As expected, the Bears swept a good Syracuse team in the semis and took four straight from hard-hitting Baltimore. The first real drama of the season for Newark came when it faced Columbus, one of the St. Louis Cardinals' two Double-A representatives, in the Little World Series. The Red Birds featured Enos Slaughter, who hit .382 that year, with 26 home runs and 122 RBIs. Columbus also had a quartet of excellent pitchers in Bill McGee, Mort Cooper, Max Lanier and 21-game winner Max Macon, whom many baseball people were calling the next Dizzy Dean.
The Series, which began in late September, was publicized as a classic confrontation between the two best farm systems in baseball. Yankee pride was at stake, and Colonel Jacob Ruppert, the president, told Weiss that he wanted and expected another sweep. But in the first three Series games, all played in Newark, the Red Birds shocked the Bears 5-4, 5-4 and 6-3. Not only had the Bears' hitting and pitching failed them, but they had committed 11 errors in the three games. What had happened to the Wonder Team?
The opponents then went to Columbus for the rest of the Series. "We had a team meeting on the train," Atley Donald recalls, "and simply reassured each other that we were the same ball club we'd been all year. Win or lose, we decided to be free and easy and let the chips fall where they may."
In the Columbus opener, the Bears turned the tables on the home team, winning 8-1. The fifth game of the Series was a pitching thriller between Donald and Macon. The Bears nursed an early 1-0 lead inning after inning. The pressure was heavy, Donald remembers, but the big righthander held Columbus to three hits and no runs, and Newark won 1-0. In Game 6, the Bears evened the Series, crushing four Columbus pitchers 10-1. In the decisive seventh game the Bears, striking for three runs in both the fifth and sixth innings, came out on top 10-4.
The team received a grand homecoming at Penn Station in Newark, followed by a parade up Broad Street. Colonel Ruppert brought them to New York, where they were feted and given special seats for the World Series then in progress. Yankee Stadium was, of course, where every Bear hoped eventually to be. For most of the players, Newark was just another stopover on their way to the majors. Hy Goldberg of the Newark Evening News lamented in his final baseball column of the 1937 season: "There is one sad feature about a great minor league ball club. It's always broken up, and the better the team the sooner the dissolution. The major leagues are calling and the Bears of 1937, as a unit, have trod the diamond for the last time."
It was the end of the Wonder Team. Keller returned to Newark in 1938, hitting .365 and leading the Bears to another International League championship, but most of the others were gone. Gordon starred at second base for the Yankees, and later the Cleveland Indians, and was named the American League's Most Valuable Player in 1942. Donald became a key member of the Yankees' staff through 1945, setting a team record of 12 straight wins in 1939. Following his retirement he became a scout and signed Ron Guidry, the man who broke Donald's record.
Keller joined the Yankees in 1939 and was one of their big hitters until he entered the Merchant Marine in 1944. Beggs was a star relief pitcher for the 1940 world champion Cincinnati Reds. McQuinn became a solid hitter for the St. Louis Browns for several seasons, and Rosar, Tamulis and Sundra all played in the majors with some success. Weiss eventually used Newark as a springboard to become general manager of the parent Yankees.
But not all of the members of the Wonder Team lived up to their promise. Vitt became boss of the Cleveland Indians in 1938, but his jittery dugout behavior eventually got him embroiled in the bizarre Cleveland "Cry Baby Rebellion" of 1940. He was fired following the season, an embarrassed and disgraced man, and never managed in the majors again. Dahlgren, a hitter of considerable promise, had the misfortune to be Lou Gehrig's replacement in 1939. Under that pressure he never approached his potential and is now just an answer to a baseball trivia question.
Bob (Suitcase) Seeds, who had tried and failed in the majors before 1937, tried and failed again. Seeds did have one magical moment in 1938, an amazing two days in which he had nine hits in 10 at bats—including seven home runs—and drove in 17 runs. But that was back in the International League while playing for Buffalo. Like Steve Bilko, Rocky Nelson, Lou Novikoff, Ox Eckhardt, Jigger Statz and countless others, he was one of those hitters who for some reason could never hit in the majors despite brilliance down on the farm. The most haunting and tragic fate, however, awaited Willard Hershberger, a moody, troubled sort of man who went on to become the backup catcher for the Cincinnati Reds. Donald remembers him as a worrier and a loner.
In 1940, in the midst of a pennant race, Hershberger locked himself in a hotel room in Boston and cut his throat with a razor. Manager Bill McKechnie said the catcher had been brooding about his hitting.