I can’t pinpoint the exact day I first began to believe the 1927 New York Yankees were the best team in baseball history, but if I had to guess it was sometime in 1983 after reading about them in an edition of All-Star Replay, a periodical published by the Avalon Hill Game Company during the late seventies and early eighties. By then I’d played more than a few games of Strat-O-Matic and Statis-Pro baseball and was familiar enough with baseball statistics to recognize the statistics compiled by the ’27 Yank’s were pretty special.
This was the year of Ruth’s 60 homeruns, but “The Great Bambino” was far from the whole story; there was also Lou Gehrig’s .373 average, 47 homeruns and 175 RBI, for instance. Not to be outdone, center fielder, Earle Combs, matched Ruth’s .356 average and both left fielder, Bob Meusal, and second baseman, Tony Lazzeri, hit over .300 and topped 100 RBI. As a team, New York averaged 6.3 runs a game, far and away the best figure in baseball.
Throw out George Pipgras (4.12 ERA) and reliever, Myles Thomas (4.85 ERA), and none of the New York hurlers posted an ERA above 3.38. Not surprisingly, New York posted the best ERA in baseball that year, too.
Until recently, I’d heard very little about Philadelphia, who finished 19 games behind New York in second place in 1927 and 2½ games back the following year, despite contributions from aging stars Tris Speaker, Eddie Collins and Ty Cobb.
Things were different in 1929. After spending the first month of the season within about a game of first place, Philadelphia overtook the New York for good on May 14 and never looked back, winning the division by 18 games.
Led by 21-year-old first baseman, Jimmie Foxx, who batted .354 with 33 homeruns and 118 runs batted in, and outfielder, Al Simmons, who hit .365 with 34 homeruns and 157 RBI, the Philadelphia batsmen averaged nearly 6 runs a game, second to only the Cubs.
On the mound they were even better, posting a league-best 3.44 ERA. Lefty Grove led the staff with a 20-6 record to go along with a 2.81 ERA, while also leading the league in strikeouts with 170.
The Series: 7 games to decide!
On paper, I’d give the nod to the New York club, but only slightly. Both Ruth and Gehrig posted monster seasons, outperforming Philadelphia‘s dynamic duo of Foxx and Simmons by a wide margin.
On the other hand, Philadelphia’s starting rotation is a tad better and they possess a narrow edge in the bullpen, as well.
I don’t need to rely on crude guesses, though. Instead, I’ll play a 7-game series to decide. Then, to provide further evidence, I’ll extend that to 20 games in order to avoid the sort of luck often concomitant with short series.
So, with that, let the games begin!
Game 1: Grove cruises!
Waite Hoyte held Philadelphia scoreless in 6 of his 8 innings pitched, but the first and third innings were brutal, with Philadelphia scoring 6 runs. Meanwhile, Lefty Grove pitched 6 solid innings and relievers Rommel, Shores and Yerkes did the rest. Philadelphia cruised to an easy win!
|W – Lefty Grove (1-0)||L – Waite Hoyt (0-1)||GW – Jimmie Foxx (1)|
Game 2: Fisticuffs and mayhem!
Tony Lazzeri was tossed in the second inning for arguing balls and strikes with the home plate umpire and things only deteriorated from there when, in the fifth inning, the teams engaged in a benches-clearing brawl that saw New York third baseman, Joe Dugan, and shortstop, Mark Koenig, both ejected along with Sammy Hale and Max Bishop from Philadelphia.
Between all the arguing and fighting, Philadelphia dominated once more, winning easily, 8-6.
|W – Rube Walberg (1-0)||L – Herb Pennock (0-1)||GW – Mikey Cochrane (1)|
Game 3: Jimmie Foxx spoils New York rally!
Not to be outdone by the horrific starts New York pitchers had experienced in the first two games of the series, Urban Shocker began the game by quite possibly pitching three of the worst innings in baseball history, surrendering 10 runs to Philadelphia before his shell-shocked teammate realized what hit them. Even then, they were slow to react, posting three more scoreless innings while Philadelphia added a run in the sixth.
Entering the seventh inning down 11-3, New York finally started rolling. Light-hitting Mark Koenig and catcher, Pat Collins, combined for 5 runs in the next two innings and the score was 11-8 in favor of Philadelphia entering the ninth.
Ruth scored 4 runs to give New York a 12-11 lead and what appeared to be their first win of the series. But in the bottom-half of the inning Jimmie Foxx countered with 4 runs of his own off reliever Bob Shawkey and Philadelphia escaped with a 15-12 win.
|W – Bill Shores (1-0)||L – Bob Shawkey (0-1)||GW – Jimmie Foxx (2)|
Game 4: Victory at last!
Dutch Ruether pitched 6 shutout innings and Myles Thomas, Wilcy Moore and Bob Shawkey each contributed a scoreless inning of their own as New York rolled to a 4-0 victory over Philadelphia to remain alive— if barely— in the series.
|W – Dutch Ruether (1-0)||L – Eddie Rommel (0-1)||GW – Mark Koenig (1)|
Game 5: New York wins again on Mule Haas’ blunders!
After being roughed-up in the first game of the series, Waite Hoyte returned to pitch 8 innings of 2-run ball. In addition, he contributed 2 runs to the offense’s cause to help lead his team to a 4-2 win.
Despite Hoyte’s heroics, it was the horrid play of Philadelphia’s Mule Haas that was the difference. The normally competent outfielder committed two costly errors, leading to all of New York’s runs.
To add injury to insult, starting pitcher, Lefty Grove, had to leave the game with a bruised arm after pitching just one inning, forcing Philadelphia’s already tired bullpen to finish the game.
|W – Wilcy Moore (1-0)||L – Eddie Rommel (1-1)||GW – Babe Ruth (1)|
Game 6: Redemption!
Mule Haas made up for his poor play in game five with a 2-run shot in the fourth inning to break a 3-3 tie and give Philly a lead they would never relinquish. With the 5-3 win, Philadelphia won the series over New York, 4 games to 2.
|W – George Earnshaw (1-0)||L – George Pipgras (0-1)||GW – Mule Haas (1)|
The stats tell the story. Jimmie Foxx and Al Simmons outplayed Ruth and Gehrig and Mickey Cochrane outplayed them all. Meanwhile, big-hitters Combs and Meusal slumped, failing to produce a single run between them the entire series.
In addition, their starting pitching too often failed them early in games. While Reuther was very good in his one outing and Hoyt adequate in two starts, no one else was. Pipgras compiled a 7.50 ERA and Pennock a 9.00 ERA. Urban Shocker’s ERA, a whopping 16.50, would be considered poor in a slow-pitch softball game.
While the series didn’t prove Philadelphia superior, it did demonstrate that the Bronx Bombers need to play well to beat them. For the better part of the series, they did not.
1927 New York Batting
1927 New York Pitching
1929 Philadelphia Batting
1929 Philadelphia Pitching
Fourteen games later…
After the series concluded New York proceeded to lose twice more, coming up just short in a 2-1 decision and a lot short in a 10-5 drubbing. They rebounded with an 11-3 win then were subsequently annihilated, 14-4. After 10 games, their record stood at a dismal 3-7.
Then, suddenly, they started to win — 8 games in a row, to be exact. Gehrig accounted for an amazing 8 runs in a 10-6 extra-inning affair to get things started for New York. Then it was Lazzeri and Dugan contributing every run in a 7-3 win; then Ruth and Gehrig in a 5-4 win, the start of a 3-game stretch during which Ruth accounted for 12 runs. They won the last two of those games, 13-9 and 6-4.
And it didn’t stop there. Suddenly the pitching was very good, too. They won their next three games allowing just 4 runs, winning 4-1, 4-2 and 2-1.
They lost game nineteen, 7-4, then finished the 20-game series with a 7-3 win, again fueled by Ruth.
As before, the stats tell the story. Over the last 14 games, Ruth, Gehrig and Combs were sensational. Ruth accounted for 20 runs in just 12 plate appearances and Gehrig was nearly as brilliant, tallying 17 runs in 17 trips to the plate while also accumulating 4 game-winning runs. Earle Combs, who was ice-cold in the first six games, picked it up over the last fourteen, accounting for 14 runs, and Bob Meusal, who was likewise silent during the original six game affair, was solid, too, accounting for 9 runs.
Starting pitcher, Herb Pennock, bounced back from a horrible first start and allowed just 4 runs over his next 24 innings and Waite Hoyt posted a 2.89 ERA and 3 complete games in 3 starts.
It was just the opposite for Philadelphia. While Foxx, Simmons and Cochrane still performed at a high-level, each saw the their results on the field diminish. Jimmie Foxx led the way with 15 runs while Simmons and Cochrance each contributed 10. Shortstop, Jimmy Dykes, a solid contributor in the first six games, managed to score just a single run in 14 plate appearances.
Philadelphia’s pitchers saw their cumulative ERA rise by nearly a run. Lefty Grove finished the 20 game series just 1-3 with a 4.50 ERA. Jack Quinn was 1-1 with a 4.62 ERA. George Earnshaw (2-1, 5.46 ERA) and Rube Walberg (1-1, 6.48 ERA) were even worse.
Overall, New York won 12 games and Philadelphia won 8, which seems about right. The 1929 Philadelphia team was as advertised: a great club but not quite up to the standard set two years earlier by the New York club.
1927 New York Batting
1927 New York Pitching
1929 Philadelphia Batting
1929 Philadelphia Pitching