Sunday, August 5, 2012

1921 World Series: Ruth's Knee

The Teams
National League: New York Giants (94-59) - Sixth World Series (Won in 1905)
American League: New York Yankees (98-55) - First World Series

What Happened
Few offensive players have ever been better than Babe Ruth was in 1921. Aside from his jaw-dropping 59 home runs and 171 runs batted in - both major league records at the time - he also led the league in runs scored, walks, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage and was top-ten in batting average, doubles, triples, stolen bases and hits. He was an offensive force like none other, and he virtually single-handedly got the Yankees to their first World Series.

Because Ruth was larger than life, he was the main story of the first all-New York World Series and the first series played entirely in one stadium. It's no surprise, then, that the turning point of the series involved Ruth. However, it wasn't a gigantic blast that turned the series around, but Ruth's knee. He played the first five games of the series in varying degrees of pain, but, with the Yankees up 3-2, he could go no further, and the Yankees would have to be without him for the rest of the series.

Ruth had been big in getting the Yankees the series lead, but the true keys had been their pitching. They opened the series with a pair of 3-0 wins; Carl Mays won the first game, giving up five hits and getting 17 groundball outs, while Waite Hoyt gave up only two hits in Game 2. Oddly, the Yankees had a player steal home in both games.

The Giants got 20 hits to win Game 3, then used an 8th-inning rally to tie the series in Game 4. Then, Hoyt struck again, getting another complete-game shutout, albeit giving up 10 hits in the process.

Then Ruth was forced out of the series, and the Giants took advantage. After an 8-5 Giants win in Game 6 - in which all but one of the runs came in the first four innings - the games got tight and hitting became a premium. The Giants took Game 7 - which wasn't the final game, since this was the last of the best-of-nine series - on a two-out single by Frank Snyder in the seventh inning.

Defining Game
Game 8 was the third matchup between the Yankees' Hoyt and the Giants' Art Nehf. The Yankees had gotten the better of the matchups the first two times, with the Giants getting only a single unearned run in the two games. Hoyt was a little rusty early, walking two batters in the first inning, but it looked like he was out trouble when he got George "High Pockets" Kelly to ground weakly to short with two outs. But Roger Peckinpaugh let the ball go between his legs, and the Giants had been given a gift 1-0 lead.

It was all they needed. The Yankees challenged a few times - Wally Pipp struck out with two on to end the first, and Wally Schang flied out with the bases loaded in the fourth - but for the most part, Nehf was in control. It was still 1-0 in the bottom of the ninth when Ruth emerged from the dugout to pinch-hit. He was obviously not himself, though, and he could only ground weakly to first to open the inning. After a walk to Aaron Ward, Home Run Baker, former great of the Philadelphia A's, came up. Baker grounded one to the right side that looked destined to be a single to right, but the Giants' Johnny Rawlings tracked the ball down to get Baker at first. Meanwhile, Ward thought the ball got through to right field, so he rounded second and kept going to third. Kelly fired the ball across the diamond to Frankie Frisch to nail Ward for the most unusual World Series-ending double play of all time.

This is a difficult series to pick an MVP for. The Giants were pretty balanced offensively, so no one player really stood out. The pitchers dominated the Yankees hitters, but the best pitcher - Art Nehf - had a 1-2 record.  Hard to pick an MVP with that record. I'm going to go with Phil Douglas, who started three games and won games 4 and 7.

(Home team shaded; winners in Bold)

N.Y. Yankees 33523 51 0
N.Y. Giants 00134 1821

The List
I'm ranking all the World Series, from worst to best. Here are the ones I've done so far:

39. New York (N) def. New York (A) 5-3
Numbers 40-49
Numbers 50-59
Numbers 60-69
Numbers 70-79
Numbers 80-89
Numbers 90-99
Numbers 100-107

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