Four of the last eight World Series
have been sweeps, an anticlimactic way for the baseball season to end. However, two of baseball’s greatest moments have occurred in World Series sweeps, 22 years apart. They are Babe Ruth’s “called shot” home run in 1932 and Willie Mays’ 1954 over-the-shoulder catch of a potential game winning fly ball. Both of these plays turned the tide for their teams, which went on to 4-0 World Series sweeps.
In 1932, the New York Yankees met the Chicago Cubs in the post-season. New York, which has been involved in more World Series sweeps than any other team (they were on the right side of eight of nine World Series sweeps since 1927) squared off against Chicago, a squad with which they had some bad blood. Former Yankees’ shortstop Mark Koenig had come to the Cubbies late in the year and had hit .353 in 102 at-bats, many of the base hits keying rallies and helping the Cubs to a four game cushion over Pittsburgh on the way to the National League pennant. When Chicago voted Koenig only a partial share of the World Series money before the Series even began, the Yankees were upset, wanting to see their former buddy taken care of properly.
The first pair of contests of this, the fourth of seventeen total World Series sweeps, was in New York. Babe Ruth was 37 years old and towards the end of his mythical run, but Lou Gehrig was just 29 and in his prime, the two had 288 runs batted in combined in 1932. Throw in Hall of Fame second baseman Tony Lazzeri and outfielder Ben Chapman, and all told the Bronx Bombers had four 100 RBI men in the lineup, with catcher Bill Dickey adding 84 more; it is no wonder this group wound up with three World Series sweeps, in 1927,’28, and ’32.
Game One saw a 2-0 Chicago lead deteriorate into a 12-6 Yankee victory, with everyone on the New York side contributing at least one RBI except for the pitcher and shortstop Frank Crosetti. The second game was closer, but Yankees’ pitcher Lefty Gomez scattered nine hits in a 5-2 New York triumph, getting help from Gehrig and his three runs batted in. The Yankees were halfway to the third of their World Series sweeps as the teams hopped on the train and went to Chicago.
The Cubs and Yankees had been going back and forth with some spirited bench jockeying, with New York calling Chicago a bunch of cheapskates and the Cubs focusing on Ruth. They hurled some of their nastiest barbs and cuss words his way, and when the Cubs tied the game at 4-4 in the fourth inning, they probably did not feel they would be involved in one of New York’s typical World Series sweeps. With one out in the Yankee fifth, Ruth came to bat, amid the most vocal crowing that the Cubs had yet rained down on him. What happened next will never be known for sure, but Babe Ruth took two strikes looking and then further cemented his place as the greatest legend in the history of American sports with his next actions.
Chicago pitcher Charlie Root went to his grave denying that Ruth held up a hand and pointed towards the outfield fence, as if to motion that was where the next pitch was headed. Witnesses give conflicting accounts, but it is clear that Ruth made some gesture towards the pitcher. Ruth himself was smart enough to let many people say he motioned that he would hit a homer, because of the results. Root wound up and delivered his 0-2 pitch, and Ruth promptly blasted it over the fence for his “called shot”. Footage of Ruth rounding the bases shows him having the time of his life, as he pooh-poohs the Cubs dugout with a forward waving motion of both hands as he heads into third. Gehrig then stepped into the box and hit a round tripper of his own, but this fact is lost in the obscurity of the shadow of what Ruth had just done, as was Gehrig’s lot so many times. New York went on to a 7-5 win; the next day they finished off the last of Ruth’s three World Series sweeps by demolishing Chicago 13-6. Lou Gehrig had gone 9 for 17 in the four games, with 3 homers and 8 runs knocked in. When Babe Ruth was asked by reporters what if he had not hit the home run after he had “called it”, he mused, “I never thought about that. I guess I would have looked pretty silly, wouldn’t I?”
While Ruth’s intent before his home run has been debated over the years, the catch made by Willie Mays in the 1954 Series, which keyed another of these World Series sweeps, is much clearer cut. It remains one of the greatest catches of all time, especially in context to the situation in which it occurred. The New York Giants had won the National League pennant under Leo Durocher with a 97-57 record, good enough for a five game advantage over the Dodgers. Their opponent in the Fall Classic would be the Cleveland Indians. Most people would have said that if the 1954 post-season result would be listed among the World Series sweeps, it would be the Tribe with the brooms, as they were eight games better than the Yankees in the American League, with an incredible 111 wins and only 43 losses. Cleveland was so dominant that the fourth place team in the league, Boston, wound up 42 games back! Their starters had gone 93-36, and as they headed to the Polo Grounds, Cleveland must have figured that their pitching would dominate the Giants and precipitate one of the most lopsided of all World Series sweeps.
The whole outcome of this championship series turned though on one play in the first tilt, as Cleveland became the victim of the eighth of baseball’s World Series sweeps; the 1954 Giants were the first team to pull it off, other than the Yankees, since the 1914 Boston Braves. The Giants’ Sal Maglie and Indians’ ace Bob Lemon were locked in a 2-2 tie as the game moved to the top of the eighth inning. Maglie issued a walk to Larry Doby and allowed a single to Al Rosen. He then gave way to Don Liddle, as Vic Wertz came to the plate. A dangerous hitter, Wertz hit a booming drive to deep center. The Polo Grounds’ dimensions, where dead center was 483 feet away from home plate, were going to keep it in the park, and Willie Mays made sure that he would keep the score as it was. On a dead run, he caught the Wertz shot over his left shoulder, whirled and threw the ball back towards the infield. Doby tagged and made third, Rosen retreated to first.
Not out of the woods yet, Durocher summoned his best reliever, Marv Grissom, who had gone 10-7 in 1954 and accumulated 19 saves, a big number at that point in baseball. Pinch hitter Dale Mitchell, who two years later would make the last out of Don Larsen’s perfect game, walked but Grissom got a called third strike on Dave Pope and Jim Hegan flied out to left to leave Doby at third. The game went into the tenth, where the Giants’ pinch hitter, Dusty Rhodes blasted a three run homer off of Lemon to win the game, starting one of the most unlikely of World Series sweeps. Rhodes would add two more key pinch hits in the next two games, and wound up 4 for 6 with 7 RBI. The Indians were throttled by New York’s pitching to the tune of a .190 average in the last of the World Series sweeps until the Dodgers crushed the Yankees in 1963.