Mark J. Price

If Akron could live that day again, the stands would be full.

Every ticket would be sold. Every fan would be thrilled.

In reality, though, only 2,000 people bothered to show up June 1, 1937, at League Park near Summit Lake.

In one of the wildest days in local sports history, the world champion New York Yankees played an exhibition game 75 years ago against the Akron Yankees, a lowly farm team for the Bronx Bombers.

With a capacity of more than 5,000 — not including the knothole gang of kids who climbed trees to peer over the wood fence for free — the ballpark looked dreadfully empty. Baseball cheers collided in the air with shrill screams from coaster riders at Summit Beach Park.

New York’s 1937 roster featured future hall of famers Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Lefty Gomez, Red Ruffing, Tony Lazzeri and manager Joe McCarthy.

Akron’s 1937 roster featured a motley band of minor-league players whose careers had pretty much peaked.

The Class C squad labored in the Middle Atlantic League, playing such teams as the Canton Terriers, Charleston Senators, Dayton Ducks, Johnstown Johnnies, Portsmouth Red Birds, Springfield Indians and Zanesville Grays.

The New York Yankees literally were out of Akron’s league, but the local team still hoped to make a game of it.

Still basking in their 1936 World Series win over the New York Giants, the New York Yankees were perched atop the American League standings. Schedule makers hadn’t done them any favors, though, with the Akron exhibition game.

The Bronx Bombers had played a doubleheader in Boston on Monday, rode a train all night to Cleveland, took a chartered bus to Akron and then waited around for the 4 p.m. Tuesday game before returning to Cleveland for a three-game series against the Indians.

With partly sunny skies and mild temperatures in the mid-70s, the weather was perfect for baseball.

Massillon’s favorite son

Autograph collectors had a field day. Gehrig and Di-Maggio were the big draws, but many fans made the trip to League Park to cheer on New York rookie Tommy Henrich, 21, a Massillon native who two weeks earlier made his major-league debut after languishing in the Cleveland Indians farm system for three years. After Commissioner Kenesaw Landis declared Henrich a free agent, he signed a $25,000 deal to play with New York.

“I don’t like Cleveland at all,” Henrich told a reporter before the Akron game. “I hold no grudge against the players themselves. It’s C.C. Slapnicka, vice president. If I can play any better up at Cleveland, I will.”

Before the game, he and pitcher Lefty Gomez visited Henrich’s parents on 10th Street Southeast in Massillon. The Little Yankees reserved 100 seats for Massillon fans, who raised money to present Henrich with a traveling bag at the ballpark.

Edward M. Henrich sat in the Akron stands and beamed with pride at his son, who was destined to play the rest of his career with New York.

“It’s a funny feeling,” he told a reporter. “I look upon Tommy with the Yanks as I would if he were in business. Right now, he’s in the business of trying to make good with them.”

Johnny Broaca was the starting pitcher for New York. McCarthy’s lineup featured shortstop Don Heffner, third baseman Red Rolfe, center fielder DiMaggio, first baseman Gehrig, left fielder Henrich, right fielder Myril Hoag, first baseman Jack Saltzgaver and catcher Arndt Jorgens.

Akron manager Leo Mackey tapped left-hander Ray Moffett as his starter. The lineup included right fielder Harry Ashworth, shortstop Al Baker, center fielder Bill Svilich, first baseman Jack Graham, third baseman Paul “Iron” Bearint, left fielder Eddie Martin, second baseman Harold MacKinnon, catcher Eddie Gibb and reliever Jack Cahill.

The game kept statisticians busy all afternoon.

The teams combined for 38 hits, including 20 by Akron. There were two homers, six triples and 10 doubles. Every player had a hit except for Akron’s MacKinnon, who probably found that very annoying.

By the way, the game lasted only one hour and 58 minutes.

Stars of ballgame

For New York, Gehrig hit a double and walked twice; DiMaggio had a single and walked twice; and Henrich had three singles. For Akron, Ashworth had two triples, two singles and a walk; Bearint had a single, a double, a triple, a homer and a walk; Martin and Graham had three hits apiece.

Broaca pitched six innings for New York, giving up 13 hits, striking out five and walking six. Moffett pitched seven innings for Akron, giving up 15 hits, striking out two and walking four.

“The game was a wild-scoring affair with Akron taking an early lead and holding it until the sixth when the New Yorkers got four runs to make the score 7-6,” Akron Times-Press reporter Henry Andrews wrote. “Akron came back in its half to take an 8-7 lead. It went that way until the ninth when New York took a 13-11 lead.”

New York manager McCarthy had catcher Joe “Gabby” Glenn serve as the relief pitcher in the last three innings. He had never pitched in the major leagues, but he did an adequate job — at least initially.

In the bottom of the ninth inning, Akron’s Svilich singled and Graham doubled. With runners on second and third, Bearint came to the plate. There were two out.

Glenn threw two quick strikes. The end was within reach. Just one more pitch.

Swinging the bat with all his might, Bearint connected.

THWACK!!!

The ball flew over the center-field fence for a three-run homer. Akron won 14-13.

The Little Yankees had toppled the World Series champs.

“As far as pitching is concerned, Mr. Joe Glenn of the New York Yankees is still a mighty fine catcher,” Beacon Journal reporter Bob Elliott crowed the next day.

The grumbling Bronx Bombers boarded their bus for Cleveland, where they took their frustrations out on the Indians the following day with an 8-4 win.

The New York Yankees went 102-52 that season, winning the American League pennant and once again defeating the New York Giants in the World Series.

The Akron Yankees went 64-61 for a fourth-place finish. The team won its only Mid-Atlantic League championship in 1940 before leaving Akron the following year. In seven years, it never had a losing season.

Nothing quite compared to that 1937 exhibition game, when a lowly band of minor-leaguers won bragging rights over the world champions — if only for one memorable afternoon.

Beacon Journal copy editor Mark J. Price is the author of The Rest Is History: True Tales From Akron’s Vibrant Past, a new book from the University of Akron Press. He can be reached at 330-996-3850 or send email to mjprice@thebeaconjournal.com.