It was “one of the most spectacular closing chapters in all World Series history,” gushed sportswriter Grantland Rice about Mel Ott’s home run in the top of the 10th inning against the Washington Senators in Game Five of the World Series to give the New York Giants a surprising title.1 It was a stunning turnaround for a team that looked in disarray seven months earlier during spring training in Los Angeles. Many prognosticators had picked the Giants to duplicate their dismal sixth-place (72-82) finish from the previous season, which was marred by legendary manager John McGraw’s forced midseason resignation. He was replaced by Bill Terry, the prolific hitter, who suffered a broken bone in his wrist and missed the first month of the 1933 season.
The Giants were a “team that nobody knows,” quipped Harold C. Burr, and “was ridiculed for awkward misfits in training camp.”2 However, under Memphis Bill’s leadership, the team developed a combative spirit and relied on the big leagues’ best pitching staff to capture an unlikely pennant.
The Giants were a loose bunch heading into Game Five. Carl Hubbell’s extraordinary performance the day before, an 11-inning complete-game, 2-1 victory, his second win in four days, put the club on the verge of its first title since 1922 during a four-year (1921-1924) hold on the NL pennant. The pitching matchup featured age vs. youth and a repeat of Game Two moundsmen. In just his second full season and first as a starter, the Giants’ 22-year-old Hal Schumacher emerged as one of most effective hurlers in the NL, posting a 19-12 slate with the league’s third-lowest ERA (2.16), and earned a berth in the inaugural All-Star Game. The Senators’ 26-year-old boy wonder, player-manager Joe Cronin, called on the “General” to stave off elimination.3 Rubber-armed staff ace and All-Star Alvin Crowder was a grizzled 34-year-old veteran who had paced the junior circuit in wins the last two seasons (26 and 24 respectively) and boasted an impressive 138-91 slate in parts of eight seasons. Prince Hal had won their first encounter, tossing a complete-game five-hitter to beat the Senators, 6-1, at the Polo Grounds.
On a cloudless, sunny, and seasonably warm Saturday afternoon with temperatures in the mid-70s, Griffith Stadium was packed with 28,454 fans, the biggest attendance of the three games in the nation’s capital, though not a sellout. Sportswriter James C. Isaminger opined that the “absence of the usual perpetual buzz among spectators was noticeable,” almost as if the outcome of the Series had been foretold.4 In World Series history, only one team thus far had overcome a three-games-to-one deficit: the Pittsburgh Pirates, who victimized the Senators in 1925.
Crowder was “shaky from the start,” noted Isaminger, and was perhaps feeling the effects of pitching in a big-league-leading 52 regular-season games, including 35 starts, not to mention logging 626⅓ innings, easily the most in the majors, over the last two seasons.5 He yielded a leadoff hit to Jo-Jo Moore and Terry’s one-out single, but then doused the fire. He wasn’t so lucky the next frame when Travis Jackson and Gus Mancuso led off with a single and walk respectively. Blondy Ryan, who clubbed the game-winning RBI single the day before, surprised everyone by laying down a bunt. That move was “not entirely accepted by baseball’s outstanding academic minds,” noted sportswriter John Drebinger, given that Schumacher was up next.6 But the plan made Terry’s call look ingenious when Prince Hal hit a lazy single to center field. The ball “float[ed] away like a baked potato,” wrote Giants beat writer Jimmy Powers, and both Jackson and Mancuso raced home.7
Crowder’s afternoon ended in the sixth, just as it had three days earlier in Gotham City. Kiddo Davis whacked a leadoff double over third base and moved to third on Jackson’s sacrifice. Mancuso then blasted one to deep center field. Foreshadowing the end of the game, the ball caromed off the glove of an outstretched Fred Schulte, according to Powers.8 Davis trotted home to give the Giants a 3-0 lead and Mancuso raced to second; the General headed to the showers. Jack Russell, a 27-year-old converted right-handed starter, fanned Ryan and Schumacher to keep the game close.
The first inning gave Senators fans an inkling that Dame Fortune was not on their side. After Goose Goslin laced a one-out single to left-center field, Heinie Manush hit a screeching liner that looked as though it could go for extra bases, but it was right at third baseman Travis Jackson, who snared the ball without moving and doubled Goslin off. There was some debate over whether Manush would play in the game owing to his aggressive confrontation with first-base umpire Charlie Moran in Game Four (Moran was behind the plate in Game Five). Manush bumped and appeared to take a swing at Moran, resulting in his ejection. Commissioner Kenesaw Landis refused to suspend him, given the gravity of this game.9
Schumacher rolled through the Nats lineup, encountering a hiccup in the fifth when Schulte and Joe Kuhel led off with singles, but the Senators’ bad-luck streak continued. Ossie Bluege fouled out on a crucial bunt attempt. Schulte reached third on a two-out wild pitch to Crowder, who grounded meekly to short to end the threat.
Suddenly and without warning, wrote Drebinger, Schumacher “lost his magic touch” after two outs in the sixth, leading to the Senators’ biggest inning in the entire Series.10 The Senators’ stacked lineup, which had led the majors with a .287 batting average, finally awakened from its doldrums. Manush, who had led the team with a .336 average and an AL-most 221 hits and 17 triples, singled with two outs, followed by another by Cronin, whose checked swing blooped the ball over Ryan’s head at short. Schulte walloped one to deep left field to tie the game, 3-3. With no one yet warming up in the bullpen, Schumacher yielded a single to Kuhel and Bluege singled to third; Jackson’s throw from the hot corner was wild, permitting Kuhel to advance to third. Schumacher’s day was over.
With both teams’ starters banished by the middle of the sixth inning, the game evolved into an improbable yet noteworthy battle between two relievers. Terry called on a 43-year-old graybeard, Havana-born Dolf Luque, whose “silvery sideburns glinted on a seamed face bronzed by the shade of a panatela wrapper,” wrote Powers poetically.11
A former workhorse for the Cincinnati Reds, Luque harkened back to the Deadball Era (he debuted in 1914). He was making his first World Series appearance since the infamous Reds-Black Sox encounter in 1919, and had the distinction of leading the NL with 27 victories in 1923, the year after pacing the circuit in losses (23). Using what Grantland Rice called a “fast, jerky motion” and “low, fast breaking curves” to mesmerize the Nats,12 he retired Luke Sewell to end the sixth, then punched out the side in the seventh. Luque was “chunky, almost fat,” according to Rice, who said the pitcher’s 5-foot-7 stature belied his ability and competitive spirit.13 He even got into an argument with his batterymate, Mancuso, over pitch selection shortly after entering the game.14
Goslin’s right arm saved a potential winning run in the ninth. The Goose narrowly missed a shoestring catch on Ryan’s one-out Texas Leaguer to short right, but fielded the ball and fired a strike to erase Ryan at second. Ryan’s tactical baserunning error proved costly when Luque followed with a single.
With two out in the 10th, the Giants’ most dangerous slugger, Mel Ott, came to the plate. Just 24 years old but in his eighth big-league season, Master Melvin was a squat, 5-foot-9 power coil who had tied the Philadelphia Phillies’ Chuck Klein for the NL lead in home runs (38) in 1932. Ott belted 23 of the Giants’ NL-most 82 round-trippers in ’33, which saw home runs decrease by 21 percent from the previous season.15 Ott sent a “belt-high curve” deep to center field.16 Schulte tracked the ball’s arc and lurched over the three-foot fence in front of the temporary bleachers in a valiant effort to corral the orb, which “ricocheted off his upflung chocolate glove,” wrote Powers.17 Second-base umpire Cy Pfirman (an NL arbiter) held up two fingers, indicating a ground-rule double; however, the excitement was just beginning. Terry protested the ruling, prompting Pfirman to call a meeting with the other three umpires. After a short discussion, Pfirman reversed the call and signaled a home run. An enraged Jack Russell charged from the mound to confront Pfirman and had to be restrained by Cronin. The call stood. “[I]t was a just decision,” said Cronin after the game. “My contention was that Schulte butted the ball over the rail with his knee.”18
“[T]he crowd sat as badly dazed and stunned as Schulte,” wrote Rice about Ott’s blast to give the Giants a 4-3 lead.19
Luque, who had won 189 games and logged almost 3,200 innings thus far in his career, took the mound in the 10th for the most important three outs in his life. Facing the heart of the order, he retired the Senators’ two best hitters, Goslin and Manush, before Cronin brought the crowd to its feet with a single to left. Schulte, who was noticeably limping after the gallant effort on Ott’s smash, walked on four pitches and was replaced by pinch-runner John Kerr. A single away from a tie game, Luque emphatically ended the game in 2 hours and 38 minutes by striking out Kuhel to secure the Giants’ convincing title.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author accessed Retrosheet.org, Baseball-Reference.com, Newspapers.com, and SABR.org.
1 Grantland Rice, “Unusual Homer by Ott Dazes Capital Fans,” Baltimore Sun, October 8, 1933: II, 1.
2 Harold C. Burr, “Giants Capture Series, Winning 5th Game, 4-3,” Brooklyn Eagle, October 8, 1933: A1.
3 The moniker comes from Provost Marshal General Enoch Crowder, head of the Selective Service during World War I.
4 James C. Isaminger, “How the Giants Overcame Senators in Fadeout Fray on Potomac,” Philadelphia Inquirer, October 8, 1933: 29.
6 John Drebinger, “Giants Are Victors in Worlds Series, Four Games to One,” New York Times, October 8, 1933: III, 1.
7 Jimmy Powers, “Giants Win World Series,” (New York) Daily News, October 8, 1933: 75.
9 Associated Press, “Landis Regrets ‘Banishment’ of Outfielder Heinie Manush,” (New York) Daily News, October 8, 1933: 76.
15 In 1932 the 16 big-league teams combined for 1,358 home runs; that number dropped to 1,067 the following season, a decline of 21.4 percent.