Comebacks very often aid the improbable, if not impossible. For instance, a team that is on the downhill and going there rapidly can be given a boost through these events. Not only that, but comebacks can also revitalize fanbases. Cheering crowds are normal to those teams destined for, not just the postseason, but success therein as well. However, when it comes to squads heading for the cellar, these types of throngs are few and far between. Comebacks can help push crowds further into their seats, giving the team some kind of hope from their supporters. This is the case in today’s story, where one team heading nowhere was able to overcome a huge obstacle. In fact, it was one of the biggest hurdles in all of baseball at that time.
Tuesday, July 28, 1931: Chicago White Sox vs. New York Yankees
When it comes to cellar-dwellers, the 1931 Chicago White Sox do not exactly differentiate themselves. They weren’t the worst team ever put together, nor were they a massive disappointment. Simply put, they were just another bad team. In fact, the entire franchise was a shambles at this point. They were in the middle of a 30-year stretch where they did not succeed one iota. So, nobody expected them to do anything in 1931. Despite this, they did have some players who handled the bat well. First baseman Lu Blue led the team with a .304 average, 62 RBI, and a 125 OPS+. However, much like the others, he had no power. In fact, the entire team mustered only 27 homers all season. Pitching-wise, there were no bright spots. Staff ace Vic Frazier went 13-15 with a 4.46 ERA and a 95 ERA+. It says a lot when a team’s closer, in this case, Red Faber, leads the team in ERA+. He was also the only pitcher to post an ERA below four.
The Bronx Machine
In stark contrast, the 1931 New York Yankees were a steadily growing force. They were in the midst of a 20-year span where they’d win the World Series a staggering 10 times. This was not one of those seasons, however, they were still an incredibly complete team. Boasting an astonishing nine Hall of Famers, they tore into the opposition with the best offense in the game. Bill Dickey, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Earle Combs all led the way. Ruth and Gehrig tied with 46 homers, while the former hit .376. In fact, the lowest batting average among regular starters was Tony Lazzeri’s .267. When it came to pitching, they weren’t awful either, although they weren’t quite the best in the league. Staff ace Lefty Gomez won 21 games with a sparkling 2.67 ERA and a 150 ERA+. Everyone else was either simply okay or worse. A team ERA+ of 95 and WHIP of 1.421 aren’t exactly booming. That said, they were solid.
Business as Usual
It didn’t take long for the Yankees to jump out to a 2-0 lead on White Sox starter Tommy Thomas. Gehrig and shortstop Lyn Lary picked up first-inning RBIs for New York. However, Yankee starter, future Hall of Famer Herb Pennock, ran into second inning trouble. A single off the bat of White Sox second baseman John Kerr plated Bob Fothergill, making it 2-1. Blue would follow that up with a game-tying RBI hit to score Thomas in the third. The game remained tied until the fifth inning when Yankee outfielder Ben Chapman plated two more runs. Gehrig followed this with the impressive feat of stealing home. It was 5-2, and the Yankees weren’t done.
In the next inning, Thomas picked up two quick outs on the mound. Then, he issued a walk to Pennock and gave up a ground-rule double to Samuel Byrd. Joe Sewell, yet another of the Yankees’ future Cooperstown residents, doubled them both home. Ruth and Gehrig followed that with back-to-back hits and Chapman tripled to score them. In the blink of an eye, the game was out of control, and White Sox manager Donie Bush turned to his bullpen. Biggs Wehde was brought in and immediately issued a walk. Dickey’s ensuing single scored another run, although the third out was recorded at third base. Either way, the Yankees had built up a seemingly insurmountable 11-3 advantage. Another heavy loss for the White Sox seemed inevitable. Of course, those who’ve been keeping up with this series know that the tide will turn. Comebacks generally seem to work in this way.
Comebacks: Even Hall of Famers Trip Up
It began when Yankee manager and Hall of Famer Joe McCarthy made an interesting decision. By the time the top of the eighth rolled around, it was 12-3. Pennock was still pitching for New York and on a roll. He’d retired four batters in a row before giving up a double to Carl Reynolds. Lew Fonseca followed that up with an RBI single, followed by Fothergill’s two-run home run. It was 12-6, and McCarthy was sticking with Pennock. When Kerr picked up another White Sox base hit, McCarthy decided to remove Pennock. However, he did something a tad unconventional. Instead of going to his bullpen, he turned to another starter, Hall of Famer Red Ruffing. Bill Cissell greeted him with another hit, and thus the train was rolling.
Four more runs came across as the White Sox put together a single, double, and triple. McCarthy raided his rotation yet again, this time tossing Gomez into the game. He managed to get Irv Jeffries to fly out, however, this cost the team another run. The score was 12-11, and the White Sox weren’t finished. Reynolds doubled for the second time in the inning, and Fonseca tied the game with a single. Nine runs had been plated, and Fothergill was up to bat. He cracked a triple which gave the White Sox a 13-12 lead, and McCarthy was forced to make yet another pitching change. After three Hall of Fame starters failed to hold a nine-run advantage, he went to his bullpen and called on Jim Weaver. The new pitcher gave up one more run before finally stopping the bleeding. New York couldn’t muster anything else offensively and wound up losing 14-12.
Comebacks: Where the Improbable Becomes Reality
To reiterate, comebacks are very often parties of improbability. In this case, a perennial cellar dweller defeated a mighty foe with an unbelievable 11 run rally. This is what makes comebacks the subject of so many an interesting conversation. Even when one’s team might be on the short end of the comeback, the sheer size is enough to warrant talking about. At the beginning of this series, we spoke of baseball having no time limit. This is a prime example of that. As far as comebacks go, this is definitely one of the best.
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Lu Blue, Vic Frazier, Red Faber, Bill Dickey, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Earle Combs, Tony Lazzeri, Lefty Gomez, Tommy Thomas, Lyn Lary, Herb Pennock, John Kerr, Bob Fothergill, Ben Chapman, Samuel Byrd, Joe Sewell, Biggs Wehde, Carl Reynolds, Lew Fonseca, Red Ruffing, Bill Cissell, Irv Jeffries, Jim Weaver