This is the 30th week in a row we have been engaging in our tour of the sporting past, and on MLB Monday, that means we have reached the 1939 season—notable for a few reasons, which should become apparent in the next month.
On with our awards show!
1939 American League MVP: Joe DiMaggio (original, confirmed)
The New York Yankees won the pennant by 17 games over the Boston Red Sox, and conveniently, center fielder Joe DiMaggio also led the AL in WAR (8.4) by a solid margin over both Boston veteran first baseman Jimmie Foxx (6.8) and rookie left fielder Ted Williams (6.8).
This makes it easy to confirm Joltin’ Joe’s vote victory: His .381 average was best in the league—and the highest of his career. It was the only category he led the AL in, however, despite adding 126 RBI and a 1.119 OPS. His dWAR (1.0) ranked just outside the Top 10 in MLB overall, as well.
Added to his award from us in 1937, this is the second MVP for DiMaggio.
1939 National League MVP: Bucky Walters (original), Lonny Frey (revised)
Five teams finished over .500 in the pennant race: Cincinnati (97-57), St. Louis (92-61), Brooklyn (84-69), Chicago (84-70), and New York (77-74). The top three position players were Cards first baseman Johnny Mize (7.7), Reds second baseman Lonny Frey (6.5), and Dodgers first baseman Dolph Camilli (6.4).
The vote winner was a pitcher (see below), so we think this comes down to Mize and Frey, as the two best players from the two best teams, respectively. Mize carried the big stick, leading the NL in home runs (28), batting average (.349), slugging percentage (.626), OPS (1.070), and total bases (353).
Meanwhile, Frey was the defensive wizard, posting 2.3 dWAR while hitting .291 and posting an .840 OPS on top of leading the NL in sacrifice hits (25). Mize, sadly, was a negative defender (-0.8 dWAR) the Cards tried to hide at first base, while Frey posted a respectable 4.7 oWAR at the plate.
Mize got the press for the offense, while Frey gets our respect for a more balanced performance in terms of value. The two players were asked to do different things for their teams, and Frey provided more reliability in both phases of the game for his pennant-winning team.
1939 AL Cy Young: Bob Feller
Despite their huge pennant-winning margin, the Yankees didn’t have a dominant pitcher. The best pitchers in the league came from winning teams in Cleveland, Detroit, and Boston: Indians ace Bob Feller (9.2), Tigers star Bobo Newsom (8.2), and Red Sox legend Lefty Grove (7.1).
Cleveland finished 3.5 behind Boston, while Detroit finished 26.5 games out of first place. Newsom also pitched six games for the last-place St. Louis Browns before getting traded to the Tigers.
Feller topped the circuit in wins (24), complete games (24), innings pitched (296 2/3), and strikeouts (246). Newsom tied Feller for the lead in complete games, while Grove—at age 39—led the AL in the ERA for the final time of his illustrious career (2.54) while posting a 15-4 record in just 191 innings.
We can eliminate Newsom, because his team just finished too far behind both Cleveland and Boston. Also, we think Grove had more offensive help than Feller did, and that 3.5-game gap between the two teams was all about the hitters—not the pitching. It’s easy, therefore, to award Feller his first Cy Young Award in a passing-of-the-torch way from Grove.
1939 NL Cy Young: Bucky Walters
This is somewhat easy, as since Reds ace Bucky Walters (8.2 WAR) won the Triple Crown for the pennant-winning squad (and the MVP vote at the time, remember). The next-best pitcher—Claude Passeau—registered just 6.0 WAR while splitting time between Philadelphia and Chicago during the season.
Walters’ numbers: 27-11 record, 2.29 ERA, and 137 Ks. It was the only year of his career that he led the NL in strikeouts, although during the 1939 season, he also topped the senior circuit in complete games (31), IP (319), and WHIP (1.125). He was pretty good in 1939, we’d say.