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The Yankees Champions Series: 1928

The 1928 Yankees often get grouped in with the “Murderer’s Row” team from the year before, but they had to overcome quite a bit of adversity to get their second consecutive championship.

Miller Huggins Contemplative

Despite being the biggest legend on the most successful franchise in baseball history, Babe Ruth “only” won four World Series championships before leaving the Yankees. Of them, two of them, 1927 and 1932, are renowned for being years that are in the running for the best in franchise history. A third, 1923, is historic for being the first in Yankees’ history.

The last of the four is 1928. For as much as a World Series championship year can go under the radar (which is not much in the grand scheme of things), 1928 isn’t talked about as much. Yet, for ways good and sad, it is another remarkable one in the remarkable history of the Yankees.

Regular Season Record: 101-53

Manager: Miller Huggins

Top Hitter by WAR: Babe Ruth (10.2)

Top Pitcher by WAR: Herb Pennock (5.9)

World Series: Yankees sweep St. Louis Cardinals, 4-0

Coming off their historic 1927 season, the Yankees got off to a hot start the following year. A win to wrap up April took them to 10-3 and gave them the solo lead in the AL for the first time that season.

Over the next two moths, they built up that lead even more by going 40-13 over May and June. By the time June was over, they led the AL by 11.5 games, and were on pace for 116 wins, which would top their historic ‘27 season by several games.

However, after an eight-game win streak that concluded on July 21st, things started to go the other direction. Over their next 45 games, the Yankees went just 22-24, and lost all of that lead, falling behind the Philadelphia Athletics on September 8th.

A main reason for the sudden drop had a lot to do with struggles in the pitching department. Herb Pennock, who as mentioned above led the team in pitching WAR, didn’t appear in any game after August 12th, after which it was said “he couldn’t raise his arm to comb his hair.” The issues went beyond him too.

Wilcy Moore struggled after being one of the Yankees’ best pitchers in 1927. Urban Shocker likewise was excellent the season before, but pitched just two innings all year. He had held out most of spring training, and wasn’t 100 percent ready to go upon ending his holdout, having experienced a massive weight loss. The Yankees ended up releasing him in July. It turned out there was probably something very wrong with his health, as Shocker died of pneumonia that September.

The loss of those three meant that in the latter half of the year, the Yankees’ pitching was just barely being held together by Waite Hoyt, George Pipgras, and August addition Tom Zachary.

Thankfully, the Yankees’ offense was still the Yankees’ offense. Ruth and Lou Gehrig both had excellent seasons, appearing in all 154 games. With the Yankees now in a battle for the pennant, those two and the rest of the Yankees’ offense averaged 6.6 runs per game after the Yankees dropped into second place.

Over the final 19 games of the regular season, they went 13-6, including crucially taking three of four over the team that had passed them, the Athletics. Philadelphia, who featured a young Jimmie Foxx and an aging but still good Ty Cobb, pushed “Murderer’s Row” hard, but that final stretch was enough for the Yankees to survive. Their 101 was enough to get past the A’s by 2.5 games.

In the World Series, they were set to face off against the NL champion Cardinals. St. Louis had taken the NL pennant by two games over the Giants. Their story followed a semi-similar pattern as the Yankees as they needed a good September to hold opponents off after leading by as many as 6.5 games earlier in the year.

The Yankees’ late season swoon had people thinking that maybe their best was behind them. Before the series, Hall of Fame pitcher Walter Johnson predicted that the Cardinals would “make short work” of the Yankees. That did not come to pass.

In Game 1 of the World Series, Gehrig got the Yankees on the board in the first inning with a double that scored Ruth, they added a couple more later on and eventually won 4-1. The next day in Game 2, the offense put up eight runs over the first three inning, running away with a 9-3 win.

The series shifted to St. Louis after that and the games got much closer after that. The Yankees still managed to prevail, thanks to some timely hits from their vaunted lineup. In Game 3, the game was tied at three after five inning before the Yankees broke it open with a three-run sixth inning. Gehrig led the way that day, going 2-2 with two home runs and two walks.

In Game 4, the Cardinals led 2-1 going into the top of the seventh, when the Yankees’ big names came through once again, though not without some controversy. Ruth came up in the seventh to face Cardinals’ starter Bill Sherdel. After Sherdel got a second strike on him, Ruth turned to argue the call. Sherdel then quickly got the ball back and attempted to “quick pitch” Ruth, a move that was still legal in the National League at that time. It would’ve been strike three, but the umpire ruled it a “no pitch,” keeping Ruth alive.

Ruth took advantage by hitting a home run. Gehrig followed that with another homer as the Yankees eventually scored four runs in the inning. They tacked on two more runs in the eighth, including one via another Ruth home run, his third of the day. The Cardinals got one run back, but that was far from enough. The Yankees eventually won 7-3, sweeping the series for their second consecutive and third ever championship.

The Yankees did all that despite using only three pitchers in the entire World Series. The aforementioned trio of Hoyt, Pipgras, and Zachary pitched all 36 innings in the series for the Yankees, with Hoyt going two of the four games. At the plate, Ruth and Gehrig led the way in the series, hitting .625/.647/1.375 and .545/.706/1.727 respectively.

In some ways, the 1928 World Series is also a bittersweet one in Yankees’ history. As mentioned, Shocker, a Yankees’ teammate from 1925-28, died in September. However, it would also be the last championship for manager Miller Huggins. Less than year after leading the ‘28 Yankees to a title, Huggins died at just 50 years old.

While not as remembered as other Yankees’ championships, the 1928 teams went on a hell of a ride to get there.