How the 1934 New York Giants Blew the Pennant
In part 2 of his six-part series on Major League Baseball’s greatest pennant races, Gabriel Schechter gives a blow-by-blow account of the 1934 race for the National League pennant between the St. Louis Cardinals and the New York Giants.
The Gashouse Gang—the 1934 St. Louis Cardinals—remains one of baseball’s fondest legends. The name conjures up the image of a rabble-rousing, rough-hewn group of misfits who played a brand of baseball formidable enough to win the World Series. Their symbol was “Dizzy” Dean, whose 30–7 record in 1934 made him the last National League pitcher to reach that milestone.
Forgotten is the fact that the Cardinals shouldn’t even have made it to the World Series. They got a ton of help from the New York Giants, the defending Series champions. Overwhelming preseason favorites to repeat, the Giants held a seven-game lead with just over three weeks left in the season but let it get away, done in by their own arrogance.
The two contenders employed a combined total of 11 future Hall of Famers that season, including player-managers Bill Terry of the Giants and Frankie Frisch of the Cardinals. The Cardinals also had Joe Medwick and Leo Durocher in their lineup. Dean anchored the pitching staff, and 40-year-olds Dazzy Vance and Jesse Haines worked mainly out of the bullpen (another 40-year-old, Burleigh Grimes, appeared in four games early in the season). Carl Hubbell of the Giants matched Dean as an ace, and Terry was joined in the lineup by Mel Ott and Travis Jackson.
After a slow start, the Cardinals moved into first place in late May. By June 3, there was a three-way tie between the Cardinals (percentage points ahead), the Giants, and the Cubs. Three days later, the Giants seized the lead, reeling off a dozen wins in 14 games to build up a five-game cushion.
During July and August, the Cardinals sailed along in third place as the Cubs put steady pressure on the Giants. But Terry’s men didn’t surrender the lead, going 19–10 in August, and by month’s end the Giants had a five-and-a-half-game lead over both challengers. They kept the momentum going into September.
The Giants started the final month by splitting two games at Brooklyn and sweeping the holiday doubleheader at Pittsburgh. Back at the Polo Grounds, Hal Schumacher defeated the Cubs, 5–1, to raise his record to 21–6. On September 6, the teams played a game that seemed to symbolize the Giants’ season to that point.
The Giants’ Roy Parmelee and Chicago’s Bill Lee dueled through 11 innings of a 1–1 tie before Bill Terry singled in the winning run in the 12th. That increased the lead to seven games over the Cardinals and nine over the Cubs. With a .644 winning percentage, the Giants were cruising just the way everyone had expected.
Things Start to Fall Apart
What happened? The tumble began with three straight losses; one was 1–0 on a ninth-inning home run, and another came when Schumacher blew a 7–4 lead in the ninth inning. By the time the Cardinals traveled to the Polo Grounds on September 13, the lead stood at five and a half games. That four-game series was the pennant race in a nutshell.
Teammates and brothers, Paul and Dizzy Dean.
The baseball world had been dazzled all summer by the antics of brash brothers Dizzy and Daffy Dean. “Daffy” was Paul, a 21-year-old rookie right-hander who was almost as good as older brother Diz said he was. In the Thursday opener, Paul (15–9) squared off against “Fat Freddie” Fitzsimmons (17–11). Both men pitched scoreless ball through 11 innings before a pair of runs made a winner of Paul Dean, who logged a 12-inning six-hitter.
The next day, the Giants bounced back behind Hal Schumacher, who went the distance and belted a home run for his 22nd win. The Sunday doubleheader belonged to the Deans. In the opener, Dizzy Dean picked up his 26th win, but the Cardinals needed to sweep, and Terry played his ace Carl Hubbell (20–11) in the nightcap. Frankie Frisch brought back Paul Dean on two days’ rest, and another spectacular duel unfolded.
The Giants took an early lead, but Ripper Collins’s home run off Hubbell in the seventh inning tied it, 1–1. Neither pitcher yielded until the 11th inning, when Pepper Martin—who put the gas in the Gashouse Gang—homered. Dean hung on for his second extra-inning six-hitter in the space of four days. The lead was down to three and a half games, and the Deans were far from done.
Deans Destroy Dodgers
It was still three and a half on September 21, when the Cardinals visited Ebbets Field and bamboozled the Dodgers all day. Dizzy three-hit them in the opener but was upstaged by Daffy, who tossed a no-hitter. With two hits apiece, the brothers out-hit their hosts for the day, 4–3. Though the Giants won at Boston, the lead dropped to three games.
Over the weekend, the Giants lost twice to Boston, both times in 11 innings, giving this pennant hopeful five extra-inning losses in the last 12 days. In one unbearable loss, Hal Schumacher walked in the winning run; in the other, Carl Hubbell couldn’t hold a three-run lead.
Despite seeing their seven-game winning streak end, the Cardinals drew within two games when they went home on September 25. They had six games remaining, and split the first two against Pittsburgh. The Giants faced the seventh-place Phillies—and lost twice! Rookie Curt Davis shut them out in the first game. The next day, a passed ball allowed the Phillies to take a 5–4 lead in the ninth inning, and in the home half, the Giants put two runners on base, but their three future Hall of Famers couldn’t bring home the tying score.
In a scheduling quirk, the Giants had two days off while the Cardinals played the Reds twice. They won handily, and Dean’s four-hit shutout left the Cardinals and Giants in a dead heat with two games left. The Deans came up big on that final weekend, not surprisingly. Paul picked up win No. 19, 6–1, and Dizzy won the finale in relief for No. 30.
What Were You Thinking, Bill?
And the Giants? They got kayoed by karma. Back in January, when asked about Brooklyn’s chances in the upcoming season, Bill Terry had replied, “Is Brooklyn still in the league?” As Brooklyn catcher Al Lopez later told Donald Honig, “That was just a flip remark made on the spur of the moment in spring training. But I think he was probably sorry later on that he ever said it.”
The Giants had faced even more hostility than usual from fans at Ebbets Field that season, but when the Dodgers traveled to the Polo Grounds for that final weekend, thousands of Brooklyn diehards came with them. They brandished banners scoffing at Terry and heckled him mercilessly. Author Fred Stein told of one Brooklyn diehard yelling, “Is Brooklyn still in the league, Terry? You’ll find out, you cocky bastard. We’ll show you.”
They showed him. On Saturday, Van Lingle Mungo held the Giants to five hits, winning 5–1. Now the Giants trailed by a game and needed to win on Sunday to have any chance. The Giants jumped to a 4–0 lead in the first inning, but Fitzsimmons couldn’t hold it. Naturally, the game went into extra innings. Just as naturally, the Giants lost, doomed by six extra-inning losses.
The Cardinals went on to beat the Detroit Tigers in the World Series, with the Dean dandies winning two games each. As for Bill Terry, when last seen, he was on his way to the hospital to be treated for a coccyx injury suffered when the door hit him on the way out, along with a strained petard.
Bill Terry was an outspoken player and manager during his tenure with the Giants. He went toe-to-toe with manager McGraw more than once. Terry went on to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1954.
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