Joe Gordon, New York Yankees second baseman, five-time World Series champion, trivial baseball manager, American League Most Valuable Player in 1942, and one heck of a fielder.
The Young Flash
Joseph Lowell Gordon was born Feburary 18, 1915, in Los Angeles, California. He was a good all-around baseball player, and it earned him a scholarship to the University of Oregon, where he played for four years. In 1936, he was signed by the Yankees to their farm system, and he quickly moved up the ranks.
At the young age of 23, Flash Gordon (so named for his quick release) beat out future Hall of Famer Tony Lazzeri for the starting second baseman job of the World Series Champions Bronx Bombers. On Opening Day of 1938, Joe went 2-for-4 with an RBI double, outshining the other 23 year old in the lineup - Joltin' Joe DiMaggio. Gordon and DiMaggio roomed together for nearly 10 years, and they were the best of friends. Gordon's season at the plate was decent - he hit 25 home runs despite batting only .255 - but with bats like DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig, Bill Dickey, and Red Rolfe in the lineup, it was Gordon's glove that proved invaluable. With his help, the Yankees reached yet another World Series, where they swept the Chicago Cubs in 4 games, with Joe providing an impressive hitting display, batting .400 with a home run and two doubles. That year also proved big to Joe in another way - he married his high school sweetheart Dorothy Crum in June. Together they had one son and one daughter.
The Big Bash
Although Joe's rookie season was excellent all things considered, 1939 is considered his breakout year. Besides batting .284 and finishing second to DiMaggio on the team in home runs with 28, he was named to the first of 10 consecutive All-Star teams (excluding his wartime absence), and his gutsy play at the plate and in the field earned him 9th place in the MVP voting at the end of the season. Despite a late-season slump, Gordon and the Yankees again returned to the Fall Classic and swept the series, defeating the Cincinnati Reds.
1940 saw Gordon shine but the Yankees stumble, as his 30 home runs and 103 RBIs were single-season league records for a leadoff batter (Gordon also stole 18 bases to pace the Yanks) but the team finished third in a tight contest. Joe even managed to perform a rare feat in baseball when he hit for the cycle on September 8. Not ones to rest on their laurels, the 1941 Yankees returned as dominant as ever, and with DiMaggio, Tommy Henrich, and Charlie Keller each belting at least 30 dingers, Gordon's 24 became lost in the crowd. The Yankees, in yet another blowout, won the World Series in 5 games over the Brooklyn Dodgers, with Joe contributing 16 total bases on a .500 clip.
The Big Splash
Lost in the shuffle of Gordon's offensive prowess was his defensive range. His quick hands enabled him to make astounding plays to rob hitters up the middle, and he was always charging hard on a bunt. Though the Gold Gloves weren't awarded until 1957, Gordon would've easily swept up at his position during his glory years. 1942 was no exception, as his .966 fielding percentage led the majors. However, it was also his finest hour at the plate, where he batted .322 with 103 RBIs, both good enough for 4th in the league. That combined with his superb field play earned him the top award in baseball, the American League Most Valuable Player - beating out media hater Ted Williams, who won the Triple Crown. Unfortunately, the golden boy struggled mightily in a 5-game loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series, batting a paltry .095 with 7 strikeouts.
The Downward Slash
1943 saw Gordon dip to personal lows in almost every category, from his .249 batting average to his 4 stolen bases. Despite his struggle, he was named to the All-Star Team and, in a year of down hitting, his .413 slugging average was good enough for eighth in the league. Again, the vaunted Yanks faced the St. Louis Cardinals, and this time, Gordon put up a respectable .235 average against the Redbirds, and his team won in 5 games to get revenge on the National League squad.
Gordon served in the United States Navy in both 1944 and 1945 and missed two of his prime years in baseball. Upon his return in 1946, Gordon was hampered by a deep muscle tear in his calf. He batted only .210, stole only two bases, and managed only 11 home runs in his shortened season. He and his fellow Yankees, feeling the brunt of their age, finished third in the league, and by the end of the season, Gordon had been shipped to the rival Cleveland Indians.
The Recycled Trash
Determined to prove his career wasn't over just yet, Gordon batted .272 with 29 home runs in 1947, a surprising and well-received return to form for the ace two-bagger. The following year, at the age of 32, Gordon had his most productive offensive season ever, clubbing 32 home runs and 124 runs batted in to complement his .280 batting average. Though he was no longer a speed threat, Gordon could still hit 'em out of the park, and the Indians defeated the Boston Red Sox in a one-game playoff to head to the World Series against the Boston Braves. Although Gordon only hit .182 against the Braves, he smacked a game-winning home run in Game 3, and the Indians won the Series in 6 games.
The Mish Mash
1949 saw Gordon's role as a power hitter reduced further, as he hit only 20 home runs to go with a .251 clip. By 1950, Gordon's calf and knees had worn out on him and mid-way through September, he benched himself in favor of rising star Bobby Avila. At the end of the season, Gordon called it quits with 253 career home runs, still tops among American League second basemen. But Flash wasn't done with baseball just yet. He continued to manage in the minor leagues in his home state of California, spending time with the Sacarmento Solons. By 1955 he was working as a scout for the Detroit Tigers. In 1958 he was asked to manage his former team the Indians, and he skippered them to a fourth place finish. The following year he took the Tribe to within five games of first place, held by the white-hot Chicago White Sox. By 1960, Gordon struggled again, and the team languished in fourth place when on July 28, he was made part of one of the most interesting deals in baseball: he was traded straight-up to the Detroit Tigers for THEIR manager, Jimmy Dykes. Neither he nor Dykes made a difference, but his new team the Tigers finished in 6th place.
The following year he was asked to coach the recently relocated Kansas City Athletics, but after starting out 26-34, Gordon decided his heart wasn't in the game and he retired one more time. Finally, in 1969, Gordon was given one more chance to manage, and he took the newly founded Kansas City Royals to a dismal 69-93 record, whereupon he finally retired for good with a career 305-308 managerial record.
Joe Gordon passed away April 14, 1978 in Sacramento, California. He was 63.
YEAR TEAM G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA
1938 NYY AL 127 458 83 117 24 7 25 97 11 3 56 72 .255
1939 NYY AL 151 567 92 161 32 5 28 111 11 10 75 57 .284
1940 NYY AL 155 616 112 173 32 10 30 103 18 8 52 57 .281
1941 NYY AL 156 588 104 162 26 7 24 87 10 9 72 80 .276
1942 NYY AL 147 538 88 173 29 4 18 103 12 6 79 95 .322
1943 NYY AL 152 543 82 135 28 5 17 69 4 7 98 75 .249
1946 NYY AL 112 376 35 79 15 0 11 47 2 5 49 72 .210
1947 CLE AL 155 562 89 153 27 6 29 93 7 3 62 49 .272
1948 CLE AL 144 550 96 154 21 4 32 124 5 2 77 68 .280
1949 CLE AL 148 541 74 136 18 3 20 84 5 6 83 33 .251
1950 CLE AL 119 368 59 87 12 1 19 57 4 1 56 44 .235
CAREER 1566 5707 914 1530 264 52 253 975 89 60 759 702 .268
* Bold denotes led league.