It’s almost here. Four teams remain in our quest to crown the all-time Yankees champion and one is about to have its ticket punched to finals. In this edition, we have the legendary 1927 Yankees squaring off against relative upstarts, the 1953 Yankees featuring a precocious Mickey Mantle.
For the uninitiated, we’re using Out of the Park Baseball 21 to stage a simulated tournament between the Yankees’ best teams to see who reigns supreme. You can check out summaries of other Elite Eight action here and here.
Without further ado, let’s get into the action:
(1) 1927 vs. (2) 1953
On their journey to the Final Four, the 1927 “Murderers’ Row” Yankees twice faced off with some version of the Mickey Mantle Bombers. In the first round, the firm of Ruth and Gehrig were pushed to the limit by their close sibling, the 1926 team, winning that series 4-3. In the second round, they dispatched the 1951 Yanks (Mantle’s rookie season and Joe DiMaggio’s swan song) in six games. Then Mantle’s ’58 boys nearly clipped their wings, taking a 3-2 series advantage before ’27 came back to win it in seven.
Mantle would get one more shot to take down one of the tournament’s top seeds, with his 1953 squad, which bested 1962 in seven games in the first round, then eliminated Ruth and Gehrig’s 1928 team in six games before trouncing 1957 in five to reach the Final Four.
Now it should be said that while this version of Mantle — 21 years old and in his third season in the bigs — was great, he wasn’t yet fully developed. In 1953, he posted a team-best 5.8 bWAR and followed it up with 6.9 mark in ’54. But he truly tapped into his legendary potential in 1955 when he registered 9.5 bWAR and then topped 11.0 bWAR in each of the next two seasons. So the ’53 squad would need its supporting cast — Hank Bauer, Yogi Berra, Gene Woodling, an aging but still productive Phil Rizzuto, and Gil McDougald — to shoulder a large portion of the burden against the 1927 team.
Game One was a classic bend-but-don’t-break pitcher’s duel between ’27 starter George Pipgras and 1953’s Vic Raschi. Each hurler walked four batters but allowed only one run (Pipgras over five innings, Raschi over 5.2). Fifty-three struck first on back-to-back doubles by McDougald and Mantle to plate a run in the top of the fifth. “Murderers’ Row” responded in the bottom of the sixth, with Raschi uncorking a wild pitch with the bases loaded to allow Ruth to score.
The contest sat deadlocked at 1-1 until the bottom of the ninth. Tom Gorman was on in relief of Jim McDonald, hoping to guide 1953 into extra innings. Things started out promising for the righty, who induced a groundout from catcher Pat Collins before retiring shortstop Mark Koenig on a scorching liner to right. But then third baseman Joe Dugan singled through the shortstop hole and left fielder Ben Paschal walked. That brought designated hitter Bob Meusel to the plate with the game on the line. Meusel swung at the first pitch, dinking a single over first baseman Joe Collins’ head, bringing Dugan around to score the winner. Twenty-seven walked off with a 2-1 series-opening victory.
Game Two saw a bit more offense, but was another close contest. Lou Gehrig victimized ’53 starter Whitey Ford for a two-run homer in the first inning to get 1927 out of the gate quickly. Center fielder Earle Combs added a solo shot off Ford in the fifth and went 3-for-4 with a couple of RBI on the night. Fifty-three clawed back a couple of runs off ’27 starter Herb Pennock in the sixth inning, but ultimately fell short, dropping the game 5-3.
Babe Ruth starred in Game Three, ripping a run-scoring double to center in the first inning off Eddie Lopat, then blasting a two-run homer to left off the ’53 starter in the fifth inning to put his squad up by five. Waite Hoyt hurled six innings of two-run ball as ’27 won 6-3 to take a commanding 3-0 series lead.
1953’s backs were against the wall, but it was Mantle’s turn to explode in Game Four, clubbing a three-run homer to left off Dutch Ruether in the second inning to give his team an early 6-1 lead. The Mick went 2-for-5 on the night, driving in four, and his supporting cast was also superb. Rizzuto had three hits and scored a pair of runs, while McDougald had two knocks, three runs scored and two driven in. Fifty-three pounded their way to an 11-7 victory to keep hope alive.
And they kept up the pressure in the early going of Game Five, throttling ’27 starter George Pipgras for three runs in the bottom of the second, punctuated by a towering homer to left from the diminutive Rizzuto. “Murderers’ Row” responded immediately, however, ensuring that ’53 wouldn’t run away with the game and gain precious momentum. Earle Combs hit his third homer of the series, a two-run shot, in the top of the third off Vic Raschi to keep things close. And Babe Ruth joined the party in the fifth, taking Raschi deep with a 409-foot opposite field shot that gave ’27 the lead. They wouldn’t relinquish it. Combs added a two-run single in the sixth and 1927 cruised into the final with a 6-4 win.
Earle Combs, who hit .500 on the series with three homers and eight RBI, was named MVP.
Now Ruth, Gehrig and company will turn their attention to the scintillating match-up of two modern champions, 1998 and 2009, to find out who they’ll be playing for all-time Yankees crown. Stay tuned.