The 1927 Yankees swept the Pittsburgh Pirates in four games. The 1928 team was one of the greatest Yankee teams for several reasons: In a time when they only played 154 games in a season, the team won 101 games. The team also consisted of eight future Hall of Fame members including manager Miller Huggins. The 1928 Yankees swept the St. Louis Cardinals in four games.
The World Series in 1927 could stand on its own as a fantastic accomplishment winning their second championship and their first-ever sweep, but actually it was more about the players that made this team so significant. The 1928 team featured many star players, but none more than Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Ruth hit 54 home runs on the year. During this time the Yankees were known as Murderers’ Row because of the power of its lineup. Babe married his second wife, Claire Hodgson on April 17. The following day, the Yankees, with numbers on the back of their uniforms for the first time, opened the season against the Red Sox. Babe, wearing his new #3, whacked a first-inning home run to left field and doffed his cap to Claire as he rounded the bases. On August 11 in Cleveland, Ruth hit the 500th home run of his career.
At the end of the 29 season future Hall of Fame manager Miller Huggins passed away and Ruth applied for the job but was never seriously considered for the job. By the end of June 1930, Ruth was ahead of his 60-homer pace of 1927, but injuries slowed him down and he finished with 49. In 1931, at age 36, Ruth had one of his finest seasons. He hit .373/.495/.700, with 46 home runs, 162 RBIs, 128 walks, and 149 runs scored. The Yankees swept the Chicago Cubs in the 1932 World Series, giving them wins in 12 straight World Series games.
For the previous few years, Ruth’s hard living and injuries were catching up with him. In 1934, due to his declining health and stats, Yankee’s owner Ruppert gave Ruth a pay cut of 50%., Ruth excepted knowing his 20-year career was coming to an end. On July 13 against the Detroit Tigers, Ruth would hit his 700th home run. Ruth is the only major leaguer to pitch in at least 10 seasons and have a winning record in all of them. Ruth had winning records in 10 seasons: 1914-1921, 1930 and 1933. Andy Pettitte now holds the record at 13 seasons (1995-2007). Ruth concluded he was finished, even as a part-time player. As early as May 12, he asked Yankee owner Fuchs to let him retire, Ruth retired on June 2 after an argument with Fuchs.
The second huge star on the team was the future Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig. Gehrig had a monster Series. In the four games, he hit .545 with four home runs (two of them, one which was an inside-the-park homer, in Game 3) and nine RBIs. Despite these remarkable numbers, Gehrig was still in the Babe’s shadow. Ruth hit .625, which at the time was the highest average in a World Series. He also hit three home runs in Game 4, thus stealing the spotlight once again from his friend and teammate.
Manager Huggins would die, and a month later the stock market crashed, and the nation soon fell into the Great Depression. After a decade of glitz, glamour, and overindulgence, an era exemplified by Babe Ruth, the country was entering hard times, and it needed a new kind of baseball hero, one who was solid, dependable and dignified. They would find that hero, in Lou Gehrig.
While Babe Ruth was in decline, Gehrig flourished and was named Captain of the Yankees in 1935. After one season as the undisputed star of the Yankees, he was upstaged by Joe DiMaggio, the 21-year-old phenom of the Pacific Coast League was already something of a celebrity even before he arrived in New York. Gehrig found himself playing second fiddle to a rookie; a marvelous rookie, but still a rookie.
On May 31, 1938, he was set to play in his 2,000th consecutive game. But his wife, Eleanor, who saw him every morning and evening, became worried about the toll that the streak appeared to be taking on his body. She suggested that her husband skip the game. He played but as the summer progressed, Gehrig began to break down. His power was down and his hitting was down. Despite an entire season of struggles, Gehrig still put up respectable numbers in 1938, hitting .295 with 29 home runs and 114 RBIs.
With his game streak and playing though his injuries, Lou got the nickname “the Iron Horse”. Yankee fans were watching their idol, for the first time sit out of games. With his condition continuing to worsen, Eleanor contacted the famed Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. A team of doctors headed by Charles William Mayo himself reviewed Gehrig’s case. After six days of intensive testing, the doctors diagnosed Gehrig with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The cruelest part of ALS is that while it ravages the body, it leaves the mind unaffected.
On June 21, 1939, the Yankees announced Gehrig’s retirement and that July 4 would be “Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day,” a day to celebrate the life and career of their ailing hero. Almost 42,000 fans turned out for the ceremony, including Yankee notables like Babe Ruth, Willie Pipp, Earl Combs, Tony Lazzeri, and others including Mayor Fiorello La Guardia. After a series of speeches, Gehrig took the mike and would make one of the most famous speeches in baseball history.
The weak Gehrig started out “Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break. Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.” The end had come. Gehrig never played another game. His career was over. His final statistics were among the best ever. A .340 batting average, 493 home runs, 1,995 RBIs, 534 doubles, 163 triples, and a .632 slugging percentage. A comprehensive list of Gehrig’s accomplishments as a ballplayer could fill an encyclopedia. On June 2, 1941, at 10:10 p.m., 16 years to the day after he replaced Wally Pipp at first base, Henry Louis Gehrig died at his home in the Fieldstone section of the Bronx, New York.
Other Hall of Famers on the 1928 team were Waite Hoyt the pitcher that won two of the four series games. This Hall of Fame pitcher, pitched for 21 years, 10 of which were with the Yankees. While with the Yankees, he had stats that would be near impossible to reach in the present state of the game. He had 70 complete games while being both a starter and a reliever. He was 157-98 with the Yankees and had six seasons with over 17 wins, and with 29 saves. Again, I say these stats are incredible for a pitcher that was both a starter and a reliever. Another unusual stat is that in the other eleven years of his career he would have only 3 other years in his career that would be winning years. After leaving the Yankees in 1930, Waite Hoyt would never really regain the pitching form he had with the Yankees.
The team also featured Hall of Famer Earle Combs. The summer of 1924 would be his rookie season with the Yankees. Combs would play center field at the still relatively new Yankee Stadium. He would be one of the team’s most successful hitters with a batting average of .400. In 1925, Earle would be an MVP candidate and would hit .342 for the team. In 1927, he would lead the team in games played. He would also lead the team with an incredible 231 hits, 23 of them triples while hitting .356. In 1928 he would again lead the league in triples, hitting 21 of them while batting .310 and being named an MVP nominee.
Another Hall of Famer on the team was Stan Coveleski, who had a 5-1 pitching record that year. Another was catcher Bill Dickey an eleven-time All-Star and a nine-time MVP candidate. Tony Lazzeri was a Hall of Fame second baseman for that Yankee team. Lazzeri was often overshadowed by the bigger stars on the team, but on any other team, he would have been its leading star. He hit 134 hits and batted .334 for the team.
To round off the future Hall of Fame players on that team was pitcher Herb Pennock who didn’t pitch all that well that year, but with the Yankees, for eleven years he would pitch to a record of 162-90 having eight seasons with over 16 wins, two of them 20 plus winning seasons.
The Yankees have had many great teams and World Series wins over the years, but few teams would ever match up the to 1928 Yankee team. With so many Hall of Famers and Yankee legends on one team, the Yankees 1928 team will forever be in the Yankee lore.
EmpireSportsMedia.com columnist William Parlee is a member of the Society for American Baseball Research. Follow me on Twitter @parleewilliam