With much of the world engulfed in a growing war that would soon directly involve the United States of America and numerous major leaguers, the Yankees entered the 1941 season hoping to bounce back after failing to reach the World Series for the first time since 1936. Throughout the season, the team would see history made by its star Joe DiMaggio as a deep and talented roster started clicking in mid-May and ran away with the American League Pennant.
Regular Season Record: 101-53-2
Manager: Joe McCarthy
Top Hitter by WAR: Joe DiMaggio (9.4)
Top Pitcher by WAR: Marius Russo (2.9)
World Series: Yankees defeat Brooklyn Dodgers, 4-1
The Yankees started the season slow, hovering around .500 for the first month of the season. On May 15th, Joe DiMaggio recorded a hit against the Chicago White Sox, in what would become the first game of his record 56-game hitting streak. Even as DiMaggio’s historic streak began, the team was still struggling. The first five games of his hitting streak were all losses, and on May 19th the Yankees found themselves in fifth place, 6.5 games back of league-leading Cleveland.
Following that loss, the Yankees began playing much better over the next month, and a three-game sweep of Cleveland in mid-June culminated an eight-game winning streak that pulled the team to within one game of the AL lead. The Yankees would take sole possession of first place after a doubleheader sweep of the Washington Senators on June 29th, and wouldn’t look back for the rest of the season.
In the first game of that sweep, DiMaggio hit a single off knuckleballer Dutch Leonard to tie George Sisler’s AL record at 41 consecutive games with a hit. Legend has it that DiMaggio’s favorite bat known as “Betsy Ann” was stolen by a fan in between games of the doubleheader. Teammate Tommy Henrich loaned DiMaggio his bat for the second game, and after going hitless in his first three at-bats, he lined a hit in the seventh inning to gain sole possession of the new league record. Several days later on July 1st, he tied Wee Willie Keeler’s MLB-best 44-game hitting streak before blowing past it the next day.
DiMaggio went hitless for the first time in 56 games on July 17th. During his hit streak he slashed .408/.463/.717 with 15 home runs. After finally seeing his streak broken, DiMaggio started another 16-game hitting streak, where he produced a .426/.506/.838 line with another five home runs as the Yankees continued to pull away from the rest of the American League. By the time his second impressive hitting streak was finished in early-August, the Yankees held a 12.5-game lead over second place Cleveland.
This team was far from a one man show, as eight players on the team earned at least one vote on the ballot during MVP voting. They clinched the pennant on September 4th with 18 games still remaining in the season, the earliest pennant clinching date in history.
As for the MVP race, DiMaggio edged out Boston’s Ted Williams, who had his own historic season where he hit .406 on the year. Two other Yankees finished in the top-seven vote getters, as both Charlie Keller and Joe Gordon received a number of votes on the ballet.
Rookie shortstop Phil Rizzuto was another one of those Yankees receiving votes, as he slashed .307/.343/.398 and provided impressive defense. It was the start to a career that would eventually see Rizzuto become the voice for many iconic Yankees moments.
When the Yankees reached the World Series, they ran into the Brooklyn Dodgers, who finished 100-54-3 under the guidance of manager Leo Durocher. Offensively, the team was led by first baseman Dolph Camilli and outfielder Pete Reiser, who both posted a 164 OPS+ during the regular season. On the pitching side, Kirby Higbe and Whit Wyatt combined for 586.1 innings pitched during the regular season, pacing a strong Brooklyn rotation.
That pitching staff held the DiMaggio and the Yankees in check, as they scored just 17 runs in five games. The problem for the Dodgers was that they were held to just 11 runs on 29 hits across five games by Yankees pitching. Joe Gordon posted a 1.595 OPS for the series with a home run, triple, double and seven walks. Charlie Keller also performed well, hitting a pair of doubles and registering a .976 OPS with five runs and five RBI.
Gordon and Keller delivered the big blows in the top of the ninth during the pivotal game four. With the Yankees trailing 4-3 and two outs in the ninth, Tommy Henrich struck out but reached first as the ball got away from Brooklyn’s catcher. DiMaggio followed with a single that set the stage for Charlie Keller’s two-run double. After Bill Dickey walked, Joe Gordon promptly doubled in both Keller and Dickey giving the Yankees a 7-4 victory and a 3-1 series lead.
The Yankees started five different pitchers in the World Series with Red Ruffing, Marius Russo and Tiny Bonham all throwing complete games in Games 1, 3, and 5, respectively.
The 1941 Yankees were led by a dynamic MVP in Joe DiMaggio and ran away with the pennant. DiMaggio’s historic hitting streak was the highlight of a season that saw him outpace Ted Williams, who was writing his own history that year. The Yankees then outplayed the Brooklyn Dodgers in a series that was more competitive than the four games to one result may indicate. This was a great Yankees team that finished the season by delivering the franchise’s ninth World Series title.