Baseball Judgments

Baseball Judgments |
The roaring '20s and beyond


By Roger Weber


At the start of 1920, the judge declared his ruling for the eight White Sox players. As a result of the scandal, the White Sox were no longer a contender. More importantly, though, baseball adopted a new government with a commissioner, Kenesaw M. Landis. The 1920s would start off sadly, but by the end, America's pastime had grown into the national focus.


At the start of the 1920 season, Yankee pitcher Carl Mays became the first player ever to kill another on the field. A fastball of his skulled Ray Chapman of Cleveland, who died the following day due to the blow he received. Cleveland responded beautifully, though, under the leadership of player-manager Tris Speaker, and went on to win the American League by two games. Speaker batted .388, and Cleveland had three pitchers who won at least 20 games. Perhaps the most exciting player in the American League, though, was Babe Ruth. Ruth shattered the major league home run record, hitting 54 in 1920, while batting .376.


The Brooklyn Dodgers won the National League. They were led by a young pitcher named Burleigh Grimes, who won 23 games. Cleveland won the World Series 5 games to 2. What seemed like an unremarkable series did have one remarkable play, performed by Cleveland second baseman Bill Wambsganss. In the fifth inning of one game, he caught a fly ball, stepped on second base, and tagged the runner for an unassisted triple play, the only one ever in postseason history.


In 1921, Babe Ruth outdid even his own 1920 performance, breaking his own major league home run record by hitting 60, and batting .378. Ruth led the Yankees to 98 wins and the American League championship. Pitcher Carl Mays finished 27-9. In the National League, the other New York team, the Giants, won the National League. First baseman George Kelly batted .308 and hit 23 home runs. In the first Subway Series, the Yankees claimed their first of 26 world championships 5 games to 3.


In the 1922 season, baseball had a record 1,055 home runs. Babe Ruth, though, hit just 35 and finished third in the American League in round trippers behind the St. Louis Browns' Ken Williams, who hit 39, and Philadelphia's Tilly Walker, who hit 37. Ruth's Yankees did win another pennant, though, but just by one game over St. Louis. Just like in 1921, the New York Giants won the National League. This time, though, in the World Series, the Giants cruised to a 4-0 victory, holding Babe Ruth to a .118 batting average in the series.


Once again, in 1923, the Yankees and Giants won their respective leagues. By 1923, though, the Giants' John McGraw was getting worried that the growing popularity of Ruth and the Yankees was hurting his own team. His solution was to force the Yankees out of Manhattan, across the Harlem River to the Bronx, where he thought everyone would forget about them. The Yankees responded by building the 62,000 seat Yankee Stadium. In response, the Giants enlarged the Polo Grounds to seat 54,000. The two teams would carry on this rivalry for many years. The Yankees ended up in front.


In the American League, the Yankees won their third straight pennant. Once again, they were led by Babe Ruth, who, this time hit 41 home runs with 131 RBI, and a .393 batting average. The Yankees pitching led them, though, especially number one starter Sad Sam Jones, who finished 21-8.


In the National League, the Giants, like the Yankees, won their third straight pennant. Frankie Frisch hit 12 home runs, had 29 stolen bases, and batted .348 to lead the Giants. Rossy Ryan led the pitching staff with a 16-5 record. Around the league, Cy Williams hit 41 home runs for last place Philadelphia, the most in the National League. Dolf Luque finished the season with a 1.93 ERA for second place Cincinnati, while an aging Pete Alexander went 22-12 for the third place Cubs.


In the third straight Subway Series, the Yankees had the edge, winning 4 games to 2. This time, Ruth had a much better performance, batting .368 in the series, with three home runs.


In 1924, the Giants won their fourth straight pennant, but the Yankees didn't keep their end of the deal. The Senators won the American League by 2 games. Goose Goslin led them with a .344 batting average. Walter Johnson led the pitching staff with a 2.72 ERA and a 23-7 record. Ruth hit 46 home runs for the Yankees, but the rest of the team hit just 52. The Giants did win the National League, but lost the World Series to the Senators 4 games to 3. Game 7 was interesting in that the Senators probably would have lost but for two balls which inexplicably hopped over the head of New york third baseman Fred Lindstrom. This was the only World Series the Senators would ever win.


In 1925, everything went wrong for Ruth and the Yankees. They finished in seventh place, and Ruth finished with just 25 home runs, the second highest total on his own team behind Bob Meusel's 33. The Senators again won the American League behind the power pitching of Walter Johnson and Stan Coveleski. Goose Goslin batted .334. For third place St. Louis, George Sisler won yet another batting crown, with a .345 average.


In the National League, the powerful Giants finished in 2nd behind Pittsburgh. Max Carey hit .343 with 46 stolen bases, and Kiki Cuyler hit .357 with 41 steals. A powerful second baseman emerged for St. Louis in Rogers Hornsby. In 1925, he led the National League with 39 home runs and a .403 batting average. He also slugged .756, a very high total for that time. In the World Series, Pittsburgh won its second World Series 4 games to 3 over Washington.


In 1926, the Yankees moved back to the top of the American League. Babe Ruth put up another incredible season, with 47 home runs, 145 RBI, and a .372 average. 23 year old first baseman Lou Gehrig batted .313, and pitcher Herb Pennock was 23-11. The Yankees were expected to waltz to the title, but down the stretch, the Indians and Athletics made a race of it. For the Athletics, a young 26 year old pitcher named Lefty Grove was 13-13, but had a league leading 2.51 ERA. St. Louis won the National League, but was chased down the stretch by several teams, including the Cubs and young Hack Wilson, who led the League in home runs with 21. In the World Series, the Cardinals won 4 games to 3, getting help from aging Pete Alexander in game 7.


In 1927, the New York Yankees were quite possibly the most incredible team in baseball history. They finished 110-44, 19 games ahead of second place. First baseman Lou Gehrig hit 47 home runs, 52 doubles, and had a .373 batting average and 175 RBI. Babe Ruth was also on this team, though. Babe hit .356 with 60 home runs, a new major league record, and had 158 runs scored, and 164 RBI. This Yankees team had five players who batted over .300, including Bob Meusal, who stole 24 bases. No other player in the American League hit more than 17 home runs. The Yankees pitching staff was led by young Waite Hoyt, who was 22-7, and Wilcy Moore, who had the league's best ERA, 2.28. No Yankee pitcher had more than 8 losses, but 6 pitchers had at least 10 wins. Pittsburgh won the National League, and had 94 wins, but New York sliced through them in the World Series, winning in four games.


After the conclusion of the 1927 season, Walter Johnson retired, with 3,059 strikeouts, and a 2.16 ERA.


In 1928, the Yankees were not as impressive, though they still won 101 games, and won the Pennant and the World Series. Philadelphia only lost the division by 2.5 games. Lefty Grove was much of the reason the Athletics did so well, as he finished 24-8 with a 2.57 ERA. In the National League, St. Louis held of New York, which won 25 games in September. Cardinals' first baseman Jim Bottomley hit 31 homers with 136 RBI. The Yankees again had no trouble winning the World Series, again in four games. Babe Ruth batted .625 in the Series.


The reign of Yankee dominance ended briefly in 1929. Although Babe Ruth hit 45 homers, and Lou Gehrig 35, Connie Mack was determined to have his Athletics finish first, which they did. For the A's, Jimmie Foxx batted .354 with 33 homers, and a .625 slugging average. Al Simmons hit 34 homers, 157 RBI, and a .357 average. He fell just four batting average points shy of the Triple Crown. Lefty Grove finished 20-6, with a league leading 2.82 ERA.


The Chicago Cubs won the National League. Rogers Hornsby and Hack Wilson each hit 39 home runs for the Cubbies, and Kid Cuyler stole 43 bases, most in the league. Pat Malone was 22-10 for the Cubs. Elsewhere, Mel Ott asserted his stardom, hitting 42 homers, and Chuck Klein hit 43 dingers, and had 145 RBI. Lefty O'Doul came two points shy of .400. In the World Series, the Cubs fell to the Athletics 4 games to 1.


As the 1920s came to a close, baseball was left growing more and more popular, but the Stock Market crash left it looking for new ways to raise money. In 1930, baseball decided that it would make more money if it juiced up the balls, causing more home runs. The reign of extreme pitching dominance and small ball was over, and the reign of heavy power hitters was about to take over, but not before a significant home run drop in 1931. In 1932, Babe Ruth supposedly called his home run during the World Series at Wrigley Field. In the 1930s baseball was the national pastime, and with inventions like stadium lights and baseball on television appearing in the mid-‘30s, it was clear that baseball’s time as a simple diversion was over.


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