In 1939, the New York Yankees beat the Cincinnati Reds in the World Series on a clean 4-0 sweep. That capped off one of the most illustrious seasons in franchise history. The ‘39 team won 106 games in only 152 games and had a Pythagorean win-loss record of 111-40. Whenever you score 967 runs and allow only 556, you’re doing virtually everything right.
The strength of that team’s lineup resided in the outfield with the combo of All-Supernova nominee Charlie Keller, fellow underrated Yankee great George Selkirk, and the Yankee Clipper, Joe DiMaggio.
Those three hitters led the ballclub in OPS, but if you diverted your attention towards the infield of that team, you would find a special name. The next player to join our All-Supernova squad was an outstanding member of that 1939 club and much like it was for the bulk of his career, he was a big reason why a team with superstars managed to collectively perform at such a high level.
I’ve been saying this time after time and it cannot be overstated. Many franchises in the history of baseball have had superstars at one point or another, but what made the Yankees so special was the ability to surround those studs with other superb contributors.
This next player will join Gil McDougald on the left side of the infield. The third baseman of the All-Supernova team is Red Rolfe.
Career NYY Stats: .289/.360/.413, 1,175 Games, 1,394 H, 497 RBI, 526 BB, 335 SO, 29.1 bWAR
Red Rolfe was born on October 17, 1908 in Penacook, New Hampshire. The 5-foot-11 Rolfe went to school at Dartmouth as an English major and excelled on the field at the shortstop position. Later in life, he would actually return to Dartmouth as its athletic director, and its baseball diamond was named for him.
Thanks to Hall of Fame general manager Ed Barrow, the Yankees had a verbal agreement with the coach of the baseball team, former major league pitcher, Jeff Tesreau, that he would inform them of any talent coming up through the team. Despite a troublesome arm, Rolfe did enough on the field to stand out at Dartmouth, and he was no longer much of a secret by his senior year, with several scouts interested in him. Ultimately, the allure of playing for the ballclub that had Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig remained in his mind.
After recovering from his chronically sore arm, Rolfe decided to join the Yankees and he even made a quick appearance with the club in 1931 before spending a few illustrious years in the minors, particularly excelling with the Newark Bears of the International League, consistently hitting above .300. Then in 1934, Rolfe made the club but had an underwhelming rookie campaign with an OPS below .700 in a little over 300 plate appearances. That would also be his last season as a primary shortstop.
Hall of Fame second baseman Tony Lazzeri failed to adjust to the hot corner, so Yankees manager Joe McCarthy decided to move Rolfe to the position in 1935. He adjusted very quickly earning a starting role as the new Yankees’ third baseman, a role he maintained for the next eight seasons.
Rolfe’s career numbers wouldn’t stand out in a lot of teams — much less one with so many great players — but he retired as a league-average hitter. And even though he made four All-Star Games, twice one could argue that it had a lot more to do with the team he played than his performance on the field.
However, in three seasons between 1936 and 1939, Rolfe consistently hit above .300 and also slugged near .500 on two occasions, a big outlier in comparison with his career norms. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Yankees dominated opponents enough to win the World Series every year.
Here are Rolfe’s slash lines in his three best seasons:
In 1939 specifically, one of the great years in Yankees history, Rolfe was not only the best infielder of the team, but the best third baseman in all of baseball. He led the position in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage, he also paced all of baseball (not just third baseman) in runs scored with 139, hits with 213, and doubles with 46.
Rolfe may not be one of the best players in Yankees history, but for a brief moment, he was one of the best third basemen in the sport, all while winning five World Series rings. He left his mark on one of the best teams in the history of this organization.