This is the first September entry for MLB Monday, and it’s also Labor Day. In the old days, like the 1930s, this was the last day of “summer” for the kids, as they headed back to school on Tuesday—with memories of baseball in their heads from a few months of freedom to play in the open fields.
Stroll down through some of those memories with us below …
1935 American League MVP: Hank Greenberg (original), Lou Gehrig (revised)
Detroit Tigers first baseman Hank Greenberg won the MVP vote as his team won 93 games to edge out the New York Yankees for the pennant by three games. However, as good as Hammerin’ Hank was, his teammate—second baseman Charlie Gehringer—was better.
Gehringer posted 8.5 WAR on the year, while Greenberg trailed behind at 7.7 WAR. New York first baseman Lou Gehrig topped them both at 8.7 WAR, while Philadelphia Athletics first baseman Jimmie Foxx slipped in the middle with 8.1 WAR.
Since the A’s finished in last place, this MVP discussion comes down to Gehrig or Gehringer: The Iron Horse led the AL in runs (125), walks (132), and on-base percentage (.466), while the Mechanical Man from Motown actually didn’t top his peers in any specific category—although he did post a 138 OPS+ mark.
For comparison, Gehrig’s 175 OPS+ is significantly more impressive, and with a difference of just three games between the two teams in the standings, it’s easy to give the MVP to the Yankees legend for the second season in a row.
1935 National League MVP: Gabby Hartnett (original), Arky Vaughan (revised)
Four position players finished with at least 6.0 WAR in the senior circuit: Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Arky Vaughan (9.7); New York Giants right fielder Mel Ott (7.3); Chicago Cubs second baseman Billy Herman (7.0); and St. Louis Cardinals left fielder Joe Medwick (6.0).
For the record, MVP vote winner Gabby Hartnett—the Cubs catcher—finished with just 4.9 WAR, which was third best on the Chicago roster. The Cubs did win the pennant by 4 games over St. Louis and 8.5 games over the Giants, while the Pirates won 86 games to finish 13.5 games out of first.
Let’s start with Herman: He led the NL in hits (227), doubles (57), and sacrifice hits (24) while posting a .341 batting average. His .859 OPS doesn’t scream value, but that’s a very good season for a pennant-winning player.
Ott did not top the league in any categories while hitting .322 with a .962 OPS. Medwick led the senior circuit in total bases (365), but Vaughan really dominated the season with league-best marks in walks (97), average (.385), OBP (.491), slugging percentage (.607), and OPS (1.098).
Vaughan was the best player, and we’ve given the MVP before to players on teams that finished farther out of contention than this. What clinches this for Vaughan is that Ott’s season wasn’t really special, and neither was Herman’s season. Both had very good seasons, but Vaughan’s dominance at the plate for a team that finished with a winning record is good enough.
1935 AL Cy Young: Lefty Grove
We have only three real candidates for this award: Boston Red Sox ace Lefty Grove (9.4 WAR); his teammates Wes Farrell (8.2); and Cleveland Indians star Mel Harder (7.3). They were the top three pitchers in MLB as a whole in 1935.
Cleveland won 82 games to finish third, while Boston came in at 78 victories to stand in fourth. Both teams trailed Detroit by double digits, so with those “contending” realities being basically equal, we have to give the award to Grove … again, for the eighth time.
(For the record, Rogers Hornsby and Babe Ruth each won our MVP awards eight times, too—with Ruth adding a Cy Young as well. Grove is right up there now as one of the greatest players of all time in the sport, for our money.)
Grove’s numbers: 20-12, 2.70 ERA, 121 strikeouts, and a 1.223 WHIP. The ERA and ratio figures led the AL, and his 273 innings pitched at age 35 would be the highest number of his career with the Red Sox (1934-1941).
1935 NL Cy Young: Dizzy Dean
Three pitchers stood out from the rest in the NL: Pirates starter Cy Blanton (7.2 WAR), Cardinals legend Dizzy Dean (7.2), and Philadelphia Phillies workhorse Curt Davis (7.1).
The Phils won 64 games and finished way below .500, so Davis is out. The Cards contended a bit more than the Pirates did, of course, and with the two WAR numbers being basically identical, the psychological edge goes to Dean. But what do the traditional numbers say?
Blanton led the NL in ERA (2.58), shutouts (4), and WHIP (1.081), while Dean was best among his peers in wins (28), complete games (29), IP (325 1/3), and Ks (190) The St. Louis’ ace had a notably higher ERA (3.04) and WHIP (1.233) than Blanton did, and Blanton tossed more than 250 innings himself.
Dean broke down hard after this season, as his IP numbers decreased almost every year until the end of his career. He was just 25 in 1935, but Dean already was showing signs of arm fatigue from excessive use.
We do like Blanton’s season better in general, but Dean pitched just as well for a team that finished much higher in the standings. That, in the end, is what this whole exercise is all about: value.