The Detroit Tigers won the American League pennant in 1934 and again in 1935. Entering the 1936 season, they and the Boston Red Sox were considered the two best teams in the league.
The New York Yankees, who were not yet a dynasty, were given a decent chance to pull an upset, but were clearly underdogs.
The Red Sox had acquired first baseman Jimmy Foxx, outfielder Doc Cramer and 17-game winner Johnny Marcum from the Philadelphia Athletics, while the Tigers added Al Simmons from the Chicago White Sox.
Foxx and Simmons are in the Hall of Fame.
Yankees manager Joe McCarthy was concerned, but he was confident that the Yankees would win their first pennant since 1932.
Speaking to John Drebinger of the New York Times, McCarthy thought that the Red Sox lacked the pitching to contend.
"To be a real threat, the Sox must receive the same great pitching from (Wes) Ferrell and (Lefty) Grove they got last year, and then some more of the same from somebody else," McCarthy said.
He was right on target. The 1936 Red Sox finished sixth, winning 74 and losing 80 games.
When asked if the Yankees would make any trades before the season started, McCarthy explained that he was satisfied with his team.
He told the New York Times, "...only some decidedly unforeseen developments kept us from coming pretty close to winning the pennant. These were the injury to (Frank) Crosetti and the fact that three of our key players, (Lefty) Gomez, (Lou) Gehrig and (Bill) Dickey all experienced an off-year at the same time."
In 1935, Gomez was 12-15 with a 3.18 ERA and a 128 ERA+.
Gehrig batted .329/.466/.583 with "only" 30 home runs and 119 RBI. Dickey hit .279/.339/.458 with 14 home runs and 81 RBI.
The Yankees finished in second, three games behind the Tigers.
McCarthy admitted that the Yankees had a problem at second base because Tony Lazzeri had hit only .273 with 13 home runs and 83 RBI.
The Washington Senators made it known that they would be willing to trade their second baseman, 1935 batting champion Buddy Myer, for the right price, but for McCarthy, the price was not right. Meyer had batted .349.
"Certainly I would like to get Buddy Myer. But when Clark Griffith started mentioning such outlandish figures as $500,000, we thought he was taking about a franchise," McCarthy said to the New York Times.
The Yankees were counting heavily on a young star from the west coast named Joe DiMaggio, who was expected to be the Yankees left fielder. Ben Chapman would remain in center field and George Selkirk would be in right field.
The addition of Monte Pearson from the Cleveland Indians in exchange for Johnny Allen was expected to bolster the pitching staff, according to the Yankees brass.
At first glance, it seemed like a ridiculous statement.
In 1935, Pearson had been 8-13 with a 4.90 ERA. He gave up 199 hits in 181 and two-thirds innings, allowing 103 walks while striking out only 90.
But the Yankees knew what they were doing. Pearson turned it around in 1936, winning 19 games.
It turned out that McCarthy was right when he said he was satisfied with his team.
The Yankees played .667 ball, winning 102 while losing only 51. They finished an amazing 19.5 games ahead of the second place Tigers and went on to beat the New York Giants in a six game World Series.
It was the beginning of what some consider to be the greatest four year period any sports team ever produced.
Drebinger, John. "Yanks Plan to Stand Pat on 1936 Team: McCarthy Denies Need for Trades." New York Times. 15 Jan. 1936. p. 25.