Beat Down: the 1927 Pirates

Paul Waner while with Pittsburgh

Paul Waner while with Pittsburgh

So if the Yankees of 1927 are all that great and won the World Series, who’d they beat? The answer is the 1927 Pittsburgh Pirates. They’re not as famous as their American League counterparts and are probably most famous for losing the ’27 World Series, but they were a legitimately good team that, because of what happened in the Series, are very underrated.

The manager was former Detroit Tigers shortstop Donie Bush, who’d played with Ty Cobb in a couple of World Series’. He had what was, for the mid-1920s, a fairly typical National League team. They hit for good average, had a lot of doubles and triples, but few home runs. Part of the reason the team had lots of doubles and triples and few home runs had to do with Forbes Field, their home park. It was 360 feet to left, 376 feet to right, and 442 feet to dead center. The alley between left and center went all the way to 462 feet. That meant, no matter the power, hitters were going to lose a lot of home runs, but gap power could produce doubles and triples. The Pirates led the NL in runs, hits, batting average, and OBP. They were second in slugging, OPS, total bases, triples, and batter strikeouts while showing third in doubles. The pitching staff wasn’t as good. They were fifth in ERA, fourth in strikeouts and home runs (much of that attributed to the park), third in runs and walks, and second in hits.

Joe Harris, George Grantham, Glenn Wright, and Pie Traynor were the infield (first to third). Harris hit .326 with 27 doubles, nine triples, no power (2.8 WAR–BBREF version), but had World Series experience in 1925 for the Senators (against the Pirates). Grantham hit .305 with eight home runs, good for third on the team. His WAR was 3.5. Wright was a good hitting shortstop. He hit .281 and his nine home runs tied for the team lead. His 105 RBIs were third on the Pirates, as were his 96 runs. Hall of Fame third baseman Pie Traynor hit .342 with 106 RBIs (3.9 WAR) and was considered the premier fielding third sacker of the era. It was, in other words, a good infield, but lacked either a Gehrig or Lazzeri. Hal Rhyne’s .274 and 17 RBIs were high among backup infielders who played 15 or more games. Two future stars, Hall of Famer Joe Cronin and shortstop Dick Bartell also played in a handful of games for the ’27 Pirates (one for Bartell, 12 for Cronin).

Despite having three Hall of Famers in it, the outfield was a problem for the Bucs. Paul Waner held down right field. His triple slash line read .380/.437/.549/..986 with an OPS+ of 154 (highest on the team) and a team leading 6.9 WAR. He had nine home runs, 18 triples, 42 doubles, 237 hits, 131 RBIs, and 342 total bases. All led the team and all those big numbers helped give him the NL League Award (an early version of the MVP) for 1927. His little brother Lloyd Waner patrolled center field. He was a good defensive outfielder who led off. He hit .355, scored a team high 133 runs, had 223 hits, 198 of them singles. His 14 stolen bases was second on the team. Hazen “Kiki” Cuyler was supposed to be the normal left fielder. He played 85 games, hit .309, had a team leading 20 stolen bases, and missed the entire World Series. He and manager Bush didn’t like each other (to be kind about it). There are differing stories about what happened between them, but Bush was so upset at Cuyler by Series time that he benched Cuyler for the entire World Series. Clyde Barnhart replaced him for the Series and for a lot of the season. Barnhart hit .319 but had neither power nor Cuyler’s speed. Backup outfielder Frank Brickell played in 32 games but had only 23 at bats. He hit .286. Adam Comorosky also got into 18 games, but batted 68 times. He hit all of .230.

Catching duties were split among three men: Johnny Gooch, Earl Smith, and Roy Spencer. None had 300 at bats, but Gooch had the most. He hit .258 with 17 doubles, and 48 RBIs, while Smith had five home runs, hit .270, and put up a .722 OPS. Spencer hit. 283 in 92 at bats.

They caught a staff that was decent, but today is mostly forgotten. Lee Meadows, Carmen Hill, Vic Aldridge, and Ray Kremer were the only men to start double figure games. All were right-handed and Hill and Aldridge gave up more hits than they had innings pitched. Hill was 22-11 with a 3.24 ERA (4.7 WAR) and a 1.224 WHIP. Meadows was 19-10 with an ERA of 3.40 (4.6 WAR), and a 1.273 WHIP. Kremer’s ERA was 2.47 with a 19-8 record (6.5 WAR, good for second on the team to Paul Waner) and a WHIP of 1.143. Aldridge went 15-10, had an ERA of 4.25 (0.0 WAR–try doing that very often) and a WHIP of 1.345. Only four other men pitched in double figure games. Johnny Morrison had three saves, Johnny Miljus had an ERA of 1.90, and Mike Cvengros was the only lefty. The lack of a  lefty would hurt them in the Series.

Pittsburgh had a good, a solid team in 1927. They won the National League pennant by a game and a half (over St. Louis), but they were clearly outclassed by the Yankees. They were big underdogs in the Series.

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4 Responses to “Beat Down: the 1927 Pirates”

  1. wkkortas Says:

    I was fortunate to see a game at Forbes Field; they actually stored the batting cage in center field, because who was going to hit a ball out there?

    • glen715 Says:

      WK, my grandfather from Ambridge went to Forbes Field sometimes. As the owner of a store in Ambridge, he got constant promotional perks. One of them was tickets to a playoff game at Three Rivers Stadium in 1970. Grandpa didn’t go because he heard that the seats at the new stadium were too high up, and he preferred to just stay home and watch it on TV. I don’t think he ever went to Three Rivers Stadium.

      By the way, speaking of Johnny Gooch, get a load of this song.

      Glen

  2. glen715 Says:

    Johnny Gooch…… John Wockenfuss……… Van Lingle Mungo…..

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