The New York Yankees have 27 World Series and easily the most rich history of postseason stars. It couldn’t be anyone else, given the sheer volume of memorable games. From the legendary “Called Shot” by Babe Ruth against the Cubs in 1932 to Reggie Jackson’s three-homer performance against the Dodgers in ‘77 and the Mr. November solo shot by Jeter versus the D-Backs in 2001, there are simply too many to count.
Those three examples relate instances when a Hall of Fame legend rose to the occasion in October (or even November in the case of Jeter); however, with so many opportunities, there were times when a good player had his moment. Think of Orlando “El Duque” Hernández winning his first eight postseason outings or Aaron Boone hitting the walk-off home run against the Red Sox in ‘03.
The next player to be added to our team of all-time complementary greats didn’t have the greatest career, though he pitched for 10 years and half of them came with the Yankees (the better half of those 10 if I might add). His individual accolades boiled down to a couple of All-Star votes during his half a decade tenure with the Yankees. However, something stands out when you look at the career of Monte Pearson.
Career NYY stats: 63-27, 3.82 ERA, 825.2 IP, 1.47 WHIP, 117 ERA+, 0.95 K/BB, 11.6 rWAR
Pearson, a native of Oakland, grew up in Fresno after his family moved there following the tragic death of his father in a mining accident when he was only two years old. In high school, he started out as a catcher/third baseman before making the move to the mound. Monte bounced around for awhile, playing semi-pro ball before making a name for himself with the Oakland Oaks in 1931.
The Oaks would go on to sell him to Cleveland for the sum of $35,000. His first crack at the big leagues was certainly forgettable, getting absolutely shelled in eight games of mop-up duty with a 10.13 ERA. Pearson was quickly sent down and would later go on record saying that much of his struggles came from being overweight, significantly heavier than during his best days with the Oakland Oaks.
A strong 1933 in the minors earned him a second chance with the new manager. You may have heard about him: Walter Johnson, one of the game’s all-time greatest arms. The “Big Train” was quoted at a later point saying that Pearson had the most natural talent he had ever seen and could be a 30-game* winner.
*At the time, a 30-game winner was considered in the same realm of possibility as a 20-game winner today at the time, given the changes and evolution of the game.
Pearson only pitched 135.1 innings in 1933, but led all of baseball in ERA and had arguably the best regular season of his career. For the next two seasons, Pearson much like the entire Cleveland baseball team would fail to live up to high expectations with pedestrian numbers until he was traded alongside Steve Sundra for Johnny Allen.
The owner of the Yankees at the time, Jacob Ruppert, noted that they felt like Allen was a better pitcher than Pearson, but the real target was Sundra, who outside of an outstanding relief season in 1939 never did much in pinstripes. Even in ‘39, he only pitched once in that World Series.
It wasn’t long until Pearson proved that he was the key piece of the deal. The right-hander led the team in ERA in an All-Star 1936 campaign while also batting .253, and helped the Yankees win the pennant for the first time in four years. Pearson then overcame a muscle strain to outduel New York Giants Hall of Famer Carl Hubbell in Game 4 of the Fall Classic, throwing a complete game and allowing just two earned runs. Two days later, the Yankees secured the World Series crown.
Those two runs in that Game 4 start actually ended up being the most he ever allowed in a postseason start. Check out how he fared over his next three, in each of the Yankees’ successive championship seasons:
1937 vs. Giants: 8.2 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 4 K
1938 vs. Cubs: 9 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 9 K
1939 vs. Reds: 9 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 8 K
The Yankees won every single one of Pearson’s Fall Classic starts, giving them pivotal innings en route to earning World Series rings. Over 35.2 career innings in the Fall Classic, Pearson had a 1.01 ERA, 28 strikeouts, and allowed just a single (solo) homer.
Pearson never again led the league in any significant category, though he made one more All-Star team in 1940, when the Yankees finished a few games behind the Tigers for the pennant. He played one more year with the Reds after an offseason trade and then called it a career. That impeccable 1.01 World Series ERA remains one of the greatest marks in the history of the sport.