1947 Yankees: The 19-game winning streak

This article was written by Brendan Bingham

This article was published in 1947 New York Yankees essays

On June 29, 1947, the New York Yankees began a 19-game winning streak to set a franchise record and tied a 41-year-old American League mark for consecutive wins.Fans of the New York Yankees awoke on June 29, 1947, with their team in first place in the American League with a 39-25 record. Striving to return to the World Series for the first time in four seasons, the team, under the direction of manager Bucky Harris, held a 3 1/2-game lead over the Boston Red Sox. The third-place Cleveland Indians were 6 1/2 back; the Philadelphia Athletics and Detroit Tigers were each seven games off the pace.

On the Yankees’ schedule that Sunday afternoon was a doubleheader in Griffith Stadium against the Washington Senators. The Yankees sent rookie Karl Drews to the mound against the Senators’ ace Early Wynn in the first game, and experience held to form. Wynn pitched like the 300-game winner he would become, allowing just one run on five hits. Drews pitched well in pursuit of what would have been just his third career victory, allowing one earned run in seven innings, but he could not overcome two unearned runs that resulted from a Snuffy Stirnweiss error. Washington won the game 5–1.

At the time the loss seemed unremarkable. It appeared to be just another step in the 154-game journey from spring to fall, unremarkable except that it would be the team’s last loss for nearly three weeks. The second game of the doubleheader began a streak that would not be snapped until the Yankees had set a team record and tied the 41-year-old American League mark for consecutive wins.

Game Two was a 3–1 win for the Yankees. Another rookie, Don Johnson, started for New York, but when he faltered in the sixth inning, Allie Reynolds, who had started in Philadelphia only three days earlier, came out of the bullpen to throw 3 2/3 scoreless innings.

From Washington the Yankees traveled to Boston for a single game, a 3–1 win that came on the strength of a first-inning two-run triple by Joe DiMaggio. Spec Shea tossed a complete-game, four-hitter, earning the rookie pitcher his tenth victory against only two defeats.

A six-game homestand followed in which the Yankees hosted the Senators and the Philadelphia Athletics. The New Yorkers swept Washington by scores of 8–1, 7–3, and 4–2. The last of those games was a tight one. New York trailed in the bottom of the seventh, but pinch-hitter Bobby Brown delivered a two-run, game-tying single, and an inning later the Yankees earned the win by scoring two runs on hits by DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, and Phil Rizzuto.

Completing the homestand, the Yankees swept the Athletics by scores of 5–1, 8–2, and 9–2, which brought New York to the All-Star break with a record of 47 wins and 26 losses and a lead of eight games over Detroit and Boston. It was at this point that the streak became newsworthy.[fn]Effrat, Louis, “Bombers’ Two Big Innings Conquer Athletics, 8-2, 9-2, Before 51,957,” New York Times, July 7, 1947.[/fn] With eight straight wins, the Yankees had tied Boston for the longest winning streak of the season.

Reynolds, Shea, and Spud Chandler were a strong threesome of starting pitchers for the Yankees during the first half of the 1947 season. Johnson and Bill Bevens rounded out the rotation, with others on the staff occasionally contributing starts. Shea, Chandler, and reliever Joe Page were among the Yankees honored with selection to the All-Star team, with Shea earning the victory over the National Leaguers and Page collecting the retroactive save.

After the All-Star break, the New Yorkers embarked on an extended road trip. In the days before any city west of St. Louis had secured a Major League franchise, the so-called Western swing took the Yankees to St. Louis, Chicago, Cleveland, and Detroit.

The opener in St. Louis was a narrow New York victory. Chandler, who had made a habit of pitching complete games, produced an uncharacteristically weak outing, giving up ten hits in 6 1/3 innings. With the game tied, 3–3, Page came in and gave a doubly heroic performance. Not only did he complete the game by pitching 2 2/3 scoreless innings, but in the top of the ninth he blasted a Nelson Potter pitch over the right-center-field fence for the game-winning home run. As it turned out, Chandler was injured. The eleven-year veteran would not start another game until September and would not return to the Major Leagues after off-season elbow surgery.[fn]Drebinger, John, “’Fully Recovered’ Chandler Reports,” New York Times, January 21, 1948.[/fn]

The remaining three games in St. Louis were not as close. The Yankees won on a Reynolds six-hitter, 3–1, then swept a doubleheader by scores of 12–2 and 8–5. The offensive outbreak was well-timed, as the Yankees’ starting pitching struggled in both games of the twin bill. In the opener Shea could manage only one inning on the mound before withdrawing with arm stiffness. Butch Wensloff completed the game in relief. In the nightcap, Bevens “staggered through four innings” as sportswriter James Dawson put it, before being lifted for a pinch hitter.[fn]Dawson, James P., “Yankees Vanquish Browns by 12-2, 8-5,” New York Times, July 13, 1947.[/fn] Drews and Page pitched well out of the bullpen, earning the win and save, respectively.

The performance by Bevens continued a trend that had seen him lose eight of nine decisions since May 3. The thirty-year-old Bevens had been, by contrast, a solid starter for New York the previous two seasons. Despite serious concerns about three of their starting pitchers, the Yankees ended the day with a winning streak that stood at twelve games and with a 9 1/2-game lead.

A doubleheader in Chicago followed, and the Yankees sought to adjust to their starting pitching woes by sending two newly acquired hurlers to the hill. Bobo Newsom pitched the opener only two days after having been purchased from the Senators. One month shy of his fortieth birthday, the well-traveled veteran came through with a five-hit, complete game in the Yankees’ 10–3 win.

Vic Raschi, also with the team only two days since being recalled from Portland of the Pacific Coast League, started the nightcap. Raschi pitched six strong innings before fading in the seventh; Page and Reynolds finished the Yankees’ 6–4 win. Raschi’s solid starting effort foreshadowed the role he would play for the team for some years to come. The twenty-eight-year-old had very little Major League experience to that point, but he would continue as a high-performing starter for the balance of the season and remain an anchor of the New York rotation through the 1953 season.

New York’s hitting stars that Sunday in Chicago were Billy Johnson (five hits in the first game), Tommy Henrich (three hits in each game) and Rizzuto (four hits for the day, including a grand slam in the opener). The Yankees pitching staff got a welcome rest the next day when their contest in Chicago was rained out.

While the Yankees’ starting rotation was in a state of uncertainty, the position players Harris used were practically invariant. The infield starters for every game of the streak, and most games of the season, were George McQuinn at first base, Stirnweiss at second, Billy Johnson at third, and Rizzuto at shortstop. Similarly, Johnny Lindell, DiMaggio and Henrich were steady starters in the outfield, although Lindell’s opportunity came as a result of a back injury suffered by Charlie Keller earlier in the season.[fn]Effrat, Louis, “Shea and Yankees Stop Athletics, 5-1,” New York Times, July 6, 1947.[/fn] Only the catcher’s position changed regularly, as Berra and Aaron Robinson mostly shared the role, with an occasional start going to Ralph Houk.

With the Yankees having won fourteen in a row, the team record sixteen-game winning streak was in sight, as was the league record of nineteen.[fn]Dawson, James P., “Rain Halts Yanks at Comiskey Park,” New York Times, July 15, 1947.[/fn] The opportunity to break one and equal the other came in a three-day, five-game series in Cleveland.

Reynolds pitched the opener of the Tuesday twin bill, and was not at his best. He allowed four runs on ten hits, but he went the distance for the fourth time during the streak. The outcome of the game was in little doubt, as the Yankees put up nine runs, including solo homers by McQuinn and DiMaggio.

The second game was a low-scoring affair that the Yankees won late. Bevens returned to winning form by outdueling future Hall-of-Famer Bob Feller. The decisive run in the Yankees’ 2–1 win came in the top of the ninth when Billy Johnson’s two-out triple scored DiMaggio.

The team record of sixteen straight wins had been matched, a noteworthy accomplishment given the long shadow cast by the Yankees’ greats of the 1920s who had forged that record. Louis Effrat put the feat in perspective:

Maybe the Yankees of 1947 are not quite as great as the Yankees of 1926. Maybe the current edition does not quite measure up to the Yankees of Ruth and Gehrig and Pennock and Shawkey. This is hardly the time to weigh their respective merits. Suffice to report that the New Yorkers tonight matched that 1926 aggregation’s 16-game winning streak by defeating the Indians, 9–4 and 2–1, in a twilight-night double-header.

Nor can the men under Bucky Harris’ command be accused of picking a soft one for their sixteenth straight victim. Rather, it was against one of the all-time greats, Bob Feller, that the New Yorkers, in a dramatic finish, achieved their latest success.[fn]Effrat, Louis, “Bombers Trip Indians by 9-4, 2-1, with Reynolds and Bevens in Box,” New York Times, July 16, 1947.[/fn]

The middle game of the Cleveland series was an 8–2 New York win. The team’s first four batters produced hits, including a home run by Henrich, giving the Yankees a three-run lead before Cleveland could record an out. Wensloff pitched ably for five innings before relievers Drews and Page finished the game. With the win, Harris’s Yankees had set the team record for consecutive wins. Again, recognition in the press came with a mix of celebration of the current accomplishment and deference to the team’s history. John Drebinger wrote:

The Yankees of 1947 have just bettered the consecutive string of victories which those other Yanks of incredible deeds set a score of years ago. . . . However, when the Yanks of ’47 surpassed the mark of their illustrious predecessors, it at least proved that what has been done once can be improved upon regardless of the fact that the first breathless record was written by such immortals as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Bob Meusel and Tony Lazzeri.[fn]Drebinger, John, “’Fully Recovered’ Chandler Reports,” New York Times, January 21, 1948.[/fn]

The American League record winning streak was held by the “Hitless Wonders,” the 1906 Chicago White Sox who won the pennant and the World Series despite their .230 team batting average. A Yankees sweep of the July 17 doubleheader in Cleveland would equal the record. McQuinn was the hitting star in the opener with a home run in the fourth inning providing two runs toward the Yankees’ 3–1 victory. Newsom pitched the complete game, further proving his worth as a midseason acquisition. The victory was his second as a Yankee and the 200th of his career.

In the second game of the day, a barrage of singles in the early innings brought the Yankees a 5–0 lead. They cruised to the 7–2 victory behind Raschi’s six-hit pitching. The streak that began in Washington in late June had grown to equal the 1906 White Sox’ mark.

The Yankees’ lead in the pennant race had widened to 11 1/2 games. The second-place Tigers had played well since late June, and Detroit would be the setting for the New Yorkers’ chance to break the league-record winning streak. However, a winning streak could not have met a more decisive end than the one that befell the Yankees’ nineteen-game streak in the Motor City. Detroit starter Fred Hutchinson pitched one of the best games of his career, a two-hit, no walk, complete-game shutout. Meanwhile the bats of George Kell, Vic Wertz, Eddie Mayo, and company pounded Randy Gumpert and Karl Drews for eight runs on eighteen hits. The streak was over, but New York’s nineteen straight wins had all but ended the 1947 American League pennant race. The Yankees had stretched their slender late-June lead to an almost insurmountable mid-July margin. New York would not only remain in first place for the remainder of the season, but its lead would only briefly drop below ten games.

Team accomplishments emerge from individual contributions. The Yankees batted .292 as a team during the streak. Not surprisingly, DiMaggio led the attack, but he was not alone in providing offensive firepower. None of New York’s starters was slumping during the streak; only Lindell posted a batting average during the nineteen games that was substantially below his season and career marks.

The team ERA was a superb 2.00 for the streak, and no fewer than eleven pitchers earned victories, led by Reynolds with four complete-game wins and two critical relief outings. All Yankees pitchers outperformed their season and career ERA marks, except Chandler, who at 2.94 was only slightly above.

Viewed from the distance of more than six decades, the 1947 Yankees’ winning streak remains a monumental accomplishment. Of note, the streak was achieved mostly on the road and included six sweeps of doubleheaders. The American League record for consecutive wins would not fall until the Oakland Athletics won twenty straight in 2002, and meanwhile no team has approached the Major League mark of twenty-six straight set by the New York Giants in 1916. Nonetheless, any baseball team in any era would be thrilled to put together the kind of run that the Yankees did in June and July of 1947, when they combined consistent hitting, superb pitching, and timely roster moves to amass nineteen consecutive victories.

BRENDAN BINGHAM has been a SABR member since 2009 and is an occasional contributor to the website Baseball: Past and Present. Brendan currently works in the medical-device industry. During a twenty-five-year career as a research scientist, he has published original work in genetics, endocrinology, and neuroscience