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The Yankees and the cursed 1921 World Series

The Yankees came close to winning their first World Series in 1921. Then seemingly everything went wrong.

Chicago White Sox v New York Yankees Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

In 1921, the Yankees made their first ever appearance in a World Series. Before all the World Series wins and AL pennants that they’re known for now, they were the upstarts taking on the New York Giants.

Led by Babe Ruth, in what was one of the best seasons in a career full of incredible seasons, the Yankees won 98 games, and won the American League by 4.5 games. The Giants won the National League by a similar margin to set up an all-New York World Series. Both teams were playing at the Polo Grounds at the time, which made this one of just three times the World Series was played exclusively at one stadium.

The series started well, as the Yankees took the first two games, shutting out the Giants in both. The Yankees allowed a combined seven hits as they opened up a 2-0 lead in the best of nine series.

The Giants struck back with a 13-5 win in Game Three, and a 4-2 win in Game Four, evening up the series.

Near the end of the regular season, the Yankees had hosted the second-place Cleveland Indians in a crucial series. The Yankees had taken two of three to increase their lead from one game to two, and ended up winning four of their last five after that to clinch the World Series berth. However, in that Cleveland series, Ruth had incurred a gash on his elbow, which worsened by the day and eventually became infected.

Following Game Three, Ruth had to get his elbow drained, and was told to sit out the fourth game. He ignored those orders and played. He continued to disregard the doctors after that, also taking part in Game Five.

Ruth reached on a bunt single in his second at-bat in the fourth inning. He then came all the way around from first to score on a Bob Meusel double. It would be the run that gave the Yankees the lead for good, putting them up 3-2 in the series.

However, upon reaching the dugout, Ruth passed out due to the infection and the run he just scored scored. It was 1921, so he stayed in the game, but that would be costly, as he would not start a game for the remainder of the series.

The Giants evened the series back up in Game Six. The Yankees had a 3-0 lead after the first inning, and a 5-3 lead after the second, but blew both, as the Giants won 8-5. The Yankees put at least one runner on in five of the remaining seven innings, but couldn’t stage a comeback themselves.

In the next game, the Yankees scored just one run, as the Giants won 2-1. It was another blown lead, as they scored in the second inning, only to lose the lead and strand several runners over the course of the rest of the game.

Despite having 2-0 and 3-2 leads in the series, the Yankees were now facing elimination in Game Eight.

It was a reversal of fortunes, as the Giants scored in the first inning to take the lead. In the bottom of the first, the Yankees stranded a pair of runners on second and third with one out. That would be a bit of a theme. They left the bases loaded in the fourth, and in total, the Yankees left seven on base through eight innings.

Down to their last three outs, Babe Ruth appeared in the series for the first time since Game Five, leading off the inning as a pinch hitter. Considering this isn’t some famous moment in Yankees’ lore, I think you can assume what happened. Ruth grounded out.

The Yankees did then put the tying run on when Aaron Ward drew a walk. That brought Home Run Baker to the plate.

Baker was nearing the end of what would be a Hall of Fame career. He had sat out the entire previous season after his wife had died of scarlet fever. Baker came back for the 1921 season, but towards the end of the year, he lost his starting third base job to Mike McNally. However, with the season on the line, Baker got the start.

Like Ruth leading off the inning, if this had gone well, it would have gone down as a legendary Yankee moment. Instead, he grounded out. Cruelly for Baker, it’s listed that he grounded into a World Series-ending double play, but that’s not exactly fair.

Ward, who must have thought the ball had gotten through for a hit, attempted to go to third. It obviously had not gotten through for a hit and he was thrown out to end the game. The Giants won the game and the World Series.

In some other universe, the Yankees don’t end up becoming the most successful team in baseball history, and never win a World Series. This series goes down in history as the closest they ever got, and “What would have happened if Ruth hadn’t gotten hurt?” becomes a major talking point.

Instead, the Yankees just have to settle for 27 championships.