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Fun with OOTP: 1998 battles 1927 for title of greatest-ever Yankees team

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They’re two of the greatest squads in franchise history, but only one will walk away with our All-Time Fantasy Showdown crown

Earle Combs, Bob Meusel, Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth

For six weeks, the greatest Yankees teams in franchise history have battled it out amongst each other in our All-Time Yankees Fantasy Showdown, but two teams in particular seemed destined to face off for the ultimate crown.

The 1927 “Murderers’ Row” Yankees were, for decades, and perhaps still are, the gold standard for team excellence. They went 110-44 in the regular season, then danced past the Pittsburgh Pirates for a 4-0 World Series sweep. In the history of baseball, there have been only 59 players to accumulate 10.0 bWAR or more in a season, and only once has a single team featured two such players: the 1927 Yankees with Babe Ruth (12.5) and Lou Gehrig (11.8). And Ruth and Gehrig weren’t isolated stars: the ‘27 Yanks featured four other Hall of Famers in Earle Combs, Tony Lazzeri, Waite Hoyt and Herb Pennock.

In the modern era, the 1998 Yankees were the epitome of consistency and professionalism. While lacking the awesome firepower found at the top of 1927’s roster (Derek Jeter led the ’98 squad with 7.5 bWAR), 1998 was deep and balanced – greater than the sum of its parts. They won a then-AL record 114 games before rampaging through the playoffs and sweeping the San Diego Padres for the organization’s 24th World Series crown.

Now, using Out of the Park Baseball 21 as we’ve done all tournament long, we can pit these two great teams against each other and determine which reigns supreme in franchise history.

On their journey to this point, 1927 narrowly survived an upset scare from Wild Card winner 1926 in the first round, ultimately winning in seven. They then bested 1951 (4-2), 1958 (4-3), and 1953 (4-1).

The 1998 team topped 1976 (4-2), 1943 (4-3), 1937 (4-1), then triumphed over 2009 in an epic seven-game contest to reach the finals.

Because both teams are No. 1 seeds, home field advantage was determined by regular season winning percentage. That means 1927 (.714) gets the nod over 1998 (.704).

To the games:

(1) 1927 vs. (1) 1998

Game One featured a starting pitcher matchup of George Pipgras (’27) vs. David Cone (’98). Both tossed one-two-three innings in the opening frame, but the scoring would soon get under way.

Leading off the top of the second, Paul O’Neill doubled to center, then came around to score on Jorge Posada’s own two-bagger. A Tino Martinez RBI single chased Posada home and ’98 were out of the gates quickly with a pair of runs.

It didn’t take ’27 long to respond, however, as designated hitter Bob Meusel followed a leadoff walk by Lou Gehrig with a two-run homer to right to tie the game. Meusel added a solo shot in the fourth to give his team a one-run lead, which lasted until Posada clubbed a 496-foot solo bomb to center to knot the game once again.

The game’s decisive moments came in the bottom of the eighth, when Tony Lazzeri knocked in Ben Paschal with a single off reliever Jeff Nelson, then scored on an Earle Combs double to give ’27 a 5-3 lead. Reliever Wilcy Moore came on in the ninth to close out the save and give “Murderers’ Row” a series-opening win.

Game Two was a closely contested affair featuring excellent starts from Waite Hoyt and David Wells. Each surrendered just a single run (Hoyt in seven innings, Wells in six) but ’27 edged ahead in the seventh off a run-scoring double by Paschal. Ninety-eight rallied back for a run in the ninth, though. Bernie Williams led off the frame with a walk off Wilcy Moore, then advanced to third on an O’Neill single. Martinez’s sac fly to center chased Williams home and breathed life into ’98.

Unfortunately, a gut punch was waiting for them in the bottom of the ninth. Shortstop Mark Koenig took Mariano Rivera’s first pitch of the series and deposited it 437 feet away over the right-center field fence. Twenty-seven won 3-2 and grabbed a 2-0 series lead.

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Perhaps ’98 would fare better as the home team, and the early returns in Game Three seemed to indicate they would. They touched up ’27 starter Herb Pennock for a run in the second before Derek Jeter unloaded a solo shot to left in the third.

Meanwhile, ’98 starter “El Duque” Orlando Hernandez shut down 1927’s fearsome lineup over the first four innings. The two teams traded lone runs in the fifth, but ’27 tied the game with a pair of runs in the sixth off “El Duque.” Hernandez, still on the mound in the seventh, then surrendered a solo shot to third baseman Joe Dugan to give 1927 the lead, which they added to in the eighth with an Earle Combs solo homer off reliever Darren Holmes. The 5-3 score held and ’27 found themselves holding a commanding 3-0 series lead.

Already facing elimination in Game Four, it seemed like 1998 would need a miracle to come back. And in starter Andy Pettitte they … definitely didn’t get one. Pettitte got rocked right out of the gate, giving up four first inning runs and recording just one out before he got pulled for reliever Ramiro Mendoza. Thankfully, Mendoza and the bullpen would stanch the bleeding and hold ’27 scoreless for the next six innings. Meanwhile, 1998’s offense clawed back a pair of runs in the bottom of the first to keep the contest close.

But their grip on the game slipped further in the top of the seventh, with Lou Gehrig taking southpaw Mike Stanton deep for a two-run shot.

In the eighth, the wheels fell off completely. Hideki Irabu entered in relief of Stanton and gave up the following sequence: walk to Dugan, flyout of Paschal, walk to Lazzeri, flyout of Combs, walk to Ruth, walk to Gehrig (run), single to Meusel (two runs). Irabu was lifted and Mike Buddie came on.

To 1998’s great, and almost comical, misfortune, Buddie’s arsenal consisted of a crate of oily rags, a few gallons of gas and a Bic lighter. He gave up an RBI single to Pat Collins, an RBI single to Mark Koenig, a three-run triple to Dugan, and an RBI single to Paschal. Buddie was done, allowing six runs to score and retiring no one (except, perhaps, himself).

It was an eight-run eighth and gave “Murderers’ Row” a 14-2 lead. That was all she wrote. The 1998 Yanks, for all their true real-life greatness, were blitzed in this fantasy showdown by an indomitable 1927 team. Bob Meusel, who batted .412 with two homers and nine RBI, was named series MVP.

And so “Murderers’ Row” lifts the All-Time Yankees crown. Long live the kings.

1927 wins 4-0.

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