When It Counted: Retrospective MVP Awards for the World Series, Part 2

If World Series MVPs were awarded back then, Lou Gehrig’s performance in 1932 would have been the easy choice. (via Pacific & Atlantic Photos, Inc._

Last month, I began this series to select World Series Most Valuable Players for the years when the current award did not exist. I covered the years 1903 to 1928, halting there for reasons of length. Today I’ll cover the rest of the pre-MVP period, from 1929 to 1954.

For anyone new to these articles (including my original one for the League Championship Series), or who wants a refresher on my methodology, I refer you to the introduction to last month’s article. Nothing has changed, except perhaps my willingness to reward players on the losing side. I did it three times in the 1903-28 part of this overview, but though I was close several times this go-round, I never pulled the trigger.

I won’t fill time with any more introductory talk. We have a lot of World Series to revisit, and I’ll start on them right now.

1929 – Philadelphia A’s over Chicago Cubs, 4-1
(3-1, 9-3, 1-3, 10-8, 3-2)
MVP: Howard Ehmke, A’s – 2 G (1-0), 12.2 IP,  14 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 3 W, 13 K; 0.63 WPA

A veteran pitcher at the end of the line begged manager Connie Mack for one start in the upcoming World Series. Mack, seeing an angle, sent the pitcher to scout the opponent Cubs for weeks on end, learning them inside and out. Given the shock start in Game One, Ehmke converted deep knowledge and a rested arm into victory. He allowed one unearned run in the ninth and struck out 13 Cubs, a World Series record since broken and re-broken.

Ehmke got pulled from Game Five when his fourth inning went wobbly, but it cost him neither his place in history nor this retrospective recognition.

1930 – Philadelphia A’s over St. Louis Cardinals, 4-2
(5-2, 6-1, 0-5, 1-3, 2-0, 7-1)
MVP: George Earnshaw, A’s – 3 G (2-0), 25 IP, 13 H, 2 R, 7 W, 19 K; 0.94 WPA

Earnshaw didn’t have an Ehmke gimmick: he just went out and beat St. Louis. After allowing a solo homer in the second inning of Game Two, he steadied himself to permit no more, facing one over the minimum in his last four innings. In Game Five, he pitched seven scoreless frames before getting lifted for a pinch-hitter (in a rally that failed to break a scoreless tie). One game later, Earnshaw started again, blanking the Cards for the first eight innings while his A’s piled on the runs. He gave up his first run with two out in the ninth, closing the gap to a nail-biting … six runs, before slamming the door on the game and the series.

1931 – St. Louis Cardinals over Philadelphia A’s, 4-3
(2-6, 2-0, 5-2, 0-3, 5-1, 1-8, 4-2)
MVP: Bill Hallahan, Cardinals – 3 G (2-0, 1 Sv), 18.1 IP, 12 H, 1 R, 8 W, 12 K; 1.09 WPA

Hallahan reversed his team’s Game One defeat by twirling a three-hitter in Game Two. The seven walks he allowed did make things tense at times, especially in the ninth. He corrected his wildness in Game Five with just a single pass, but gave it back in allowing nine hits and one run. That was still enough for a comfortable win. He appeared once more at the end of Game Seven, with Philly rallying and the tying runs on base. He got the final out to win it all.

An MVP case can be made for St. Louis center fielder Pepper Martin (.500/.538/.792; 0.74 WPA), who got a dozen hits and whose hustle scratched out both Cardinal runs in Hallahan’s Game Two win. If you think pitchers have been getting too much credit in my awards, Pepper could be your choice.

1932 – New York Yankees over Chicago Cubs, 4-0
(12-6, 5-2, 7-5, 13-6)
MVP: Lou Gehrig, Yankees — .529/.600/1.118; 0.80 WPA

There is enduring controversy over whether Babe Ruth “called his shot” in Game Three of this series. There is no doubt that Lou Gehrig’s performance put Babe, and everyone else, deep in the shade.

The Iron Horse got multiple hits in all four games. He scored multiple runs in all four games. He drove in multiple runs in all but Game Two. In total, Lou had nine hits, scored nine runs, drove in eight runs, and smacked three homers, two of them in Game Three, when Babe also launched two. (They both got plunked in Game Four. This may not be a coincidence.) In an offensive riot of a Series, Gehrig was the chief incendiary, and that’s no myth.

1933 – New York Giants over Washington Senators, 4-1
(4-2, 6-1, 0-4, 2-1 [11], 4-3 [10])
MVP: Carl Hubbell, Giants – 2 G (2-0), 20 IP, 13 H, 3 R, 0 ER, 6 W, 15 K; 1.01 WPA

The Meal Ticket set the tone early, striking out six Senators in the first three innings of Game One. The two runs he allowed were unearned, the second error helping set up a suspenseful jam in the last of the ninth that Hubbell escaped. He was hurt by another unearned run in his Game Four start—his own fault this time, as he fumbled a bunt in the seventh. Hubbell would clean up his own mess, staying in the game as it went into extras 1-1. The Giants nosed ahead in the 11th, and though he faced another late jam, Hubbell got the game-ending double play to preserve his work.

1934 – St. Louis Cardinals over Detroit Tigers, 4-3
(8-3, 2-3 [12], 4-1, 4-10, 1-3, 4-3, 11-0)
MVP: Paul Dean, Cardinals – 2 G (2-0), 18 IP, 15 H, 4 R, 2 ER, 7 W, 11 K; 0.89 WPA

The Dean brothers, Dizzy and Daffy, notched all four wins for St. Louis, but Paul outdid his more famous sibling. Paul scattered eight hits and five walks in Game Three, allowing his only run with two outs in the ninth when the game was well in hand. (He also hit an RBI flyout, in a year when sacrifice flies weren’t officially counted.) He started Game Six on two days’ rest, after Dizzy lost Game Five to leave the Cards on the brink. Paul allowed fewer hits and walks, and though he yielded three runs, two were unearned, though one was on his own error. He atoned with his RBI single in the seventh that put his team ahead for good.

1935 – Detroit Tigers over Chicago Cubs, 4-2
(0-3, 8-3, 6-5 [11], 2-1, 1-3, 4-3)
MVP: General Crowder, Tigers – 1 G (1-0), 9 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 3 W, 5 K; 0.94 WPA

Alvin “General” Crowder had just one game in this World Series, but made it count. With slugger Hank Greenberg knocked out of the series by a wrist injury, the Tigers needed great pitching, and got it. A solo home run in the second was the lone tally, and one of only five hits, he would surrender on the day. His batting day included a single, a walk, and a run scored, but his most pivotal hitting moment was on a weak sixth-inning ground ball that rolled right through shortstop Billy Jurges. The error brought the go-ahead run home, and that was all the General needed.

Crowder played the game with his wife seriously ill in a North Carolina hospital, and nearly broke into tears in the clubhouse afterward. Reporters love that type of stuff. I kinda like it too.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

1936 – New York Yankees over New York Giants, 4-2
(1-6, 18-4, 2-1, 5-2, 4-5 [10], 13-5)
MVP: Jake Powell, Yankees — .455/.538/.636; 0.29 WPA

There was no standout player in this World Series, but a logjam of good performances. This award could plausibly have gone to second baseman Tony Lazzeri or third baseman Red Rolfe, or pitchers Bump Hadley or Monte Pearson, even though they pitched one game apiece and didn’t record a shutout. Even Giants players like Carl Hubbell and shortstop Dick Bartell merited consideration. The MVP finally went to Powell for his competitive WPA, his triple-slash line that led both teams, and being on the winning side. Sometimes doing just enough is just enough.

1937 – New York Yankees over New York Giants, 4-1
(8-1, 8-1, 5-1, 3-7, 4-2)
MVP: Lefty Gomez, Yankees – 2 G (2-0), 18 IP, 16 H, 3 R, 2 W, 8 K; 0.70 WPA

El Goofy made for an easier choice, and a much better narrative, than 1936. He opened the series with a one-run performance —the run yielded on a double play—that proved more than enough when Carl Hubbell blew up in the sixth. He started again in Game Five with a chance to close out the series. He was less effective, giving up two runs, but he aided his cause with an RBI single in the fifth (a surprise for that weak hitter) that put the Yankees ahead for good.

1938 – New York Yankees over Chicago Cubs, 4-0
(3-1, 6-3, 5-2, 8-3)
MVP: Red Ruffing, Yankees – 2 G (2-0), 18 IP, 17 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 2 W, 11 K; 0.79 WPA

Here’s another garden-variety MVP performance for a pitcher. Ruffing started the first and last games of the sweep, pitching well but not dominantly both times. He allowed one run in Game One, and three in Game Four, one unearned. Good as his hitting usually was, Red managed just an RBI single and a walk over his two games.

No teammate could challenge him for the award, though. Shortstop Frank Crosetti slugged .688, but hit batting average was a tepid .250 and his WPA topped out at 0.42. Second baseman Joe Gordon hit better at .400/.438/.733, but he made two errors, each of which cost a run. While scarcely awesome, Ruffing stood head and shoulders above the rest.

1939 – New York Yankees over Cincinnati Reds, 4-0
(2-1, 4-0, 7-3, 7-4 [10])
MVP: Charlie Keller, Yankees — .438/.471/1.188; 0.98 WPA

New York’s rookie right fielder made a cannonball splash in his first Fall Classic. His one-out triple in the bottom of the ninth of Game One led to him scoring the winning run moments later. His two hits in Game Two contributed solidly, but Game Three was the bust-out. His two-run homer in the first opened the scoring, and another two-run shot in the fifth effectively buried the Reds. He’d homer again in the seventh inning of the clincher to break a scoreless tie. His 10th-inning collision with big-nosed catcher Ernie Lombardi is credited with bringing on Schnozz’s Snooze, where Joe DiMaggio dashed home past a prostrated Lombardi to score the third run of the inning. (A counter-theory is that a wayward throw home had hit Ernie in the cup just as Keller arrived.)

Keller scored eight runs and knocked home six, in an offensive eruption even Babe and Lou might have envied.

1940 – Cincinnati Reds over Detroit Tigers, 4-3
(2-7, 5-3, 4-7, 5-2, 0-8, 4-0, 2-1)
MVP: Bucky Walters, Reds – 2 G (2-0), 18 IP, 8 H, 3 R, 6 W, 6 K; 0.65 WPA

Walters had a good if not spectacular Game Two, giving up three runs on three hits and four walks to outlast the Tigers. Game Six would make the bigger impression. Walters scattered five hits and two walks in holding Detroit scoreless. He would also push one run home on a fielder’s choice, then clout a ball over the left-field fence to add an insurance run. The shutout win pulled Cincinnati back from the brink, setting the his team up to win it all the next day.

1941 – New York Yankees over Brooklyn Dodgers, 4-1
(3-2, 2-3, 2-1, 7-4, 3-1)
MVP: Charlie Keller, Yankees — .389/.476/.500; 0.85 WPA

Keller didn’t run as wild as he did in 1939, but his contributions were even better timed. He walked twice and scored twice in Game One, providing the winning margin in a 3-2 game. His eighth-inning RBI single in Game Three put New York ahead 2-0 in a game they Yankees would win 2-1. In Game Four, he went nuts. He drove in the opening run in the first, got two more hits in the middle innings, then came up in the visitors’ ninth with two aboard, two down, and the Yankees trailing by one. Keller slammed an 0-2 pitch off the right-field wall, driving in the tying and go-ahead runs with the pivotal hit of the Series.

If there is such a creature as an under-appreciated Yankee, Charlie Keller is it.

1942 – St. Louis Cardinals over New York Yankees, 4-1
(4-7, 4-3, 2-0, 9-6, 4-2)
MVP: Johnny Beazley, Cardinals – 2 G (2-0), 18 IP, 17 H, 5 R, 3 W, 6 K; 0.46 WPA

The rookie hurler Beazley didn’t dominate the series, or even any one game, but he did enough. He opened Game Two with seven scoreless innings, but a Yankee rally tagged him with three runs and took away his lead. Stan Musial got it back, giving Beazley the win. Game Five was a more constant battle for him. He allowed two runs in the first four innings, and in the fifth his infield butchered two double-play balls to stick him in a bad jam. He escaped it unscathed, held New York scoreless the rest of the way, and won the deciding game on the mound.

Ernie White put up more WPA with his shutout in Game Three, while Whitey Kurowski and Enos Slaughter made cases with their hitting and (especially Slaughter’s) fielding. The hook of a rookie pitcher withstanding the pressure made Beazley the scribes’ favorite, so he gets the edge with me.

1943 – New York Yankees over St. Louis Cardinals, 4-1
(4-2, 3-4, 6-2, 2-1, 2-0)
MVP: Spud Chandler, Yankees – 2 G (2-0), 18 IP, 17 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 3 W, 10 K; 0.71 WPA

Chandler began the World Series well, giving up two runs in a complete game, one of those tallies unearned due to a bizarre brain cramp of an error by his first baseman. He got the call again for Game Five, a potential clincher. He scrambled hard, giving up 10 hits and allowing baserunners in every inning but one. He never allowed anyone home, and his shutout won the Series.

Spud had competition from teammate Marius Russo. In Game Four, Russo allowed one unearned run over nine, while whacking two doubles (plus a walk) and scoring the go-ahead run in the eighth. Spud wins the WPA by a nose, and closing the series with a shutout wins the narrative.

1944 – St. Louis Cardinals over St. Louis Browns, 4-2
(1-2, 3-2 [11], 2-6, 5-1, 2-0, 3-1)
MVP: Blix Donnelly, Cardinals – 2 G (1-0), 6 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 W, 9 K; 0.62 WPA

It feels a little odd to give an MVP to a reliever who didn’t appear past Game Two in his series, but Donnelly swings it. He pitched two perfect relief innings in Game One, giving his Cards a chance to come from two runs down. They got one. The next day, he arrived again in the eighth, this time with a Brown already on second and nobody out with the score 2-2. He escaped that jam, and pitched three more scoreless innings through the 11th, striking out seven altogether, until his boys put one across to win.

Competitors for his award included pitchers Mort Cooper (Card) and Denny Galehouse (Brown). They pitched two great games, but unfortunately against each other, splitting the Ws and Ls. Browns first baseman George McQuinn batted .438/.609/.750, but a TOOTBLAN going second-to-third on a grounder to the pitcher—Blix Donnelly, of course—undermined his value.

1945 – Detroit Tigers over Chicago Cubs, 4-3
(0-9, 4-1, 0-3, 4-1, 8-4, 7-8 [12], 9-3)
MVP: Hank Greenberg, Tigers — .304/.467/.696; 0.58 WPA

Having missed over four calendar years to military service, Hammering Hank (v1.0) rejoined his Tigers in July 1945, in time to help push them to a pennant. He pushed harder in October. His three-run homer midway through Game Two smashed a 1-1 tie. He drove in the opening tally of a four-run rally in Game Four, putting Detroit ahead to stay. He riddled the Cubs with three doubles in Game Five, and hit a game-tying longball in the eighth inning of Game Six. He scored seven and drove home seven in seven games—not far above his career averages.

The sportswriters of 1945 might have shaded their votes to honor a man who served his country so long. Hank didn’t need the help.

1946 – St. Louis Cardinals over Boston Red Sox, 4-3
(2-3 [10], 3-0, 0-4, 12-3, 3-6, 4-1, 4-3)
MVP: Harry Brecheen, Cardinals – 3 G (3-0), 20 IP, 14 H, 1 R, 5 W, 11 K; 1.03 WPA

Brecheen began his World Series with a four-hit shutout in Game Two, in which he singled home the game’s first run, the only run he’d need. He followed up with a one-run complete-game victory in Game Six, pulling St. Louis level. Then, like fellow Cardinal Grover Alexander 21 years before, his series was extended by a bullpen call in Game Seven.

Brecheen arrived with two Red Sox in scoring position and nobody out in the eighth, the Cardinals up two. The storybook didn’t read right for Harry: he let both runners score on a Dom DiMaggio double, tying the game. He got bailed out by Enos Slaughter’s Mad Dash Home. (Slaughter wasn’t an MVP candidate for me: despite a .993 OPS, his batting WPA was negative.) Brecheen gave up two singles to open the ninth, but wriggled loose and won his third game. It was a vulture win, but I don’t think the Cardinals cared.

1947 – New York Yankees over Brooklyn Dodgers, 4-3
(5-3, 10-3, 8-9, 2-3, 2-1, 6-8, 5-2)
MVP: Johnny Lindell, Yankees — .500/.625/.778; 0.61 WPA

The MVP could have been Yankee hurler Spec Shea (2-0, 0.74 WPA pitching; 0.12 hitting), except that he got knocked out of the second inning of Game Seven, a bad look. It could have been Dodger reliever Hugh Casey (2-0, 1 save, 0.72 WPA pitching, -0.04 hitting), who pitched in six of the seven games, except that his side lost, and he gave up his sole run in Game Seven.

Lindell didn’t mess up in Game Seven, because he didn’t play it. In Game Six, Lindell singled his first two times up, then had to come out because of a broken rib. He suffered it in the third inning … of the previous game, trying to break up a double play. No sportswriter could resist the combination of a .500 average, seven RBIs, and getting two hits the day after busting a rib. Neither could I.

1948 – Cleveland Indians over Boston Braves, 4-2
(0-1, 4-1, 2-0, 2-1, 5-11, 4-3)
MVP: Gene Bearden, Indians – 2 G (1-0, I Sv), 10.2 IP, 6 H, 0 R, 1 W, 4 K; 0.91 WPA

Another rookie pitcher made good in the World Series, though Bearden’s tale had a rockier ending. In Game Three Bearden allowed five baserunners, erasing two on double plays, in a shutout effort. At bat, he doubled and singled, scoring Cleveland’s first run in a 2-0 win. Three days later, he entered Game Six with Cleveland up three and five outs from the title, but with the bases loaded. Gene let two inherited runners score before getting the third out, then escaped the ninth with the help of a pop-bunt 2-4 double play. It still got him the save, and it still left him the most effective player of the series.

1949 – New York Yankees over Brooklyn Dodgers, 4-1
(1-0, 0-1, 4-3, 6-4, 10-6)
MVP: Allie Reynolds, Yankees – 2 G (1-0, 1 Sv), 12.1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 4 W, 14 K; 1.08 WPA

Allie’s Game One was a two-hit affair, both ways. He held Brooklyn to a double and a single, while getting a double and a single off Don Newcombe. The result was a 1-0 shutout victory for Reynolds. Three games later, a 6-0 Yankees lead in the sixth melted down to 6-4 with the tying runs on, and Allie got called from the bullpen. He struck out Spider Jorgensen to douse the fire, and closed the game by retiring all 10 Dodgers he faced, half by K (back when this was still unusual).

Allie Reynolds’ excellence in October would prove not to be unusual.

1950 – New York Yankees over Philadelphia Phillies, 4-0
(1-0, 2-1 [10], 3-2, 5-2)
MVP: Vic Raschi, Yankees – 1 G (1-0), 9 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 W, 5 K; 0.88 WPA

One could plausibly have shared this award across the entire Yankees pitching staff, which held Philadelphia to five runs over 37 innings. One could more plausibly have given Allie Reynolds his second straight trophy, on the strength of a 10-inning, one run win plus a one-batter, one-strikeout appearance to finish the sweep. Instead, Vic Raschi claims it for his Game One masterpiece. He retired the first 13 Phillies he saw, and the last 11, on the way to a two-hit, one-walk blanking. Vic’s better timing with the bat than Allie’s nailed down the hardware.

1951 – New York Yankees over New York Giants, 4-2
(1-5, 3-1, 2-6, 6-2, 13-1, 4-3)
MVP: Eddie Lopat, Yankees – 2 G (2-0), 18 IP, 10 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 3 W, 4 K; 0.58 WPA

MVP awards are getting cheaper: Lopat didn’t have to pitch any shutouts to win this one. He did pitch a pair of five-hit, one-run games to smother the Dodgers in Games Two and Five. The former game saw him pop an RBI single in the eighth to give himself an insurance run. The latter saw him yield an unearned run on left fielder Gene Woodling’s bobble of Monte Irvin’s base hit. That put Lopat down 1-0, but the Yankees scraped together 13 runs to bail him out. Game Five also saw the only extra-base hit of the two games against Lopat, which went for zilch.

1952 – New York Yankees over Brooklyn Dodgers, 4-3
(2-4, 7-1, 3-5, 2-0, 5-6 [11], 3-2, 4-2)
MVP: Allie Reynolds, Yankees – 4 G (2-1, 1 Sv), 20.1 IP, 12 H, 4 R, 6 W, 18 K; 0.81 WPA

Allie’s sally against Brooklyn began inauspiciously: he allowed three runs in Game One, departed after seven innings, and took the L. Three days later, he rebounded with a four-single shutout to beat Game One nemesis Joe Black. Two days after that, he got called in for a four-out save opportunity with the tying run perched on second. He struck out Roy Campanella and threw a hitless ninth for the save. The following day, he was called into the fourth inning of Game Seven when Ed Lopat loaded the bags with nobody out. Reynolds limited the damage to one run, gave up another in the fifth, but did enough to let the Yankees inch ahead for good. Allie’s hybrid starter-fireman role paid big dividends once again.

(BONUS: Game Seven of the 1952 World Series is available to view on the MLB Vault YouTube channel. My favorite moment is in the bottom of the fourth: the war of nerves between Allie Reynolds on the mound and Jackie Robinson dancing off third base. That is the way to waste time in a baseball game.)

1953 – New York Yankees over Brooklyn Dodgers, 4-2
(9-5, 4-2, 2-3, 3-7, 11-7, 4-3)
MVP: Billy Martin, Yankees — .500/.520/.958; 0.69 WPA

The Yankees’ second baseman was a fireball, tripling in three runs in the first inning of Game One and never slowing down. Martin homered to tie Game Two, got his second triple in Game Four and his second longball in Game Five, and finished Game Six by singling home the Series-winning run. Hitting safely every game, Martin got 12 hits, a record never beaten in a six-game Series, and 23 total bases, beaten in six only by Reggie Jackson in 1977. (One wonders if Reggie’s manager felt jealous.)

Billy did win an MVP award for this display. The New York chapter of the BBWAA began giving a World Series MVP Award in 1949, called the Babe Ruth Award. (It has since developed into an award for the whole postseason.) This is the first time that my judgment aligned with theirs … and now for the second.

1954 – New York Giants over Cleveland Indians, 4-0
(5-2 [10], 3-1, 6-2, 7-4)
MVP: Dusty Rhodes, Giants — .667/.714/1.667; 0.66 WPA

What could a spare outfielder who didn’t start a single game do to overshadow Willie Mays in the World Series that made him immortal? Let’s see. In Game One, Dusty came up to pinch-hit in the bottom of the 10th, and promptly won the game with a three-run homer. In Game Two, he entered in the fifth, getting an RBI single to tie the game. Two innings later, he homered to double the Giants’ lead, which they held. In Game Three, Rhodes entered in the third, and smacked a two-run single to extend New York’s lead to 3-0. That was seven RBIs in his first four plate appearances.

In Game Four, he rested.

That brings us to the point where the modern World Series MVP Award was born, instituted by the editors of Sport magazine. In the fullness of time—meaning three years ago—the award would be named after the man I just snubbed: Willie Mays.

Perhaps that’s a good perspective check to have. Being the best player on the field for a handful of games in October (or so) does not make you an all-time great. Receiving an award saying you were the best player for those games doesn’t do it either. It takes hundreds of games just to begin building a great career like Mays had, even if one game, or one play, becomes a shorthand expression of that greatness.

Still, shining for those few games when so much is on the line, when so little can separate victory from defeat, deserves to be remembered. I’m glad to help people remember.

References and Resources

  • Baseball-Reference, including the Bullpen
  • Retrosheet
  • Online archives of The Sporting News and The New York Times
  • Bill Pennington, Billy Martin: Baseball’s Flawed Genius
  • Cecilia Tan, The 50 Greatest Yankee Games

A writer for The Hardball Times, Shane has been writing about baseball and science fiction since 1997. His stories have been translated into French, Russian and Japanese, and he was nominated for the 2002 Hugo Award.
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4 years ago

Two nice articles.

Interesting that while both Ruth and Gehrig “won” MVP awards in your articles, Joe DiMaggio, depsite numerous opportunities and some pretty good series himself, never did.

4 years ago
Reply to  GoNYGoNYGoGo

Neither did Stan Musial despite having 4 opportunities himself, 3 of which were with limited competition during WWII.

4 years ago

1951 has a typo, should be “Giants”
“He did pitch a pair of five-hit, one-run games to smother the Dodgers”