Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Will Your Team Have the Greatest Season Ever?

As Rick recently wrote, all baseball fans are hoping their team will have an amazing season, with most of their players having career years. Well, there is always hope. As you will read below things didn't look very promising for the 1927 Yankees – often regarded as the greatest team ever – but they did okay. Check out the players' nicknames as you read. (Life is too politically correct for many of the nicknames nowadays.)

Okay, granted, the Yanks had won the pennant the year before, but not in '24 or '25. In '24 they finished second, two games behind Walter Johnson's Washington Senators. (Of course the Senators won – Goose Goslin – at right- hit 12 home runs that year.)

But in '25 the Yankees finished second last! They had just 69 wins and ended up 28 1/2 games back of the Senators. (Goose hit 18 that year – thanks to Ruth lots of guys were swinging from the end of the bat now.) Bob Meusal, the big Yankee left fielder, hit 33 home runs, but slick-fielding Earle Combs was the only man to hit over .300. The Babe hit just .290, with only 25 home runs. None of their starting pitchers was over .500.

In '27 their prospects weren't all that good. Their pitching, catching, and infield were all suspect – and Ruth, at 33, was showing signs of age along with their best pitchers Herb Pennock and Urban Shocker. Ruth had hit 47 homers in '26 but had a habit of following great years with poor ones – for him that is.

The Yankee pinstripes had not yet achieved the status of legend, the '26 pennant was seen as a collapse by their competitors and the Yankees had lost the Series (on hungover Grover Cleveland Alexander's relief appearance in which he'd struck out Tony Lazzeri – after Lazzeri had crushed a pitch that was just foul). Their improvement from '25 to '26 was the biggest in baseball history to that point but there was a feeling that the pendulum might swing right back.

In his third year at first base Columbia Lou Gehrig, a.k.a Biscuit Pants (Ruth, who couldn't remember anyone's name, called him Buster) had hit .313 in '26, with 16 home runs and 107 runs batted in. (He'd break Ruth's record of 170 with 172 in '27.)

At second was "Poosh 'Em Up" Tony Lazzeri. In his first year in organized ball he'd been struggling and a fellow Italian, a restaurant owner, cooked him a spaghetti dinner and encouraged him to push 'em up (get hitting). He did. He drove in 222 runs in the Pacific Coast League. '26 was his rookie year and he impressed with 18 home runs but hit just .275, well below what he'd hit the next several years.

Like Lazzeri, shortstop Mark Koenig was in his second year. He'd hit .271 in '26 but he led the league in errors with 52. He'd also been the goat of the Series hitting into three double plays, committing three errors, and striking out seven times, often in crucial spots.

At third was Jumping Joe Dugan. In his mind his first team, the Philadelphia Athletics, didn't pay him enough and he jumped, i.e. left the team, 36 times. (Talk about a record that may never be broken!) Dugan could hit, field (especially bunts), run, and throw. He was one of the best third basemen in the league but now he was suspect because of an old knee injury.

Speedster Earle Combs (he was clocked at 10 seconds flat over 100 yards at Churchill Downs) covered a lot of ground in Yankee Stadium's cavernous center field (490 feet). Combs hit a lot of triples into it. Combs was a .325 lifetime hitter but had hit just. 299 in '26.

The aforementioned Bob Meusal was usually in left, but when the sun was in the right fielder's eyes the Yankees often switched Ruth and Meusal – no sense endangering the babe's vision. Long (6 foot 3) or Languid (he often took it easy) Bob had the best arm in baseball and hit for average and power. Ben Pascal, the backup outfielder hit .360 in 89 games in '25 but how do you break into that outfield? 

The catchers included 145-pound Benny Bengough who was being visited by quacks and eccentrics because doctors hadn't fixed his throwing arm after he was hit by a pitch; Pat Collins, who'd hit .600 in the Series (.275 for the season) but also had a damaged throwing arm (he claimed that bowling repaired it); and John 'Nig' Grabowski who had come over from the White Sox after hitting .262.

The biggest question about the Yankees was their pitching. Their ace was Herb Pennock, the Squire of Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, who bred silver foxes. He knew every hitter's weakness but at 33 he was in his fourteenth big league season. 
Next was Waite Hoyt (at right) who pitched 27 shutout innings in the '21 Series (Mathewson shares the record with him). Still called Schoolboy though in his tenth year, he had never won 20 games and was 16-12 in '26. 

At 37 Urban Shocker was nearing the end. He was one of seven pitchers still allowed to throw the spitter but had such an assortment of curves and other dirty tricks he often didn't need to use it. 

Unruly (he drank a lot) Walter "Dutch" Reuther was in his eleventh season and was still considered one of the game's best lefties. He'd been accused of being drunk when he started against Ed Cicotte in the 1919 World Series. He won the game, which was later accepted as having been fixed. "I thought I'd worked a tight game," Dutch said later (probably over a beer). 

To shore up the aging staff the Yankees added rookies George Pipgras, a Minnesota farm boy, "the Dutch Viking", who had a common minor league label – great stuff, no control, and Wilcy Moore, a 30-year-old dirt farmer from Okmulgee, Oklahoma. His wrist had been broken two years earlier and he'd developed a sidearm sinker. It worked. In '26 he was 30-4 with Grenville in the Sally League.

So a pennant and a 4-0 World Series was anything but a sure thing in '27. On April the Yankees opened the season in front of 73,206 fans (a record) and Waite Hoyt outdueled A's ace Lefty Grove 8-3. 

On September 22 they were down 8-6 to the Tigers in the bottom of the ninth when Babe Ruth chipped a piece out of a seat in the 64th row of the bleachers (six rows from the top) with a two-run homer, his 56th. Unable to contain his excitement a young boy who had been praying all afternoon that the Babe would hit one jumped out of his seat, ran across the diamond, and caught up to Ruth as he rounded third. Ruth still had his bat in his hand. The boy crossed the plate together with his hero and followed him right into the the dugout. The win put the Yankees (who would finish with a .714 record) 16 1/2 games in front.

Not a bad year for the Babe or the Yankees. To see how they did, go to http://retro.bb-ref.org/teams/NYY/1927.shtml 

1 comment:

Rick Blechta said...

Great post. Welcome back, Will!