Some teams have hit more home runs and others have won more games but no major league baseball team has ever fielded such a complete and dominating baseball team as the 1927 New York Yankees. Even, seventy-seven years later, Murderers’ Row, as their lineup was nicknamed, is perhaps the most potent batting order the game has ever known and remains baseball’s measuring stick for offensive prowess. Even though this team is remembered as a prolific offensive team, pitching, as most baseball people know, is the key to baseball success and the Yankees had a plethora of quality, durable arms.
The Yankee pitchers, who were overshadowed by Murderers’ Row all year, would take control of the World Series and make it the quickest World Series ever played by overpowering the heavy-hitting Pittsburgh Pirates in four straight games. The roots for the 1927 season were planted the previous October, when the Yankees lost a riveting best-of-seven game World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals. The last out came when Ruth, trying to get the tying run in scoring position, was thrown out attempting to steal second base.
(“1926 World Series”) It was a galling way to lose the championship, their signature slugger cut down trying to steal a base, and the Yankees were committed to making up for it the next year. The roster remained mostly unchanged the following year with a couple of minor deals but the superstars that led the team the previous year would lead the Bronx Bombers to the World Series title in 1927. They were the first of many ‘Bronx Bombers’ teams, what their organization, the New York Yankees, were to become known as, that would garner a nickname specific to their squad.
With ballgames starting at 3:30pm in those days and usually over by 6 o’clock, these Yankees achieved the nickname of “Five O’clock Lightning” for delivering fatal lead-changing blows in the late innings of their games, usually around the 5 o’clock hour. (Koppett, “1927”) They became the first club in major-league history to reach triple figures in doubles, triples and home runs, while leading the major leagues in these categories along with +374 run differential while 2nd was only +115 and they did it using just 25 players from start to finish.
(“1927:Murderers’ Row”) Several of the 25 were anonymous, but the core of the team, however, is one of baseball’s most memorable rosters. Center-fielder Earle Combs and shortstop Mark Koenig set the table at the top of the line-up, right-fielder George ‘Babe’ Ruth and first-baseman Lou Gehrig batted third and fourth, left-fielder Bob Meusel and second-baseman Tony Lazzeri were behind them, and third-baseman Joe Dugan and catcher Pat Collins brought up the rear. (“1927 New York Yankees. “) The centerpiece, of course, was the flamboyant Ruth, the perfect exclamation point for the Golden Age of Sport, the 1920’s.
What Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney were to boxing, Red Grange and The Four Horsemen were to pro football and Bobby Jones was to golf, Ruth was to baseball. He commanded attention, always the focal point, and was the main man on and off the field, no matter the situation. He hit the unheard total of 60 home runs in 154 games, not only more than any other hitter in the league but more than any other team of hitters in the American League that season. Ruth statistics were mind altering to say the least; he batted . 356, with 60 home runs, 164 RBIs, and 137 bases on balls but yet, he wasn’t even the most productive player on his own team.
Behind him in the batting order was first-baseman Lou “Iron Horse” Gehrig, in just his third season, with a . 373 batting average, third best in the league, 52 doubles (1st), 18 Triples (2nd), 47 home runs (2nd to Ruth) and a Major League record 175 RBIs to earn the American League MVP award over Ruth. Pitchers had to began pitching to Ruth because if they passed him, they still had Gehrig to contend with, and even with the Ruth hitting 60 base-clearing homeruns in front of him; he still managed to drive in 175 runs in 154 games!
The low-key Gehrig was the perfect complement to the rambunctious Ruth, a contrast in personalities but not in production on the baseball field. They finished the 1927 season 1 and 2 in six offensive categories: Total Bases (Yankee Earl Combs finished 3rd), Runs (Combs 3rd), Slugging Percentage, Runs Batted In (RBIs), walks (base on balls), and on-base percentage plus slugging percentage (OPS). At the top of the lineup, Earl Combs batted . 356 and led the league with 231 hits, including a league-leading 23 triples.
(Forman. “1927 AL Baseball Statistics”) He also confounded his teammates by being a Kentuckian and refusing to drink at a time when, Prohibition notwithstanding, alcohol flowed freely among major leaguers. “I have never gone in much for liquor,” Combs explained. A teammate once challenged him, telling the center fielder that he had better learn to drink if he expected to stick with the Yankees. (“Murderers’ Row”) Combs never caved in to their ridicule and went on to have a Hall of Fame career as a Yankee.
Bob Meusel had a 337 average with 47 doubles and 103 RBIs batting behind Gehrig, while his 24 stolen bases were second best in the league and in one game he stole second, third and home. Tony Lazzeri, in just his second season, batted . 309 with 18 home runs, third in the AL behind Ruth and Gehrig, and 102 RBIs. Even Mark Koenig had 34 extra base hits and batted . 285 and was on third base when Ruth capped the season with his 60th home run. Joe Dugan (. 269) and Pat Collins (. 275) were offensive afterthoughts since by the time they got to the plate, the damage had usually been done and the Yankees usually in the lead.
The team led the league with a . 307 batting average and a . 489 slugging percentage. (Forman, “1927 AL Baseball Statistics”) For all their fireworks, the Yankees would not have enjoyed the same success were it not for their deep stock of pitching talent. Waite Hoyt tied Chicago’s Ted Lyons for the league lead with 22 wins, while the age-less wonder, Wilcy Moore, and his sinker won him an incredible 19 games, with 13 coming in relief, thanks in large part to the ‘Five O’clock Lightning’ boys.
Moore, who had been ready to leave baseball for good the year before, ended up leading the league with a 2. 28 Earned Run Average(ERA) per nine innings, followed by fellow ‘Bronx Bombers’ Waite Hoyt (2nd) at 2. 63 & Urban Shocker (3rd) at 2. 83, who also won 18 games. Herb Pennock won 19 games with a 3. 00 ERA, while Dutch Ruether (13-6, 3. 38 ERA) and George Pipgras (10-3, 4. 12 ERA) filled out the rotation that would carry them in the World Series and complete the most dominating baseball season ever.
(“1927 New York Yankees”) This staff is still the only major league team to ever have the top four pitchers in win percentage and top 3 in ERA all on the same team. These men helped lead the Yankees staff, as a whole, to a 3. 20 ERA while their offense averaged 6. 29 runs per game. (Forman, “1927 AL Baseball Statistics”) The Yankees absolutely dominated the rest of the league during the season, finishing 19 games in front of second-place Philadelphia en route to 110 wins.
(Forman, “1927 AL Baseball Statistics”) As the Washington Senators discovered in early July, the Yankees would waste no time in swiftly disposing any team that dared to challenge their supremacy. The Senators had won ten in a row heading into an Independence Day doubleheader at Yankee Stadium. In the process, they had leapfrogged the Philadelphia Athletics and Chicago White Sox to take second place and had pulled within ten games of the first-place Yankees with a double-header on the horizon.
In front of a record crowd, the Yankees destroyed the Senators 12-1 in the opening game and utterly humiliated them in the second game by a 21-1 margin. After the game, Washington first baseman Joe Judge summed it up, “Those fellows not only beat you but they tear your heart out. I wish the season was over. ” (“1927 New York Yankees. “) When the season was over, the World Series was to begin in Pittsburgh and the Yankees wanted to deliver a persuasive message before Game 1, that a loss like the year before would not be tolerated and wanted to flex their muscle before the series even started.
The Pirates were drawn to their batting practice, curious about this team of sluggers they have been reading about in the newspapers throughout the season. Murderers’ Row was in full bloom, rattling balls around old Forbes Field, leaving Pirates players, such as Hall of Famers Pie Traynor and brothers Lloyd and Paul Waner, gaping at the show. (Aubrecht, “1927 World Series”) The message was clear, these Yankees could HIT!! Facing a powerful Pittsburgh club in the World Series, the Yankees’ pitching corps shut down the Pirates to close out the season with a convincing sweep, 4-0.
The Pirates, who led the National League with a . 305 team batting average, actually out-hit the fearsome Murderers’ Row lineup in the first game, but two costly Pirate errors in the early innings gave the Yankees a 4-1 lead. After the Pirates clawed back to make the score 5-4 in the eighth, but just like the rest of the season, ‘old-man’ Wilcy Moore came in to end the threat by retiring five of the last six Pittsburgh batters. The Pirates made another pair of devastating errors in the second game as George Pipgras hurled his beloved Yankees to a 6-2 win.
In Game Three, Herb Pennock took a perfect game, not one Pirate reaching base, into the eighth inning as the Yankees won easily, 8-1. Wilcy Moore showed his versatility by starting game four and went the distance, all 9 innings, only giving up just one earned run. Although the Pirates tied the game 3-3 with two scores in the seventh, Moore’s teammates came back with two outs in the ninth to score the series-winning run on a Johnny Miljus wild pitch and the Yankees were once again the champions of Major League Baseball.
(Aubrecht, “1927 World Series”) The ‘Five o’clock Lightning’ boys ended the season the same way the 1927 Yankees received their name… a fatal lead-changing blow at the end of the game by its offense. They finished the season with a combined regular-season and post-season winning percentage of . 722, the best ever. (Forman, “1927 AL Baseball Statistics”) The 1927 season was the apex of a three-year domination, 1926-1928, by the Yankees and their multi-faceted juggernaut of a team.
The Ruth/Gehrig combination is still the most prolific teammates ever to play together in major league baseball. George ‘Babe’ Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Waite Hoyt, Tony Lazzeri, Earl Combs, and Herb Pennock all are now enshrined in ‘the Mecca of the baseball world’, the Baseball Hall Of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. (Koppett, “1927 Murderers’ Row”)
Koppett, Leonard. “1927 ‘Murderers’ Row’ New York Yankees: No Team Has Ever Been Better”. National Baseball Hall of Fame. 2002. Baseball Hall Of Fame. 5 March 2004. www.geocities.com