As 10,156 fans filed into Yankee Stadium on a crystal-clear spring day, two things were becoming evident.
The Bronx Bombers were re-establishing their position, and the visiting Detroit Tigers were a mere shell of their former selves—thanks to losing Hall of Fame first baseman Hank Greenberg to the military draft.
Greenberg, who was the junior circuit’s Most Valuable Player in 1940 when the Bengals won the pennant, was the first American Leaguer to be drafted under President Franklin Roosevelt’s new conscription edict.
“I made up my mind to go when I was called,” Greenberg told the Detroit Free Press. “My country comes first.”
The Tigers, struggling at 16-16, clearly could have used Big Hank’s numbers in the middle of a weakened lineup. Greenberg had hit 50 doubles, 41 home runs, batted .340 and drove in 150 runs the year before.
DiMaggio’s league-leading .352 average deprived the Tiger first baseman of a triple crown in 1940.
But duty called Greenberg, and the rest of the AL was taking advantage of his absence. Detroit was in fifth, the Yankees were third and climbing.
Again, DiMaggio’s outing was nothing special: 1-for-4 with an RBI in a 6-5 win. But as bright as the sun was on this day, so were the Yankees’ prospects.
New York had won four games in a row. Attendance would climb and, by mid-summer, the Yankees would be where their fans believed they rightfully belonged—in first place.
On the sports pages of the Big Apple, the big news would be New Jersey boxer Gus Lesnevich beating Anton Christoforidis for the National Boxing Association World Light Heavyweight title at the sold-out old Madison Square Garden. Lesnevich would hold the crown until 1948.
Now, the whole baseball world would turn its eyes to Yankee Stadium—a weekend series with the Boston Red Sox loomed. Ted Williams was bringing his .374 average to town.