The talk of the town usually at year’s end and new year’s beginnings usually gets down in many sports quarters to rankings of the best of the best. Agreement is sometimes a hard fought but not often achieved goal. I, however, have a no-brainer for all. Hands down or up as the case may be: the best of the best baseball teams is the ’27 Yanks.
The club was so consistent in every way that its roster was not ever changed that glorious season. The team began with 10 pitchers, three catchers, seven infielders, five outfielders, and ended that way.
There was no shuttling of players up and down from the minors. The 25 guys who began the season remained on the big league roster all season long, tying a record for fewest players used by a major league team.
On that legendary squad was an ex-teacher, a railroad fireman, a bartender, a former full-time boilermaker, a seaman, a logger, a cardsharp, a guy who had studied for the Roman Catholic priesthood, one whose youth was spent climbing tenement stairs in New York City delivering laundry, another who swam in the Hudson River and made the rounds of local pool halls.
Possessed of an almost royal aura, another player had attended the finest prep schools and sported thousand-dollar diamond rings. The ’27 Yankee ranks also included a meat cutter and an ex-vaudevillian, a talented painter, artist, writer and singer, a skilled piano (jazz and classical) player. There were some former farm boys and farmers. And there were a few who had never known anything but playing baseball.
Average age of the all-white team was 27.6.They came from diverse backgrounds, had very different personalities, backgrounds, educations, interests, skills, avocations.
Baseball bonded them together.
The total payroll for that 1927 team was an estimated $250,000. Average salary was $10,000 as compared to $2,699.292 for the 2006 Yankees. Salaries ranged from Julie Wera's $2,400 to Babe Ruth's $70,000.
That 1927 Yankee team had a pronounced German-American flavor from its owner beer baron Jacob Ruppert to Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Mark Koenig, Bob Meusel, George Pipgras, Dutch Ruether and half Germans Waite Hoyt and Earle Combs.
Although some of the 1927 bunch lacked a true formal education, a collegiate flavor permeated the roster: Lou Gehrig (Columbia), Miller Huggins (University of Cincinnati), Joe Dugan (Holy Cross), Benny Bengough (Niagara University), Earle Combs (Eastern Kentucky State Teachers College), Mike Gazella (Lafayette), Ray Morehart (Stephen Austin College, Texas), Myles Thomas (Penn State), Bob Shawkey (Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania), Ben Paschal (University of Alabama), Dutch Ruether (St. Ignatius College, now San Francisco University)
One player (Babe Ruth) was educated at St. Mary's Industrial School. Another had been in an out of one-room schoolhouses in cotton county locales. Mark Koenig, Joe Grabowski, Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri and Julie Wera were the only 1927 Yankees born in the 20th century.;
The shortest players were catcher Benny Bengough and utility man Mike Gazella. Bob Meusel was the tallest Yankee at 6' 3" and Babe Ruth was the next tallest at 6' 2".
Other six footers included pitchers Wilcy Moore, Herb Pennock, George Pipgras, Dutch Ruether, infielders Lou Gehrig and Mark Koenig, and centerfielder Earl Combs. Only Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig weighed more than 200 pounds.
Only Lou Gehrig would start every game (155) at first base. Second baseman Tony Lazzeri appeared in 113 games. Mark Koenig got into 122 games at shortstop, Joe Dugan 111 at third base. Earl Combs started all but three games.
The final statistics on Ruth and Meusel would be misleading. The Babe would start 95 times in right field and "Silent Bob" 83 times in left field. But they flip-flopped starts at Yankee Stadium and in a few parks on the road. Six men accounted for almost 90 percent of the innings pitched.
There was an almost grotesque quality to the team collectively as well as individually. One player was only able to sleep sitting up. He had a heart condition that he kept secret from his teammates. Another seemingly unfriendly, at times very quiet, was an epileptic.
Tony Lazzeri’s health condition was never mentioned by the press. One was taciturn, some would say miserable, a drinker, a scowler who looked at the world about him with annoyance and anger. One worked off-season as a mortician.
Another (Lou Gehrig) was a "mama's boy," reportedly a virgin, very uncomfortable in the presence of women. He enjoyed fishing by himself for eels and living in an apartment with his parents.
There was one (Babe Ruth) whose hearty belches sometimes rattled bats stacked in the dugout, who slugged down great quantities of beer, ate prodigiously. His prowess with women was the talk throughout baseball.
Another was an uneducated dirt farmer, ag ed 30, or was it 40. There was also a Kentuckian, a church goer, a non-smoker, non-drinker, a man who never cursed and read his Bible on the road in hotel rooms.
This terrific, talented team had it all including a four-game sweep of the Pirates to roll to the world championship. It was a group of men who totally dominated baseball. It was a group led by Babe Ruth, a free swinger in a free swinging time.
Babe Ruth was the king. The 1927 New York Yankees were the royalty of baseball.
And if you loved the Yankees, it was the best of times.
**A noted oral historian and sports journalist, Harvey Frommer has written many sports books, including Fenway Park: An Oral and Narrative History of the Home of the Boston Red Sox. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, New York Daily News, Newsday, USA Today, Men’s Heath, The Sporting News, and of course Bleacher Report among other publications.
Visit his website and purchase books here: http://harveyfrommersports.com/remembering_fenway/