For the first time in 86 years, the World Series is in Washington D.C., thanks to the Nationals’ resurgence from playoff doldrums to October darlings. Baseball was a lot different the last time the Fall Classic was in our nation’s capital, but the 1933 World Series offered some similarities to this year’s version as well.
A contrast in styles
Going into this year’s World Series, the favorite Astros were confident, and with good reason, having won a title just two years ago and with 107 victories this season. Third baseman Alex Bregman talked after the ALCS about building a dynasty, while shortstop Carlos Correa characterized Houston as the “apex predators” of the American League.
The confidence was strong in another Washington opponent 86 years ago, and with good reason. The New York Giants had Hall of Famers Terry and Mel Ott on offense, and another in Carl Hubbell to head the pitching staff at the peak of his powers. Hubbell and 22-year-old Hal Schumaker combined for a 1.89 ERA in 567 innings, and were rightfully touted by their manager as weapons to
“Let ‘em talk. Words don’t win ball games. But the way they have been sounding off has gotten under our skins,” Cronin said before the series (1). I know my gang and when they get heated up, things pop. The Giants don’t have to take my word for this. They’ll get the knowledge first hand.”
While Cronin may have invented popcorn here, it didn’t translate on the field, as the Senators’ bats scored just 11 runs in the five-game series. Hubbell didn’t allow an earned run in his 20 World Series innings, and New York won all four starts by that duo.
Managing from the infield
The phrase “coach on the field” gets uses every now and then to describe how a veteran player might exert his influence on a game, using their accumulated wisdom as a sort of extension of the actual coaching staff. But in 1933, the coaches were, in fact, on the field.
Bill Terry was the first baseman for the Giants, hitting .322/.375/.423 with a 128 OPS+ in his age-34 season. This was his first full season as Giants manager, a gig he held for 10 years while winning three pennants and a World Series.
Joe Cronin was just 26 in 1933, hitting .309/.398/.445, a 125 OPS+ while manning shortstop for the Senators. He finished second in AL MVP voting that season, beat out by slugger Jimmie Foxx. Both Terry and Cronin were elected to the Hall of Fame as players. This was Cronin’s first season as manager, a position he would hold with the Senators and Red Sox for 15 seasons, including 13 years as player-manager.
The Senators made three World Series in Washington D.C., winning in 1924, and losing in 1925 and 1933. What’s unique is that all three teams were led by player-managers, with second baseman Bucky Harris at the helm in those first two trips.
While player-managers were common in the first third of the 20th century, this 1933 matchup between the Giants and Senators was the first World Series with two player-managers since 1906. Each of the next two Fall Classics also saw player-manager duels — Hall of Famers Frankie Frisch (Cardinals) and Mickey Cochrane (Tigers) in 1934, then Cochrane (Tigers) and Charlie Grimm (Cubs) in 1935.
We haven’t seen a World Series with a pair of player-managers since then, and there hasn’t even been a player-manager in the regular season since Pete Rose in 1986, three years before he bet on himself and lost.
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The 91-win Giants dispatched the 99-win Senators in five games in 1933. We’ll have a parallel with 2019 no matter the outcome. Either we’ll see the presumed underdog National League team triumph over the better-record AL team with a Nationals win, or we’ll see a Washington team lose the World Series.
What made 1933 memorable was the excruciating way the Senators lost the series. This was the first year with the modern World Series 2-3-2 format, and the Giants won the first two contests at the Polo Grounds in New York. The Senators held serve in the first game in Washington, but then lost in Game 4 on a Blondy Ryan RBI single in the 11th inning. Mel Ott homered the next day in the 10th inning to win Game 5 off Jack Russell, the kind of series-ending loss that will terrier heart out.
This was the first time in World Series history that back-to-back games went to extra innings.
Might we see similar late excitement in the 2019 World Series games in Washington D.C.? The Astros are 11-4 in extra-inning games this season, including the playoffs, so the Nationals might need an extra dose of “Baby Shark” to pull through.
(1) “Cronin’s Men Irked By Pre-Series Jibes” by Denman Thompson — The Sporting News, October 5, 1933.