What if Tom Yawkey had bought the A’s? (Part 2)

Last time, we introduced the counterfactual concept that, instead of purchasing the Boston Red Sox in early 1933, young multimillionaire Tom Yawkey bought the Philadelphia Athletics. In so doing, Yawkey would not only allow the A’s franchise to avoid its massive sell-off of stars, but indeed bring his mighty star-purchasing power to Philadelphia.

We listed the various white-flag transactions Connie Mack’s Athletics undertook in 1932-36 that Tom Yawkey’s Athletics wouldn’t. And we also identified the extravagant acquisitions Yawkey funded in Boston during the same period that he’d be making for our A’s instead. And, for good measure, we tossed in one additional big-money buy that another American League team made in 1935, and we’re having our free-spending Philadelphia owner step in and outbid them.

Now we’re ready to see how all of this would likely have worked out.

1933

Any lineup anchored by a hitter of the caliber of first baseman Jimmie Foxx at his monumental peak (capturing the triple crown and his second straight MVP award in ’33) is going to be a lineup to be reckoned with. But this one would feature multiple threats in addition to The Beast.

Superstar catcher Mickey Cochrane presented a career-best OBP and OPS+. Left fielder Al Simmons, at the age of 31, was no longer producing his prior superstar numbers, but he would remain a formidable hitter. And these familiar names were joined by those of two heavy-hitting rookies in right fielder Bob Johnson and third baseman Mike “Pinky” Higgins.

As if these Big Five weren’t enough, veteran second baseman Max “Camera Eye” Bishop chipped in an OBP that was third-best in the league (behind only Cochrane and Foxx). Neither of the final two regulars—center fielder Doc Cramer and shortstop Eric McNair—was impressive at the plate, but neither was a bad hitter for his position.

Altogether it would be a terrific hitting unit, with a team OPS+ superior to any produced by the Athletics pennant winners of 1929-30-31. In the 1933 American League, only the Lou Gehrig-Babe Ruth Yankees would present a better offense.

  Pos   Player        Age     G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG   OPS OPS+
   1B   J. Foxx       25    149  573  129  204   37    9   48  166   96   93 .356 .449 .703 1.153  200
   2B   M. Bishop*    33    117  391   84  115   27    1    4   42  106   46 .294 .446 .399  .845  124
 SS-2B  E. McNair     24    107  372   64   97   18    5    8   58   18   38 .261 .301 .401  .701   84
   3B   P. Higgins    24    152  567   80  178   34   12   13  109   61   53 .314 .383 .485  .868  128
   RF   B. Johnson    27    142  535   93  155   44    4   21  123   85   74 .290 .387 .505  .892  134
   CF   D. Cramer*    27    137  529   87  156   22    7    6   65   29   19 .295 .322 .397  .719   89
   LF   A. Simmons    31    146  605  115  202   29   10   16  104   37   49 .334 .373 .494  .867  127
   C    M. Cochrane*  30    130  429  108  138   30    4   15   60  106   22 .322 .459 .515  .974  157

 SS-2B  B. Werber     25     72  213   32   55   15    3    2   21   17   20 .258 .304 .385  .689   81
 2B-SS  J. Dykes      36     76  185   16   47    7    1    0   23   22   13 .254 .343 .303  .645   71
 CF-RF  M. Haas*      29     73  146   24   41    8    1    0   14   15   11 .281 .335 .349  .685   81
   C    E. Madjeski   24     51  142   17   40    4    0    0   17    4   21 .282 .301 .310  .611   61
 LF-RF  E. Coleman*   31     51   97   12   25    6    1    1   17    4   14 .258 .284 .371  .655   72

        Others                    63    4   10    1    0    0    5    5   11 .159 .229 .175  .403    8

        Pitchers                 472   40   77   13    1    1   36   31  130 .163 .206 .201  .408    8

        Total                   5319  905 1540  295   59  135  860  636  614 .290 .362 .443  .806  112

        * Bats left

        Pitcher       Age     G   GS   CG    W    L   SV   IP    H    R   ER   HR   BB   SO   ERA ERA+
        L. Grove*     33     45   28   21   24    8    6  275  280  113   98   12   83  114  3.21  134
        S. Cain       26     38   32   16   13   12    1  218  244  132  103   18  137   43  4.25  101
        R. Walberg*   36     40   20   10    9   13    4  201  224  132  109   12   95   68  4.88   88
        R. Mahaffey   29     33   23    9   13   10    0  179  198  114  103    5   74   66  5.18   83
        G. Pipgras    33     22   17    9    9    5    2  128  134   63   56    5   45   56  3.94  109
        G. Earnshaw   33     21   16    4    5    8    0  106  138   84   70    7   52   33  5.94   72

        J. Peterson   24     32    5    0    2    4    0   91  114   64   50    6   36   18  4.95   87
        D. Barrett    26     10    5    2    3    3    0   49   50   34   31    2   34   18  5.69   75
        T. Freitas*   25     13    3    1    1    2    1   32   45   28   26    4   12    8  7.31   59

        Others                     3    2    5    2    0   62   65   43   35    3   42   20  5.08   84

        Total                    152   74   84   67   14 1341 1492  807  681   74  610  444  4.57   94

        * Throws left

However, the Athletics pitching would fail to measure up. Ace Lefty Grove, though outstanding, was distinctly below his peak form. Veterans Rube Walberg and George Earnshaw both struggled. Another veteran, George Pipgras, would be acquired in May and provide some help, but the rest of the staff was make-do.

The result would be a disappointing record of 84-67 and a third-place finish, the least impressive performance by an A’s team since 1926.

1934

As potent as the Athletics attack had been in 1933, it would be every bit as good this season. The regular lineup was unchanged from ’33 with the exception of second base, where speedy young Billy Werber edged aside the aging Bishop, and while Werber’s offensive profile wasn’t the same as Bishop’s (whose was?), his productivity was effectively the same. These A’s would be the best-hitting team in the league.

And this season the Philadelphia offense would receive a small, but not insignificant, boost from an unlikely source: in mid-season they acquired a pitcher who could really, really hit.

  Pos   Player        Age     G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG   OPS OPS+
   1B   J. Foxx       26    154  552  128  185   29    6   45  144  114   77 .334 .449 .653 1.102  186
 2B-SS  B. Werber     26    124  447   92  138   29    7    7   53   51   28 .310 .373 .454  .828  116
   SS   E. McNair     25    124  491   60  137   16    3   14   67   29   35 .280 .317 .413  .730   90
   3B   P. Higgins    25    148  557   91  183   38    6   16  103   57   72 .330 .392 .508  .901  135
   RF   B. Johnson    28    145  561   98  172   27    6   35  120   59   62 .307 .375 .563  .938  143
   CF   D. Cramer*    28    154  665  112  207   30    9    6   52   41   36 .311 .353 .411  .765  100
   LF   A. Simmons    32    141  572  111  194   35    7   18  107   52   59 .339 .396 .522  .918  139
   C    M. Cochrane*  31    132  448   81  140   31    1    2   73   75   29 .314 .412 .400  .813  114

   2B   M. Bishop*    34     67  173   44   45    9    1    1   15   53   16 .260 .431 .343  .774  105
 3B-2B  J. Dykes      37     64  149   18   33    7    1    3   17    7   16 .221 .260 .345  .605   57
   C    E. Madjeski   25     43   93   10   23    3    1    1   16   12    7 .242 .330 .330  .660   74
   OF   M. Haas*      30     54   90   14   24    4    1    0    6   10    6 .261 .317 .330  .647   70
   LF   E. Coleman*   32     52   84   13   22    3    1    3   15    7    9 .256 .322 .427  .749   95
  P-PH  W. Ferrell    26     34   78   12   22    4    0    4   17    7   15 .282 .341 .487  .828  107

        Others                    58    8   14    3    0    0    6    5    7 .246 .302 .298  .600   58

        Pitchers                 409   28   80   11    1    3   41   14   93 .196 .218 .249  .468   22

        Total                   5428  922 1619  278   52  160  853  595  567 .298 .365 .457  .822  114

        * Bats left

        Pitcher       Age     G   GS   CG    W    L   SV   IP    H    R   ER   HR   BB   SO   ERA ERA+
        G. Earnshaw   34     34   31   16   18    8    1  233  233  121  108   27  105   97  4.16  105
        J. Marcum     24     38   25   14   14    7    1  191  206  103   90   10   72   77  4.26  103
        W. Ferrell    26     27   23   17   16    4    2  186  203   81   69    3   50   67  3.33  131
        S. Cain       27     37   18    8    8    8    0  158  156   82   72    9   87   48  4.09  107
        L. Grove*     34     23   12    5    9    7    0  112  148   79   74    4   33   43  5.94   74
        B. Dietrich   24     27   11    4    6    5    2  107   98   57   50    5   58   48  4.24  103
        J. Cascarella 27     29   10    6    6    7    1   99  105   52   47    3   53   40  4.27  102

        R. Walberg*   37     31   10    2    7    6    3  108  117   59   44    4   42   38  3.69  119
        A. Benton     23     33    7    2    5    4    2   80   70   45   38    3   45   33  4.27  102

        Others                     7    3    4    5    0   97  107   69   62   10   54   32  5.68   77

        Total                    154   79   93   61   12 1369 1441  748  653   79  600  523  4.29  102

        * Throws left

That pitcher was Wes Ferrell, who would recover from early-season shoulder problems to perform wonderfully on the mound and at the plate. His arrival couldn’t have come at a better time, because long-time staff bellwether Grove was suffering a miserable sore-armed season. Ferrell, along with a strong comeback season from Earnshaw, some nice work out of the bullpen from Walberg, and a solid rookie year from Johnny Marcum, would serve to rescue the A’s pitching, turning what might have been a problem into a slightly-above-average unit.

The combination of stout hitting and competent pitching would make this Athletics team a very serious contender. Their Pythagorean record would be 93-61 (originally it was 90-60, calculated against the 150 decisions recorded by the actual 1934 A’s, but I went ahead and extrapolated all the stats out to the full 154-game schedule, because a team engaged in this close a pennant race would make up all their rainouts).

The Detroit Tigers actually ran away with the 1934 AL pennant at 101-53. However, they did it with Cochrane as their catcher/manager, and in this scenario we have Cochrane. His absence alone would bring Detroit down to a record somewhere around equal to that of our A’s.

The other contender would, of course, be the Yankees, who even with Ruth in decline and a couple of holes in the lineup, still came in at 94-60. We may conclude that the Bronx Bombers would have won this pennant, but if so, it would be in an excruciatingly close battle with the Athletics and Tigers.

1935

Newly-arrived heavy-hitting shortstop Joe Cronin would be a perfect fit into the star-studded lineup. Left fielder Simmons would suffer an off-season, but the impressive rookie Wally Moses would provide excellent backup. And Ferrell’s booming bat provided the A’s with the best pinch hitter in the game on the days when he wasn’t pitching.

All in all this machine-like offense would once again be the league’s best.

  Pos   Player        Age     G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG   OPS OPS+
   1B   J. Foxx       27    147  535  123  189   34    8   36  125  114   97 .353 .467 .649 1.115  187
 2B-SS  B. Werber     27    124  416   76  105   26    4   12   58   59   37 .252 .342 .421  .763   97
   SS   J. Cronin     28    144  556   95  161   35   16    8   88   60   40 .290 .357 .453  .810  109
   3B   P. Higgins    26    133  524   74  155   32    4   23   99   42   62 .296 .350 .504  .854  119
   RF   B. Johnson    29    147  582  108  174   29    5   28  115   78   76 .299 .384 .510  .894  130
   CF   D. Cramer*    29    142  580   91  193   33    4    3   66   33   31 .333 .365 .419  .783  103
   LF   A. Simmons    33    115  420   64  112   18    6   13   75   26   34 .267 .312 .431  .743   91
   C    M. Cochrane*  32    115  411   94  134   34    3    5   57   92   16 .326 .444 .460  .904  135

 LF-CF  W. Moses*     24     57  173   35   55   10    2    3   21   12    9 .318 .369 .451  .820  112
  P-PH  W. Ferrell    27     75  150   25   52    5    1    7   32   21   16 .347 .408 .533  .941  142
 3B-2B  J. Dykes      38     59  134   17   39    8    1    1   23   20    9 .291 .380 .388  .768  100
   C    P. Richards   26     43  129   16   32    5    1    2   18   12    6 .248 .306 .349  .654   69
   OF   M. Haas*      31     61  109   16   31    7    0    1   15   11    6 .284 .336 .376  .712   84
   2B   M. Bishop*    35     40   81   14   19    2    0    1    9   17    9 .235 .349 .296  .645   69

        Others                   146   17   40    6    1    0   12    9   12 .274 .310 .329  .639   66

        Pitchers                 348   27   71    6    4    3   34   26   92 .204 .246 .270  .516   34

        Total                   5294  892 1562  290   60  146  847  632  552 .295 .367 .455  .822  112

        * Bats left

        Pitcher       Age     G   GS   CG    W    L   SV   IP    H    R   ER   HR   BB   SO   ERA ERA+
        W. Ferrell    27     41   38   31   28   10    0  322  329  144  121   15  106  107  3.38  135
        L. Grove*     35     35   30   23   23    8    1  273  264  102   79    6   64  118  2.60  175
        J. Marcum     25     39   27   19   20    8    3  243  256  125  110    9   83   99  4.08  112
        B. Newsom     27     21   17   13   10    7    2  149  168   81   73    7   63   49  4.41  103
        G. Earnshaw   35     22   11    3    6    6    0   92  105   57   51    8   35   43  4.99   91
        G. Blaeholder 31     15   10    4    4    4    0   75   85   37   31    4   25   13  3.72  123

        R. Walberg*   38     34   10    3    5    4    3   95   95   42   36    6   35   31  3.41  134
        B. Dietrich   25      9    1    0    1    1    0   19   20   13   11    1   10    6  5.21   88

        Others                     5    0    1    3    0   59   71   47   41    3   41   23  6.25   73

        Total                    149   96   98   51    9 1327 1393  648  553   59  462  489  3.75  122

        * Throws left

And this season the Philadelphia pitching staff would fully match up to its lusty hitting. Ferrell, in career-best form, was a tireless ace. Grove bounced back wonderfully, no longer possessing great velocity, but displaying a pinpoint mastery of off-speed stuff.

In Marcum and mid-season acquisition Bobo Newsom the A’s had two additional reliable workhorse starters, and with Walberg doing splendidly as a reliever/spot starter, the Athletics pitching was the league’s finest.

It would be the sheet music for a waltz to the pennant. This A’s ball club would be comparable to their great 1929-30-31 run of champions.

1936

For the first time in the decade, the Athletics offense encountered serious problems.

Cochrane, the ever-durable and brilliant all-around catcher, would miss most of the season due to illness. (Cochrane’s affliction was, in the parlance of the day, a “nervous breakdown,” blamed on the intense pressure he was under while playing as well as handling the field manager and GM roles for Detroit. It’s fair to question whether he’d have suffered the same mental illness while just playing for Philadelphia, but we’ll err on the side of conservatism and assume that he would be gone from the lineup.) In his place, 21-year-old rookie Frankie Hayes would show promise, but he was no Cochrane.

A second issue was that shortstop Cronin suffered a broken finger early in the season, and upon his return was unable to find his batting stroke. Two young infielders, Skeeter Newsome and Rusty Peters, would get playing time in Cronin’s absence, and neither hit a lick.

The big bats of Foxx, Johnson, and Moses (shunting Cramer aside in center field) continued to deliver, but on balance the A’s attack was rendered slightly better than league-average.

  Pos   Player        Age     G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG   OPS OPS+
   1B   J. Foxx       28    154  585  135  195   30    9   38  146  100  124 .333 .430 .610 1.040  156
 2B-SS  B. Werber     28    145  535  104  145   27    7    9   67   85   39 .271 .369 .398  .767   91
   SS   J. Cronin     29     81  295   46   81   21    5    2   43   30   23 .275 .337 .400  .737   83
   3B   P. Higgins    27    146  550   85  159   32    2   12   87   67   61 .289 .366 .420  .786   95
   RF   B. Johnson    30    153  566  111  165   29   14   25  121   88   71 .292 .389 .525  .913  125
   CF   W. Moses*     25    146  585  113  202   35   11    7   70   62   32 .345 .410 .479  .888  120
   LF   A. Simmons    34    129  456   77  149   30    5   10   95   39   28 .327 .382 .480  .862  113
   C    F. Hayes      21    104  364   46   99   18    1    7   51   33   42 .272 .334 .385  .719   78

 LF-CF  D. Cramer*    30     77  214   36   63   10    2    0   14   16    7 .294 .342 .360  .702   75
 2B-3B  J. Dykes      39     64  174   27   46    6    1    3   24   24   14 .264 .353 .362  .715   78
   C    M. Cochrane*  33     44  126   27   35    8    0    2   17   44   15 .278 .449 .389  .838  110
  P-PH  W. Ferrell    28     61  135   20   36    6    1    5   24   14   10 .267 .336 .437  .773   85
   SS   S. Newsome    25     64  118   12   24    4    1    0   12    6    7 .203 .236 .254  .490   22
 LF-RF  M. Haas*      32     60  102   19   27    6    1    0   12   15    8 .265 .341 .343  .685   71
 SS-2B  R. Peters     21     45  119   14   26    3    2    3   16    4   28 .218 .244 .353  .597   47
   C    C. Moss       25     33   44    2   11    1    1    0   10    6    5 .250 .340 .318  .658   65

        Others                   114   17   30    4    2    0   10    4   14 .263 .292 .333  .625   55

        Pitchers                 358   25   65   13    0    2   32   14   73 .182 .201 .235  .435    8

        Total                   5440  916 1558  283   65  125  851  651  601 .286 .360 .431  .791   96

        * Bats left

        Pitcher       Age     G   GS   CG    W    L   SV   IP    H    R   ER   HR   BB   SO   ERA ERA+
        W. Ferrell    28     39   38   28   23   12    0  301  320  154  135   10  119  106  4.04  126
        L. Grove*     36     35   30   22   20    9    2  253  232   87   76   13   65  130  2.70  189
        B. Newsom     28     39   30   19   16   10    2  228  242  127  111   11  112  128  4.38  116
        J. Marcum     26     31   23    9   11   10    1  174  192   97   90   13   52   57  4.66  110
        H. Kelley     30     28   11    6   11    3    2  118  117   51   46    9   39   45  3.51  145

        R. Walberg*   39     28    7    4    6    3    0  100   96   51   47    7   37   50  4.23  121
        G. Earnshaw   36     22    9    2    4    4    1   76   97   58   53    7   27   34  6.28   81
        B. Ross       21     18    3    1    3    2    0   40   49   27   24    3   17   10  5.40   94
        H. Fink       24     19    3    1    3    2    1   38   46   23   21    4   16   12  4.97  103

        Others                     0    0    0    1    0   25   30   25   21    0   18    6  7.56   67

        Total                    154   92   97   56    9 1353 1421  700  624   77  502  578  4.15  123

        * Throws left

Thus the pitching was given a heavy load to bear, and proved every bit up to the challenge. Ferrell and Grove were once again a marvelous pair of aces. Newsom and Marcum would continue to do quite well rounding out the rotation.

The ageless Walberg was still effective, and he would be joined by journeyman Harry Kelley in providing first-rate support work. The A’s staff was again the very best in the league.

This ball club would be an excellent one, but not quite the powerhouse of 1935. And this year the Yankees, featuring sensational rookie Joe DiMaggio, were a serious powerhouse, and thus our Athletics would have to settle for a strong second.

1937

Cochrane would be back, and producing in top form—until severely beaned in late May, endangering his life and finishing his career. Hayes would now take over as the first-stringer, and this time he was ready to hit with serious power.

Cronin was healthy, and would deliver a splendid comeback season. Even with an off-year (by his lofty standards) from Foxx, and a clearly declining Simmons, this offense, led by outstanding performances by Johnson and Moses, would rival that of the Yankees as the league’s best.

  Pos   Player        Age     G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG   OPS OPS+
   1B   J. Foxx       29    150  569  111  160   23    7   33  117   99   96 .281 .386 .520  .907  128
   2B   B. Werber     29    128  493   95  144   31    4    7   57   74   39 .292 .386 .414  .799  103
   SS   J. Cronin     30    148  570  112  173   38    5   16   87   84   73 .304 .392 .472  .864  119
   3B   P. Higgins    28    153  570   88  168   31    6    8   93   76   51 .295 .375 .412  .787  100
   RF   B. Johnson    31    138  477   91  146   32    6   25  108   98   65 .306 .425 .556  .981  147
   CF   W. Moses*     26    154  649  113  208   48   13   25   86   54   38 .320 .374 .550  .925  132
   LF   A. Simmons    35    103  419   58  117   21    8   10   77   29   35 .279 .330 .439  .769   94
   C    F. Hayes      22     80  304   43   83   19    2   15   57   50   55 .273 .376 .497  .872  120

   OF   D. Cramer*    31     89  187   35   56    7    4    0   15   12    5 .299 .335 .380  .715   81
   C    E. Brucker    36     68  143   18   35    7    3    3   16   21   14 .245 .337 .399  .736   86
  P-PH  W. Ferrell    29     57  111   12   32    7    0    1   20   13   16 .288 .354 .378  .733   86
   C    M. Cochrane*  34     27   98   27   30   10    1    2   12   25    4 .306 .444 .490  .934  137
   LF   M. Haas*      33     49   74    5   15    2    2    0    7   11    7 .203 .303 .284  .587   50
 2B-SS  R. Peters     22     46   68    9   16    3    1    1    6    7   13 .235 .303 .353  .656   66
 3B-1B  J. Dykes      40     30   57    7   17    3    0    1   10    6    5 .298 .359 .404  .763   94
 SS-2B  S. Newsome    26     24   44    5   10    2    0    0    3    4    2 .227 .280 .273  .553   41

        Others                    92   11   25    4    0    0   10    9    7 .272 .337 .315  .652   67

        Pitchers                 412   42   86   20    1    1   38   27   93 .209 .247 .269  .517   31

        Total                   5337  882 1521  308   63  148  819  699  618 .285 .365 .450  .815  106

        * Bats left

        Pitcher       Age     G   GS   CG    W    L   SV   IP    H    R   ER   HR   BB   SO   ERA ERA+
        L. Grove*     37     32   32   21   18    8    0  262  266  100   87    9   83  153  2.99  158
        W. Ferrell    29     33   26   19   13   11    1  225  255  137  117   19   98  103  4.68  101
        B. Newsom     29     31   25   11   15    8    0  220  210  125  113   13  134  138  4.62  102
        J. Marcum     27     30   23    9   14    8    3  166  205   93   88   15   42   54  4.77   99
        G. Caster     29     24   13    6    8    7    1  116  109   66   52   10   54   55  4.03  117
        H. Kelley     31     29   12    5    9    8    1  103  129   72   56    7   40   37  4.89   97
        E. Smith*     23     27   10    5    4    5    6   99   84   45   38    7   45   43  3.45  137

        R. Walberg*   40     26    6    1    3    4    3   70   92   45   40    4   31   33  5.14   92
        B. Thomas     26     23    5    1    3    3    0   57   64   31   26    3   17   20  4.11  115

        Others                     2    1    1    1    0   42   48   29   25    2   21   15  5.36   88

        Total                    154   79   88   63   15 1360 1462  743  642   89  565  651  4.25  111

        * Throws left

The pitching staff would remain a very good one. But Ferrell would pitch through a severe early-season slump, Walberg would finally hit the end of the line, and overall the pitching wouldn’t be as dominant as in the prior couple of years.

The result would be a good team, but no better than a distant second behind the runaway Bronx Bombers.

1938-1939

In both of these seasons, the A’s would present a formidable offense. Foxx would bounce back from his merely good 1937 performance with back-to-back great ones. With Johnson, Cronin, and Hayes continuing to supply additional power, and Werber and Moses continuing to get on base ahead of them, Philadelphia would score lots of runs.

But the pitching in these years would face some issues. Grove was still highly effective, but in a much more limited usage pattern. Ferrell would struggle in 1938, and following that, though he was only in his early 30s, his pitching career would prove to be essentially over (Ferrell would perform for several more years as a slugging star in the low minors, playing second base(!) and the outfield). Marcum as well would flame out with a bad arm.

In this environment, Newsom would step forward as the staff ace, and he would be a good one. But the young pitchers taking on prominent roles would have limited success.

Thus in both seasons the A’s would deliver results similar to those of 1937: a good team, with 85-90 wins, but not nearly good enough to challenge the mighty Yankees.

1940

This was the year those mighty Yankees finally encountered some slumps, and while still very good, they were back within the realm of competition.

It would present a keen opportunity for these A’s. Their power-laden attack, utterly without a weakness, would be the league’s best. The lineup included the familiar names of the remarkably consistent and durable veterans—Foxx, Johnson, Cronin, Werber, and Higgins—joined by the younger talents Moses and Hayes, and now as well by power-hitting young outfielder Sam Chapman, who’d displaced Simmons.

  Pos   Player        Age     G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG   OPS OPS+
   1B   J. Foxx       32    151  541  116  164   31    6   37  130  108   88 .303 .418 .588 1.006  159
   2B   B. Werber     32    143  584  110  167   37    5   15   53   78   40 .286 .376 .443  .819  113
   SS   J. Cronin     33    149  548  109  155   34    7   22   96   85   67 .283 .372 .491  .863  123
   3B   P. Higgins    31    131  480   63  125   23    3   12   76   61   34 .260 .343 .396  .739   92
 RF-CF  W. Moses*     29    142  537  111  166   41    9    9   55   75   44 .309 .396 .469  .865  125
   CF   S. Chapman    24    134  508   76  140   26    3   23   90   46   96 .276 .337 .474  .811  109
 LF-RF  B. Johnson    34    138  512   96  137   25    4   31  113   83   64 .268 .374 .514  .888  129
   C    F. Hayes      25    136  465   71  143   23    4   16   79   61   59 .308 .389 .477  .866  125

   OF   D. Cramer*    34     75  220   34   65    9    4    0   17   11   10 .295 .322 .373  .695   81
 3B-SS  A. Rubeling   27     54  125   16   29    5    2    1   13   15   20 .232 .310 .328  .638   67
 2B-SS  A. Brancato   21     54   99   14   18    3    1    0    8    8   13 .182 .248 .232  .480   26
   C    H. Wagner*    24     34   75    9   19    5    1    0   10   11    6 .253 .356 .347  .703   85
   LF   A. Simmons    38     37   81    7   25    4    0    1   19    4    8 .309 .341 .395  .736   92
   C    E. Brucker    39     23   46    3    9    1    1    0    2    6    3 .196 .288 .261  .549   45

        Others                    74    7   20    2    0    0    7    4    7 .270 .308 .297  .605   59

        Pitchers                 486   33   90    8    0    3   39   20  124 .185 .209 .220  .429   12

        Total                   5381  875 1472  277   50  170  807  676  683 .274 .353 .438  .791  105

        * Bats left

        Pitcher       Age     G   GS   CG    W    L   SV   IP    H    R   ER   HR   BB   SO   ERA ERA+
        B. Newsom     32     36   34   20   21    5    0  264  225  104   78   18  103  162  2.66  167
        J. Babich     27     31   30   16   17   10    0  229  222  111   95   16   80   94  3.73  119
        N. Potter     28     31   25   13   13   12    1  201  213  115   99   18   71   73  4.43  100
        L. Grove*     40     22   21    9    8    7    0  153  159   72   67   19   50   62  3.94  113
        B. Ross       25     24   18    9    8    7    2  148  152   85   71   14   57   41  4.32  103

        B. Beckmann   32     31    8    5    9    2    2  114  119   60   52    9   32   43  4.11  108
        E. Heusser    31     37    5    2    7   10    6   99  129   75   54    9   38   36  4.91   90
        G. Caster     32     24    8    4    4    8    3   89  112   75   60    8   34   41  6.07   73
        C. Dean*      24     15    2    1    2    2    0   32   44   27   23    4   13    8  6.47   69

        Others                     3    0    0    2    0   27   34   27   24    5   17   11  8.00   56

        Total                    154   79   89   65   14 1356 1409  751  623  120  495  571  4.13  107

        * Throws left

The rebuilt staff would be the Athletics’ best since 1937. Newsom would deliver his best year. The 40-year-old Grove was a shadow of his former self, but still useful. And a couple of journeymen, Johnny Babich and Nels Potter, provided solid starting performances.

The pitching wouldn’t be the league’s best, but it was distinctly better than average.

This yields a Pythagorean record of 89-65. This compares with:
{exp:list_maker}the actual pennant-winning 1940 Detroit Tigers’ record of 90-64. Without Newsom and Higgins, the Tigers would finish well back.
the actual second-place Cleveland Indians’ record of 89-65. The Indians’ Pythag mark was 85-69, so those 89 wins seem the high end of their likely range.
the actual third-place New York Yankees’ record of 88-66. The Yanks’ Pythag was 92-62, so 89 (or more) wins was well within their capacity. {/exp:list_maker}The actual A’s came in four games below their Pythagorean record (54-100 actual versus 58-96 Pythag), so if our A’s do the same, they’re at 85-69, looking up at the pennant winner. But there’s no reason to assume our version would have similarly underperformed, although they obviously might have (as, for instance, the Yankees did).

It adds up to a “too close to call” race. Perhaps (oh hell, maybe probably) the Damn Yankees would have prevailed with a fifth straight flag (and given the three more they would bag in the coming three years, yielding a mind-boggling eight in a row). But our Athletics might well have pulled this one out, and so might have the Indians.

1941 and beyond

Just about all of the outstanding performers we’ve retained or added to the A’s would encounter decline as the 1940s unfolded. Thus the actual Athletics’ continuing difficulties in recovering from their early-to-mid-1930s talent divestiture would become more salient. Unless virtual owner Yawkey could build the same farm system in Philadelphia he built in Boston, our A’s would encounter real problems in the 1940s.

But why couldn’t Yawkey have done that? It’s fun to consider an A’s franchise bringing Bobby Doerr, Dom DiMaggio, Johnny Pesky, Tex Hughson, and, yes, Ted Williams to the majors.

But, anyway. We digress.

Let’s review just how dramatically these Athletics outpaced their actual counterparts:

        Actual            Virtual
  Year    W     L    Pos     W      L     Pos
  1933    79    72    3      84     67     3
  1934    68    82    5      93     61  1? 2? 3?
  1935    58    91    8      98     51     1
  1936    53   100    8      97     56     2
  1937    54    97    7      88     63     2
  1938    53    99    8    85-90  62-67  2? 3?
  1939    55    97    7    85-90  62-67  2? 3?
  1940    54   100    8      89     65  1? 2? 3?

Instead of diving to the bottom of the league and lying there like so much roadkill, our A’s rebounded from the merely-good 1933 performance and would excel as a strong contender through 1940. They would capture one pennant for certain, in 1935, and both the 1934 and 1940 editions would have a good shot at it.

But strong as our souped-up version of the Athletics would be, they wouldn’t be strong enough to prevent the Yankee juggernaut from achieving any of its triumphs in the awe-inspiring run from 1936 through ’39. In that four-year stretch, the Bronx Bombers’ narrowest margin over the American League’s second-place finisher was 9.5 games, their lowest regular-season winning percentage was .651, and they rolled to four straight World Series victories with 16 wins in 19 games, outscoring opponents 113 to 52.

That’s pretty much the definition of dominance, and in this exercise we’ve discovered yet another measure of it: even the combined best forces of the Athletics and Red Sox franchises (with Bobo Newsom thrown in for the heck of it) wouldn’t have been enough to thwart them.

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Comments

  1. dave silverwood said...

    The As have had pretty good history in Philadelphia,Kansas City and now in Oakland I believe that history may have not been much improved on even if Yawkey. bought the team.The reasoning is did he really do much with the Redsox?

  2. kds said...

    Dave,

    “The A’s had a pretty good history in … Kansas City…”?  They never had a winning season in KC.  From about 1933 to 1970 they were never in contention.

  3. Devon Young said...

    How does moving Cochrane from the 1934 Tigers (101-53) to the A’s (68-82) bring the Tigers down to the A’s level in W-L? Considering Cochrane had a 4.3 WAR that season, I can’t really see how he could add more than 4-5 W’s to the A’s or subtract more than 4-5 W’s from Detroit….and it would take a lot more W’s than that, to bring the Tigers down to the A’s.  Huh?

  4. Steve Treder said...

    “How does moving Cochrane from the 1934 Tigers (101-53) to the A’s (68-82) bring the Tigers down to the A’s level in W-L? Considering Cochrane had a 4.3 WAR that season, I can’t really see how he could add more than 4-5 W’s to the A’s or subtract more than 4-5 W’s from Detroit….and it would take a lot more W’s than that, to bring the Tigers down to the A’s.  Huh?”

    Several things.  First:  “Our” A’s didn’t go 68-82, they went 93-61 (by Pythag).  Second:  the actual Tigers went 101-53, but their Pythag was 98-56, probably a better estimate of their true ability.

    Third:  WAR isn’t the last word on win estimation; it’s a good estimator but hardly infallible.  In particular it’s shaky on defense, especially catcher defense.  Win Shares has Cochrane with 23.1 in 1934, including 7.1 for fielding; that estimate has him worth close to 8 wins.  Splitting the difference between them, we can roughly call Cochrane worth about 6 wins for the Tigers that year.

    Putting it all together, I’m comfortable in estimating in our scenario that the virtual ‘34 A’s and virtual ‘34 Tigers are neck-and-neck; either one (or the Yankees) might have won it.

  5. Steve Treder said...

    As for the A’s franchise:  absolutely right, they were virtually never in contention, indeed almost always a doormat, from the early ‘30s until the early ‘70s.  The Red Sox under Yawkey were a better team, almost always a much better team, nearly every one of those many seasons.

  6. Matt S said...

    I’ve often thought that a situation where Yawkey did not buy the Red Sox would have a massive geo-political concequences. One interested party before Yawkey bought the team was a group lead by Royal Rooter grandson-in-law Joe Kennedy. The consequences of such a change in ownership are incalculable. The Kennedy had as much money and were at least slightly less racist. Beyond bringing in top-tier talent, the Red Sox might also have challenge the color barrier early on and signed one of the three players who auditioned for them, maybe Willie Mays, maybe Jackie Robinson maybe both.

  7. Philip said...

    ‘‘It’s fun to consider an A’s franchise bringing Bobby Doerr, Dom DiMaggio, Johnny Pesky, Tex Hughson, and, yes, Ted Williams to the majors.’‘

    Fun? What the (bleep)?

    ‘Fun’ would have been Ban Johnson not engineering the sale of Eddie Collins to Chicago when Red Sox owner John Lannin was ready to purchase him from the Athletics for the 1915 season.

    ‘Fun’ would be the four straight flags Boston would have won heading into the 1919 season.

    ‘Fun’ would have been Ed Barrow remaining in Beantown and building the reserve list.

    ‘Fun’ would be imagining Tom Yawkey buying the Red Sox after the club had a decade of success in the Roarin’ Twenties following five pennants in the teens.

    ‘Fun’ would be counting the number of flags Boston would have been raising at Fenway with a roster featuring:

    C Wally Schang
    1B Jack Fournier …1928—> Phil Todt
    2B Eddie Collins …1927—> Billy Regan
    SS Everett Scott …1925—> ?
    3B Larry Gardner …1922—> ?
    LF Babe Ruth …
    CF Tris Speaker …1928—>
    RF Harry Hooper …1926—> Babe Herman
    P Waite Hoyt
    P Herb Pennock
    P Carl Mays
    P Bullet Joe Bush

    Who would replace Scott and Gardner when they were done? The quite capable players GM Barrow would have gotten for talents like Tilly Walker and Braggo Roth/Mike Monosky.

    ‘Fun’ would be Billy Rogell remaining the Red Sox shortstop, instead of being released after 1928 and going on to glory in Detroit.

    ‘Fun’ would be Red Ruffing going to the Bronx in 1930 only to visit.

    ‘Fun’ would be reading Steve Treder’s next essay: ‘The Dynasty That Never Was, The Boston Red Sox, 1915-1930’

    And if one can start imagining Yawkey and his GM’s signing Williams, Pesky and Doerr in Philadelphia, ‘Fun’ might be Ed Barrow remaining with the Red Sox and putting the finding of talents such as Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri, Joe DiMaggio to good use in Boston.

  8. Philip said...

    Thanks, Steve.

    Yes, I somehow did miss those! I usually catch your ‘What If…’ essays, which are always fascinating.

    I, too, had thought about the Babe playing first, but had the Red Sox not let Fournier go and not made the Menosky trade with Washington, Ruth would have found a home in left field.

    (As an aside, I should point out that Fournier was sold by Boston to the White Sox in 1912, where he became their starting first basemen, 1914-16. Had Chicago stuck with Fournier at first instead of acquiring Chick Gandil for 1917, who knows? Maybe there would have been no Black Sox scandal in the 1919 World Series. Of course,had Eddie Collins been sold to Boston, Chicago wouldn’t have won the flags in 1917 or 1919 anyway.)

    But reading those today also reminded me of something that skipped my mind in my earlier post. Third Base!

    Ready for this, Yankee fans? The Red Sox might have very well added Pie Traynor to their already Hall of Fame, star-studded roster!

    Traynor, who was from Framingham, Massachusetts, had a try-out with the Sox in the spring of 1920. Although Pie performed well, Everett Scott is said to have knocked Traynor to GM Barrow. (Scott was then Boston’s starting shortstop and, like Scott, Traynor was then a shortstop.)

    Barrow, instead of signing Traynor to a Boston contract, had him instead go to Portsmouth of the Virginia League, which whom the Red Sox had an unofficial working relationship.

    According the SABR bio project, Barrow would later say, “I made it plain [to Portsmouth owner H.P. Dawson] he belonged to Boston, even though I hadn’t signed him to a Red Sox contract.”

    After the way scouts began to see how Traynor could hit, Portsmouth began offering him to other teams, including the Giants and Senators. The Pirates ended up paying $10,000 for him in September 1920 and Barrow had a fit.

    “I hit the ceiling,” said Barrow. “I grabbed the phone and called Dawson and called him everything I could think of.”

    The Red Sox appealed the transaction to American League President Ban Johnson, but that hadn’t a chance of going anywhere, given Johnson’s hatred for Boston owner Harry Frazee and the pull Pittsburgh owner Barney Dreyfuss had given all the turmoil coming out of the Black Sox scandal.

    The Pirates, of course, made Traynor into a third basemen and he became a regular in 1922. But had Traynor instead came up with the Red Sox, he might have split time with Gardner at 3rd in 1922 before taking over at 3rd in 1923 for the next dozen seasons.

    So, with the best case scenario, the virtual early-mid 20’s Red Sox might have looked like this:

    C Wally Schang
    1B Jack Fournier
    2B Eddie Collins
    SS Everett Scott
    3B Larry Gardner …1923—> Pie Traynor
    LF Babe Ruth
    CF Tris Speaker
    RF Harry Hooper
    P Waite Hoyt
    P Herb Pennock
    P Carl Mays
    P Bullet Joe Bush

    Whereas Ruth drove in 131 of the Yankees 823 runs in 1923, keep in mind that the Bambino was the only starting Yankee who hit above .314.

    With the virtual Red Sox, Ruth would have retained teammates Scott & Schang, but instead of being in a lineup with Pipp (6 HR, .304), Ward (.284), Dugan (.283), Witt (18 2B, .314) and Meusel (.313), he’d have had Fourner (22 HR, .351), Collins (.360 with 49* SB), Traynor (19* 3B, 19 HR, .338), Speaker (59* 2B, 17 HR, .380) and Hooper (.291 and 41 SB).

    It’s not hard to see Ruth getting close to 200 RBI’s with that group, especially since he walked 170 times with the Yankees in a lineup that couldn’t protect his bat.

    The virtual Red Sox lineup would have been much stronger:

    2B Collins
    CF Speaker
    LF Ruth
    1B Fournier
    3B Traynor
    RF Hooper
    SS Scott
    C Schang
    P pitcher’s spot

  9. Philip said...

    Then, of course, would have come the 1930’s. As some have already pointed out, the Red Sox suffered in the 1950’s and 1960’s by passing up talented African-American ballplayers once the color barrier was finally broken by Jackie Robinson.

    However, there is evidence to suggest that Boston’s lack of signing black players had much more to do with GM Joe Cronin than owner Tom Yawkey. If so, and if the Red Sox kept Billy Rogell for their shortstop of the 1930’s and had all that success in the teens and twenties, there’s no need for Yawkey to acquire Cronin from Washington. Perhaps the Red Sox then do sign Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays after all.

    Hmmmmm.

    Adding Jackie to a 1947 lineup already featuring Doerr, Pesky, DiMaggio and Williams?

    Adding Willie Mays to a 1951 team that had scored 1027 runs the season before?

    The Red Sox would have almost surely rolled off five straight pennants, 1947-1951. And if Williams wasn’t off flying F-9 Panthers in the Korean War, you can add flags for 1952 and 1953, too. The Indians would have finally ended Boston’s run at a never-to-be equaled SEVEN straight pennants in 1954.

    The Say Hey Kid might have topped 60 HRs playing in Fenway in 1955 (the first player, as Ruth remained a Red Sox and likely would have fallen short of the mark in 1927), and the Red Sox would have had a shot at every A.L. flag through 1958 (perhaps as much as 11 flags in 12 seasons).

    Surely, everywhere outside of the Bay State, there’d have been cries, ‘‘Break up the Red Sox.’‘

    Yeah, I can see the eye-rolling from Yankee fans.

  10. the Flint Bomber said...

    I looooove these articles, but I wish you’d just merge them into one.  Lately I just end up waiting for Part 2 to come out, then read the whole thing together.

    Nonetheless, this is why I come here.

  11. dave silverwood said...

    Are we suggesting that the As would have survived,better than the Redsox or do we feel Connie Mack was like Phillip Wrigley a little short of logic about baseball—-also did Yawkey really do much with the Redsox, therefore are we apply any real common sense—-before the Reds the AS AS a 7 year old in 1950 were my favorite team,because of a book I read about baseball and Connie Mack-this is great for a 60 year baseball fan who misses the game played with quality not quanity.

  12. DonK said...

    Here’s another thought: Would the A’s still be in Philadelphia if this had happened? Given that the Phillies were arguably even worse (and didn’t draw, AND were tenants at Shibe Park), they likely would have become the St. Louis Browns of the NL—a dreadful team trapped in a market as an afterthought behind a much better team. I’d venture to say that had your scenario taken place, the A’s might still be in Philadelphia and the Phillies would have relocated after World War II.

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