July 21, 2019

Nationals vs. Giants (1933)

October 3, 2014 by · 1 Comment 

The last time the Nationals and the Giants faced off in the post-season was in 1933. Of course, Washington was in the American League and playing in Griffith Stadium … the Giants were in New York playing at the Polo Grounds … they met in the World Series … and they were on opposite trajectories.

Alvin "General" Crowder

Alvin “General” Crowder

The Washington Nationals in 1933 were at what proved to be the end of the road for the longest period of success in Washington baseball that began with back-to-back pennants in 1924 and 1925 after the franchise had already become the back end of the old joke about being first in war, first in peace and last in the American League. For the ten years from 1924 to 1933, which included three pennants and a World Series triumph in 1924, the Nationals with their 878-651 (.574) record had the third-highest winning percentage in major league baseball.

The New York Yankees, with four pennants, three World Series championships and a 926-607 (.604) record, and the Philadelphia Athletics, with three pennants, two World Series wins and a 917-605 (.602) record were the only teams who did better. Over in the National League, the St. Louis Cardinals won four pennants and two World Series in that time, but their record of 843-692 (.549) would have put them four games behind the Nationals in the equivalent of a single 154-game season.

Despite winning at least 90 games for three consecutive years from 1930 to 1932, the Nationals finished second once and third twice and never seriously contended for the pennant because the Athletics ran away from the field in 1930 and 1931 and the Yankees did the same in 1932. The Nationals made it four 90-win seasons in a row with 99–the most by any team in Washington’s major league history–and their own runaway pennant in 1933 under their new manager, Joe Cronin, who was not only the best all-around shortstop in the American League but also owner Clark Griffith’s son-in-law. Even though he was the manager, Cronin was the youngest player among the Nationals’ core of eight position regulars, each of who played at least 131 of the team’s 153 games.

Besides Cronin, the Nationals featured two other Hall of Fame players–outfielders Heinie Manush and Goose Goslin—in an imposing line-up that was third in the league in scoring after (yep) the Yankees and Athletics. With the best pitching in the league–paced by right-hander Alvin “General” Crowder (24-15) and southpaw Earl Whitehill (22-8), both 34-year-old veterans—the Nationals gave up the fewest runs in the American League and had the best run-differential of any AL team. (Crowder was nicknamed “General” after a real US Army General, Enoch Crowder, who in addition to being the brains behind the Selective Service System put in place to draft soldiers to fight for the US in World War I, actually commanded cavalry troops in the last of the Old West Indian Wars on the American frontier.)

The following post from last year, “The Rise and Fall of the 1933 Washington Nationals”–http://brysholm.blogspot.com/2013/09/rise-and-fall-of-1933-washington.html–discusses in greater depth the make-up of this team.

The Nationals were only one game up on the Yankees after losing a double header to them in New York on August 7, but only two weeks later had an 8-1/2 game lead on the merits of a 13-game winning streak that for all intents broke the back of the Yankees. They eventually won the pennant by seven games to go to the World Series, where they met–

–The New York Giants, back at the top of the National League for the first time since 1924, when they lost the World Series to … the Washington Nationals. Like Washington, the Giants were also led by a star player who was also their manager. First baseman Bill Terry was in his first full season as manager of the Giants after replacing John McGraw 41 games into the 1932 season. The Giants had been mostly inconsequential since their 1924 pennant in the waning years of their Napoleonic Era, but with Terry (who was a seldom-starting rookie for McGraw in 1924), pitching gem Carl Hubbell (a rookie in 1928) and right fielder Mel Ott (who broke into the starting line-up as a 19-year old, also in 1928) at or just entering the peak of their careers, the Giants were primed to win.

The 1933 Giants went into first place on June 4th and never again were forced to look up at a team ahead of them. But they did not have a relatively safe and secure lead until the beginning of September, and more because other would-be contenders–the Cubs, Cardinals and Pirates–failed to keep pace rather than the Giants going on a hot streak similar to Washington’s over in the American League. Both pennant-winning teams limped rather than surged into the World Series, the Giants losing eight of their last eleven games on the National League schedule, while the Nationals were losing six of their last ten over in the AL. It was the Giants who went on to win the World Series–only the fourth in franchise history to go with eleven pennants, and their first since 1922–in five games, the last two in extra innings. Hubbell pitched an 11-inning complete game to win Game 4, 2-1, with the one run he surrendered being unearned, and Ott hit a home run in the 10th inning of Game 5 to secure the championship.

Bill Terry

Bill Terry

Winning pennants again in both 1936 and 1937, Bill Terry’s Giants might have become the first team in history to win five straight pennants (with 1933 their first) had they not squandered big leads in each of the two previous years. The 1934 Giants had a seven-game lead on September 6, but were done in by a 13-14 month of September while the Cardinals were going 21-7. Losing their last five games of the season and six of their last seven when they still had a three-game lead sealed the Giants’ fate.

The last two of those losses, famously, came on the last weekend of the season–which New York entered tied for first with St. Louis–when Terry’s smart ass sound-bite back in spring training rhetorically asking whether Brooklyn was still in the league came back to bite him hard. And in 1935 the Giants held a nine-game lead over second-place St. Louis and were 10-1/2 ahead of the fourth-place Cubs on July 4th, presumably cruising to the pennant, only to finish the season 44-43 the rest of the way while Chicago went 62-23 to win the right to go to the World Series.

As for the Nationals, whatever expectations they might have had to remain competitive foundered on the fact that five of their starting position players were already in their 30s, as were three of their top four starting pitchers. Unable to make up for the toll of age and injuries to key players–notably Cronin and first baseman Joe Kuhel–the Nationals plummeted to seventh place with only 66 wins in 1934. The Nationals had a winning record in only three of the 26 years they had left in Washington before the franchise moved to Minnesota in 1961 to become the Twins. Two of those winning seasons were during World War II.


One Response to “Nationals vs. Giants (1933)”
  1. Cliff Blau says:

    Good article.

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