The year 2021 marks exactly 100 since 1921, which was a fairly important year in Yankees’ history. In 1921, the Yankees won their first ever AL pennant and played in the World Series for the first time.
They had come close in the years right after the franchise moved to New York, finishing second in 1904, 1906 and 1910, when they were still called the Highlanders. They became a doormat in the years after that, only starting to show signs of turning it around in 1918. Then in December 1919, they acquired Babe Ruth and immediately turned into a contender. In 1920, they finished third, just three games back of the pennant-winning Indians. They were tied for first as late as September 16th. They went 8-5 after that point, but fell short of two teams that played better down the stretch.
The following year, the Yankees finally broke through and won the American League for the first time. This time, they were the team that caught fire in the final games of the season and advanced to the World Series out of a tight AL race. They fell to the Giants when they got there, as would be the case in 1922 as well. Ruth and company finally got the job done in ‘23, beating the Giants to avenge their losses and win the franchise’s first ever championship.
While you probably can’t name the whole roster from the 1923 teams, the big names live on in lore. The offense was led by Ruth, Bob Meusel, and others, with a very young Lou Gehrig making himself known. The pitching had Hall of Famer Waite Hoyt, along with Herb Pennock and Bob Shawkey, who were both also very good.
However, if you go back to the 1921 and ‘22 teams, there are some very important players on those teams that weren’t still around when the Yankees finally got over the hump. There are four who played five or more seasons with the Yankees, won a pennant with them, but then left before 1923 (with a bonus fifth who had two stints with the team). These are the “Nearly Men” of the first Yankees’ dynasty. Let’s remember them.
Peckinpaugh is considered the best defensive shortstop of his era. He was also a decent hitter for the position, and was also renowned for his leadership skills. That was evidenced by him being named interim manager and taking charge of the Yankees in 1914. Even more remarkable is that, A.) that was only a little more than a year after they had acquired him in a trade with Cleveland and B.) he was 23-years old.
He was a steadying presence for the team for many years, but two things happened in 1921. He struggled pretty badly in the World Series, with even his defense letting him down. Several Yankees, including Ruth, tried to go above Miller Huggins’ head to get Peckinpaugh installed as manager. The team decided to nip that in the bud, and traded their shortstop to Boston. They got back three players, Bullet Joe Bush, Sad Sam Jones, and Everett Scott, who were all regulars on the ‘23 team, with Scott directly replacing him.
Of anyone on this list, things turned out the best for Peckinpaugh. The Red Sox traded him not long after acquiring him. He ended up with the Washington Senators, and won a World Series in ‘24 and an MVP in ‘25. (Although it should be noted that was the era when you could only win MVP once in your career, so he wasn’t exactly the best player in the AL.)
Peckinpaugh had a pretty decent post-Yankees career, but he could’ve won much more with them.
Home Run Baker
Despite now having fewer home runs than Brian Roberts, Home Run Baker was one of the most prolific dinger hitters of his era. He led the league every year from 1911-14. It’s just that those leading totals were 11, 10, 12 and 9, paltry totals compared to what people like Ruth would do just a few years later.
After a contract dispute that led to him sitting out the entire 1915 season, Baker was sold to the Yankees ahead of ‘16. He was one of the team’s best players from 1916-19. However, his wife passed away of scarlet fever, leading to him sitting out the 1920 season. Baker returned for the ‘21 and ‘22 seasons, but the rust from sitting out and his age dropped to him to a league average hitter as opposed to a great one. He retired after playing in just one game in the 1922 World Series.
Baker had already won three World Series with the Athletics, but an unfortunate set of circumstances kept him from at least one more.
Chick Fewster and Elmer Miller
These two are being grouped together because they were both dealt away in the same July 1922 trade.
Miller, an outfielder, had played 12 games with the Cardinals three years earlier when the Yankees purchased him in 1915. He played four seasons, mostly coming off the bench, before spending the 1919-20 seasons in the minors. The Yankees kept him in the organization and brought him back after an excellent 1920 season. He then turned in his best season, and ended up playing every game in the 1921 World Series.
Miller Huggins said “I have never seen a greater prospect” of Fewster, but unfourtunate circumstances led him from reaching his potential. Coming off a good 1919, he seemed poised to become a regular for the Yankees in 1920. However, he was hit in the head by a pitch in a spring training game, suffering a concussion and fractured skull. Fewster returned, but played just 21 games that season. The next year, he hit a go ahead home run in the crucial Game 6 of the ‘21 World Series, but the Yankees eventually lost the game and the series.
However, Fewster and Miller both started off the 1922 season struggling. In July, the Yankees included them in a trade with Boston that landed them Joe Dugan and Elmer Smith. Smith became a decent bench bat on the ‘23 Yankees, while Dugan became their regular third baseman on the Yankees’ first three World Series championship teams.
Miller didn’t play in the majors again after 1922, while Fewster hung around in the majors through 1927, but never reached his potential.
Quinn was also part of the Peckinpaugh trade, but he gets his own section due to the weirdness of his career.
The Highlanders first acquired him in 1908, and gave him his major league debut the next year. He started off his major league career with two good seasons, but fell off after that and was traded away in 1912. Quinn then bounced around after that, spending two seasons in the attempt at a third major league, the Federal League.
Quinn was playing in the Pacific Coast League when the league suspended operations due to the war in 1918. He signed with the White Sox for the rest of the season. However, his PCL team had sold his rights to the Yankees. After the season, he was awarded to New York, giving him a second stint in New York. He spent three pretty good seasons there, but was included in the aforementioned trade after a poor performance in the World Series.
Quinn eventually won two World Series titles with the Athletics in 1929-30. He played through the 1933 season, with his final game coming after his 50th birthday.
In another universe, all five of these players possibly have a role in the Yankees’ dynasty. On the other hand, all except Baker were traded away for someone that helped those initial championship teams. Either way, they were all agonizingly close to being part of Yankees’ lore.