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Top 10 Championship Teams: No. 1, 1927

Ruth, Gehrig and Murderers' Row are second to none
02/10/2010 11:03 AM ET
By Adam Spunberg / YESNetwork.com

Babe Ruth's 60 home runs in 1927 were more than any
other team could produce in the American League. (AP)
For a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.
F. Scott Fitzgerald -- The Great Gatsby

We have counted down the hierarchy of Yankees Champions, shuffling between legends, eras and even stadia. Modern teams were weighed against classic teams, superstars against luminaries, and they all wore the fabled pinstripes en route to World Series glory. Topping the list, at the apex of all Yankee achievement, is the preeminent 1927 squad, which featured the famous Murderers' Row lineup and the highest winning percentage of any Major League team to win the championship over the last century.

Rather than merely spout my opinion as I have done in previous editions, I thought it would be better to present a diverse pool of insights to fully capture the historical context of what this team accomplished and the legacy its contributors left behind. To those who took the time to share their thoughts with me, I am immensely grateful.

The season of 1927? World-shaking events included Trotsky's exile, giving Joseph Stalin undisputed power over the Soviet Union, and the controversial execution of Italian immigrants Sacco and Vanzetti, whose Anarchist sympathies may have played a role in their conviction for murder. Locally, New Yorkers celebrated Lindbergh's first transatlantic solo flight with a ticker tape parade, and partied at the opening of the Holland Tunnel, the first of our tunnels.

But you couldn't toast the Yankees' sweep with a beer -- at least not legally, as Prohibition was in full swing, as were an estimated 30,000 speakeasies across the nation.
-- Professor Maura Spiegel, English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University

As Professor Spiegel eloquently states, 1927 was an extraordinary year, not only for baseball, but also for the nation at large. The Roaring Twenties were in full effect, as Americans enjoyed perhaps the Golden Age of innovation and artistic expression. In New York City, African-Americans embraced the Harlem Renaissance, which brought about new stratospheres for creative opportunism, jazz and even the Harlem Globetrotters.

October 1927 marked one of the biggest turning points in all of cinematic history when THE JAZZ SINGER -- the first official "talkie" opened. 1927 became the year in which consumer tastes would change. Within a year, silent movies were on life support and audiences craved movies with sound and dialogue. Truly a remarkable year.
-- Renowned film critic James Berardinelli of Reelviews

And in the midst of such cultural progress, no current, trend or invention could thwart the Yankees, who were simply unstoppable.

  • No. 10: 1977
  • No. 9: 2009
  • No. 8: 1956
  • No. 7: 1996
  • No. 6: 1941
  • No. 5: 1932
  • No. 4: 1961
  • No. 3: 1939
  • No. 2: 1998
  • No. 1: 1927

Regular Season Record: 110-44-1 (AL Champions)
The Yankees led the American League from wire to wire, seizing control of the pennant with wins in their first six games. The Philadelphia Athletics tied them at 9-5 on April 30, but that would be the last time the Yanks lost sole possession of first place. From mid-July on, the Bombers sustained a double-digit lead without respite. Amazingly, the Yankees were not shut out until Sept. 3 and won an astounding 43 games by five runs or more. As reader John Buckholz pointed out, if you faced the Yankees four times, you were bound to be blown out once.

Most remarkable about 1927 is that was an era during which managers weren't obsessed with playing percentages and swapping out relief pitchers every two minutes. The great hurlers of the game threw an insane number of pitches and innings, and were out there again two or three days later. If you wanted to win, you had to beat the best and the '27 team did that day in and day out.
-- Jon Lane of YESNetwork.com's Life in the Fast Lane

Offense: 976 runs scored (first in the league)
There was simply no comparison when it came to run production in the American League. The Yankees outscored the runner-up Tigers by 131 runs and absolutely devastated the competition when it came to power categories. It is easy to praise the Yanks for their 158 home runs, but what makes it all the more astounding is that the A's finished second with just 56 dingers, scarcely more than a third of the Bombers' output. Simply astonishing. The Yankees also led the league in triples, walks, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, batting average, RBIs, hits and in their one dubious category, strikeouts. I think we can forgive them for swinging away.

Murderer's Row was the first true power-packed, intimidating lineup that got baseball fans completely enamored with the long ball. Seven years earlier, Babe Ruth hit 54 home runs during a time when nobody came even close {George Sisler was second with 19). Once Ruth meshed with Lou Gehrig, Earle Combs, Tony Lazzeri, etc., you had the makings of one of the greatest teams that will have ever played the game.
-- Jon Lane

The year of '27, of course, was the one that Ruth walloped 60 home runs, which was -- alone -- more than every other team's cumulative total for the year. Gehrig left his thunderous mark too, poking out 47 shots and aspiring to 175 RBIs.

The 1927 Yankees had the best 3-4 combination in the history of the game. Using OPS+ -- which is on-base percentage plus slugging percentage, weighted for importance and scaled for the league year based on an average of 100 -- no other 3-4 combination comes even close to Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, who posted OPS+ numbers of 226 and 221, which rank 13th and 17th best in baseball history. Not only are they the only teammates that high, but they're also the top two players in a given league year. In 1924, Rogers Hornsby had an OPS+ of 222, tied for 14th all-time, and Babe Ruth had an OPS+ of 220, 18th all-time. That's close, but not quite the Ruth-Gehrig combination -- even more so because Ruth and Hornsby were not teammates. We may never see a 3-4 combination like Ruth and Gehrig in 1927 ever again.

The second best 3-4 combo? Ruth and Gehrig again, in 1931, Ruth with a 218 OPS+, Gehrig at 194.
-- Joseph Pawlikowski of River Ave. Blues

Pitching and Defense: 599 runs allowed (first in the league)
Yet again, the Yankees out-performed the runner-up White Sox by over 100 runs, making the Yanks equally dominant on both sides of the ball. Their run differential of +377 was 261 better than the second-place Athletics' +116. That sort of mind-boggling disparity is simply unheard of in any other year.

  1927 YANKEES STARTING LINEUP
  • Earle Combs CF
  • Mark Koenig SS
  • Babe Ruth RF
  • Lou Gehrig 1B
  • Bob Meusel LF
  • Tony Lazzeri 2B
  • Joe Dugan 3B
  • Pat Collins C
  • Waite Hoyt P
  ROTATION
  • Waite Hoyt
  • George Pipgras
  • Herb Pennock
  • Wilcy Moore
  • Urban Shocker

The 1927 Yankees were so good offensively that the quality of the pitching staff tends to be forgotten. While the lineup had a couple of weak spots (Mark Koenig and especially Jumping Joe Dugan), the pitching staff didn't have any comparable holes.

It's hard to pick the best story on the staff. On the human side, it's Urban Shocker, who went 18-6 with a 2.84 ERA and then was forced to retire due to the health problems that would soon kill him, but for pure baseball wonderfulness you have to go with Wilcy Moore, a 30-year-old soft-tosser from the Sally League who the Yankees took a flier on after he won 30 games at Greenville in 1926. He had nothing in the way of stuff, but for a year the league couldn't figure him out. Swinging between starting and then pen, he won 19 games, led the league in ERA, and would have led in saves had anyone been counting. He also started and won the clinching game of the World Series.

Had they been giving out awards back then he probably would have been both the Rookie of the Year and the Cy Young winner. That has to be one of the top five instances of a team catching lightning in a bottle in all of baseball history.
-- Steven Goldman of YESNetwork.com's Pinstriped Bible

The Postseason:
World Series, 4-0, Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates were an average challenger, sporting a pedestrian 94-60 record and lacking the Yankees' hallowed curriculum vitae. They struggled to win the National League pennant, clawing it out over the final weeks despite pressure from the Cardinals and New York Giants. Still, they tied for the National League lead in runs scored and featured a solid pitching staff, collectively.

Yankee skipper Miller Huggins went with Waite Hoyt in Game 1, whose average performance was just good enough to procure the win. Though the Pirates had loftier aims, the fact that they lost so closely at 5-4 was a moral victory in itself against the heavily-favored Yanks. Ruth had three hits in the game, and Gehrig knocked in two.

Game 2 went more the way baseball fans expected, as the Yankees cruised to a 6-2 victory. George Pipgras performed up to snuff, pitching all nine innings, and the Bombers relied on a balanced attack that produced 10 hits. Game 3 was even more lopsided, as Ruth's home run keyed an 8-1 rout of the humbled Pirates. The Yanks' Herb Pennock allowed just one run and three hits in his complete game showing.

Pittsburgh was eager to avoid the sweep, and it nearly did. Showing some new fight in Game 4, the game was tied at 3-3 until Earle Combs scored on a dramatic walk-off wild pitch to Tony Lazzeri. The Pirates' Johnny Wiljus swallowed the loss for his lack of control, and the Yankees were unblemished champions. The incomparable Ruth hit his second home run of the series, proving that while the Yankees may have been the exemplification of excellence, they were also irresistibly entertaining.

If I could climb aboard a baseball time machine and be given only one pick of a destination, it would be Yankee Stadium in 1927.
-- Jerome Preisler of YESNetwork.com's Yankees Ink

Overall:
There have been so many spectacular Yankees teams that it feels almost unscrupulous to anoint one over the others. However, when you consider the legendary status of Ruth, Gehrig and the Murderers' Row lineup, the wraith-like fright that they imposed on pitchers, the unmatched quality of the Yankee pitching staff and the glorious backdrop that was New York in 1927, there can be no second-guessing.

The 1927 Yankees were the greatest baseball team in history. Not only did it feature Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, but five other future Hall of Fame players were on the roster. That squad epitomized the 1920s - confident, brash, powerful, and competent. Anything was possible. Then came the Great Depression, and the team, the city, and the nation went into a kind of funk. The Yankees still dominated the American League, and Ruth and Gehrig still trampled opposing pitchers, but it would never again be the same.
-- Professor Kenneth T. Jackson, History and specialist on New York City at Columbia University

Furthermore, does it really matter which team is No. 1, No. 2 and so forth, when all of these squads, plowing magnificently through different eras and social climates, excelled so wonderfully in their art that we feel the need to commemorate their achievements? Championships, though always sweet, are still rather commonplace, but not the tradition of ascendancy so improbably effectuated by this franchise.

Since the 1920's, each decade has featured at least two Yankee World Championship teams with the exception of the 1980's when the Yankees were shutout. As we move into the next 10 years, a repeat by the Yankees would take care of this new decade as soon as possible. Wouldn't 28 be great?
-- Ken Singleton, YES broadcaster and baseball great

And yet, immortal as these historical icons may appear to be, they were still everyday human beings who delighted in a simple game for the satisfaction of a loyal city.

If I ran into Lou Gehring, I would say, "I like your first name, Mr. Gehrig, because it's also the name of my dad -- Lou."
-- Suzanne Molino Singleton of YESNetwork.com's Mrs. Singy

Long before the days of free agency, million-dollar endorsements and me-first mentalities, the classic Yankees teams of old -- particularly the one that graced the Big Apple in 1927 -- represented something pure and proud, and they exhibited many of the heroic qualities we wish we could find more frequently in today's game.

"So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."
F. Scott Fitzgerald -- The Great Gatsby.

Adam Spunberg can be reached at adam.spunberg@mlb.com
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