After taking home the 1943 World Series, the Yankees had (by their standards) a couple down years after that. They slipped to third in 1944, and then fourth in ‘45, which by position, was their worst finish in the AL since 1925.
In 1946, disagreements with the front office led legendary Yankees manager Joe McCarthy to resign his position in May. Bill Dickey filled in for most of the rest of the season, but when it became clear that he wouldn’t get the full-time job, he stepped away from the role too.
Going into 1947, Larry MacPhail and the Yankees’ brass had a managerial hire to make. While it didn’t end up being a long term one, it wouldn’t take long for the Yankees to return to the mountain top.
Regular Season Record: 97-57-1
Manager: Bucky Harris
Top Hitter by WAR: Tommy Henrich (5.1)
Top Pitcher by WAR: Joe Page (3.7)
World Series: Yankees defeat Brooklyn Dodgers, 4-3
MacPhail’s choice for manager would be Bucky Harris, who had a long history in the game. As a 27-year-old player/manager, Harris led the 1924 Washington Senators to a World Series championship, defeating the Giants in a thrilling seven-game series. He led them back to the Fall Classic the next year, where they lost to the Pirates.
Then, from 1926-43, Harris became a journeyman manager. That stint with the Senators ended after 1928, and from there he went to the Tigers, the Red Sox, back to the Senators, and finally the Phillies in ‘43. In 18 seasons as a manager between 1926 and 1943, Harris only put up a record above .500 twice. Neither instance saw his team get particularly close to a pennant. Despite that, Harris still had a reputation as a very smart manager, so MacPhail made him the choice to take over a Yankees team looking to get back into World Series contention.
Early on, you could be forgiven for thinking Harris was not right choice. Through May, the Yankees went just 20-17. They were still there in the race at 3.5 games back of the Tigers, but they were looking a lot like the team that had finished middle of the pack in the previous couple years.
They gained ground over the first half of June and took the lead in the AL on June 15th. However, they were hardly a dominant team, and sat at just 30-23, which is a 91-win pace in a 162-game season. Over the rest of June, they went 11-3, opening up a 5.5-game lead in the AL. Their pitching really stepped up over that span, allowing just over three runs per game. The best was still yet to come.
Back in the present day, as you may recall, the Yankees put together one of the longest winning steaks in team history in 2021, winning 13 in a row. As it got to double digits, you almost certainly saw some sort graphic on a broadcast or read something that listed the longest winning streaks in franchise history. Even as impressive as the 2021 streak was, they didn’t get close to what the 1947 Yankees did.
On June 29th, the Yankees split a doubleheader against the Senators, winning the second game of the day. They did not lose again until July 18th. In that time, the Yankees went on a 19-game winning steak, which is the longest in franchise history and tied for the eighth longest in MLB history. If you just take the AL/NL World Series era, it is tied for fifth. It took the Yankees from a 4.5-game lead in the AL to an 11.5 one. After that, the pennant race was pretty much academic.
It was a fairly balanced effort from the Yankees over that span, with the offense averaging over six runs per game, and the pitching allowing just over two per game. On the offensive side during that period, they were led by Joe DiMaggio, who ran a 1.097 OPS. They got great pitching contributions all over the roster during the streak, using nine different starting pitchers in that time.
They went 39-31 over the rest of the regular season, but that was more than good enough to maintain a double-digit lead in the AL. They picked up their 97th win in the regular season finale, taking the pennant by 12 games over the Tigers.
Balance was a theme throughout the season. As seen above, the leader in Baseball Reference hitting WAR was Tommy Heinrich at 5.1, which is quite a bit lower than the leaders on most of the other championship teams. While they didn’t have one player put together a historic season, they more than made up for it in quantity of good players. Of players to make at least 100 plate appearances, 10 were at least above average according to OPS+, including a 22-year-old Yogi Berra in his second season. Seven different hitters and six different pitchers put up at least two Baseball Reference WAR.
Their opponent in the World Series would be the Brooklyn Dodgers, who went 94-60, winning the NL by five games. However, they were also in the midst of a historic year, as this was Jackie Robinson’s first season with them, desegregating the major leagues.
The Yankees took the first two games of the series at home, winning Game 1 by a score of 5-3, and dominating Game 2, 10-3. The Dodgers bounced back in Games 3 and 4, winning each by just one run. In Game 4, the Yankees took a lead going into the ninth, only to allow a two-run, walk-off double to Cookie Lavagetto while they were just an out away from going up 3-1 in the series. The double was also the first and only hit Yankees’ starter Bill Bevens allowed in the game.
Holding onto that lead may have ended the series early, as the Yankees took Game 5. The series might have also ended were it not for a famous catch from the Dodgers’ Al Gionfriddo in Game 6. With two on and two outs and the Yankees trailing 8-5, DiMaggio hit a ball deep to the wall, only to be robbed by a leaping catch by Gionfriddo. Had that dropped in, it likely would’ve scored two runs, and kept the inning alive. The Dodgers ended up holding on for an 8-6 win, forcing Game 7.
Joe Page was given the start in Game 7, but things didn’t start ideally as Brooklyn scored two runs in the second. However, Page would bounce back by allowing just three runners to reach all game after that. While that was happening, the Yankees scored five runs, taking the lead in the fourth and never letting it go. Page induced a double play with one out in the top of the ninth, giving the Yankees the win and their first title in a couple years.
While the Harris’ hire was validated by the championship, he wasn’t long for the job. They won 94 games the next season, but finished third. That, combined with MacPhail being bought out and leaving the organization, led to a change. The Yankees’ new brass decided to let Harris go after ‘48. Considering that they replaced him with Casey Stengel, it’s hard to argue with the decision too much.
The 1947 season saw the Yankees become champions again after a couple “down” years. It turned out, it was only the beginning of one of the most dominant eras in franchise history.