Most fans know the Yankees have over the years produced the greatest dynasty in Major League Baseball. Ask most of them when it began and they’ll probably give you 1927. The ’27 Yankees are legendary and were a truly great team. But the dynasty actually started in the early 1920s. Between 1921 and 1923 inclusive, the Yankees took on the crosstown rival Giants in the first three “Subway Series.” This is a look at the third of those.
Manager Miller Huggins had a team that went 98-54 winning the pennant by 16 games (over Detroit). They finished first in slugging and home runs, second in triples and OPS, and were third in four categories: runs, hits, average, and OBP. They also lead the American League in total bases. Despite being known as a hitting team, the pitching was equally good. New York led the AL in ERA, hits, runs, and strikeouts. They were third in both shutouts and walks.
The underrated staff consisted of five men who started double figure games. The one lefty was Hall of Famer Herb Pennock. He went 19-6 with an ERA of 3.13, with a 1.271 WHIP and 5.9 WAR. The WAR was first among pitchers and second on the team. Waite Hoyt was 23 and also a Hall of Famer. He went 17-9 with a 3.02 ERA, more walks than strikeouts, and 4.0 WAR. The “ace” was Bullet Joe Bush who won 19 games in a team leading 30 starts. He led the team with 125 strikeouts and produced 5.5 WAR. Bob Shawkey and Sam Jones rounded out the starters. Between them they won 37 games with Jones leading the team with 21. His ERA was 3.63 and he had walked one more than he struck out. The bullpen’s leading man was Carl Mays, three years removed from the pitch that killed. His ERA was a monstrous 6.20 but he was the only other man to appear in more than eight games.
Wally Schang, Fred Hofmann, and Benny Bengough did the catching. Schang was the main starter. He hit .276 with no power. He was almost dead on the league average in throwing out base runners. Hofmann was the main backup. He hit better than Schang, but wasn’t considered as good on defense or in handling pitchers. Bengough, who’d become part of the Murderers Row Yankees of the later 1920’s was in only 19 games.
The infield was good, but not great. From first around to third the normal starters were Wally Pipp, Aaron Ward, Everett Scott, and Jumpin’ Joe Dugan (Dugan would still be around for the late 1920s). Pipp hit over .300, Scott less than .250. Ward had 10 home runs, good for second on the team, and Pipp was second on the team with 109 RBIs. Ward’s 4.4 WAR was second on the team among hitters. Mike McNally was the only backup infielder who got into 30 or more games. He hit .211 with no power. There was a 20 year old first baseman named Lou Gehrig who got into 13 games, hit .423 with a homer and eight RBIs. He’d later replace Pipp.
The outfield had two good players and it had Babe Ruth. Bob Meusel and Whitey Witt were the good players. Between the they had 15 home runs, while Meusel’s 91 RBIs were third on the team. His 15 stolen bases were second on the team (and you’ll never guess who was first). He had what was considered the finest throwing arm in either league and tended to play the long field (in Yankee Stadium that was left field) while Ruth took the short corner outfield spot (in Yankee Stadium that put him in right). Witt was the center fielder. His WAR was 3.1, Meusel’s was 1.7. Behind them stood Harvey Hendrick and Elmer Smith.
Then there was the Babe. He hit .393, led the team in stolen bases with 17 (told you that you’d never guess), had 41 home runs, 130 RBIs, 45 doubles, 205 hits, 399 total bases, and 170 walks. All but the doubles and average led the league (the doubles were third, the average was second). All that got him the 1923 League Award, the 1920s version of the modern MVP. His OPS+ was 239, second highest of his career, his WAR was a career high 14.1.
The Yanks were two-time defending AL champions and two-time losers in the World Series. In 1923 they would try to remedy the latter. In their way stood their two-time conquerors, the Giants.