June 19, 2013
And here's the full roster.
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Saturday, January 19, 2013
75 years ago today was a turning point in the history of the Dodgers franchise. On Jan. 19, 1938, they got a new boss to run their baseball operations, a visionary who later ended up in Cooperstown for his ability to understand that game.
No, not that one. Not Branch Rickey. He was still in St. Louis, a few years from sojourning to the Dodgers. The big hire, though, was perhaps the next best executive of the era—Larry MacPhail. On Jan. 19, 1938, he became the executive vice president and general manager for the club.
MacPhail was a rambunctious fellow. While serving in the Army shortly after World War I, he went on an unauthorized expedition to arrest Germany’s former leader Kaiser Wilhelm. He didn’t nab him, but MacPhail did purloin the former world leader’s ashtray.
He still had some of that old spirit in baseball. While running the Dodgers he acquired St. Louis star Joe Medwick. In one of the first games against his old team, Medwick suffered a vicious beaning that left him lying in a daze. An irate MacPhail ran onto the field and began screaming at the Cardinals. When was the last time you saw a front office executive do that?
His spirit isn’t what got him into Cooperstown, though. MacPhail was an innovator. While running his first club, the Reds, he introduced night baseball to the major leagues. He also brought along broadcaster Red Barber to call games in Cincinnati. When MacPhail moved to Brooklyn, he brought Barber along.
More importantly, MacPhail was an astute judge of baseball talent. He came to the Reds when they were a sad sack cellar dweller. While they were still a bad team when MacPhail left at the end of 1937, he’d established a core that would turn them into a contender in 1938, the pennant winner in 1939, and world champs in 1940.
MacPhail would have much more success in Brooklyn. Upon his arrival there 75 years ago, the team had gone nearly 20 years without a pennant, and a half-dozen campaigns without a winning season.
MacPhail turned the team around. Less than two months into the job, he acquired slugging first baseman Dolph Camilli, who would be a fixture in the team’s lineup. Shortly after that, MacPhail signed highly touted young talent Pete Reiser, a fantastic presence in those too-brief periods of health. MacPhail kept adding talent to his roster—catcher Mickey Owen, outfielder Dixie Walker, veteran second base star Billy Herman—and soon had a formidable lineup. Last but not least, MacPhail tapped brainy shortstop Leo Durocher to manage his team. It was the first team Durocher ever managed.
In 1938, the Dodgers remained in the second division, but in 1939 they roared back to life with a 84-69 record. After a slight improvement in 1940, they won 100 games and the pennant in 1941—Brooklyn’s first since 1920. The Dodgers were bums no more. They won 104 games in 1942, but missed the pennant in one of the toughest pennant races ever.
MacPhail was on top of the baseball world in late 1942, but by October he was no longer with the Dodgers. With America at war, the World War I veteran resigned to serve in the Army again. He later came back—but as a Yankees executive. He finally won the World Series with them in 1947, in what turned out to be his swan song. After 1947, he was out of baseball for life.
But the new life MacPhail breathed into the Dodgers stayed. Branch Rickey replaced MacPhail and kept the success going, as did the O’Malley family after Rickey. As it happens, those six straight losing seasons the Dodgers had just before MacPhail are the last time the team has had that many consecutive second division efforts.
Thus it’s fair to call MacPhail’s arrival in Brooklyn a turning point in Dodgers history—and that turning point was 75 years ago today.
Aside from that, many other events celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” today. Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you wish to just skim the list.
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