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1923 Yankees Diary: World Series

Exactly 100 years ago today, the Yankees won the Fall Classic for the first of many times.

Portrait of 1923 New York Yankees

Throughout this year here at Pinstripe Alley, we’ve been commemorating 25 years since the 1998 New York Yankees by doing daily entries looking back at what that historic team had done on a given day.

However, 2023 also marks the anniversary of another notable Yankees’ team. One-hundred years ago, the 1923 Yankees made their mark by becoming the first team in franchise history to win a World Series title. In their honor, we’re going to do a monthly look back at what was happening for that year’s team, and today, it’s time for October, and specifically, the games that saw the franchise win their first ever championship.

1923 World Series: New York Yankees defeat New York Giants 4-2

Awaiting for the American League pennant-winning Yankees in 1923 was a familiar foe. The Yankees had similarly won the AL the two previous seasons, but in both instances they were defeated by the NL champion New York Giants in all-Polo Grounds showdowns. In the Yankees’ first ever Fall Classic in 1921, they played the Giants close, losing in eight games in the then best-of-nine series. However the previous year in 1922, they lost the series 4-0, with one game finishing in a tie, because 1922 baseball. However every game in that series went down to the wire, with the Giants’ margin of victory in their four wins being just seven runs combined.

The Yankees went into round three against the Giants with a slightly different lineup, with pitcher Herb Pennock — arguably the ace or at worst a 1B or 1C of the 1923 pitching staff — now in the fold. The Giants’ roster was fairly similar to the prior year, with only some minor changes.

With the two teams playing in the same city, hosting duties were traded off every other games, as opposed to the 2-3-2 format used today, or even a 2-2-1-1-1 that you see in other sports. As it happened, the Yankees had home-field advantage, hosting Game 1 at Yankee Stadium.

Having only moved into the new park that season, Game 1 marked the first of many World Series games played at “The House that Ruth Built.” While many good postseason memories would be made there eventually, things started on a sour note. Despite taking an early 3-0 lead, Yankees’ starter Waite Hoyt coughed up the lead, allowing four runs in the top of the third. While the Yankees’ offense evened things up on Joe Dugan’s RBI triple in seventh. A future familiar face ended up doing them in. Casey Stengel — set to become a Yankees legend in a couple decades — was their tormentor on this day, hitting a two-out inside-the-park home run in the ninth, providing the difference in a 5-4 Giants’ win.

Stengel Scores In The World Series, 1923
Future skipper Casey Stengel briefly breaks the Yankees’ hearts
Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty Images Studios/Getty Images

For Game 2, the series shifted over to the Polo Grounds, which until 1923 had been the Yankees’ home stadium and the site of the entire 1921 and ‘22 World Series matchups. While the Giants came in riding a high, the Yankees would seize back the vibes. The day belonged to Babe Ruth, who went 2-for-3 with two walks and two home runs, driving in half of the Yankees’ runs in a 4-2 win. On the pitching front, Pennock showed the worth of his acquisition, throwing a complete game, and escaping a couple jams as the Giants attempted some late rallies.

However once again, the Yankees couldn’t hold onto home field advantage. Once again, Stengel tortured them, with his seven inning home run — this one over the fence — driving home the only run in a 1-0 Giants win in Game 3. Pitcher Art Nehf — who had also impressed in the 1921 and ‘22 World Series — held the Yankees scoreless to put the Giants back in front in the series.

With the backs on the wall again, the Yankees came out firing in Game 4. A six-run second inning chased Giants’ starter Jack Scott out of the game after just three outs. Even pitcher Bob Shawkey pitched in with a sacrifice fly, as the Yankees put up five hits, a walk, and an error in the second. The lead ballooned up to 8-0 before the Giants showed some resistance in the eighth. The Giants picked up three runs off Shawkey in the eighth, and threatened even more before Miller Huggins decided to turn to Pennock. He allowed one more run, but eventually sealed the deal, tying the series at two.

As every Game 5 in a 2-2 series is, Game 5 of the 1923 World Series would be a crucial one. After dropping the first two games at home, the Yankees made sure they wouldn’t do that a third time. They came out firing, scoring seven runs over the first two innings, which included a three-run insider-the-park homer from Dugan. That gave pitcher Bullet Joe Bush plenty of room to work with, and he came through with a complete game, three-hit outing, giving the Yankees an 8-1 win and their first lead of the series.

Exactly 100 years ago today, the Yankees were one win away from a World Series title as they returned to the Polo Grounds for Game 6. There, they got off to the perfect start. Ruth hit a solo, two-out homer in the top of the first, giving the Yankees an early lead. However, the Giants struck back against Pennock in the bottom of the first, and then added runs in the fourth, fifth, and sixth to go up 4-1. Going into the top of the eighth, the Yankees were six outs away from having to deal with a winner takes all Game 7. That’s when a, perhaps, franchise-changing inning happened.

After the Giants’ Nehf got the first out of the inning, the bottom of the order got things going as the seven and eight hitters, Wally Schang and Everett Scott, both singled. With the pitcher’s spot due up, Huggins pinch-hit for Pennock and sent up Fred Hoffman. He kept the train moving, drawing a walk to load the bases.

At that point, for reasons I’m just going to assume boil down to “it was 1923,” Huggins sent up Bullet Joe Bush — a pitcher — up as a pinch-hitter. Bush was a decent hitter for a pitcher, but he went up for Whitey Whitt, who had hit leadoff for the Yankees that day. However, that gambit worked, as Bush drew a walk to plate a run. That chased Nehf from the game, as John McGraw went to Rosy Ryan. Despite presumably him being careful with Ruth on deck, Ryan couldn’t help but walk Dugan, scoring another run.

In what could’ve been a turning point in the series, Ryan actually won the battle against Ruth. He got the legend to strike out on four pitches. However, the Giants still had one more out to get to escape the inning, and the Yankees’ lineup was more than just one man. Bob Meusel came up with a hit that could go in the argument with the biggest one in franchise history, as he came up with a single. Two runs scored, before the bases were cleared when a Bill Cunningham error on the play allowed the Yankees to score a third. Suddenly, the Yankees had a 6-4 lead and were two innings away from a championship.

Babe Ruth Posing with Jacob Ruppert and Bob Meusel
Owner Jacob Ruppert flanked by Yankees Babe Ruth and Bob Meusel

Entrusted to get those last six outs was pitcher Sad Sam Jones. In the eighth, he went through the heart of the Giants’ order, working around a Ross Youngs single. In the ninth, he got George Kelly to pop up an induced a Frank Snyder groundout. Down to their last out, the Giants pinch-hit for the pitcher’s spot with Jack Bentley. Nominally a pitcher, Bentley had gone 3-for-4 at the plate in the series. However, Jones got him to hit a grounder to Aaron Ward at second, who threw over to Wally Pipp at first for the final out of the game and the series. The Yankees had avenged their losses from the previous two seasons and were World Series champions for the first time.

Considering that they had Ruth, soon would have a prime Lou Gehrig, and had a host of other talented players, the Yankees probably would’ve broken through eventually, even if they had lost in 1923. However, who knows? If they had lost a third-straight World Series, maybe they get tagged with “they can’t win the big one,” and find it harder to break through. Maybe not having that first initial dynasty doesn’t make them the preeminent team in baseball, and damages the chances they have all their future dynasties.

As Yankees’ fans, we tend to take pride in the Yankees having as many championships as they do. That all started exactly 100 years ago today.