After having hip surgery, noted hip specialist Dr. Marc Philippon reported that Alex has an 85-90% chance of allowing him to play the rest of the season. While the odds are overwhelmingly in his favor, that represents a significant chance he misses major time above and beyond the May 15 return date. What would that mean for the Yanks? Could they withstand losing one of the premier sluggers in the game?
Lets take a look back to the Yankee glory days of the 1930′s (especially apt in our current economy) for some guidance.
It’s 1939. Lou Gehrig, still one of the premier players in baseball at age 36, struggles through the first 8 games of the year. We all know what happens next, but lets look at what happened to the team after losing its cleanup hitter and one of the best players in baseball.
The 1939 Yanks went on to score more than the 1938 edition, and became arguably the most dominating team to ever play the game. Their run differential was a staggering 411 runs, a record that stands to this day. So how did they do it?
It wasn’t Lou’s replacement. That was a fellow named Babe Dahlgren, a major league backup at best. He posted an OPS of .689 for the 1939 season, down from Gehrig’s .933 in 1938. It wasn’t due to any of their other star players doing anything extraordinary, DiMaggio and Bill Dickey 1939 campaigns were remarkably similar to their 1938 seasons.
Here’s how they did it. Second baseman and recent HOF inductee Joe Gordon did his part, raising his OPS to .876 from .842 the year prior. ‘Old Reliable’ Tommy Henrich was relied on a bit less, platooning with the more productive Chalie Keller, a move which also served to stregnthen the bench when either didn’t play. But the key to the 1939 Yanks was pitching depth. Manager Joe McCarthy employed . . . . . get this. . . . a SEVEN man rotation. No starter got more than 28 starts, most had around 20. Simple concept, he played the entire season like one would the playoffs, matching up pitchers against opposing teams weaknesses. The record setting Run Differential is evidence that the idea worked out pretty well.
Hmmm. Lost their cleanup hitter, Second baseman had a bounce back year, pitching depth a key factor, a Right Field platoon that improved the bench, this is getting creepy . . .
But seriously, think of how fans and sportswriters must have reacted to the loss of Lou Gehrig. Many would have been certain the Yanks could never withstand such a blow, even the mighty Yankee teams of the late 30′s. And while they might have still been a very good team, there was certainly no way they could possibly score more runs replacing Lou Gehrig with Babe Dahlgren.
But that’s the beauty of sports. It’s the theater of the unexpected.
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