This article is reprinted from the 2002 Hall of Fame Yearbook and was written by Leonard Koppett
They called them "Murderers' Row." In 1927, people weren't as finicky about metaphors glorifying violence or horror. Heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey was the "Manassa Mauler," and football star Red Grange was the "Galloping Ghost." A decade later, Joe Louis would be the "Brown Bomber," other great Yankee teams the "Bronx Bombers," and powerful Chicago Bear football teams the "Monsters of the Midway."
So the 1927 Yankees, because of their unmatchable batting power, became Murderers' Row, often delivering their fatal blows in the late innings as "five o'clock lightning," because ballgames started at 3:30 p.m. in those days and were usually over by six o'clock.
Were they the greatest team of all-time?
The idea started to take hold only in the late 1930s. The 1927 team, which won 110 games, included Babe Ruth's 60 homers and a sweep of the World Series from the Pittsburgh Pirates, was only the apex of a three-year domination. It included the 1926 pennant and another four-game sweep in 1928. But it was followed immediately by the 1929-31 reign of the Philadelphia Athletics, and when the Yankees of 1936-39 won four World Series in a row, the comparisons solidified into conventional wisdom.
In 1969, when professional baseball celebrated its 100th anniversary with much fanfare and glamour, an "all-time" all-star team was named and the 1927 Yankee team was singled out "officially" as the all-time best. The twin explosions of statistical and historical research were just getting started then, but that designation has endured as established myth.
Well, how about it? Who were those Yankees? Were they really the greatest? If so, why? If not, who might have been?
The "who" starts with Ruth, whose 1926-28 home-run output was 47, 60 and 54. He played right field at home and left field in many other places, avoiding the sun field. His batting averages were .372, .356 and .323 and he batted in 452 runs. He hit third.
Behind him was Lou Gehrig. Nine years his junior, Gehrig hit 47 home runs in 1927 with a .373 average and 175 runs batted it. Only Ruth had ever hit more homers.
Behind Gehrig were two right-handed sluggers, Bob Meusel, the left or right fielder, and Tony Lazzeri, the second baseman. Lazzeri's 18 homers ranked third in the whole league. Meusel hit .337 and knocked in 103 runs, Lazzeri .309 with 102. Meusel's 24 stolen bases left him second only to George Sisler's 27 in the American League, and Lazzeri stole 22.
Those four could do all that damage because Earle Combs, the center fielder, led off, hit .356 and added 62 walks to his 231 hits (His on-base average was .414). Mark Koenig played shortstop and Joe Dugan third base, while Pat Collins and Johnny Grabowski shared the catching. The team batting average was .307.
But pitching, as we all know, is the real source of baseball success.
Manager Miller Huggins, who won six pennants in eight years from 1921-28, had a four-man rotation: right-handers Waite Hoyt and Urban Shocker and left-handers Herb Pennock and Dutch Ruether. A 30-year-old rookie, Wilcy Moore, was one of the earliest relief specialists, starting 12 times but relieving 38. He won 19 games and saved 13 others. Hoyt, Shocker and Moore ranked one-two-three in the league in winning percentage and two-three-one in earned run average. Hoyt won 22, Pennock 19, Shocker 18.
Needless to say, the fielding behind this group was first rate, especially in center, at short and at second.
So the won-lost record was 110-44. Their margin over the second-place Athletics was 19 games. Against the first-division teams -- the A's, Senators and Tigers - they went 14-8. They were 17-5 vs. the White Sox, 18-4 against the Red Sox and 21-1 vs. the St. Louis Browns (losing only the last one), but only 12-10 against sixth-place Cleveland.
Winning 110 games is not most of all-time. The 1906 Chicago Cubs won 116 (and lost only 36), the 1954 Cleveland Indians 111, the 1998 Yankees 114 (of 162) and, of course, the 2001 Seattle Mariners 116. But the Cubs and Indians lost the World Series that followed, and the Mariners didn't even reach the Series in the expanded postseason now used. The 1998 Yankees did win it, and in a four-game sweep, after winning two preceding playoff series to get there.
So in terms of "most successful," the 1998 Yankee single season is supreme: 125 total victories through three postseason elimination series, in a population of 30 teams instead of 16.
But "greatest" must have another dimension. The Ruth-Gehrig combination has never been equaled. Combs, Lazzeri, Hoyt and Pennock were also Hall of Famers. The degree of superiority over their contemporaries, given the enormously different conditions of different eras, must be taken into account, and their supremacy was extreme.
Calling anything "the greatest" can never be free of challenge or argument. But to rank any team above the 1927 Yankees -which really means the 1926-28 Yankees -- one would have to make a case based on unimaginable factors.
So let's settle for the less glamorous, but more reasonable label: "No team has ever been any better."
Leonard Koppett has covered baseball for six decades and currently lives in Palo Alto, CA. He covered baseball in New York for the Herald Tribune, New York Post and New York Times, also wrote for the Sporting News and is currently a columnist with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Koppett has authored several baseball books including most recently, "Koppett's Concise History of Major League Baseball."
This article was reprinted from the 2002 National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum yearbook.
The yearbook features biographies of each Hall of Fame member, as well as articles on 'Baseball As
America,' an interview with Hall of Fame outfielder Stan Musial, and the History of Baseball
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