By the summer of 1947, things were slowly getting back to normal in the United States of America. World War II was over. Returning soldiers had begun the transition back into civilian life. The economy was picking up steam. And after three years without a pennant, the New York Yankees were back on top in the American League.
With an offensive attack led by Joe DiMaggio, Tommy Henrich, Johnny Lindell, Phil Rizzuto, and a young Yogi Berra, the Bronx Bombers had gotten off to a hot start. After taking two out of three from Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics at Shibe Park in late June, the Yankees boarded a train for the nation’s capital. On the 29th, they lost the first game of a doubleheader against the Senators at Griffith Stadium, 5-1.
But then New York went on a tear. Beginning with a 3-1 victory in the second game of the doubleheader in D.C., the Yankees started to win. And win. And win. Following a 7-2 trouncing of the Indians in Cleveland on July 17, the streak had reached 19 games…and counting. They were tied with the 1906 Chicago White Sox for the most consecutive wins in American League history. One more victory and they would set a new A.L. benchmark. Next in line would be the 1935 Chicago Cubs’ streak of 21 in a row. And then, the Yankees could set their sights on the modern (post-1900) major league gold standard of 26 wins, set by the 1916 New York Giants.
What made the streak even more amazing was that it featured six doubleheader sweeps (including four in a six-day span). In the 19 games, DiMaggio was hitting .375 with 17 home runs (!), while Henrich was .350 with 16 bombs.
Manager Bucky Harris’s red-hot New Yorkers headed for the Motor City, where they were scheduled to play a four-game series with the Detroit Tigers beginning on Friday, the 18th of July.
The Bengals were in second place behind the Yankees, but at 11 1/2 games back, it could hardly be called a race (When the streak began, New York was 4 1/2 ahead of second-place Boston.). Detroit was skippered by Steve O’Neill, and featured a roster with players like former bonus baby Dick Wakefield, hard-hitting third baseman George Kell, power-hitting first sacker Vic Wertz, and trusty outfielder Hoot Evers. Their starting pitching was solid, with the triumvirate of southpaw Hal Newhouser and righties Dizzy Trout and Virgil Trucks.
But to the mound this Friday afternoon the Tigers sent Fred Hutchinson, the 27-year-old University of Washington product. With the Pacific Coast League’s Seattle Rainiers in 1938, he had gone an amazing 25-7 at the tender age of 18, earning him Minor League Player of the Year honors by The Sporting News.
After being traded to the Tigers, Hutchinson put together a 26-win season for the Buffalo Bisons of the International League. He was ineffective in two stints with the Tigers, going a cumulative 6-13 with an ERA over 5.00 in 1939-40. The man affectionately known as “Hutch” then lost four years to military service (1942-45), while seeing active wartime duty in the U.S. Navy. Following the War’s conclusion, Hutchinson had a fine year for the Bengals in 1946, winning 14 against 11 losses, with a 3.09 ERA, as the team finished a distant second behind Boston. The right-hander seemed poised to take his place as one of the studs of the Detroit rotation.
But 1947 had not been easy for “Hutch.” He got off to a quick start, going 5-1. After a 3-2 victory on May 14, however (his fourth complete game in a row), he complained of shoulder pain. Since then, he had split time in the bullpen and as a starter. Suddenly unable to go deep into games, he had thrown as many as six innings only once since the shoulder injury had cropped up. This game against the Yankees would be Hutchinson’s first start in a month.
“My shoulder hasn’t hurt the last two times I pitched,” Hutchinson told Tiger trainer Jack Hormel before the game. Still, he was being thrown into the fire by manager O’Neill to face the hottest team in more than a decade.
The Yankees must have liked their chances against the struggling pitcher. But they went down 1-2-3 in the top of the first. Joe DiMaggio lined a single to left to open the second. He was quickly erased on a double-play turned by Detroit’s “Eddie’s” — Messrs. Mayo and Lake at second and short.
For the rest of the game, Hutchinson retired one Yankee batter after another. Detroit, meanwhile, built a 7-0 cushion.
By the top of the seventh, no New Yorker had reached base since DiMaggio’s single. Snuffy Stirnweiss led off the inning by bunting safely for a hit in front of a charging Kell, but he didn’t advance as Hutchinson retired the side. New York went down easily in the eighth and ninth. The Yankees’ 19-game winning streak was history. Fred Hutchinson had pitched a two-hit shutout, facing only 28 batters, striking out eight and walking none. To top it off, he had three hits, including two doubles, to account for two RBIs. Only five balls were hit out of the infield.
The game was played in a brisk one hour and forty-three minutes, before 28,718 delighted fans at Briggs Stadium. Detroit lost the next game on Saturday, but then swept the Yankees in a Sunday doubleheader on the 20th, before a raucous crowd of 58,369, the biggest in history at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull. The final game was a thriller, as Detroit scored four in the bottom of the ninth to tie the game at 11, then won it on an Eddie Mayo double in the eleventh, which scored Hoot Evers from first.
The Tigers had taken three of four from the streaking Yankees, with Hutchinson’s grand performance setting the tone in the opener.
“It was the best game anybody has thrown at us all season,” pointed out Yankee coach John Corriden. In Tiger pitcher Hal Newhouser’s opinion, Hutchinson had “the best change of pace I’ve seen this year.” But the ultimate compliment came from Hutchinson’s catcher, Bob Swift, who gushed, “I never caught a game before that was so well pitched. He was almost perfect.” And Hutchinson had done it against a great offensive Yankee team, which went on to win the World Series in 1947, while leading the American League in runs, hits, triples, home runs, RBIs, batting average, and slugging average.
Yankee broadcasters Mel Allen and Russ Hodges, who had vowed not to cut their hair until the Yankee streak ended, promptly headed to a Detroit barber shop after the game.
Hutchinson won 18 games in 1947, a career-high.
The American League record of 19 consecutive wins remained unbroken until the 2002 Oakland A’s, who won 20 in a row.