Remembering the oft-forgotten 1928 World Series between the Yankees and Cardinals

WikiCommons

Because why should 1964 get all the love this week?

The Yankees and Cardinals are facing off this week in a matchup of baseball's two most successful franchises, and since this year is the 50th anniversary of their last World Series meeting, much ado has been made about the 1964 World Series. It was the end of an era for the Yankees, as they descended to a decade of disappointing baseball under CBS ownership afterward, but it was the beginning of one for the Cardinals, who went to the Fall Classic three times in five years from 1964-68, winning two titles and falling one game short of a third.

Unsurprisingly though, 1964 was far from the only time these two great franchises have ever clashed in the World Series. They also met up in '26, '28, '42, and '43, and while the Cardinals have won three of the five matchups, their all-time head-to-head record in World Series play is 15-13 in favor of the Yankees. My favorite of the five series is the 1928 World Series, which is strangely somewhat overlooked in franchise history. Like the '62 and '99 squads, the '28 team had the difficult task of following up one of the greatest teams in the entire history of baseball, let alone Yankees history. Again like the aforementioned groups though, the '28 group succeeded and then some.

Since there were numerous holdovers from the record-setting "Murderers' Row" team from '27, the stars of '28 should be quite familiar. Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig were still fully in form as the best #3/#4 combinations to ever appear in the same starting lineup, and they both played in every one of the Yankees' 154 games. The "Sultan of Swat" led baseball in several offensive categories, posting truly ridiculous numbers: .323/.463/.709 with 54 homers, 380 total bases, 137 walks, a 206 OPS+, and 10.1 rWAR. Gehrig didn't homer quite as much as he did in his breakout '27, but it would be hard to find anyone to complain with these numbers: .374/.467/.648 with 47 doubles (best in the league), 13 triples, 27 homers, 364 total bases, a 193 OPS+, and 9.4 rWAR (second to Ruth). They were truly phenomenal, and they would become the obvious stars of this World Series.

Beyond the two legends, the lineup was dominant, featuring tremendous seasons from Tony Lazzeri (145 OPS+), Bob Meusel (45 doubles), and Earle Combs (a league-best 21 triples), just to name a few. The offense led the league in each triple slash category, notching a .295/.365/.450 line with a 115 team OPS+. People often forget the pitching on this team, too, but their top three starters were superb. George Pipgras led the league with 300 2/3 innings pitched while finishing with a 112 ERA+ and 3.21 FIP. Hall of Famers Waite Hoyt and Herb Pennock were as reliable as ever, as Hoyt threw 273 innings of 113 ERA+ ball, and Pennock led the league with five shutouts, ended with a 149 ERA+ and a 3.10 FIP, and finished fourth in the league in rWAR with 5.8. The staff's 3.74 ERA was the second-best mark in the league. The group romped to 101 victories with just 53 losses and managed to beat out Connie Mack's rising Philadelphia Athletics for the AL pennant by 2.5 games. They spent only one day out of first place after the beginning of May.

The team they faced in their third straight Fall Classic was a familiar one. Two years prior, the Cardinals surprised them by winning a seven-game classic in '26, capped by Hall of Famer Grover Cleveland Alexander's legendary three-inning relief effort in Game 7 the day after pitching a complete game victory just to force the winner-take-all contest. Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby was gone, but the Cardinals were a potent squad. First baseman Jim Bottomley won the NL MVP by hitting .325/.402/.628 with 42 doubles, 20 triples, 31 homers, and a Ruthian 362 total bases. Hall of Famer Frankie Frisch hit .300/.374/.441, and outfielders Chick Hafey and George Harper both finished with an OPS+ over 140. The Yankees had an advantage at the plate, but the Cardinals were a better team on the mound in '28--they pitched to a 3.38 ERA, ace Bill Sherdel had a 141 ERA+ and 5.5 rWAR, Hall of Famer Jesse Haines notched a 127 ERA+ in 240 1/3 innings, and even the 41-year-old Alexander ("Ol' Pete") was remarkable with numbers nearly identical to Haines, seven years his junior. They won a tight pennant race with the New York Giants and the Chicago Cubs, ending the season with an 18-10 September that led to a 95-59 record.

Although these Cardinals were no pushovers and could probably have given countless other World Series winners a run for their money, they proved to be no match for the '28 Yankees. In the Game 1 opener at Yankee Stadium on October 4th, Ruth and Gehrig set the tone for the series by smacking back-to-back doubles off Sherdel to give the Yankees a 1-0 lead. Three innings later, Ruth led off the fourth with another double to center field, and Meusel crushed a two-run homer to right field, providing Hoyt with a 3-0 margin. Although Bottomley added a solo homer of his own in the seventh, "Schoolboy" Hoyt was dominant, allowing just three hits in a complete game victory. (The final was 4-1 because Gehrig and Ruth decided to add another run in the ninth on consecutive hits, just because they could.)

The second game began with some slugging, as Gehrig launched a three-run bomb to right field against the veteran Alexander in the first inning. Undaunted, the Cardinals rebounded with three runs of their own against Pipgras, aided by a Lazzeri error with runners on first and third and no one out. The Yankees wasted no time in regaining the lead in the second thanks to an RBI single by Cedric Durst. The game was never a tie again, as the lineup chased Alexander from the game in a four-run third inning and Pipgras went all the way in a 9-3 triumph.

The Yankees would carry a 2-0 lead to Sportsman's Park in St. Louis, where they had so often thumped the hapless AL St. Louis Browns. This pattern would continue as the Yankees dominated the last two games by a pair of 7-3 margins. The Cardinals briefly led when Bottomley lined a two-run triple to center off Tom Zachary (starting in place of the injured Pennock), but Gehrig led the charge back against Haines with a solo homer over the right field fence in the second and a two-run inside-the-park job to deep center that scored Ruth (who had singled), and gave the Yankees a 3-2 lead. Andy High hit an RBI double in the fifth to tie it up, but the Yankees notched three runs in the sixth, highlighted by Meusel's steal of home, to re-take the lead. Ruth added an RBI single in the seventh, and Zachary matched his rotationmates by also completing what he started.

The Cardinals now trailed 3-0 in the series, and though the Cardinals took an early 1-0 lead in the finale, Ruth made it his personal mission to end any hopes of a comeback. The Bambino slugged three homers in a row off Sherdel and Alexander, tying his own record for homers in a single World Series game, previously set in Game 4 of the '26 World Series, also against the Cardinals. Gehrig and Durst added dingers of their own, but Ruth was of course the star. No relievers were needed in this series, as Hoyt again went all the way, inducing a fly ball to left from Frisch to end it in the ninth. Incredibly, the Yankees needed just three pitchers for the entire series, and Hoyt pitched to a 1.50 ERA in his two complete games. Even crazier: check out Ruth and Gehrig's numbers for the four-game sweep:

1B Lou Gehrig, .545/.706/1.727, 6-for-11, 2B, 4 HR, 6 BB, 2.433 OPS
RF Babe Ruth, .625/.647/1.375, 10-for-16, 3 2B. 3 HR, BB, 2.022 OPS

Insane. Ruth was reportedly playing on a bad ankle, too. Had the World Series MVP existed back then, they would have had to give it to both of them. At last, the Yankees had avenged their '26 World Series loss, and for the first time in franchise history, they had won back-to-back World Series titles. They even matched the "Murderers' Row" sweep of the Pirates in '27, becoming the first team to ever sweep consecutive World Series.

Blowouts can be boring, but when they're blowouts that star two of the greatest hitters to ever play this game and one homered three times in a single game, who other than Cardinals fans wouldn't wish that it was possible to go back and stare in awe at these amazing feats?

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