93-58), yet still managed to win the pennant by almost 10 games and swept the Fall Classic.
The Yankees had achieved their third World Series championship in a row, something unprecedented in MLB, and they would still have a few more victories in them for the following years.