POSSIBLE PENNANT DREAMS
NEW YORK – On September 7, 1921, the 1:30 Wednesday start time drew more than 26,000 fans to the Polo Grounds to see the Yankees play a double bill against the Boston Red Sox. The fans had been treated to phenomenal ball playing by their hometown Yanks as of late, who had just recently grabbed first place from Cleveland a week prior. They had been fighting with the Indians for the heralded spot since mid-July, which was around the same time that their George H. ‘Babe’ Ruth made history – again. On the 18th of that month, the toast of the baseball world hit the 139th home run of his career, breaking the lifetime record of 138 set by Roger Connor in 1897. Playing most of his career with the New York Gothams in the 19th century – and at the same Polo Grounds, no less - Connor retired from baseball with that figure after 18 years of service. It had taken the young George H. Ruth only eight years to best him. Perhaps the ‘H’ initial stood for ‘Hercules’?
The Yankees were poised to make a run at the American League pennant that year, mostly on the back of Ruth’s offensive prowess. He had already captured the imagination of ball fans across the country with his prodigious home runs, supplanting Ty Cobb as the game’s greatest attraction. When the Yankees bought Ruth from the Red Sox for $425,000 - $300,000 of which was a personal loan from Yankee owner Colonel Ruppert – it was a move by Sox owner Harry Frazee that plenty in Boston could get behind. The itinerant Ruth had built a reputation as a troublemaker, jumping from the team multiple times, as well as spending his evenings in bars, often drunk only hours before games. Additionally, at the end of the 1919 season, Ruth had held out for a $20,000 salary for the 1920 season - demanding twice as much as he had made the year prior. With his time away from the game, Ruth publicly toyed with the notions of trying his hands at a different career, and since Frazee had given him bonuses after both the 1918 and 1919 seasons, he felt that he had no choice but to get rid of the young star.
Because of Ban Johnson’s pressure on five teams in the league to not do business with the Red Sox, Frazee was limited to dealing with the White Sox and the Yankees. With the ‘Black Sox’ scandal percolating, Frazee felt that New York was his only option. Up to that point, the theatre magnate had already given up Waite Hoyt, Wally Schang and Carl Mays to New York, where they had already begun to flourish. Unfortunately to Frazee’s detriment, the various players who came from New York would never make the grade in Beantown.
That same Carl Mays was slated to start against his former team that September afternoon in 1921, and he proved his worth early, making easy work of the Sox in the first. However, Boston had the same luck against New York with pitcher Allen Russell and his spitball. In fact, the right hander all but owned the top three batters of the New York lineup – including Ruth. The spitballer would not allow a single base hit from them all game.
Though Russell looked tough, the Yanks were able to score once in the second inning. Bob Meusel walked, but was later forced at second by Wally Pipp’s drive. And as Aaron Ward fanned, Pipp stole second, and then scored on Mike McNally’s single to leftfield. The Sox’ frame was far less productive, with a lone single by superstitious catcher Al ‘Roxy’ Walters, who was wearing his hat inside out, and would do so for the game’s entirety.
The third inning saw two more New York runs manufactured without the aid of a clean hit. Catcher Wally Schang walked. Mays attempted to sacrifice bunt Schang over to second, but when Walter’s throw to second was late, both men were safe. Elmer Miller was then hit in the arm by a pitch, loading the bases. Roger Peckinpaugh worked another walk, with Schang trotting home to score. Mays scored on the next at bat, a towering fly ball by Ruth to Mike Menosky, who was camped underneath the ball.
Schang remained busy in the fourth frame, hitting a double into right field with two out. Pitcher Mays’ single to center scored the catcher once again.
It was the fifth inning before the Sox finally scored, with centerfielder Harry ‘Nemo’ Leibold hitting a double into left center to lead off. Eddie Foster took a base on balls, and Menosky singled to right, scoring Leibold.
The Yankees scored again in the sixth. With one man out, Mike McNally singled to left, and promptly skipped to third after another hit by Schang – a single to center. Mays flew out to John ‘Shano’ Collins, scoring McNally. To further shut the door, with two out in the seventh, Bob Meusel slammed a home run high up into the left field bleachers, his nineteenth of the year.
Boston got its second and final run in the eighth, with second baseman Del Pratt opening the frame with a single. ‘Stuffy’ McInnis singled him to second. Collins forced McInnis out, with Pratt advancing to third. Everett Scott’s hit bounced off of Pipp’s foot at first, scoring Pratt and Collins taking third. In the end, it proved to be no more than a scratch. Boston could do nothing else against the submariner Mays, losing 6 - 2. It would be Carl’s 23rd win of the season.
Hoping to make the difference in the second contest of the bargain bill, Babe Ruth is pictured peering out of the dugout during the break between the two games, selecting his weapon. Though, as the second game started, the spotlight was on the two hurlers facing off for their respective teams. Pitching for New York was Harry Harper, making only his third start of the year. On the hill for Boston was the crafty veteran Herb Pennock – the ‘Knight of Kennett Square’- who was one of the last mainstays from the great Boston teams of the mid-1910s.
Though Harper had an inauspicious start in the first by walking two men in succession, he was able to pitch very well afterwards, not allowing a hit in the first three innings. Boston’s lefty matched the Yankee on the mound pitch-for-pitch, also not allowing a safe hit in the same frames. Leftfielder Menosky kept himself pretty busy in those Boston frames, accounting for four of the nine putouts.
In the fourth inning however, the Yankees threatened. With Miller making out, Peckinpaugh was the first batter of the game to get a hit off of Pennock, taking a base with a solid single down the line near third, past Eddie Foster. The ‘Great Bambino’ stepped up to the plate next. After futilely swinging at a first pitch strike, Ruth then rocketed a line drive into the lower tier of the right field grandstands, scurrying a cloud of fans from its blazing path. The shot may have broken speed records, as it by no means rose higher than 35 feet in the air, seemingly low enough for an outfielder or even the second baseman to pick it out of the atmosphere. As Ruth crossed home plate, the game was called for five minutes so the umpires, groundskeepers and Yankee mascot Eddie Bennett could collect the 50 or so straw hats that jubilant rooters tossed onto the field in exultation. Good for Ruth’s 52nd home run of the 1921 campaign, he found himself twenty five games ahead of schedule and only two dingers closer to tying his total from the year before. More importantly, the Yankees found themselves with the lead after the Babe’s circuit clout, breaking up the pitching duel.
The Yanks cut loose with an attack in the sixth, where three runs were scored under a trio of hits - two of them triples - and one error. Elmer Miller was the first to strike, with a three-bagger out of the reach of the fleet-footed Liebold in left center. It must have been revenge for Liebold’s spectacular catch against Miller earlier that day. Though the relay was poor and Miller could have scored easily, he sat at third waiting to be driven in. Peckinpaugh made out, and Ruth tapped the ball to Everett Scott, who easily threw out Miller at home. With two gone, Boston purposely walked Meusel to set up Pipp for the third out. However, the Yankee first baseman slammed the second triple of the inning over Menosky’s head, scoring Ruth and Meusel ahead of him. Pipp followed his teammates home when third baseman Eddie Foster fumbled the relay throw from the outfield. Pitcher Pennock was so annoyed at the blunder that he tossed the ball into centerfield out of frustration, prompting another shower of straw hats onto the field.
The Sox could do little damage against the Yankee hurler, as he they had only scattered success throughout the afternoon after the first three innings. Not even one of Shano Collins’ three doubles that afternoon was able to help much. Boston’s feeble offense peaked their heads out in the eighth, starting with a Pennock single to center. Leibold was called out on strikes, but Foster hit to right center for three bases and the hurler scored. Sammy Vick was sent into bat for Menosky and singled to left, scoring Foster, the only two tallies Boston could muster.
In the Yankee eighth, Huggins’ crew added to their wealth. Peckinpaugh singled to left. Ruth followed with a triple to right center off of the first pitched ball, scoring Peck. The Babe scored a moment later when Meusel drove Leibold back to the centerfield fence to get his long, high fly. In the end, the game belonged to New York, 7-2.
Babe would finish the season with a staggering 59 home runs - more than anyone had ever hit in history – drove in 171 runs, collected 204 hits, batted at a .378 clip and had an .846 slugging average. With the continued help of Bob Meusel, pitchers Carl Mays, Waite Hoyt and Bob Shawkey, the Yanks played pennant-worthy baseball for the rest of the month.
They would make it to their franchise’s first World Series that October.
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