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Pinstripe Alley Top 100 Yankees: #50 Bob Meusel

The powerful right-handed outfielder was one of the members of the deadly “Murderers’ Row,” the lineup that dominated baseball in the 1920s.

New York Yankees Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty Images Studios/Getty Images

Name: Robert William “Bob” Meusel
Position: Outfielder
Born: July 19, 1896 (San Jose, CA)
Died: November 28, 1977 (Downey, CA)
Yankee Years: 1920-29
Primary number: 5
Yankee statistics: 1,294 G, .311/.358/.500, 338 2B, 146 HR, 349 BB, 556 K, 118 wRC+, 28.1 rWAR, 28.3 fWAR

Biography

Bob Meusel was one of the most influential Yankees of the 1920s decade not named Babe Ruth or Lou Gehrig. He was a member of the famous “Murderers’ Row,” the deadly lineup of the late-twenties (particularly 1927) that included Earle Combs, Tony Lazzeri, Ruth, Gehrig, and himself. The outfielder won six American League pennants and three World Series while wearing the pinstripes, and even though he wasn’t the most popular player in the league, “Long Bob” was a powerful hitter and consistent producer whose place in franchise history is undeniable.

Early Years

Meusel was born in San Jose, California, on July 19, 1896. His parents, Charlie and Mary Meusel, had six children, and Bob was the youngest. He showed an interest in baseball at a young age, and his brother Emil “Irish” Meusel was actually an MLB star in the 1910s and 1920s with several teams, including one that would rival the Yankees around those days: the New York Giants.

1922 MLB World Series New York Yankees vs New York Giants
Jesse & Virgil Barnes, Emil & Bob Meusel
Photo by Keystone View Company/Archive Photos/Getty Images

Bob would start developing one of his best tools as a kid: he used to throw stones for long distances and that helped him gain strength and show one of the best outfield arms in MLB history. Some people rate him in the same tier as Roberto Clemente, Willie Mays, or Ichiro Suzuki in that regard, with his throws being speedy and accurate and caught on the fly.

The family relocated to Los Angeles, where the young Bob attended Los Angeles High School. After his stint there, he played for the Northwestern League’s Spokane club (April-May 1917) and then the Pacific Coast League’s Vernon Tigers from 1917-19.

This doesn’t include 1918 because he was busy serving the military during the World War I, specifically in the Navy. After his tenure with the Tigers, it was clear he was ready for the majors and the Yankees signed him.

An Impressive MLB Debut

Meusel’s first year in MLB was 1920. Fate is a beautiful thing, and it dictated that was the same year in which Babe Ruth was sold to the Yankees, who were managed by tiny but tough skipper Miller Huggins.

Now, Meusel and the Babe were very different. The latter was loud and outgoing; the former was very quiet, nonchalant, and even “anti-social,” as some writers and teammates described him. Still, both of them enjoyed the bright lights and the late nights, and became close friends. Those who knew him say Meusel was a drinker and womanizer, and not the best of teammates. He was also prone to laziness, and hustle was definitely not his middle name.

Regarding that last sentence, Ken Willey of SABR wrote that “fans often mistook his skillful, effortless work for loafing. His long, loping strides in fielding the ball helped to give them that impression.”

He was actually called Long Bob, or even Languid Bob by some writers. He was 6-foot-3 (1.91 meters) and had a long frame, so it made sense. However, his introvert nature also earned him the nickname “Silent Bob.”

But back to Meusel’s career. He made his MLB debut in that 1920 season and immediately impressed with 40 doubles (tied for fifth in MLB), seven triples and 11 home runs (tied for ninth) in 119 games. He slashed a solid .328/.359/.517 line with a .876 OPS and a 126 wRC+. The Rookie of the Year award was given for the first time in 1947, but had it been around in 1920, it would have probably been Meusel’s.

Establishing Himself In The Majors

The next season, 1921, was even better. He hit .318/.356/.559 with 40 doubles, 24 home runs, 136 RBI, and a .915 OPS. He also tripled 16 times and added 17 stolen bases. Speed was an underrated part of his game: he stole 142 bases throughout his 10-year career, but was also thrown out 102 times.

That year, Meusel played the first of three World Series against his brother. The Giants and Irish ended up winning five games to three in 1921. It was still a good year for Bob though, as that December, he married Edith Cowan. They would have a son and a daughter. Although Meusel was suspended at the start of 1922 for barnstorming along with Ruth, he turned in another solid season that year anyway. Meusel posted a .898 OPS, a 128 wRC+, 16 home runs, 13 stolen bases, and 85 RBI in 121 games. Once again, he faced Irish’s Giants and, once again, the Yankees lost the Fall Classic, this time 4-0-1 (yes, there was a tie).

Babe Ruth About To Swing Photo Reproduction by Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images

Meusel and the Yankees would finally conquer their cross-town demons in 1923. The outfielder (he used to alternate between left and right) was established as a top hitter in the American League by this point.

In the 1923 World Series against the Giants, Meusel (who retired with a rather underwhelming .632 OPS in 143 Fall Classic plate appearances) drove in eight runs and helped the Yankees beat the Giants 4-2 in the best-of-seven affair. There wouldn’t be a World Series MVP for another 22 years, but if it existed at this time Meusel would have made a decent case for this one. The season would also mark Gehrig’s MLB debut, and it’s well-chronicled in our Champions Series, as well as Matt’s 1923 Yankees Diary.

With a .325/.365/.494 line, 40 doubles, 12 home runs, 120 RBI, 26 stolen bases and a .859 OPS, Meusel was once again stellar in 1924. That season wasn’t enough to take the pennant away from the Washington Senators, though.

In 1925, Meusel would go on to have what many believe was the finest season of his career. In his prime, at 28 years old, he slashed .290/.348/.542 with a career-high 33 home runs, 134 RBI, 101 runs scored, 13 stolen bases and a 117 wRC+. The dingers and ribbies were enough to top the American League, though it was otherwise a lackluster year for the Yanks. With Ruth missing most of the season with a mysterious illness, New York finished 69-85, next-to-last in the American League.

The Bombers would return to the World Series in 1926 in large part thanks to Meusel, who was his usual brilliant self during the regular season. Still, they were narrowly defeated by the St. Louis Cardinals in the Fall Classic, in seven hard-fought games. Meusel had a Game 7 to forget, dropping a crucial fly ball that eventually led to multiple runs, and then leaving two men on base in his two subsequent at-bats after that play.

Murderers’ Row

Earle Combs, Bob Meusel, Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth
Murderers’ Row members Combs, Meusel, Gehrig, and Ruth

Meusel and the Yankees would come back with a bang in 1927, though. They went 110–44 (.714), won the pennant by 19 games, and swept the Pittsburgh Pirates in the World Series. Meusel hit only eight round-trippers, but he drove in 103 runs, hit .337 with a .902 OPS, accumulated 47 doubles, stole 24 bases and posted a career-best 133 wRC+. That’ll do.

1928 would bring another title for the Yankees, but would be Meusel’s last truly productive season. With a .297/.349/.467 line, 45 doubles, 113 RBI and a .816 OPS, he would be instrumental in the organization’s third title.

His decline would start in 1929, when he finished with a .683 OPS in 100 games at the age of 32. He was waived to the Cincinnati Reds, and even though he had a bounce-back campaign (.790 OPS, 30 doubles, 10 home runs, 62 RBI) in 1930, he wasn’t on MLB teams’ radars and played a couple of seasons in the American Association (1931) and the Pacific Coast League (1932), both one level below the majors.

A Brilliant Career

Meusel would retire from the majors with a .309/.356/.497 line, 156 home runs, a .852 OPS, 1,071 RBI and 368 doubles. For the era in which he played (a transition from the dead ball era to the live ball one), those were excellent numbers, and they helped establish the foundation of the Yankees as a franchise: a winning organization with some of the best and most feared hitters in the world.

Meusel wasn’t a stranger to the cameras. Per SABR, he had cameo appearances in Slide, Kelly, Slide (1927), Alibi Ike (1935), Pride of the Yankees (1942) and The Babe Ruth Story (1948). He was also in attendance for Gehrig’s actual ceremonies on July 4, 1939, the day in which he shared his beautiful speech with the world.

Meusel also had some words about Ruth at the Yankees’ Old-Timers’ Day reunion in 1949. For reference, the Babe had died the year before. Meusel said, “Someone may hit 61 home runs in a season, but there’ll never be another Ruth.” Meusel didn’t seem to have many friends in baseball (even though he wasn’t a clubhouse cancer, either), but Ruth was certainly one of them.

After retiring, Meusel returned to the Navy to serve as a security guard at their base for 15 years. He lived in California and passed away in Bellflower in 1977. His remains rest at Rose Hills Memorial Park in Whittier.

Meusel will go down in history as one of the first true power hitters and consistent run producers in Yankees history. He hit for average, he had amazing power (especially doubles power) and he had a strong, accurate arm, recording a whopping 157 outfield assists. He was, as Estevão Maximo pointed out, one of the overlooked Yankees greats in history.

Staff rank: 51
Community rank: 41
Stats rank: 44
2013 rank: 43

References

Appel, Marty. Pinstripe Empire: The New York Yankees from Before the Babe to After the Boss. New York: Bloomsbury, 2012.

Baseball Reference

BR Bullpen

FanGraphs

Pinstripe Alley

Willey, Ken. SABR Bio

Previously on the Top 100

51. Dave Righetti
Full list to date