Classic Yankees: Joe Page

“It’s got to be better than rooming with Joe Page,” One insightful person’s response when asked if Joe DiMaggio’s marriage to Marilyn Monroe was good for him…  (And Joe’s marriage only lasted, what…nine months?)

Without Joe Page, the Yankees probably don’t win the 1947 or 1949 World Series. Unfortunately, Page’s lifestyle led to a much-too-short day in the sun.

Joe Page came up to the Yankees in 1944, in the middle of WWII. He started in 16 games and relieved in three more. He went 5-7, 4.56, ERA+ 77. Despite that, he was an All-Star, for after the games of June 4th (two days before D-Day), he was 5-1, 2.07. From June 5th through July 30th, Page was 0-6, 9.82. Ugh. He didn’t pitch in the majors again that season after July 30th.

In 1945, Page suffered a shoulder injury. He started nine games, relieved in eleven more, and was 6-3, 2.82, ERA+ 123 in 102 IP.

In 1946, maybe the year in which Page roomed with Joe D., he went 9-8, 3.57. ERA+ 96 in 136 IP, 17 starts, 14 relief appearances. He also ticked manager Joe McCarthy off early in that season. McCarthy was getting tired with Page’s nocturnal ways and his nonchalance to it all. Shortly after berating Page about it, McCarthy, who wasn’t getting along with the new ownership of the Yankees—particularly Larry MacPhail—resigned. At one point in their being roommates, Page came in late one night and woke up DiMaggio, who scolded Page himself, stating, “The way you live, you’re letting yourself down and the whole team down.” Soon thereafter, the great Joe D. requested a private suite for himself on the road. Being Joe D., he got it.

Page had one of the great relief seasons ever in 1947. He went 14-8, 2.48, ERA+ 142, starting two games but relieving in 54 more. He led the majors in games finished (44), the AL in saves (an unrecognized and unofficial stat back then) with 17, was an All-Star, and finished 4th in the MVP voting. His 14 wins in relief was a record until Luis Arroyo (see the Classic Yankees piece on Arroyo) broke it in 1961. Even in this year, he was on the verge of being shipped out. Bucky Harris, now the Yankees manager, brought Page into a game at a point where Page was basically down to the last straw. One more failure and that straw would break the camel’s back and Page would be sent down or traded. Page proceeded to walk the bases full. He was thisclose to being shipped out and probably for good. He ran the count to 3-0 on Rudy York, a good power hitter, then came back to strike out York, then Hall of Fame second baseman Bobby Doerr, and then got the next hitter on a pop-up. (David Halberstam’s Summer of ’49—great reading). Page had saved his career…for now.

In the World Series, Page was 1-1, ERA 4.15. That doesn’t sound like much, but Page entered in the sixth inning of Game One and got the save. He entered in the sixth inning of Game 3 and got a ND. He came into the game in the 5th inning of Game 6 (the game of Gionfriddo’s catch off DiMaggio) and didn’t have it and took the loss, but he came back the next day and pitched the last five innings in relief, giving up no runs and only one hit in that Game Seven, thus delivering the title to the Bombers.

Although Page led the AL in games pitched (55) and games finished (38) in 1948, he had a bad year, going just 7-8, 4.26, 16 saves, ERA+ 96. He was an All-Star, but his carousing wasn’t helping. The Yanks finished third that season, just 2 ½ games out, and some thought Page’s lifestyle cost them a pennant.

Page’s 1949 season helped the Yanks to another WS title. He was 13-8, 2.59, ERA+ 156. He wasn’t named to the All-Star team, but finished 3rd in the MVP voting behind Ted Williams and Phil Rizzuto. His 27 saves, unrecognized and unofficial, broke a record. It would “stand” until Luis Arroyo’s record 29 for the Yanks in 1961. (The save didn’t become an official statistic until 1969.) Page also led the majors in games pitched and games finished.

With two games to go in the 1949 season, the Red Sox had a one-game lead over the Yankees with the last two games at Yankee Stadium. In the penultimate game of the season, the Yanks were down to the Red Sox when Page came out of the bullpen with one out in the third inning. He saved the Yankees season by pitching 6 2/3 innings of scoreless relief, giving up just one hit while the Yanks rebounded from a 4-0 deficit to win 5-4 on an eighth-inning HR by Johnny Lindell. Now tied going into the last game, the Yanks would then win the pennant 5-3 the following day. (A side note: one of the umpires for that two-game series was Jim Honochick, who lived about seven miles from me. After his umpiring days were over, Honochick became famous by being the “near-sighted” umpire in those Miller Lite commercials with Boog Powell, here, for the sake of fun and flashback, is one of them. Click on the link.)

In the WS, Page won Game 3, entering the game in the fourth inning. The series was even at a game apiece, and the score was tied at one apiece. The Dodgers had the bases loaded and one out. Page got out of the inning, inducing a popup and a groundout. He held the Dodgers scoreless into the ninth.

In the top of the ninth, the Yanks scored three runs for a 4-1 lead. Page, now tiring, gave up HRs to Louis Olmo and Roy Campanella in the bottom of the ninth, but held on for the 4-3 win. He went 5 2/3, 2 R, 3 H, 2 walks and 4 K. He saved Game 5, the final game, with 2 1/3 innings of scoreless relief as the Yanks took the Series, four games to one.

From Wikipedia: The Babe Ruth Award is given annually to the Major League Baseball (MLB) player with the best performance in the postseason. The award, created by the New York chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) in honor of Babe Ruth, was first awarded in 1949 to the MVP of the World Series, one year after Ruth’s death. The award continued to be awarded exclusively for performances in the World Series until 2007, when the New York chapter of the BBWAA changed the award to cover the entire postseason. Though it precedes the World Series Most Valuable Player Award, which was not created until 1955, the Babe Ruth Award is considered less prestigious, as it is not sanctioned by MLB and is awarded several weeks after the World Series.

Ruth died on August 16, 1948. The first Babe Ruth Award winner for that 1949 WS: Joe Page. Given the Babe’s reputation for the night life, maybe it was only fitting.

Even though used strictly in relief, Page put in the innings. Things were different back then. From 1947-1949, Page pitched 141 1/3, 107 2/3 and 135 1/3 innings, despite starting a total of only three games in that span.

Page’s career came crashing to an end after that 1949 season. The workload, both on and OFF the field, caught up to him. In 1950, he pitched in only 37 games after having pitched in 56, 55 and 60 from 1947-1949. He went 3-7 with 13 saves, but with an ERA of 5.04, ERA+ 86. He only pitched in three games in September, and didn’t pitch in the World Series.

In his two World Series, Page was 2-1, 3.27, with two saves.

Page was then out of the majors for three years. He made it back to the majors with the 1954 Pirates, but in seven games had no decisions or saves and had an ERA of 11.17, ERA+ 39.

For his career, Page was 57-49, 3.53, ERA+ 106, with 76 saves. As a Yankee, he wore #16 and most famously, #11. With the Pirates, he wore 00. As a hitter, Page hit .205 with 2 HR.

Page ran a tavern after retirement, and died in Latrobe, PA (the home of Rolling Rock beer) in April, 1980 from throat cancer. He was just 62.

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One Response to Classic Yankees: Joe Page

  1. no thanks says:

    As a lifelong yankee fan I will never forget Joe climbing over thefence from the Yankee bullpen in left field. He never used the gate to my recollection.