The Way to Win: Murder’s Row

Miller Huggins in 1927

Let me start with a disclaimer: I’m not now, nor have I ever been, a Yankees fan. Having said that, I acknowledge they are the most successful franchise in Major League baseball. That statement lends itself to an obvious question. How do they do it? You can argue it’s money, but it wasn’t just money in 1923 when they won their first title. I’ve begun to look at the great Yankees dynasties (1926-28, 1936-43, 1949-64, 1976-1981, and 1996-2001) and discovered those teams are actually a lot alike. 

All the great Yankees dynasties have the following things in common: 1) they have a good manager, 2) there are a few true greats on the team, 3) there are some really quality players in other positions, 4) there are a number of role players, 5) there are some one year wonders. You can look at other teams throughout baseball history and find the same thing (and you can add in things like a deep bench and good relief pitching for the more modern teams), so it’s not just the Yankees system of winning, but they do it best. It seems these traits, not the stockpiling of stars, are essential to winning. 

To provide a quick example, here’s a look at one of those Yankees teams. 

The 1926-1928 Murder’s Row Yankees were skippered by Miller Huggins. He was an ex-middle infielder who had a decent, but not spectacular career. He won a couple of walks titles in the first few years of the 20th Century and managed the Cardinals without much success prior to taking over at New York in 1918. He provided a steady hand and a calming influence on a team that could be wild. 

The Murder’s Row Yankees had two all-time greats on the team: Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth. Both were simply great in 1927 and 1928 and 1926 was Gehrig’s coming out party. Behind them the Yankees fielded a number of really good players who could step up on days the two stars were not doing well. Earle Combs, Tony Lazzeri, Herb Pennock, and Waite Hoyt all made the Hall of Fame and Urban Shocker could do so someday (if somebody will just look at his numbers). 

Bob Meusel had been in the “really good” category in the early 1920s, but by 1926-28 had slipped to a role player. Mark Koenig, Joe Dugan, and the various catchers (Pat Collins, Hank Severeid, Johnny Grabowski) all fill the bill.  The one-year wonders are Wilcy Moore in 1927 and George Pipgras in 1928 (although Pipgras also had a decent 1929). 

I want to do follow-up posts on the other dynasties to show it’s not just the “Yankees way” of winning. I’m also certain I’m not the first person to determine what it takes to win, but I find this instructive (but not predictive of the next dynasty). Feel free to add your own criteria to the list.


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2 Responses to “The Way to Win: Murder’s Row”

  1. William Miller Says:

    One other characteristic that I am guessing you will find among all these Yankee Dynasties is that their hitters, by and large, displayed greater plate discipline than most other teams. I could be wrong about this, but Yankee teams often seem to like to work the count, forcing opposing starting pitchers to work longer and harder to go deeper into games. Then the Yanks could go for the jugular, the often weak bullpens of opposing teams.

    One characteristic that I’m betting you WON’T find is that base-stealing is a significant part of their success. By and large I have always felt that base-stealing, while exciting and an occasional game-changer, matters much less than quality hitting and the three-run homer.
    Looking forward to where you take this series, Bill

  2. verdun2 Says:

    Checked the stats for you for the 1920’s-1960 (stopped with Stengel leaving) teams. The Yanks led the AL in walks in 26-28, 36-39, and in 43 and 53. The only teams that don’t lead in walks among the 1st two groups are the 41 and 42 teams, both of which finish 2nd. The Stengel teams walk far less frequently finishing1st (in 53 as state above) and as low as sixth in 56 and 60. Didn’t do the 90s team, but I recall it was generally thought of as a patient team. BTW in the first period an inordinate number of the walks go to Ruth and in the 30s to Gehrig. Figures.
    None of the Murder’s Row teams finished near the top in steals. The 28 team finished one base out of dead last. Interestingly enough the 1932 team (which isn’t in my list as it’s too far from any of the other winners to fit my definition of a dynasty) finished third with Ben Chapman leading the AL. The 30s dynasty is a mixed bag. The 36 team finishes 2nd, the 37 team next to last and the 38 team leads the league with Frankie Crosetti aiso leading the AL. In the 40s they are back in the pack. The 50s team generally finishes in the upper half, but does come in 2nd in 1951 when they get 78 (which is their only time above 60). So you’re right about the early teams not running much.

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