Of the nine game-winning homers Ted Williams hit in his rookie year, three were hit in Cleveland, all in a 45-day span. The Cleveland Indians had two home fields in the late 1930s — the smaller League Park and (for larger games, such as weekend affairs) the larger-capacity Cleveland Stadium. Williams had homered at Cleveland Stadium back on July 15, so with the one he hit on August 28, he had homered in both of the two Indians ballparks.
Which team needed a win more? The Red Sox were in second place, seven games ahead of the third-place White Sox. They had lost five in a row, dropping from nine games behind the first-place Yankees to 13 back. The Indians, though, had won seven in a row and were just a half-game behind the White Sox and hoping to move up in the standings. The Tigers were only three games behind the Indians.
The August 28 game was a Monday afternoon game and drew only 2,000. They saw a game that offered some surprises and suspense.
Veteran right-hander Mel Harder was manager Ossie Vitt’s choice to start against Boston. He was in his 12th season pitching for Cleveland. His 2.95 ERA back in 1933 had led the American League. He’d been a 20-game winner in both 1934 and 1935 and won 17 games in 1938. At this point in 1939, he’d won his last six decisions and was 9-7 with a 3.50 ERA.
Harder muffed the first play of the game, throwing away a ball hit back to him by center fielder Doc Cramer. Cramer took second on the error. Harder got the next three batters to ground out: Joe Vosmik, Jimmie Foxx, and Ted Williams.
Elden Auker was a righty with a submarine delivery who had pitched for the Tigers for six seasons but was traded to the Red Sox in December 1938. His best season had been 1935, when his 18-7 record led the American League in winning percentage. His record coming into this August 28 game was 7-7 with a 5.15 ERA. He’d lost a 3-1 game in Chicago just four days earlier.
The only baserunner he allowed in the first two innings was on a two-out single by third baseman Ken Keltner in the second. He had watched, though, when his young right fielder Ted Williams had dropped a foul fly ball hit by the leadoff batter in the second, first baseman Hal Trosky. Harder struck out Trosky, so no damage was done.
In the third inning, the Red Sox scored first. Third baseman Jim Tabor led off with a triple. Harder struck out Auker, but Doc Cramer singled to left field and Tabor came home. Vosmik hit into a 5-4-3 double play.
Harder drew a one-out walk in the bottom of the third. Shortstop Lou Boudreau doubled to right field, Harder holding at third. The Indians’ right fielder, Bruce Campbell, singled to left and both runners scored, giving Cleveland a 2-1 lead. Two groundouts closed the inning.
The Red Sox batted three future Hall of Famers in the top of the fourth — Foxx grounded out to shortstop, Williams struck out, and second baseman Bobby Doerr also grounded out to short.
There was no more scoring until the bottom of the sixth. The Indians got one more run. After one out, first baseman Jeff Heath tripled to left field. Keltner grounded a ball to Doerr at second base and reached on a fielder’s choice. Heath was ruled safe at home and it was 3-1. The Boston Globe’s Gerry Moore faulted umpire Bill McGowan for “the most ludicrous umpiring of the season” and characterized this call as an “out-and-out gift,” saying that Heath never touched home plate.1 Red Sox catcher Johnny Peacock became so incensed that he was ejected.
Gene Desautels replaced Peacock behind the plate. Keltner decided to try to take advantage right away, but Desautels’ throw was on target and Keltner was caught stealing. Second baseman Ray Mack then doubled. Catcher Rollie Hemsley was walked intentionally, to bring Harder to the plate. Auker struck out Harder.
Ted Williams led off the top of the seventh with a broken-bat single to left field. Doerr struck out, but shortstop-manager Joe Cronin singled and Williams went first to third. Lou Finney pinch-hit for Desautels; he made an infield out, Williams scoring on the play. Tabor popped up to catcher Hemsley for the third out.
The score stood 3-2, Indians, but not for long. The Indians added two more runs in the bottom of the seventh. Moe Berg took over catching duties for the Red Sox. Auker struck out Boudreau and got Campbell to fly out to right, but then walked center fielder Ben Chapman. Swinging at one of Auker’s underhanded deliveries, Trosky hit a two-run homer over the right-center-field wall, giving the Indians a 5-2 lead.
Red Nonnenkamp pinch-hit for Auker leading off the top of the eighth. He lined out to Trosky at first base. Doc Cramer doubled off the right-field wall, though, and Vosmik walked. Jimmie Foxx knocked in Cramer with a single to center field. Vosmik went from first to third. On a 3-and-1 count, Williams swung hard and missed Harder’s curveball by a foot. He hit the next pitch over League Park’s “chummy right-field screen … a long high fly that scaled the close barrier in right with plenty to spare.”2 Suddenly, it was 6-5, Red Sox. It was Williams’s 20th home run of his rookie season. His 110 runs batted in led the American League.
Doerr and then Cronin each hit fly-ball outs to center field.
The new Red Sox pitcher was Emerson Dickman. He got two outs, but then Hemsley singled. Vitt had Roy Weatherly pinch-hit for Harder. Weatherly singled, but Boudreau lined to Doerr for the third out. All three outs were on hard-hit balls.
Joe Dobson took over for Harder in the top of the ninth. Berg led off with a single. Tabor bunted to third, sacrificing Berg to second base, but Dickman — allowed to bat for himself — struck out and Cramer lined out to Keltner at third base.
It was still a one-run game. Campbell hit a ball to the center-field wall, hauled in by Cramer. After Dickman allowed back-to-back one-out singles to Chapman and Trosky, the Indians had runners on first and third with just one out. Cronin called on Jack Wilson to relieve Dickman. Vitt had Frankie Pytlak come in as a pinch-runner for Trosky. Wilson pitched to Jeff Heath, batting .301 coming into the game. On a 3-and-0 count, Heath fouled out, a popup to Moe Berg. Heath then “tossed a punch at an abusive fan in a first-base box.”3 Keltner walked and that loaded the bases. The tying run was at third, the go-ahead run at second, but there were two outs. Odell Hale pinch-hit for Ray Mack, who had a double earlier in the game, but had only relatively limited playing time and was batting only .145 before the game. Hale was hitting .281. On a 2-and-2 count, Hale popped up to second baseman Doerr in short right field.
Auker got the win. Harder went to 9-8 with the loss.
The next day’s Boston Globe quoted Joe Cronin as saying, “The Kid has lived up to his advance notice. I guess that’s so even if he doesn’t drive in another run for the rest of the year.”4 After readers of the August 29 Globe put down their morning paper, Williams did drive in another run — five of them — that very day. The “smiling stringbean rookie sensation” did it again.5 Williams hit another game-winning homer, off Cleveland’s Harry Eisenstat, a fifth-inning grand slam that gave the Red Sox a 6-0 lead in a game they won 7-4. That one “ricocheted off electric light wires on the south side of Lexington Avenue and bounced into a parking lot.”6 And the day after that — on his 21st birthday, August 30 — “The Kid” hit yet another home run, in Detroit.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org.
1 Gerry Moore, “Williams’ 3-Run Homer in Eighth Trips Tribe, 6-5,” Boston Globe, August 29, 1939: 8.
2 Arthur Sampson, “Sox Beat Indians, 6-5, on Williams Home Run,” Boston Herald, August 29, 1939: 18.
3 Eugene J. Whitney, “Williams Homer in Eighth Checks Indians After Seven Straight,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, August 30, 1939: 16.
4 Gerry Moore, “‘Timely Ted,’ Williams’ New Nickname with Sox,” Boston Globe, August 30, 1939: 20.
5 Gerry Moore, “Ted Williams Poles Homer to Win for Red Sox, 7 to 4,” Boston Globe, August 30, 1939: 21.
6 Eugene J. Whitney, “Williams Lashes Homer with Bases Full to Beat Tribe Again,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, August 30, 1939: 16.