The Red Sox/Yankee rivalry really began as the rivalry between Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio. For in the first 20 years of the American League the Yankees were pretty bad and the Red Sox were the best team in baseball. Throughout the 20s the Yankees were the best team in baseball and the Red Sox were, in a word, abysmal! This was originally published on March 17, 2012. Enjoy!
Tom Yawkey purchased the Red Sox in 1933, the year before Babe Ruth’s final year with the Yankees. There is a synchronicity in this ushering out of the old and in with the new; for it was Tom Yawkey who set the Red Sox on the course to regain respectability, and it was the arrival of Ted Williams in 1939 that laid the foundation for the opening acts of the true Red Sox/Yankee rivalry.
So let’s recap, in Babe’s 15 years with the Yankees they won seven pennants and four World Series. Eleven times they won 90 games a more and three times they cracked the 100 win barrier. They had one losing season, 1925 when Babe missed 56 games to injuries.
The Red Sox, on the other hand, never won more than 76 games (that coming in 1934) and they lost 90 or more games 10 times, cracking the 100 loss barrier five times. From 1925-1929, they lost 105, 107, 103, 96 and 96 games respectively! That is an average of 101 losses per season! And in nine of those 15 years they finished in the cellar.
Babe calls his shot in Wrigley Field in game three of the 1932 World Series.
When Babe was playing in his last World Series in 1932, and calling his shot, the Red Sox were setting their own personal paradigm of futility going 43-111 .279 and finishing a robust 64 games behind the Yankees!
Smead Jolley played for the Red Sox in 1932 and 1933. He was one of the few bright spots in the darkness of the 1932 season hitting .309 with 18 home runs and 99 RBI.
Now let’s set the stage, When Babe departed from the Yankees, they slipped a bit in 1935, winning 89 games, five less than the previous season. Then in 1936 a young center fielder from the west coast arrived in New York.
Joe DiMaggio played 13 seasons with the Yankees. The three time MVP played in 10 World Series and New York won nine of them!
The arrival of the man who would come to be known as “The Yankee Clipper”, coincided with a streak of success that was unprecedented in baseball history. It also was the first spoke in the wheel of amping up the Red Sox/Yankee rivalry.
Meanwhile in Boston, Tom Yawkey was anything but idle, as he set to marching the Red Sox back from the abyss. He started by acquiring one of the best pitchers in the game from the Philadelphia A’s.
The trade for Lefty Grove in 1933 included $125,000 going to Philadelphia.
Next came a talented young shortstop from Washington who Yawkey made his player-manager. Cronin would pilot the Red Sox through the 1947 season.
The trade for Joe Cronin in 1934 included $225,000 going to the Senators.
In December of 1935, Yawkey went back to the Philadelphia A’s and acquired a right-handed power hitting first baseman who to this day remains in the discussion of the greatest right-handed hitter in baseball history.
The trade for Jimmie Foxx included $150,000 going to the A’s.
Yawkey was not just acquiring established stars, he also was signing and purchasing some young and very talented ball players.
Bobby Doerr was purchased from the Hollywood team of the Pacific Coast League in 1935 for $75,000. He arrived in Boston in 1937 and in 1939 he became their regular second baseman.
Then in 1936, Red Sox GM Eddie Collins signed a lanky left-handed swinger named Ted Williams off of the roster of the Pacific Coast League San Diego Padres.
Ted Williams, The Kid, The Splendid Splinter, Teddy Ballgame arrived in Boston in 1939 and things would never be the same!
Tom Yawkey’s moves of the 1930s had restored the Boston Red Sox to respectability. They won 88 games in 1938 and 89 the following year. Finishing in second place behind the Yankees both times, they were 9 1/2 games back in 1938 and 17 games back in ’39’.
As respectable as they had become, they were still far behind the Yankees and in reality they had achieved a status that was simply, the best of the rest. As for the rivalry, well still not quite there yet. The spark which would ignite that fuse would take place in 1941 and ironically it would not involve a pennant race; for the Red Sox once again finished in second place, and once again they were 17 games behind the pennant winning Yankees.
It would involve a season of historic individual performances by Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio. Accomplishments which, over seven decades later, continue to capture the imagination, admiration and respect of baseball historians, pundits and fans throughout the world.
to be continued…..
And so it was at this time in Fenway Park history, the 1930s.