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Sunday, December 20, 2015

Exploring the 1927 New York Yankees

The 1927 New York Yankees epitomize dominance in athletics. Nearly a century later they are still mentioned any time a team is lapping the field in their particular sport. Led by future Hall-of-Famers Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, the Bronx Bombers went 110-44 and swept the Pittsburgh Pirates in the World Series. Looking back at the squad reveals a number of compelling tidbits.

Ruth hit .356 with 60 home runs and 165 RBIs. Gehrig was every inch his counterpart at .373, 47 home runs and 173 RBIs. Somehow, the team had two additional 100 RBI men in second baseman Tony Lazzeri (102) and outfielder Bob Meusel (103).

Even playing in a year where the ball was particularly lively, the Yankees’’ offense was especially lethal. They scored an average of 6.30 runs per game, which were almost 1.5 runs more than the league average of 4.92. They were also almost a run better than the second-best lineup—the Philadelphia Athletics, who scored 5.43 runs per contest.

Despite the exploits of Ruth and Gehrig, the team MVP may well have been relief pitcher Wilcy Moore. The 30-year-old right-hander was signed as a rookie following five years in the minors and an off-season job as a farmer. In 1926 he had gone 30-4 for Greenville in the South Atlantic League, drawing the attention of the guys in pinstripes. With future Hall-of-Famers Waite Hoyt and Herb Pennock anchoring the rotation the rookie sinkerballer had to create a niche for himself from whatever opportunity he could find. That turned out to be their jack of all trades, as he went 19-7 with a league-leading 2.28 ERA in 50 games (12 starts). He also tied for the league lead with 13 saves, becoming one of the first “closers” before the title was recognized. He was never as effective again after that year, in part because of a perpetually sore shoulder that came from falling off the roof of his barn.

Only one pitcher on the entire Yankees staff had a losing record in 1927. That was right-hander Bob Shawkey, who was in the final season of an outstanding 15-year major league career. With a 2.89 ERA in 19 games (two starts), his 2-3 record made him more of a hard-luck loser than a liability.

The team had no strikeout pitchers. Hoyt led them with 86 punchouts, but those came over the course of his 256.1 innings. Shawkey whiffed batters at the most prolific rate, getting 4.7 of them for every nine innings pitched.

Although the team had an octane-powered offense, they were also very unselfish and played fundamental baseball. As a team, they collected 204 sacrifice hits on the season, including 21 (tied for team lead) by Gehrig and 14 by Ruth.

Although the Yankees had a winning record against all of their opponents in 1927, in particular, they really beat up the St. Louis Browns, taking 21 of the 22 games they played. Conversely, the team that gave them the most trouble was the 66-87 Cleveland Indians, who managed a 10-12 record against the champs.

The Yankees won 43 (or over a quarter) of their games by five or more runs. They were also tied for first place or in first place every day of the season.

The third game of the season came against Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics and resulted in a 9-9 10-inning tie.

Interestingly, the Yankees had the second-youngest offense (average age of 27.7) in the league that year, and the second-oldest (average age of 31.0) pitching staff. Apparently, it was just the right blend of youth and veteran influences.

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