Following the Yankees’ 1928 championship, the team went through a bit of a lull. It’s hard to call seasons where the win total only goes into the 80s and 90s bad years, but compared to the prolific seasons surrounding them it wouldn’t be entirely inaccurate either. Manager Miller Huggins passed away in 1929, and was replaced by Bob Shawkey for the 1930 season. Shawkey didn’t deliver, however, and the team pivoted to a man who would end up as one of the most iconic managers in franchise history: Joe McCarthy.
McCarthy came over after five seasons with the Chicago Cubs, where he won a pennant. His first season managing in New York saw immediate improvement, but the Yanks were still on the outside looking in — they were a distant second place to the Philadelphia Athletics. In year two, the Yankees went all the way.
Regular Season Record: 107-47-2
Manager: Joe McCarthy
Top hitter by rWAR: Babe Ruth (8.5)
Top pitcher by rWAR: Red Ruffing (6.6)
World Series result: Yankees sweep Chicago Cubs, 4-0
The 1932 season was in some ways a transition and a farewell title. As mentioned, the Yankees had a new skipper running the ship now, but they also had a drastically revamped rotation from their 1928 team. George Pipgras and Herb Pennock threw a significant amount of innings, but they were part of the supporting cast built around three new names: Lefty Gomez, Red Ruffing, and Johnny Allen. Allen was a promising rookie that ended up contributing a successful debut, but Gomez and Ruffing were the building blocks of an era.
Ruffing was, objectively speaking, a bust in Boston. He compiled a 39-86 record with a 4.61 ERA in seven seasons with the Red Sox, and in his final two full seasons there he led the league in earned runs. In May 1930 Boston had seen enough from Ruffing, and traded him to New York for Cedric Durst alongside $50,000 (for comparison’s sake, Ruth reportedly had an $80,000 salary that year). Durst would go on to play 102 games for Boston that year before retiring with a career -2.3 rWAR. Ruffing would develop into a Hall of Famer in New York.
Ruffing’s success as a Yankee was immediate — he went 15-5 with a 4.14 ERA in the remainder of that 1930 season — and by the time 1932 rolled around he was firmly established near the head of the rotation. At the top was Gomez, who had pitched his first full season just a year prior. The 23-year-old was already a headliner though, after pitching to a 21-9 record with a 2.67 ERA, and the duo formed an iconic 1-2 combo that the Yankees to this point in their history had never possessed. Gomez’s 1932 season wasn’t one of his best, but he still produced — he went 24-7 with a 4.21 ERA, striking out 176 batters in 265.1 innings.
The pitching had undergone a transformation, but the offense was the same classic group, headlined by Ruth and Lou Gehrig. While Gehrig was still in his prime, this was the beginning of the end for the mighty Babe Ruth. His season numbers were still phenomenal, consisting of a .341/.489/.661 slash line with 41 home runs and 137 RBI, but for the first time in seven years Ruth did not lead the league in homers. Saying he was only one of the best players in the world instead of the absolute best player in the world seems like a small distinction, but at 37 years old, Ruth’s days running the league were numbered. He would end up playing just two more seasons with the Yankees after 1932, before unceremoniously getting the boot and briefly playing for the Boston Braves before retiring.
So while the team had acquired new faces that showed the promise of propelling them back into title contention, they had to make it back to the top quickly if they wanted to get their franchise icon another ring. And get to the top quickly they did, as the Yankees sprinted through the season without looking back. The team lost double-digit games in a month only once, when they went 20-14 in July and promptly followed up with a blazing-hot 24-5 August.
On May 20th, the Yankees took a half game lead in the standings. They would not relinquish it for the rest of the year, spending nearly the entirety of August and September up by double-digits. They were utterly dominant, evidenced by the fact that they were never shutout in a single game the entire year — the first team to ever accomplish that feat, and one of only three to do it to this day (and one of the three are the 2020 Dodgers). The third-place Washington Senators were the only team that managed to even stay competitive against them head-to-head, splitting the season series 11-11, while the other six teams were completely outmatched.
The regular season was largely unremarkable for a team that dominated their competition this thoroughly. There is one moment, however, that is worth highlighting. On May 30th, the Yankees held a ceremony for the recently-deceased Huggins, erecting a monument for him in center field. Huggins’ monument was the first of any kind in Yankee Stadium, and would be the beginning of a culmination of legends that formed the modern-day Monument Park.
The Yankees’ dominance of the American League earned them a spot back in the Fall Classic, and McCarthy would get a chance at his first ring going up against his former ballclub, the Cubs. Chicago had made it back to the World Series for the second time in four years, but they were nowhere near as strong of a contender as their 1929 pennant-winning iteration.
The legendary Rogers Hornsby was the NL MVP in 1929, but he had transitioned from full-time player to player-manager in 1930, and by 1932 he was almost exclusively suiting up as a manager. Hack Wilson, who had 39 homers and 159 RBI for the ‘29 Cubs, had joined the Dodgers this year, and the 34-year-old Riggs Stephenson was left as the strongest offensive threat despite putting up just an .826 OPS. They did have a solid rotation, led by breakout star Lon Warneke and his 2.37 ERA, but without the offensive firepower to match the juggernaut Yankee lineup, the Cubs were facing a monumental task.
In Game 1, the Cubs surprised the baseball world by jumping out to a 2-0 lead in the top of the first off of Ruffing. Three of the first four batters reached on singles, and an error from center fielder Earle Combs allowed the Cubs to hang a crooked number. Unfortunately for the underdogs, the Yankees took full advantage of Cubs starter Guy Bush issuing five walks in 5.1 innings. New York took the lead in the third inning with a three-spot, blew the game open in the sixth with a five-run outburst, and put it away with another four runs combined in the seventh and eighth for good measure. Ruffing was able to get through a complete game, despite the poor start and allowing another four runs near the end.
The Cubs once again got on the board in the top of the first to start Game 2, scratching a run across off of Gomez thanks to another error — this time by shortstop Frankie Crosetti. The Yankees immediately responded with two in the bottom frame, and took the lead for good with a pair of runs in the third inning. Gomez was methodical despite surrendering nine hits, scattering the Cubs’ scoring opportunities and preventing them from ever getting back into the game.
The Yankees had enough of seeing the Cubs get on the board first, and broke open Game 3 with three runs in the first inning. Chicago starter Charlie Root got in trouble immediately, thanks to his shortstop booting a ball before walking Joe Sewell. That brought up Ruth, who blasted Root’s offering to right-center for a three-run shot. This homer was usurped in the history books by another Ruth shot, which came in the fifth inning, despite being a larger contribution to the eventual victory.
Ruth stepped up to the plate with the game knotted at four, and Cubs fans were letting Ruth hear it. After taking a first pitch strike, Ruth apparently made a gesture with his arm, but it was unclear whether he was pointing towards the pitcher, the crowd, or the Cubs dugout.
The incident happened again on strike two, and then Ruth took Root’s third pitch deep to center field. The infamous called shot, which is still debated over whether Ruth was intentionally calling his shot or not, put the Yankees on top — and one pitch later Gehrig would chase Root from the game with a blast of his own that put the Yankees up for good. The Cubs’ best shot so far at winning a game went south, and now the Yankees were a game away from the title.
The Cubs were clearly outmatched, but you have to give them credit for fighting to the end. They opened Game 4 with another strong first inning, scoring four runs off of Allen and chasing him from the game. Wilcy Moore entered the game in relief and shut the door on the Cubs’ hopes of expanding their lead, however. Moore held the Cubs to a single unearned run in 5.1 innings, while the Yankee offense slowly worked through the depleted Cubs’ pitching staff. They finally broke the game open with a four-run outburst in the seventh inning, and by the time they recorded the final out to close out their fourth World Series title the game had become a 13-6 drubbing.
The 1932 season stands at a crossroads in Yankees history. On one hand, it’s the beginning of a new era of Yankee baseball ushering in franchise greats like McCarthy, Ruffing, and Gomez. On the other, it’s a part of the final chapter of Babe Ruth’s iconic career. The winning ways had successfully been passed onto a new generation of Yankees, and it was up to the Iron Horse to be the veteran legend that others looked towards instead of the Great Bambino.