When the New York Yankees Owned the Greatest Farm Team in History

It has always been falsely assumed that the New York Yankees win because they always spend more than everyone else. This is true to a degree but it’s far from the truth. The farm system has always been the silent source of strength for the 27-time World Series champion throughout their 114-year history and the primary reason Yankees fans are excited about this franchise once more is the emergence of their youngsters

Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird, Aaron Judge, Tyler Austin along with Gleyber Torres and Clint Frazier acquired vis trades in their system now coming into the 2017 season.

It was the foundation of the last Yankee dynasty that had an incredible modern run from 1994-2012, when they produced Bernie Williams, Shane Spencer, Ricky Ledee, Alfonso Soriano, Robinson Cano and Brett Gardner among others while riding the elite portion of that unit, the Core Four of Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Petitte and Jorge Posada to 17 postseason appearances in 18 seasons and seven World Series, winning five.

The need for a continuing stream of young talent to refresh aging teams and adding to already strong ones cannot be overstated. Eighty years ago this also applied. It was in 1931 when the Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert took a page from Branch Rickey and the St. Louis Cardinals revolutionary farm system idea by purchasing the Newark Bears of the then International League.

They would soon be a valuable source for new talent to reinforce a team that was getting a little long in the tooth with the exception of one, Joe DiMaggio, who arrived in ’36 from San Francisco and started the run of four straight world championships.

The Yankees would get reinforcements though their Newark farm team, which would produce arguably its best team ever on a minor league level in 1937. They would go 109-43 under manager Oscar Vitt finishing 25 1/2 games ahead of their competition, swept Syracuse in three and Baltimore in four straight before coming back from a 3-0 deficit to defeat Columbus in seven to win the Junior World Series.

The Newark Bears of 1937 are considered by many as the greatest minor league team in history. Let’s examine some of those reasons. In addition to the aforementioned 100+ win season and playoff success ending in a one-in-a-lifetime comeback for the ages, Newark sent 16 of their 17 players to the major leagues.

No small feat when you consider the limited number of teams and spots in Major League Baseball in the 30’s. Many of these players impacted the Yankees and played large roles in future championships.

The most recognizable names include Joe Gordon, known as “Flash” which described his contemporaries view of his speed, as the regular second baseman from 1938-1943 with one more stint in 1946. He was a nine-time All-Star and five-time World Series champion, four with the Yankees and one later with Cleveland. He was also the AL MVP in 1942. Also the slugging numbers for a second baseman were huge with 253 home runs and 975 RBI in his career.

Charlie Keller played the dreaded “sun” field in left. He hit just under 200 home runs in his career but they were usually epic and earned him the nickname “King Kong.” He, along with DiMaggio and Tommy Henrich were considered collectively one of the elite hitting trios in history. He had two stints starting in 1939-43 and 1945-1949 with service in World War II as a U.S Merchant Marine in between.

Keller was a 5-time All-Star and contributed to four World Series titles for the Yankees. In the 1939 World Series he hit two home runs against the Cincinnati Reds in game three, the first rookie ever to accomplish this feat.

Babe Dahlgren played only three seasons in New York but was an All-Star in 1943 when the Yankees and most of baseball was depleted by war commitments. He won a World Series in 1939 but he would be more famous that year for replacing the “Iron Horse” Lou Gehrig at first base snapping the then record for consecutive games played at two, 130, which stood for 56 years until Cal Ripken Jr. bettered it in 1995.

George McQuinn, played first base for three clubs before joining the Yankees for two seasons. The lefty was a seven-time All-Star but won his lone World Series crown in 1947 in his final season at age 36.

The Bears also provided a plethora of pitching for the Yankees headlined by Spud Chandler, Atley Donald, Marius Russo, Marv Breuer and Steve Sundra. Chandler played with the Bronx Bombers for ten seasons anchoring the starting corps while winning three World Series titles and collecting four All-Star appearances and an AL MVP award in 1943. That same year he was the AL wins and ERA leader.

His .717 winning percentage is still the best of any pitcher with 100 wins going back to 1876.

Atley Donald, known as “Swampy” pitched for the Yankees from 1938-1945 capturing a World Series in 1941. He was a fourth or fifth starter and spelled as a reliever at times. But his consistency kept the Yanks in two pennant races in 1941-42. He was inducted in the Louisiana Tech Athletic Hall of Fame in 1984.

Marius Russo, the lefty from Brooklyn, played from 1939-43 and in 1946. But for four years he was one of their best and in 1942 was undeniably their ace. He  made his lone All-Star team in 1941. That same year and in 1943 he won the World Series.

Steve Sundra missed the 1936 World Series after staying up for a cop of coffee before returning to Newark to contribute to their superteam. He returned to claim World Series titles in 1938 and 1939.

Marv Breuer played for five seasons but it was in 1941 where the “Baby Face” relieved Atley Donald with the Yanks down a run in game four and pitched three innings of scoreless ball which allowed the Yankees to be in position to make the infamous comeback in the ninth highlighted by Mickey Owen and his passed ball which ignited the rally.

So looking back we can see that even in the Yankees formative years that money may have bought some players and allowed them to build excellent minor league teams, but ultimately  it was the talented youngsters that those systems produced that made the difference in their success.  

At that time, pointing eighty years ago to a team in Newark, New Jersey that may very well have been the best collection of talent on a farm team in history. Their exploits and in the Major Leagues only reinforce the notion.

Unless the 2017 Baby Bombers have something to say about it.

Contact: Luis Vazquez www.facebook.com/luis.armando.50  or via email at [email protected]


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