Fenway Park was made for the Yankees’ second baseman Joe Gordon.
As a right handed hitter, he had to play 77 games a year at old Yankee Stadium. For a player who swung the bat from the right side, the House That Ruth Built was where 450’ blasts went to die. This part of the old park was whimsically referred to as “Death Valley” and deservedly so. The deep left field dimensions this particular day were: 402′ to left centerfield; 457′ to deep left centerfield; and 461’ to straightaway centerfield. It certainly was not a place for the faint of heart or the weak of bat.
However this day the notorious left field section of Yankee Stadium was a non-factor as the Bronx Bombers were in Beantown to face off against AL rival Boston Red Sox in the much friendlier confines of Fenway Park.
Interestingly, the Red Sox’s also had a right handed hitting second baseman in Bobby Doerr. Doerr carved out a Hall of Fame career largely because of Fenway Park. Just as Yankee Stadium helped camouflage the abilities of Gordon, Fenway Park brought Doerr’s talents into bold relief. Despite this, from 1938-46, Joe Gordon hit 153 home runs even though he played half of his games in Yankee Stadium. Meanwhile, Doerr — playing half his games at Fenway Park — slugged just 119. What makes the home run difference so remarkable is that Doerr played the 1944 season against war time pitching while Gordon was still in the military.
On this particular day, there was a four way dogfight for the American League pennant. The Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers were deadlocked atop the standings. Right behind the Tigers and the Tribe, one game back, were the New York Yankees. A couple of games behind the Bronx Bombers were that day’s opposition. It was the second game of a rare two game set, the Yankees having won the first contest.
It was under this setting that the third place Yankees faced off against fourth place Boston. The Red Sox player-manager, Joe Cronin, started rookie Bill Fleming; Yankee skipper, Joe McCarthy, countered with Spud Chandler; a soon to be 23-year-old right hander who had spent much of the 1939 campaign on the sidelines. Behind the dish for the Crimson Hose, making a rare appearance at backstop, was slugger Jimmie Foxx.
McCarthy’s lineup also had Joe Gordon in the leadoff slot. So with 30,000 rabid Beantown fans in attendance on a crisp late summer afternoon, Gordon strode to home plate and the umpire announced the start of play.
Gordon opened the scoring with a bolt over the Green Monster before most fans had settled into their seats. It was Gordon’s 25th circuit clout on the season, he’d hit five more before the season was over. Gordon’s counterpart, Bobby Doerr, evened the score in the second, matching Gordon’s drive over the fabled fence while Yankee left fielder Charlie Keller could only turn his head to watch.
Gordon singled in the second and was left on base. In the third, three straight singles by Charlie Keller, Buddy Rosar and Babe Dahlgren put the Bronx Bombers up 3-1. At this point, Joe Cronin had seen enough and brought in veteran southpaw Fritz Ostermueller. However, Chandler was barely faring better and couldn’t protect the lead. The Red Sox right fielder, Roger Cramer, opened the bottom of the third with a single. Cramer was promptly doubled home by Jimmy Foxx, and a rare bobble by the normally sure-handed Joe DiMaggio allowed Foxx to advance to third base. Chandler appeared to wiggle out of trouble by retiring the always dangerous Ted Williams and shortstop-manager Cronin, yet Chandler’s luck ran out as Doerr laced a sharp single over Frank Crosetti’s head and Foxx came in with the tying tally.
Gordon lead off the fourth inning off Ostermueller, who tried to pitch him away. Gordon responded going the opposite way with a frozen rope that split Red Sox outfielders Cramer and Dom DiMaggio and went all the way to the wall. Gordon turned on the jets and didn’t stop until he reached third base. Yankee hot cornerman Red Rolfe doubled Gordon home. A single by the pride of Huntsville Ontario — right fielder George “Twinkle toes” Selkirk — put pinstripes at the corners. Rolfe scored when Joe DiMaggio banged into a double play giving the Yanks a 5-3 lead.
With two out in the fifth inning, Gordon pulled an inside pitch between Williams and Dom DiMaggio. Gordon made a big turn at first and noticed that DiMaggio had fielded the ball and had his back to Gordon. Knowing he couldn’t make a hard throw from that position, Gordon dug in and slid into second base well ahead of the throw.
Four at bats, four hits: a home run, a single, a triple and a double.
Gordon had hit for the cycle in just five innings.
The double would turn out to be Gordon’s final hit of the game. By now Cronin realized that Gordon was locked in and wanted no more part of him and ordered his pitchers to just put him on in his final two at bats, which they dutifully did.
The score remained 5-3 into the ninth as Red Sox relievers Earl Johnson and Jim Bagby didn’t allow a run through the seventh inning. Joe Cronin then summoned backup catcher Johnny Peacock (according to the September 9, 1940, New York Times — there‘s no official notation of Peacock ever pitching in a major league game) to pitch the eighth. Peacock didn’t allow a hit. However in the final frame, mop up man Emerson Dickson showed why he was the Red Sox mop up reliever; the Yankees batted around scoring four runs. In the ninth: Dahlgren, DiMaggio, Keller, and Crosetti all garnered an RBI. Final score: 9-3.
Did you know? …
- The Yankees pennant drive would ultimately fall short. The Bronx Bombers had two more games in the loss column when they played Boston. The Yankees would finish the year 13-9 whereas the Tigers ended the campaign 13-7.
- Gordon went from the Yankees to another tough hitter’s park (Municipal Stadium in Cleveland). Gordon finished his career with 253 home runs in 5707 at bats. Doerr hit 30 fewer home runs (223) than Gordon despite having 2386 more career at bats, plus playing half his career games at Fenway Park.
- The Sporting News named Joe Gordon the best American League second baseman six times in eight years over Bobby Doerr. One of the two times Doerr finished first was 1944 — the year Gordon was still in the service.
- Bobby Doerr is in the Hall of Fame, Joe Gordon is not.
- Gordon and Doerr have identical career OPS (.823). Gordon’s adjusted OPS+ is 120 to Doerr’s 115.
- Did you know Joe McCarthy said of Joe Gordon: “That’s why I like Joe Gordon; he only comes to the park to beat you.”
- Joe Gordon won the 1942 American League Valuable Player Award even though he led the league in strikeouts, hitting into double plays and errors.
- The most Hall of Fame votes Gordon ever garnered was 97 in 1969. That year, 255 votes were needed for induction.
- In 1942 Ted Williams won the Triple Crown. Williams also led the American League in: runs, on base percentage, slugging average, total bases, and walks, but was nosed out for the MVP award by Gordon.
- Jimmy Foxx hadn’t played a single game at catcher in 1938 and 1939, but Foxx was catching the game that Gordon hit for the cycle.
- Gordon was named to nine All Star teams yet only played 11 seasons.
- Over the course of Gordon’s career, he was only not elected to the All Star game twice — his rookie season and his final season.
- Gordon also had a stellar rookie campaign. Gordon hit 25 home runs and drove in 97 runs in just 458 at bats. He also slugged .502.