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


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