By the time the 1932 season rolled around, the Yankees had established themselves as the toast of the league. Thanks to the prodigious contributions of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and the rest of Murderers’ Row, the New York outfit won the 1923, 1927, and 1928 World Series. With this newfound expectation of success, four years must have felt like an eternity without another title, so the team loaded up on even more talent to get back to their winning ways.
One of those acquisitions was Red Ruffing, a rather unassuming pitcher from the Red Sox. Little did they know the critical role he would play on arguably the greatest season by a team in MLB history — the 1932 Yankees.
1932 Statistics: 35 games (29 starts), 259 innings, 18-7, 3.09 ERA, 132 ERA+, 3.50 FIP, 1.290 WHIP, 3.8 fWAR, 6.6 bWAR
Born Charles Herbert Ruffing on May 3, 1905, the fact that Red Ruffing had a professional career was something of a miracle. He lost four toes on his left foot when it was crushed between two coal mine carts at age 15. The injury robbed the youngster of his speed, but at the suggestion of a local manager took up pitching to continue his dream of becoming a professional ballplayer. Apparently, the loss of four toes did not affect his landing leg enough to disrupt his delivery, and the rest is history,
Ruffing was far from an instant success, with the righty pitcher logging just over six uninspiring seasons with the Red Sox to start his big league career. He had already made 260 appearances (193 starts) before his age-27 season rolled around, going 70-115 with a 4.52 ERA in 1557 innings, leading the league multiple times in losses and earned runs surrendered. And though his fortunes would not immediately change upon his 1930 trade from Boston to the Yankees, it marked the transition in his career from an unremarkable pitcher to future Hall of Famer.
Yankees manager Miller Huggins had had his eyes on Ruffing for a while, who after the somewhat difficult start to his career was considering a move to the outfield. Huggins fell ill and sadly passed away in late 1929, but successor Bob Shawkey convinced Ruffing to remain a pitcher, eventually taking advantage of Boston’s financial problems to trade for Ruffing in exchange for outfielder Cedric Durst, $50,000, and a $50,000 loan from Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert.
Upon Ruffing joining the team, Shawkey, a successful former pitcher in his own right, taught his new player to engage his lower-half more when pitching to help save his arm for the later innings, and this proved the turning point in Ruffing’s career.
Under the helm of new skipper Joe McCarthy, Ruffing was named Opening Day starter in 1931 and missed out on the same honor to rotation mate Lefty Gomez in 1932, but was awarded the save after recording the final out of the game. His first start of the season came three days later against the Philadelphia Athletics, a close affair that ended in a 9-8 victory for Philly and a no-decision for Ruffing.
The Yankees got their first taste of just how good Ruffing would be when he logged back-to-back complete games against Detroit and Cleveland, the latter a shutout striking out 12 batters. He continued through the first half of the season usually able to go the distance, and even making multi-inning relief appearances in between starts. He saved his two most impressive feats for the dog days of summer.
The first saw him pitch a 15-inning complete game against the Red Sox in a tense extra-innings affair that ended with the Yankees as 4-3 winners. The second saw him toss a 10-inning, complete-game shutout over the Washington Senators, when he also smacked the game-winning solo home run in the tenth. In doing so, he became the first pitcher in MLB history to win a game 1-0 while hitting a home run and striking out at least 10 batters. Early Wynn, Yovani Gallardo, and Noah Syndergaard have since joined him as pitchers to match the feat.
By the end of the regular season, Ruffing had made 29 starts and 6 relief appearances. His 3.09 ERA was second in the American League to A’s legend Lefty Grove and his 2.84 ERA. He also led the AL with 190 strikeouts — the most by a Yankees starter in the live-ball era to that point.
With the help of his contributions, the Yankees won their first pennant since 1928, finishing 107-47, 13 games ahead of the Athletics. The historic team became the first to avoid being shut out for an entire season, joined only by the 2000 Reds (and the Dodgers in 2020, though that was obviously less impressive). It also featured a record nine Hall of Famers that still stands to this day. Thus was the backdrop as the Yankees prepared for a World Series matchup against the Cubs.
Chicago was really no match for the Yankees. Ruffing started Game 1, tossing a complete game, allowing six runs (three earned) against 10 strikeouts as the Yankees would go on to win, 12-6. It would be a harbinger of the rest of the series, with New York sweeping the Cubs in a series that featured the famous called shot by Babe Ruth in the fifth inning of Game 3 at Wrigley Field.
This season and World Series would serve as a launching point for the rest of Ruffing’s Yankees career. Between 1933 and 1946, Ruffing was the seventh-most valuable pitcher in the AL (33.4 fWAR), going 182-98 in 307 starts, with a 3.37 ERA and 1,087 strikeouts in 2,475 innings. He would garner six All-Star nods along the way, winning a further five rings with the team en route to enshrinement in the Hall of Fame in 1967 on his 15th and final time on the ballot.