The Tragic Side of the 1927 New York Yankees

The 1927 New York Yankees, a team synonymous with greatness, are still the standard by which all great teams are measured.

The Yankees won 110 games and lost 44 for a .714 winning percentage in 1927, finishing 19 games ahead of the second place Philadelphia Athletics, then swept the Pittsburgh Pirates in four straight games in the World Series.

They scored 976 runs and allowed 605, a difference of more than 2 1/2 runs per game. With a team payroll of $250,000, the Yankees led the majors in home runs and the American League in both home runs and ERA.

Babe Ruth alone hit 60 home runs, more than any other team in the league. Lou Gehrig belted 47, and led the majors with 175 RBIs.

The 1927 Yankees were the first club in MLB history to reach triple figures in doubles. triples and home runs. They’re the only team in history to have the top four pitchers in winning percentage and top three in ERA.

The mystery is not how this great team won 110 wins; it’s how they ever lost 44.

Harvey Frommer wrote about 1927 Yankees in “Five O’Clock Lightning” where he not only described the Yankee juggernaut but also detailed some of the tragedy that followed the Yankees in the years after their most successful season.

For there was a tragic side to the 1927 Yankees. Six players on the team, five of them Hall of Famers — Gehrig, Ruth, Tony Lazzeri, pitcher Herb Pennock and manager Miller Huggins , right, — died prematurely before the age of 54, some in tragic fashion. The manager, a coach, and the beloved bat boy also passed away, as did the owner of the team, Jacob Ruppert.

Sad Yankee Litany
Urban Shocker was one of the mainstays of the Yankee staff in 1927. He was 18-6 that year with 2.84 ERA, second in winning percentage and third in ERA in the American League.

The Yankees repeated as World Champions in 1928  but Shocker, beset by illness, pitched just two innings that year. On September 9, unable to sleep lying down for two years, he passed away. Shocker was just 28 years old, felled by what was called an overtrained athlete’s heart.

After three straight pennants, the Yankees finished second to the Philadelphia Athletics in 1929. Manager Miller Huggins was hospitalized with a boil near his eye, Huggins condition quickly worsened, and he passed away on September 25, his death attributed to a skin disease known as St. Anthony’s Fire. He was 51.

Word of Huggins’ passing word came during the fifth inning of a Yankee game at Fenway Park. The crowd of 7,000 was informed by megaphone, the center field flag was lowered to half mast, and a moment of silence was observed. The Yankees eventually won the game 11-10 in 11 innings to honor their departed skipper.

On the day of Huggins’ funeral, all American League games were cancelled by league president Ernest Barnard.

Eddie Bennett, 1935, the team’s hunchbacked 32-year-old batboy died of alcoholism in his small furnished room on the West Side of Manhattan in 1935.

Owner Jacob Ruppert, died early in 1939, the victim of a heart attack. He was 71.

More than 10,000 people surrounded New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral on this day of Ruppert’s funeral. The beer baron left an estate of $60 million, a huge amount for that time, to three women, two nieces and a 37-year-old chorus girl named Helen Winthrop Weyant who said “she had no idea why he left me so much money.”

During the latter stages of the 1938 season, Yankees captain Lou Gehrig was already showing the effects of the fatal illness, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), that would claim his life less than three yeas later.

Gehrig began the 1939 campaign with the Yankees, but with a .143 average through April it became sadly apparent his skills had diminished dramatically. After 2,130 successive games Gehrig took himself out of the lineup on May 2 in Detroit.

A little over two years later, June 2, 1941, Lou Gehrig passed away, 17 days before his 38th birthday, victim of a disease that today bears his name.

In 1941, Charley O’Leary, a coach on Miller Huggins staff, died of blood poisoning from a chronic ulcer at age 58. O’Leary is still the oldest man in MLB history to score a run, accomplishing the feat with the St. Louis Browns in 1934 at the age of 52.

Johnny Grabowksi, back-up catcher on the 1927 Yankees, was killed in a house fire in a house fire near Albany in 1946 when he rushed back to try and save his automobile. He was 46.

Later that year, second baseman Tony Lazzeri was found dead in his apartment in San Francisco. Lazzeri had a massive heart attack apparently striking his head on the bannister while slipping on stairs. Lazzeri, who suffered from epilepsy, was 42.

Left-hand pitcher Herb Pennock was 19-8 for the Yankees in 1927, and in the third game of the World Series against Pittsburgh that October he retired the first 22 batters in order before Pie Traynor singled. He was serving as the general manager of the Phillies in 1948 when he collapsed in the Waldorf Astoria and died of a cerebral hemorrhage. Pennock was 53.

After a battle with throat cancer, Babe Ruth passed away on  August 16, 1948. Years of smoking, chewing tobacco and dipping snuff finally caught up with the Babe, pictured above in his farewell appearance at Yankee Stadium. His body lay in state iat the Stadium, where more than 200,000 mourners paid their final respects.

Some of Ruth’s old teammates from the 1927 team were pall bearers during his funeral at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

Joe Dugan told Waite Hoyt: “I’d give a hundred dollars for a cold beer.”

“So would the Babe,”  replied Hoyt.

Related Posts

Lou Gehrig, the 4th of July, and the 1927 Yankees

Former Yankee Owner Ruppert Belongs in the Hall


Don’t Forget Your Playbook: Glory Days

Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas scrambles against Giants in 1959 NFL championship game at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium. Colts won, 31-16.

It was 1959, the caboose of the 1950s, a simpler time in a different world. President Eisenhower was finishing out his second term, the Barbie Doll was launched, and Castro was running wild in Cuba.

Pro football was a simple game in 1959. A dozen teams in the NFL played 12 games apiece. The AFL was still a dream away.

No playoffs. No Super Bowl. One championship game.

In a rematch of their “greatest game” in the 1958 NFL title game, the Colts were looking to defend their championship against the New York Giants in Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium.

Two days after Christmas, in the midst of a tight defensive battle, Giants wide receiver Kyle Rote suffered an apparent concussion. His replacement was Joe Biscaha, a 27th round draft out of the University of Richmond.

Almost A Touchdown
“Near the end of the first half, (Giants quarterback Charlie) Conerly tried to connect   with me on a corner route, but slightly overthrew the pass and I cou022_22ldn’t quite make the catch, even with a diving attempt,” Biscaha, right, recalls more than 50 years year. “If completed. it would have resulted in a touchdown, but it unfortunately fell incomplete in the Colts end zone.

“I continued to play in the third quarter without making any significant contributions to our efforts, and was later replaced by a somewhat ‘foggy’ Rote during the fourth quarter. The Colts had trailed throughout the game by a 9-7 score but eventually scored 24 points in the final quarter to defeat us, 31-16.”

It was the second straight title for the Colts, who beat the Giants 23-17 in a memorable overtime classic to win the 1958 championship.

“In our post-game locker room there was disappointment, but there were also words of encouragement exchanged,” said Biscaha. “And even Charlie Conerly commented to me on the overthrown pass that ‘we almost had one.’.

“Given the fact that he had thrown my way and even had spoken to me, I had felt as though I would be a part of the Giants plans for the coming year. We returned to New York by train that same evening amidst local friends and fans sharing many drinks in commiseration of the loss.”

That would be the last game of Biscaha’s Giants career. When he signed with the Giants he went from $25 a month laundry money at Richmond (part of a football scholarship) to a $7,500 contract.

In eight games that year, he caught one pass for five yards and recovered a fumble.

Playing in The Original AFL
Biscaha failed to make the Giants roster in 1960. He was substitute teaching and making about $100 a week when the Boston (now New England) Patriots of the AFL offered him $4,500 for the last month and a half of the season. So Joe played for that first Patriots team in the AFL’s inaugural season, calling the Kenmore Station Hotel on Commonwealth Avenue home.

“The head coach was Lou Saban, a former Cleveland Brown, who seemed to have been influenced in the ‘General George Patton mentality,'” Biscaha recalled, “while my position coach was Mike Holovak, a likable gentleman from the Boston College coaching background. It seemed like most of the players were from a Boston College or Syracuse (1959 championship team) playing pedigree.

“I was being tried out as a wide receiver and needed to learn the skills to compete against the bump and run techniques utilized by the AFL defensive backs. Having played with the Giants as primarily a tight end, those were skills that I never had to acquire.”

In September of 1961 Biscaha, realizing his playing days were over after a tryout with the New York Titans (now Jets), “signed a teaching contract with the Paterson (NJ) School District for $4,500 for the year and got  $400 more to assist in coaching football.”

His teaching career continued for more than 25 years and was highlighted by three New Jersey State Championship seasons, 1975,1979 and 1980, at Passaic Valley High School, as well as numerous coaching honors. After an eight-year retirement from education, while working in financial services, he returned to serve ten years as a school administrator at Passaic County Technical Institute until his retirement in 2005.

More than 50 years later, he wonders if his career might have taken a different path if Conerly, the NFL MVP in 1959, had not overthrown him in the end zone. “Had I caught that pass would my life have turned out differently?”

Joe’s blog is called “don’t forget to bring your playbook,” a commonly used expression players heard when they were about to be cut. Postings on the blog include his childhood experiences and memories of his pro football career and beyond.


Trey-Rod: 3 HR Games in Yankee History

Three is a magic number in baseball. Three strikes and you’re out. Three outs in an inning.  Babe Ruth wore #3.

When Alex Rodriguez, above, hit three home runs iagainst Kansas City on August 14, it marked the 30th time a Yankee player hit three homers in a single game.

Lou Gehrig achieved the feat four times, and hit four in one game, the only Yankee to perform that feat. Joe DiMaggio did it three times.

So did the Babe, although only one of his three occurred during the regular season.  Ruth hit the final three home runs of his storied career in 1935 for the Boston Braves in a game at Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field, and retired soon afterwards.

A-Rod joins Tony Lazzeri, and Bobby Murcer as the only other Yankees to hit three in a game two times. Rodriguez had three HRs and 10 RBIs against Bartolo Colon and the Angels in 2005.

In all 20 Yankees have accomplished the feat, including eight Hall of Famers — Ruth, Lazzeri, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Bill Dickey, Johnny Mize, Mickey Mantle and Reggie Jackson.

Ruth’s World Series Heroics
Ruth was the first Yankee to hit three in a game, against the Cardinals at old Sportsman Park in St. Louis in 1926 in the World Series, right. The Babe must have loved St. Louis, repeating the feat in 1928 to power the Yankees to a four-game sweep.

Ruth had his only regular season “hat trick” with the Yankees on May 22, 1930, in Philadelphia’s Shibe Park in the first game of a doubleheader which the Yankees lost, 15-7. Gehrig repeated the feat the following day in the first game of a another doubleheader in Philadelphia, a 20-13 victory over the A’s. Oh yes, Ruth and Lazerri also homered in that game.

Reggie Jackson is the only other major leaguer ever to hit three home runs in a World Series game. In just three swings in Game Six of the 1977 World Series against the Dodgers, Jax lifted the Yanks to to their first  championship. in 15 years.

Gehrig is the only Yankee to hit four home runs in a single game, on June 4, 1932, against the Athletics in Philadelphia. He was the first player in the modern era to hit four in a single game. He belted the circuit clouts in his first four at bats in a 20-13 win against the A’s. Gehrig missed a fifth home runs by inches, when his drive was caught in the furthest reaches of deep centerfield.

In that same game,  Lazzeri became the only player in major league baseball to finish a natural cycle with a grand slam.

Other Interesting Yankee Trey Factoids

On May 21 and 22, 1930, Ruth and Gehrig hit three home runs in successive games.

Mantle, Tommy Tresh and Tony Clark hit homers from both sides of the plate in their 3 HR games

Bobby Murcer hit four consecutive home runs — three in the second game — in a 1970 doubleheader against the Indians at Yankee Stadium.

Reggie Jackson, left, hit a home run in his final at bat in Game Five and three in a row during Game Six of the 1977 World Series. (My friend Matty was at the game at Yankee Stadium, and missed all three Reggie homers. But that’s a story for another blog.)

Johnny Blanchard in 1961 and Mickey Mantle in 1962 are the only other Yankees to hit four home runs in a row.

Lazzeri hit two grand slams and a third home run and drove in an American League record 11 runs in 1936 in a 25-2 rout of the Athletics at Shibe Park in Philadelphia. Poosh em up Tony was also the first Yankee to hit three home runs in a single game in the regular season, in 1927.

On three separate occasions, the Yankees have lost a game in which a player hit three home runs — Ruth in 1930, Mize in 1950 and Mike Stanley in 1995.

DiMaggio’s first three home run game in 1937 resulted in an 11-inning,  8-8 tie with the St. Louis Browns in Sportsman’s Park.

Mize holds the MLB record for most times hitting three home runs in a game — six. Five came with the Cardinals and Giants in the National League. He was the first player to hit three home runs in a game twice in one season in 1938 and did it again in 1940.

Mize had his final three home run game with the Yankees in 1950, just five days after DiMaggio performed the feat for the third time.

The Yankees as a team have hit three home runs in a game twice in different seven seasons — 1927, 1930, 1932, 1950, 1977, 1995, and this year.

Earlier this year, Mark Teixeira became the first Yankee to hit three home runs in a game at Fenway Park since Gehrig in 1927.

Yankees Who Have Hit Three Home Runs in One Game

1926 — Babe Ruth (World Series)

1927 — Tony Lazzeri

1927 — Lou Gehrig

1928 — Babe Ruth (World Series)

1929 — Lou Gehrig

1030 — Babe Ruth

1930 — Lou Gehrig

1932 — Lou Gehrig (4 HRs)

1932 — Ben Chapman

1936 — Tony Lazzeri

1937 — Joe DiMaggio

1939 — Bill Dickey

1940 — Charlie Keller

1948 — Joe DiMaggio

1950 — Joe DiMaggio

1950 — Johnny Mize

1955 — Mickey Mantle

1965 — Tom Tresh

1970 — Bobby Murcer

1973 — Bobby Murcer

1977 — Cliff Johnson

1977 — Reggie Jackson (World Series)

1995 — Mike Stanley

1996 — Darryl Strawberry

1995 — Paul O’Neill

1997 — Tino Martinez

2004 — Tony Clark

2005 — Alex Rodriguez

2010 — Mark Teixeira

2010 — Alex Rodriguez


Dolan’s Courting of Isiah Tests Knick Fans

It’s only a matter of time before James Dolan and Isiah Thomas are together again.

They haven’t been to the playoffs in six years, they tanked the last two seasons in a futile attempt to recruit LeBron James, and now they’ve tried to rehire Isiah Thomas, the clown who ruined the team and then was disgraced in a sexual harassment suit that cost the club $11.6 million.

Thomas rescinded his contract because NBA rules prohibit him from working as a consultant for a team while also holding down a college coaching job.

But does anyone believe that Dolan isn’t waiting for the right opportunity to bring back Isiah, like the monster rising from the dead in so many horror films.

You can’t make up this stuff….only in New York. But it’s not funny any more.

Been a Knick fan since the 1960s. Saw my first game at the old Madison Square Garden on 49th and 8th in 1966, an all-NBA doubleheader, Sixers-Pistons followed by the Knicks against the St. Louis Hawks.

Rode the championship wave of 1970 and 1973 and the good-but-never-quite-great days of the Patrick Ewing era. Good times and bad,, win or lose.  The SportsLifer wears blue and orange.

But these Knicks are straining my patience and testing my loyalty.

What is He Thinking?
James Dolan is an idiot. Yeah, that’s a good idea, bring back Isiah as a consultant. The same Isiah who brought in the likes of Eddy Curry and Stephon Marbury to New York, trading a boatload of number once picks and then saddling the team with two outrageous contracts.

The same Isiah noted more for his exploits in the workplace than actual results on the basketball floor.

The Knicks haven’t made the playoffs since 2004, haven’t won a playoff game since 2001. That’s almost 10 years ago.

Is there any hope for the future? Nope. Not as long as Dolan’s in charge.

“Although I’m disappointed that Isiah will not be working with the Knicks as a consultant, I continue to believe in his basketball knowledge, including his ability to judge talent,” said Dolan. He’s a good friend of mine and the organization, and I will continue to solicit his views. He will always have strong ties to me and the team.”

Now that’s reassuring, isn’t it Knick fans. Very reassuring.


Au Revoir: Dawson, Carter Were Top Expos

Ah, those Montreal Expos. Funky red, white and blue hats. Canada’s first baseball team. Les Expos.

Although they never won a National League pennant during their 36 seasons in Montreal before morphing into the Washington Nationals, the Expos produced several Hall of Fame caliber players.

Two of those players — catcher Gary Carter and newly-inducted outfielder Andre Dawson — have gone into Cooperstown as members of the Expos.

The Hawk, below right, National League Rookie of the Year in 1977, played his first 11 seasons with the Expos. He later won the 1987 NL MVP with the Cubs.

An eight-time All Star, he finished his career with 438 homers, 314 stolen bases and a .279 batting average and won eight Gold Gloves.

Carter, aka the Kid, also played his first 11 seasons with Montreal, and won a World Series with the Mets in 1986. Carter hit 324 home runs and finished with a .262 lifetime batting average.

Two other HOF candidates, Randy Johnson and Vladimir Guerrero, also began their careers in Montreal. But if the Big Unit and Vlad go to Cooperstown as expected, they will not be wearing Montreal caps.

Montreal had some other great players including Canadian-born Larry Walker, who played his first six seasons with the Expos before moving on to greater things in Colorado; Pedro Martinez who pitched four years in Montreal and was the NL Cy Young Award winner in 1997; and Andres Galararraga, who played eight years with the Expos but failed to reach the necessary five percent of votes in 2010 to stay on the HOF ballot next year.

Finally, there’s the case of Tim “Rock” Raines, who broke in with Montreal in 1979 and played his first 12 years in Montreal before being traded to the White Sox following the 1990 season.

Raines is arguably the greatest leadoff hitter in the past quarter century outside of Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson. His lifetime stats compare very favorably to Lou Brock, another Hall of Famer.

The Rock should be a lock for the Hall of Fame. But strangely he hasn’t come close, garnering just over 30 percent of the vote in 2010, his third year of eligibility.


Zimmer Is Punch Line in Baseball Trivia

From the Dodgers to Mets, Red Sox to Yankees, he was known as a baseball lifer.

Can you name this former baseball player, coach, and manager?

1. He was replaced by Brooklyn’s Sandy Amoros just before Amoros made his famous catch that helped the Dodgers beat the Yankees and win their first World Series in 1955?

2. He was the first third baseman in New York Mets history? (He singled in his first at bat, but hit just .077 and was traded to the Reds in May).

3. He was the last player to wear #14 for the Cincinnati Reds before Pete Rose

4. Among other nicknames, he was called “Popeye” and “The Gerbil.”

5. He rented Bucky Dent’s house in New Jersey when the Yankee shortstop was traded to Texas in 1982?

6. He initiated the discussion with Billy Martin that turned into the Pine Tar incident  in the summer of 1983?

If you guessed Don Zimmer, you are correct. Zimmer began his career with the Dodgers in 1954, later played for the Cubs, Mets, Red, and Senators, and retired in 1965 with 91 home runs and a .235 lifetime batting average.

Zimmer is still remembered in Boston for the Red Sox epic 1978 collapse, most notably for starting Bobby Sprowl instead of Bill “Spaceman” Lee in the finale of a four-game New York sweep called the Fenway Massacre that turned the season around for both teams.

He later managed the Red Sox, Rangers and Cubs, and was Joe Torre’s bench coach during the Yankees run of championships in the late 90s. Nearly 80, Zimmer is still active with the Tampa Bay Rays as a senior advisor.