1931 Philadelphia A’s
107 – 45 (0.704)
In their quest to become the first club in baseball history to capture three consecutive World Championships, the 1931 A’s won more regular-season games than any team before or since in the franchise’s long and storied history. “Connie’s Bull Elephants” featured six future Hall of Famers, three 20-game winners, and a pair of great streaks; 17 consecutive wins in May and 13 straight in July.
But perhaps the most incredible streak of the year was compiled by dominating starter Lefty Grove, who tied an American League record in the second half of the season by winning sixteen in a row. Grove took the mound on August 23rd against the Browns in a bid to set the record with his seventeenth straight, but a 1-0 St. Louis victory ended the streak. Reserve outfielder Jim Moore, playing left in place of Al Simmons, misplayed a fly ball that led to the Browns’ only run. Simmons had returned to Milwaukee for a doctor’s appointment, and despite engaging in a good bit of violent catharsis in the clubhouse, Grove never forgave him. “After I lost that game, I came back and won six or seven in a row,” Grove recalled years later, still fuming. “I would have had 24 if Simmons had been out there where he belonged.”
Heartbreak at the hands of a St. Louis opponent would again cast a shadow on the A’s remarkable season in the World Series. After surpassing New York’s juggernaut in the standings for the third consecutive year, Philadelphia fell to the Cardinals in a seven-game World Series. After the loss, manager Connie Mack dismantled his dynasty by slowly trading away his stars. By 1934 his team had fallen into the second division of the American League.
Even though the powerful Yankees outscored the A’s by over two hundred runs and bested their division rivals in virtually every major offensive category, Mack’s hitters were still a fearsome bunch. First baseman Jimmie Foxx — “the righthanded Babe Ruth” — led the attack with 30 long balls Also known as “The Beast,” Foxx was second on the club with a respectable 120 RBI; the following year, he would slug 58 homers. Simmons (born Aloysius Syzmanski) held out in a contract dispute until just before Opening Day, but redeemed himself by homering on the first pitch he saw all season. He went on to win his second straight batting title with a lofty .390 average. Catcher Mickey Cochrane, the third Hall of Fame hitter in the group, notched his fifth .300-plus year in seven seasons. Even though the club wasn’t speedy (the entire team had only 27 stolen bases combined) they had men who could get on base. Leadoff hitter Max Bishop reached base nearly 43% of the time and Mule Haas competently filled the number-two spot in the order.
Philadelphia’s pitching also struck fear into opponents’ hearts, but for different reasons. Temperamental pitcher Lefty Grove even made his own teammates nervous. Grove enjoyed his finest season in 1931, winning AL MVP honors with a 31-4 record while leading the league in wins, winning percentage, shutouts, complete games, strikeouts and ERA. Grove wasn’t the only weapon in the A’s arsenal. Number-two starter George “The Moose” Earnshaw posted a 21-7 record and compiled a 1.88 ERA in three World Series starts, including a near-no-hitter against the Cardinals in Game Four. Rube Walberg, the team’s third 20-game winner, and Roy Mahaffey also posted excellent numbers. Ex-Yankee Waite Hoyt was purchased from Detroit in June, rounding out the rotation and giving Mack five future Hall-of-Famers on his roster. Philadelphia’s 3.47 ERA easily outdistanced the rest of the league (they were one of only two teams to maintain an ERA below four) and they also led in complete games and shutouts.