Few teams in the history of Major League Baseball are held in higher prestige than the amazing 1927 New York Yankees. The club often founds itself atop lists of the greatest teams to ever play the game, and it is difficult to fault these judgments.Through '27, the Yankees were merely a good franchise, having only really emerged as an American League power in the previous several years. Financed by brewery master Col. Jacob Ruppert and managed by Hall of Fame manager Miller Huggins with the assistance of GM architect Ed Barrow, they won their first few AL pennants in '21-'23 and the previous season, '26, but they only had one World Series championship to show for their efforts. The overwhelming success of the '27 team was arguably the first instance of the Yankees running roughshod over their foes and earning the fear factor that has stayed with them through today. The team's propensity to rally late in the games, which were normally played in the afternoon, led to the catchphrase "Five o'clock lightning."
Fans of opposing teams groaned when the Yankees came to town because it meant that their beloved squad was not likely to get many wins. The '27 Yankees went wire-to-wire, never spending a day out of first place and jumping out to a 10-game lead by June 28th. They finished the season 110-44, a .714 winning percentage, and the 110 triumphs broke the AL record of 105 set by the 1912 Boston Red Sox. It would be 27 years before another AL team surpassed this total. The 98th victory of the season came on September 13, 1927, and with it, the Yankees assured themselves their fifth AL pennant in seven years.
The legendary offense known as "Murderer's Row" featured four future Hall of Famers in second baseman Tony Lazzeri, center fielder Earle Combs, and of course, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. They scored 975 runs, set a then-record with 158 homers (107 from Ruth and Gehrig alone), and as a team hit .307/.384/.488. Ruth broke his own major league record from '21 of 59 homers with a nice, round 60. Incredibly, no other AL team even hit 60 homers on the season. Gehrig stayed close with him all year long until Ruth's 17 in September allowed him to pull away, but he hit .373/.474/.765 with a league-leading 52 doubles, 175 RBI, and 447 total bases. Perhaps most impressive about those 175 RBI was that since he regularly batted cleanup behind Ruth in the lineup (hence Ruth's number three and Gehrig's number four), he came up to bat 60 times after Ruth cleared the bases. His 47-homer year earned him AL MVP honors, and the 52 doubles stood as a Yankee record for 59 years (much longer than Ruth's home run mark).
Behind these two big bats, Combs flew under the radar by hitting .356, equal to the Bambino's batting average, and hitting a still-franchise-record 23 triples. His 231 hits were also a franchise record that stood for 59 years (incidentally, Don Mattingly broke both the single-season doubles and hits records in the same year, '86)..Lazzeri's 18 homers were actually third in the league behind Ruth and Gehrig. Stalwart outfielder Bob Meusel hit .337/.393/.510 with a 135 OPS+ himself. The pitching staff was very strong, led by Hall of Famer Waite Hoyt, a Brooklyn native who pitched to a 2.63 ERA and 148 ERA+ in an era when offense was rising. Herb Pennock, Urban Shocker, and Dutch Ruether followed him with strong seasons as well, as these top four starters combined for 850 innings and a 2.93 ERA, a tremendous achievement for the team's primary starters.
Perhaps the best pitcher on the '27 Yankees though was primary reliever Wilcy Moore. He was 29 years old and never pitched in the majors prior to the '27 season, but when Barrow discovered that in '26, the Oklahoman farmer pitched to a 30-4 record in the Sally League, he bought Moore for the paltry sum of $3,500. The deal turned out to be a ridiculously good bargain. Moore pitched 50 games, mostly out of the bullpen, although he started 12 games as well (completing six of them). He led the league with a 2.28 ERA and 171 ERA+ in 213 innings. Moore only pitched five more seasons in the majors, never again coming close to his '27 season. Nonetheless, it remains one of the finest years on the mound in Yankees history.
An underrated aspect of the team was its superlative health. They played the entire season with only 25 players. They were remarkably lucky to never have really dealt with many injuries, aside from a sore arm that moved expected starting catcher Benny Bengough to a backup role in favor of Pat Collins and Johnny Grabowski (Collins's bat also helped the lineup--his 116 OPS+ was better than both shortstop Mark Koenig and third baseman Joe Dugan). There were 10 pitchers and 15 position players, although pitcher Walter Beall was the ultimate troll, sneaking onto the roll call of this championship roster by throwing one inning in a rare loss on May 30th. Another pitcher named Don Miller might have done Beall one better by making it into the team picture despite never playing a game for them.
The '27 Yankees were a tremendous team, and they clinched the AL pennant 85 years ago today by sweeping a doubleheader from the Cleveland Indians. In the first game, Ruth hit his 51st homer of the season, a game-tying two-run blast in the seventh inning. Meusel followed with an infield single, then moved to third base on a Lazzeri double. "Long Bob" scored the go-ahead run on a squeeze play started by pinch-hitter Cedric Durst. Combs surprised Indians starter Willis Hudlin with just his fifth homer of the season to add insurance in the eighth. Thanks to some "Five o'clock lightning," the Yankees won 5-3.
The Yankees took the second game by the same score, in which Ruth again hit a homer in the same game as an unlikely teammate; this time it was the catcher Collins. A four-run fourth inning put New York in front for good, and starter Waite Hoyt won his 21st game. More than two weeks remained in the season after the win, but it did not matter. The Yankees now led the AL by 17 games over Connie Mack's Philadelphia Athletics. The pennant belonged to New York, and less than a month later, the Yankees completed a World Series sweep of the National League champion Pittsburgh Pirates for their second World Series title. The Yankees were the first AL team to sweep the NL in the Fall Classic, and it did not surprise anybody that this great team was able to do it.
Further sources: Appel, Marty. Pinstripe Empire: The New York Yankees from Before the Babe to After the Boss. New York: Bloomsbury, 2012.