The 1939 Boston Red Sox fell from first place to second on their May 10 offday, when the New York Yankees won in St. Louis and advanced from second place to first, overturning a half-game deficit in the American League standings.
Four months later, on September 10, the Red Sox’ demotion in the standings had long since stuck; they were still in second place but 17½ games behind the Yankees, with the White Sox just 1½ games behind them. Boston had lost seven games in a row.
The Philadelphia Athletics were in seventh place and 10 games away from any chance to advance. The two teams met in a Sunday afternoon doubleheader at Philadelphia’s Shibe Park.
The managers — Connie Mack for the hosting Athletics and Joe Cronin for the visiting Red Sox — selected right-handed starters for the opener: Bill Beckmann for Philadelphia and Charlie Wagner for Boston. Rookie Beckmann was 5-10 at this point, with a 5.11 ERA. Wagner was 1-0, with an ERA of 4.42. Wagner had been 1-3 early in the 1938 season but spent most of 1938 and 1939 in the minors.
Both pitchers gave up two-run homers in the first inning.
After getting two fly-ball outs in the top of the inning, Beckmann allowed right fielder Ted Williams’s single to left field. Joe Cronin followed with a homer “into the left-field stands,” giving Boston a 2-0 lead.1 Cronin hurt his ankle rounding the bases but played almost the entire game, leaving only before the bottom of the ninth.
The 2-2 score held until the fifth inning.
Both pitchers retired the side in the second. Both pitchers gave up one base hit — a triple — in the third. Ted Williams tripled — again, to left field — for the Red Sox, and left fielder Eric Tipton tripled to center. Tipton facilitated the Williams triple when he “overran his pop in short left field.”2
Third baseman Jim Tabor singled to lead off Boston’s fourth but was the only one from either team to reach base.
The Red Sox broke out with four runs in the top of the fifth. First baseman Lou Finney singled to center. (The team’s regular first baseman, Jimmie Foxx, was in the hospital after an appendectomy.) Doc Cramer, Boston’s center fielder, saw Finney steal second and then doubled off the center-field scoreboard, driving in the go-ahead run.
Ted Williams walked. Cronin singled, scoring Cramer for a 4-2 lead, while Williams took second base. Left fielder Joe Vosmik sacrificed, advancing both runners. That promptly paid off as Tabor singled to left field and drove them both in. Second baseman Bobby Doerr grounded into a double play, but Boston had surged to a 6-2 advantage.
Chubby Dean was Philadelphia’s new pitcher in the sixth. He got a groundout, struck out Wagner, and then got another groundout.
Wagner re-mounted the mound in the bottom of the inning. Gantenbein doubled, took third on Tipton’s grounder to shortstop, and scored when catcher Frankie Hayes hit a sacrifice fly to center field. It was 6-3, and Wagner soon faced the tying run at the plate after first baseman Dick Siebert singled and center fielder Sam Chapman doubled.
Two more foul popups followed in the top of the seventh as Dean got both Cramer and Williams to do so, and then struck out Cronin.
The Athletics crept a little closer in their half of the seventh. Again, Gantenbein was involved, this time with a sacrifice fly scoring second baseman Dario Lodigiani, who had walked to start the inning, gone to second on an infield single by Dean, and then to third when Moses grounded into a force play at second base. It was 6-4, still in Boston’s favor.
Though both Vosmik and Doerr singled, the Red Sox did not score in the top of the eighth. Dickman retired the three batters he faced.
The Red Sox broke the game open in the top of the ninth. After Dickman grounded out, Finney reached on an error by Siebert at first base. Cramer flied out to center, leaving one on with two out for Ted Williams.
Williams hit a two-run homer “far over the right field barrier,” pushing the Red Sox lead to 8-4.4 Cronin followed with a double. The next two Red Sox batters walked, loading the bases. Doerr came through with a two-run single to center field for a 10-4 advantage.
The Athletics weren’t done yet, but the six-run deficit loomed large. Bob Johnson, who had gone out to play left field after pinch-hitting in the sixth, homered to left field.
Dee Miles pinch-hit for Lodigiani. He singled. So did Dean, still in the game, singling to right field as Miles ran to third. Moses grounded to second, and Miles scored Philadelphia’s sixth run.
Gantenbein doubled down the right-field foul line and Dean scored with ease. But Dickman got the next two batters to fly out and the game was over, a 10-7 Red Sox victory.
With the Williams home run producing Boston’s seventh and eighth runs, he had the game-winning base hit. It was the 25th home run of the young rookie’s career.
The Sox clustered their offense, with two four-run innings and one two-run inning. With 10 runs on 14 hits, the they snapped their seven-game losing streak, scoring more runs in just this one game than in the five previous games combined.
The Athletics also had 14 base hits but came up short in the runs department.
Even with 17 runs scored in the game, it only took one minute over two hours to complete.
Between games of the doubleheader, as part of the centennial celebration of baseball, there was another game — a 2½-inning exhibition between members of the 1910-14 A’s teams and the 1929-31 teams. The 1910-14 team won, 6-4, though perhaps “through the courtesy of the 1929 boys who took pity.”5 A description of the exhibition and accompanying ceremonies, accompanied by three photographs, is available in the September 11, 1939, Philadelphia Inquirer.6 James Isaminger, who covered the game for the Inquirer, devoted most of his coverage to the exhibition game with the former champions, rather than to the less fulfilling 1939 game.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org. Thanks to Kevin Larkin for providing access to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
1 Melville Webb, “Williams Hits 2 Homers as Sox Take A’s Twice,” Boston Globe, September 11, 1939: 6.
2 John Drohan, “Williams Homers Pair as Sox Twice Beat A’s,” Boston Herald, September 11, 1939: 15.
6 James C. Isaminger, “23,235 See A’s Lose Two to Red Sox, 10-7, 5-1,” Philadelphia Inquirer, September 11, 1939: 25, 27.