When the Tigers and Indians met at Briggs Stadium in Detroit for the 1937 season finale on October 3, the American League standings were pretty much locked in.
The Tigers were a distant second – 13 games behind the pennant (and ultimately World Series) winning Yankees, and the Indians were five games behind the Tigers. Detroit’s Charlie Gehringer had sewn up the batting title with a .373 average, 21 points higher than the second-place finisher, Lou Gehrig.
But there were still a couple records at stake. The Tigers’ slugging first baseman Hank Greenberg – with the benefit of batting cleanup behind Gehringer in the Tigers’ lineup – had 182 RBI, two away from the American League record set by Gehrig six years earlier (the major league record of 191, set by the Cubs’ Hack Wilson, was likely out of reach). And Indians starter Johnny Allen was looking to tie a record as well. Allen had won his previous 15 starts, and a win that day would tie him for the American League mark with Lefty Grove, who had won 16 in a row in 1931, when he won 31 games, a career best.
In the bottom of the first, with one out, Pete Fox doubled into the right field corner. Gehringer popped out to third baseman Odell Hale and Greenberg hit a scorcher past Hale into left field, scoring Fox for his 183rd RBI of the season.
Tigers starter Jake Wade, meanwhile, was throwing BBs. He faced the minimum through six innings, giving up just two walks, but John Kroner was the first out of an inning-ending double play in the first, and Frankie Pytlak was picked off for the second out of the sixth inning.
But in the seventh inning, Wade gave up a leadoff to Lyn Lary. A grounder to short by Kroner took out Lary at second, and then after Earl Averill struck out, Hal Trosky got the Indians’ first hit of the day, a single that advanced Kroner to second. Moose Solters was hit by a pitch to load the bases with two out, but Bruce Campbell hit a fly ball to left field to end the inning. It was the only time the Indians threatened.
Allen, meanwhile, was almost as good. After the first inning, he only gave up three hits – none to Greenberg, who walked in the fourth inning and grounded out in the sixth and eighth frames. But Greenberg’s lone RBI proved to be the difference in a 1-0 win for the Tigers. In the ninth inning, Lary led off with a walk and advance to second on a bunt by Kroner with the meat of the Tribe lineup coming up. But Averill flied out and Trosky whiffed to end the game.
Allen finished the season 15-1, the third of four straight years with at least 13 wins (the year before, he’d gone 20-10). But after the 1938 season, he’d never win more than 10 games in a season again in a career that stretched until 1944.
Greenberg, on the other hand, still had more in the tank. A year after making a run at the RBI record, he took on the most hallowed record in baseball: Babe Ruth’s mark of 60 home runs in a season. He fell two shy. In 1940, he was a major part of the Tigers’ pennant winning team, slugging 41 home runs and driving in 150 runs. In 1941, he played in 19 games before being drafted into the U.S. Army Air Forces. He returned in time to help the Tigers to another pennant in 1945, and this time, they won the World Series, beating the Cubs.
Greenberg played one year for the Pirates, in 1947, before joining Bill Veeck in the Indians’ front office. For years, he was regarded as one shy of the American League single-season RBI record, but in 2011, Detroit researcher Herm Krabbenhoft discovered Greenberg was deprived of credit for one more RBI, giving him 184 and a tie for the American League mark. But a year later, Krabbenhoft discovered that Gehrig was deprived of an RBI in his record-setting season in 1931. So again, the American League record belonged to Gehrig – with Greenberg one behind.
Photo: Cleveland Memory Project