It Happened in Jersey: Baseball
The 1937 Junior World Series
The greatest team, some say, in the history of minor league baseball was the 1937 Newark Bears. Every player who stepped in the batter's box that season—with the exception of pitcher Jack Fallon—logged time in the big leagues either before or after that season. The Bears were led by sluggers Joe Gordon and Charlie Keller. Gordon would go on to have a Hall of Fame career; two years in the military and a bad back kept Keller from joining him in Cooperstown.
Naturally, when the International League champions squared off against the Columbus Red Birds of the American Association, fans filing into Ruppert Stadium on Wilson Avenue were expecting two or three wins before the series moves west to Ohio. And what fans they were. In the depths of the Depression, the blue-collar workers of Newark showed incredible support for their home team—often outdrawing the Yankees in the Bronx. Farm Director George Weiss delighted in reported attendance numbers to his boss, Jacob Ruppert (for whom the stadium was named), across the river.
The Red Birds, however, were no slouches. Their club featured future Hall of Famer Enos Slaughter, as well as a pair of soon-to-be NL ERA kings, Mort Cooper and Max Lanier. Even so, the smart money was riding on the Bears, who had won 109 regular-season games and then swept four-game playoffs against Syracuse and Baltimore to reach the championship of minor league baseball.
Incredibly, the Bears would leave Newark a few days later without having added to their impressive win total. Fans watched in astonishment as Columbus took each of the first three games—5–4, 5–4 and 6–3. The Bears' defense was uncharacteristically poor, as the team failed to record big outs and committed 11 errors.
Before heading off to meet their fate out west, the players called a team meeting. All evidence to the contrary, the Bears agreed amongst themselves that they were still the better ball club—and that if they played the remaining games as well as they had played all season, they still stood a chance of winning in 7. The three games in Newark were a terrible aberration.
As it turned out, the players’ confidence was well founded. They swept the final four games in Columbus, Two blowouts and a 1–0 thriller evened the series, and the Bears put together a pair of big innings in the finale to win 10–4 and take the series.
Thousands of fans greeted the team upon its return to Penn Station. The city held a parade for the Bears up Broad Street. The players were invited to Yankee Stadium, where the Yankees were playing the Giants in the World Series. They received a standing ovation from the Bronx crowd and were seated in a special section.