If you look through Yankees’ seasons past and search for World Series near misses, a couple jump out. In 1955, they lost in seven games after getting shutout by 23-year-old Johnny Podres to give the Dodgers their only championship in Brooklyn. In 1960, they lost in Game Seven on a walk-off home run, despite outscoring the Pirates 55-27 in the series. Most of you probably remember 2001.
One year that does not get mentioned alongside the rest is 1922. That’s for good reason. The Yankees were technically swept in 1922. (More on why they were “technically” swept in a minute.) However, the final 4-0 line blows things out of proportion just a tad bit.
A year after getting hurt and missing a decent chunk of the prior year’s World Series, Babe Ruth was healthy and led the Yankees to another AL pennant. They were once again matched up against the Giants, and the entire series was to take place at the Polo Grounds.
In Game One, the Yankees struck first, scoring a run in the top of the sixth, and added a second the following inning. Starting pitcher Bullet Joe Bush allowed just four hits and a walk in his first six innings, before escaping a bases loaded jam in the seventh.
Bush came back out for the eighth, but allowed four straight singles, the last of which tied the game. Waite Hoyt came in and got three straight outs, but one of them was a sacrifice fly to give the Giants the lead.
The Yankees put the tying run on base in the top of the ninth, but Bob Meusel lined into a double play immediately. The Yankees dropped Game One by one lone run.
In Game Two, Bob Shawkey allowed three runs on three hits in the first inning to give the Giants the perfect start. The Yankees then slowly but surely clawed that back and tied the game in the eighth inning. Shawkey stayed in the game despite the early struggles, and had allowed no other runners in the normal nine innings following a lead-off single in the sixth.
The game went into extra innings after the Yankees stranded two runners in the bottom of the ninth. Shawkey allowed a single in the tenth, but kept the Giants off the board again. The Yankees then couldn’t win the game in the bottom of the inning.
It was 1922, and instead of playing on, the umpires ruled the game a tie. It was the third (and final) tied game in World Series history. It seems especially odd now, but it was controversial even at the time. It was said to still be light out, and reportedly players wanted to call it off so they could get an extra game out of the series and increase their pay. Instead, the gate money from Game Two was given to charity, so the plan backfired.
Agreeing to cut Game Two short also seems like a shortsighted move from a winning perspective for the Yankees. The Giants hadn’t gotten a runner into scoring position since the fifth inning, while the Yankees had five hits over that same stretch. Even if the Giants did score, the Yankees would have last ups anyway.
In Game Three, Hoyt and Sad Sam Jones combined to hold the Giants to just three runs. However, the Yankees themselves mustered just four hits, with Ruth going 0-3 with a HBP.
The following day, the Yankees got out on the front foot, picking up two runs in the first inning. Starting pitcher Carl Mays allowed a runner every inning, but for the first four, managed to keep the Giants off the board. That blew up in the fifth, as Mays allowed five hits with the Giants plating four runs.
Again, the Yankees had last ups and had five innings with which to make up two runs. Aaron Ward hit a home run to get the Yankees within one. In the eighth inning, the Yankees got a runner in scoring position, but would strand him after Ruth hit a pop fly to end the inning.
Wally Pipp then led off the ninth with a double. With the tying run again in scoring position, Pipp then immediately ran himself out of that getting into a rundown. Even worse, Bob Meusel, whose grounder led to the rundown, couldn’t even move up a base. Wally Schang then singled, which would have surely scored Pipp as Meusel managed to go all the way to third. Ward, who had gotten the Yankees within one to begin with, then flew out to end the game.
Despite having had a decent shot to win all but one of the first four games, the Yankees were down 3-0 and on the verge of elimination in Game Five. They again struck first, with Pipp picking up an RBI single in the first.
Game Five starter Bush surrendered that lead in the bottom of the second, but the Yankees would take a 3-2 lead in the seventh inning. From innings two to seven, Bush had allowed just two hits and a walk, but like others before him in the series, things came crashing down.
After getting the first out, Bush allowed a single and a double to put two Giants in scoring position. Irish Meusel grounded into a fielder’s choice out at home to get the Yankees within an out of escaping the jam. Yet singles by High Pockets Kelly and Lee King then put the Giants up 5-3 and put the Yankees three outs from elimination.
If one Yankee could get on, Ward, who was the Yankees’ best hitter in the series, was due up third and would get a shot to be the tying run. Instead, all three hitters including Ward flew out to end the game and series. The Yankees were “swept” 4-0 in five games.
The most notable thing to come out of the series was Ruth’s performance. He went just 2-17 in the series, by far his worst postseason hitting performance. (He went 0-1 and 0-5 in his first two World Series’ efforts, but he was still a pitcher back then.) His .426 OPS in the 1922 World Series is lower than his overall career on base percentage.
All would turn out fine, as the Yankees won their first championship the following year, and many more after that. Despite the fact that it ended up being a sweep, the Yankees were arguably quite close to winning their first title in 1922.
Burk, Robert Fredrick. Much More than a Game: Players, Owners, & American Baseball since 1921. Univ. of North Carolina Press, 2001.