Did you ever notice how the Yankees tend to win pennants in bunches. In 1921-23 they win, then again 1926-28, then you find them winning a bunch between 1936 and 1943. Then starting in 1947, they win more or less constantly through 1964. Then there’s a gap until 1976-1981, and finally there’s the 1996-2003 run. It’s not that they win every year, or that they win all the championships when they do win, but notice how for long periods of time (and three years is a long time in baseball) they are consistently in the World Series. There are two exceptions, two teams that win a World Series in isolation. One is the most recent gig, the other in 1932.
The 1932 Yankees were something of a hybrid, and that may explain why they have only one pennant. It’s a transition team between the Murder’s Row guys of the 1920s and the Bronx Bombers of the late 1930s. Babe Ruth was beginning his decline, but still good. Joe DiMaggio wasn’t in New York yet. In some ways this is Lou Gehrig’s team, perhaps the only winner that can say that. I don’t mean to imply that Gehrig isn’t a major player in 1926-28 or again in 1936-38 but I think most people see the first team as Ruth’s and the second as DiMaggio’s. They are also a very overlooked team. Finally, it is Joe McCarthy’s first Yankees pennant winner.
The infield was Gehrig at first, Tony Lazzeri at second, Joe Sewell at third, and Frankie Crosetti at short. Gehrig hit .300 with 34 home runs, 151 RBIs (did you ever notice just how much of an RBI machine Gehrig was?), and had an OPS+ of 180. Lazzeri also hit .300, had 11 home runs, and an OPS+ of 137. Sewell, in the twilight of his career, hit .270 and did what he always did, hit the ball. He struck out all of three times in 503 at bats and walked 56 times. Crosetti hit just .240.
The outfield was Ruth, Earle Combs, and Ben Chapman. Ruth was Ruth, although he was on the downside of his career. He hit 41 home runs, drove in 137, had an OPS+ of 200, and an OPS of 1.150. Combs was still good, hitting .300, scoring 143 times, getting 190 hits, and posting a 126 OPS+. Chapman was the new guy. He hit .299, stole a team (and league) high 38 bases, and posted a 124 OPS+.
The battery consisted of Bill Dickey as the catcher. Dickey was just coming into his own as a hitter. He hit .310 with 15 home runs, 84 RBIs, and was another in a long line of Yankees with an OPS+ over 100 (120). The starters were still good, but beginning to age in spots. Lefty Gomez won 24 games but posted an ERA over four. Red Ruffing had 18 wins and an ERA just over three. George Pipgras, Johnny Allen, and 38-year-old Herb Pennock were the other pitchers who started 20 or more games. Allen joined Wilcy Moore in leading the team with four saves.
The 1932 Yankees won 107 games and finished first by 13 games (over Philadelphia). As a reward they got to face the Cubs in the World Series. They won in four games. The first and fourth game were blowouts, while games two and three were reasonably close. The most famous, and controversial moment came in game three. In the fifth inning with the game tied 4-4, Ruth came to bat with one out. He hit what became known as “The Called Shot” to deep center field. I’ve seen the picture of Ruth just before the home run. It’s obvious he has his hand up, but it’s difficult to tell exactly what he’s doing and where he’s pointing (maybe he’s giving the Cubs “the finger”), so I’m not going to make a definitive statement as to whether he “called” his shot or not. Being Ruth, I wouldn’t bet against it. What’s generally unknown is that Gehrig homered in the next at bat to give the Yanks a two-run lead and the eventual margin of victory.
The team fell back in 1933 and 1934. By 1935 Ruth was gone. By 1936 DiMaggio was there and it was a different team. So the 1932 Yanks are a team that won in isolation and was not part of either the Murderer’s Row or Bronx Bombers dynasty. Still, it’s a great team and I might argue it’s one of the very finest Yankees teams ever.