Welcome to The Yankees Champions Series. The holiday season is just around the corner and the New Year not far beyond. That being said, MLB is mired in a lockout, and there was minimal movement on the Yankees’ front before the shutdown. So in the meantime let’s dig into the history books. These posts will highlight each of the Yankees’ 27 World Series titles, and the paths that led to the team’s journey to the top. Hope you enjoy this trip down memory lane with us!
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The Yankees Champions Series: 1923
We begin our dive into the annals of Yankees history with the World Series title that started it all. The Bombers entered the 1923 season fresh off back-to-back World Series losses to their landlords the New York Giants. Prior to the start of the regular season, owners Tillinghast L’Hommedieu Huston and Jacob Ruppert, determined for a field of their own after sharing the Polo Grounds with the Giants for the previous ten seasons, commissioned the massive undertaking of a brand new Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. The decision was not without considerable risk, as many questioned whether New York City could sustain three professional baseball teams. As we now know, the construction of “The House that Ruth Built” — so dubbed by Fred Lieb of the New York Evening Telegram — was a resounding success and foreshadowed the greatness that would follow.
Regular season record: 98-54
Manager: Miller Huggins
Top hitter by rWAR: Babe Ruth (14.2)
Top pitcher by rWAR: Herb Pennock (6.1)
World Series result: Yankees defeat New York Giants, 4-2
The regular season opened Wednesday, April 18, 1923 in grand fashion, with the Yankees welcoming their newly-rivaled Boston Red Sox for the coronation of the new stadium. Announcers reported that almost 100,000 people showed up to the stadium, with 25,000 turned away, although team president Ed Barrow admitted that figure was inflated from a probable 60,000. At any rate, the previous attendance record of 42,000 for Game 5 of the 1916 World Series was shattered as fans crammed into three tiers — the only stadium of its kind in North America.
Of course, most if not all were there to catch a glimpse of Babe Ruth — acquired three years prior from the opposing Red Sox for $100,000 and a $350,000 loan from Ruppert to Red Sox owner Harry Frazee — and he did not disappoint. As only he could, Ruth christened the new stadium with a three-run home run into the right field seats in the third inning. The Yankees would go on to win the game 4-1, though play was halted momentarily with two outs in the ninth as fans swarmed the field to congratulate the club.
The team, bolstered by the success of their momentous Opening Day, got off to a roaring start through the first two months of the season. They went 29-10 through the end of May, rattling off winning streaks of nine and six games in the process while outscoring opponents 222 runs to 131.
However, for as hot as their start may have been, fortunes turned in an instant as the calendar flipped from May to June. The wins dried up with the Yankees going 3-9 over their next 12. Their lead in the AL shrunk as low as two games up on the Philadelphia Athletics, though that was as close as any team would get to them for the rest of the season.
This brief skid seemed to be a wake-up call for the New York outfit, and they responded by rattling off 21 wins over their next 25 games. That momentum continued through the rest of the regular season, with the team never losing more that three games in a row in the remaining 76 games en route to winning their third straight pennant.
The story of the 1923 regular season was Ruth. It is regarded by many as the greatest single season in MLB history. His .393 batting average still stands as the highest season batting average in Yankee history. He clubbed 41 home runs, scored 151 runs, and drove in 131 while playing in all 152 games. All of this amounts to a 231 wRC+ — the fifth-highest single season total ever — and 15 fWAR, still the highest mark of all time.
These historic feats culminated in Ruth winning the lone MVP award of his career. For those wondering how the 54 home run campaign of 1920 and 59 home run campaign of 1921 didn’t merit an MVP award, well, none existed at the time. From 1911 to 1914, the Chalmer Award — sponsored by Chalmers Automobiles in an attempt to boost recognition — was awarded to the best player in each league. After an eight-year hiatus with no award, both leagues instituted their own MVP in 1922. However, AL rules stipulated that a player became ineligible for consideration after winning their first MVP, which is how Ruth’s record-setting 60 home run campaign of 1927 went unrecognized.
The other notable development of the 1923 regular season saw Lou Gehrig make his Yankees debut on June 15th, when he replaced Wally Pipp for an inning at first base. He logged his first major league at-bat three days later, striking out in the ninth inning against the Tigers. Gehrig however was not chosen for the World Series roster, and in a less-than-cordial manner.
Rules at the time stated that players called up late in the season required permission from the Commissioner and the opposing manager for postseason eligibility. Kenesaw Mountain Landis granted Gehrig permission to play in the World Series, but Giants manager John McGraw declined. McGraw was no stranger to Gehrig, as the Yankees rookie had tried out for the Giants in 1921. Upon seeing a grounder roll through Gehrig’s legs, McGraw declared, “Get this fellow out of here! I’ve got enough lousy players without another one showing up.” And thus Gehrig would eventually wind up with the Yankees, although it took him until 1925 to replace Wally Pipp as the regular starter at first.
That brings us to the World Series at hand, which saw the Yankees take on the NL pennant-winning Giants for the third straight World Series, with the Giants having won the previous two encounters. The series was notable in that it departed from the 2-3-2 format of the previous two World Series, in which all seven games were played at the Polo Grounds, but with the designation of home team and away team changing. Instead, the home team alternated, with each game switching between the Polo Grounds and the newly-built Yankee Stadium.
Game 1 was a back-and-forth affair, with the Yankees grabbing an early three-run lead before the Giants knocked future Hall of Famer Waite Hoyt from the contest with a four-run third. The Yankees tied it up in the seventh, but future manager Casey Stengel knocked the go-ahead solo shot in the ninth off Bullet Joe Bush to win, 5-4.
The Yankees tied up the series in Game 2. Babe Ruth bashed two of his three home runs of the series — solo shots in the fourth and fifth. Future Hall of Famer Herb Pennock pitched a complete game for the Bombers, giving up two runs in the 4-2 victory.
Game 3 was a pitchers’ duel between Giants lefty Art Nehf and Yankees righty Sad Sam Jones. Nehf pitched a six-hit complete game shutout while Jones went eight innings, giving up the game’s lone run in the second — another game-winning solo shot from Casey Stengel.
The Yankees once again tied up the series in Game 4. The game was decided early via a six-run outburst in the second. The decisive blow was a Bob Meusel triple that scored Joe Dugan and Ruth to give the Yankees a six-run lead. They would go on to win the game 8-4.
Game 5 was the only blowout of the series, and like the previous game, it was pretty much decided in the second inning. Meusel once again scored Dugan and Ruth on a triple, this one coming in the bottom of the first. Dugan provided the coup de grâce an inning later — an inside-the-park three-run home run. By the time the Giants had recorded the sixth out, the Yankees owned a 7-1 lead, which Bush would preserve pitching a three-hit complete game to win 8-1 and give the Yankees their first lead of the series, putting them one win away from their first world championship.
That win came in stunning fashion in Game 6 at the Polo Grounds. Aside from a Ruth solo shot in the first, the Yankees offense couldn’t get anything going, while the Giants scored a run in each of the first, fourth, fifth, and sixth innings. In the bottom of the eighth, the Bombers loaded the bases before Nehf walked in a run. He was replaced by Rosy Ryan who promptly walked in another run to cut the Yankees’ deficit to 4-3. After a Ruth strikeout, up stepped Meusel who, like he had in Games Four and Five, came through in the clutch, knocking a bases-clearing single to center to give the Yankees a 6-4 lead that they would not relinquish.
And that’s how the Yankees won the first of their 27 World Series. Ruth batted .368/.556/1.000 with eight walks, three home runs, and three RBI while Meusel finished at .269/.269/.462 with eight RBI. Though Ruth finished with the better stat line, I imagine Meusel would’ve given him a run for his money at World Series MVP had it existed. Thus, an empire was born.