October 29, 2007
You Could Look It Up
On Sunday night, the Red Sox completed the 18th sweep in World Series history. This is part one of a capsule guide to the previous 17. After we cover all of their predecessors, we'll try to see where Boston's sweep fits in this gallery of postseason dominance.
1. 1914: Boston Braves over Philadelphia A's
Combined Score: Braves 16, A's 6
Upset Factor: Huge. The A's were in the second straight World Series and had won the championship in 1910, 1911, and 1913. Their opponents were the "Miracle" Braves, a club that had been in last place in mid-July with a record ten games under .500 but who went 61-16 from then on to overtake the New York Giants and win the pennant by 10 ½ games. The Braves had been a very good club in the pre-20th century National League, but had lost between 100 and 108 games from 1909-1912, and had gone 69-82 in 1913.
Was the Series competitive despite the sweep? Not really. The A's were a lot like this year's Yankees, a team that towered over the league offensively but was slightly below average on the pitching side despite having three future Hall of Famers on the staff. Braves pitching didn't have that kind of star power, but the A's batters couldn't touch them, batting .172 in the four games. Braves righty Dick Rudolph struck out 15 A's in 18 innings; batters didn't whiff at those rates back then.
Best game: Game Two. The Braves' Bill James and the Athletics' Eddie Plank hooked up in a classic pitchers' battle at Shibe Park. The game was scoreless through eight, the Braves held to five hits, the A's to two. With one out in the top of the ninth, Braves third baseman Charlie Deal, who had hit a miserable .210/.270/.276 during the season, hit a one-out double, then stole third with pitcher James batting. James struck out, but right fielder Les Mann delivered a two-out single to put the Braves up 1-0. The A's had the bottom of the order up in the bottom of the ninth. Shortstop Jack Barry led off with a walk, then stole second. Catcher Wally Schang struck out, and manager Connie Mack sent up a pinch-hitter for Plank. He too drew a walk, putting runners on first and second with one out. Right fielder Eddie Murphy came up and hit a grounder up the middle; shortstop Rabbit Maranville picked it up, stepped on second for the force, and fired to first to complete the game-ending double play.
Aftermath: Connie Mack broke up his great team, blaming the Series defeat on the Federal League distracting his players with contract offers. In darker moods, he might have thought about gamblers as well-one of his pitchers, Bullet Joe Bush, was later reportedly implicated by Miller Huggins. So thoroughly did Mack burn down his ballclub that the 1915 and 1916 A's rank among the worst teams of all time; the A's would not win another pennant until 1929. The Braves used their Series money to build a cold, windy, offense-killing ballpark on the Charles River. They remained competitive for the next two years, then sank firmly into the second division for most of the next three decades.
2. 1927: New York Yankees over Pittsburgh Pirates
Combined Score: Yankees 23, Pirates 10
Upset Factor: None at all. These were the 1927 Yankees.
Was the Series competitive despite the sweep? Sort of. Two games were close, and two were blowouts. The Pirates weren't helped by manager Donie Bush's decision to keep one of his best players, outfielder Kiki Cuyler, on the bench because of a personal tiff.
Best Game: Game Four. Playing at home, the Yankees started bullpen ace/swingman Wilcy Moore against Carmen Hill of the Pirates. The two teams traded runs in the first, then swapped zeroes through the bottom of the fifth, when the Yankees took a 3-1 lead on a two-run homer by Babe Ruth. Meanwhile, the Pirates had had success reaching base against Moore but couldn't get a rally going. They finally broke through in the seventh, when Moore and second baseman Tony Lazzeri made errors that led to two unearned runs. The game went to the bottom of the ninth tied 3-3. Johnny Miljus was pitching for the Pirates; Earle Combs led off with a walk, and Mark Koenig followed with a bunt single. That brought Ruth to the plate, but before the Bambino could do something that would become legendary, Miljus wild-pitched the runners to second and third, and Bush promptly held up four fingers. Lou Gehrig batted with the bases loaded and nobody out; Miljus whiffed him. Bob Meusel batted next; he struck out too. Tony Lazzeri came up and was down 0-1 when Miljus threw another wild pitch. Combs came home with the Series-winning run.
Aftermath: The Yankees remained the Yankees. The Pirates dumped Cuyler on the Cubs that winter. Cuyler would play in the 1929 and 1932 World Series, and the Pirates finished second to the Cubs both years. The Pirates would stay in the first division, though without winning, into the war years. They wouldn't make it back to the Series until 1960.
3. 1928: Yankees over Cardinals
Combined Score: Yankees 27, Cardinals 10
Upset Factor: Small. Though the Cardinals had beaten this Yankees team in 1926, the Bombers were still the Son of Murderer's Row, with roughly the same cast of players.
Was the Series competitive despite the sweep? No, the Yankees steamrollered the Redbirds this time around. They used just three pitchers in the Series, as each starter was able to throw a complete game. Game Three starter Tom Zachary was a pure pitch-to-contact lefty; during the season he struck out 55 batters in 148 1/3 innings. He nevertheless whiffed seven Cards during his start.
Best Game: None of the games were close for long, but from a sheer tell-your-kids-I-was-there standpoint, it would have to be Game Four at Sportsman's Park. The Cardinals carried a 1-0 lead into the top of the fourth, but Ruth led off the inning with a home run to tie the game. The Cardinals went ahead again in the bottom of the inning when a series of defensive misplays moved Rabbit Maranville around the bases. That was their high water mark. With one out in the top of the seventh, Ruth and Gehrig hit back-to-back home runs. Pete Alexander, who had famously saved the 1926 Series for the Cards, came into the game, but the Yankees quickly put another two runs on the board and were now up 5-2. In the eighth, after Cedric Durst had homered, Ruth hit his third shot of the game. The final score was 7-3.
Aftermath: The Yankees went through a slightly bumpy patch over the next three seasons. Miller Huggins died unexpectedly, and in his absence the Yankees had a hard time sorting out the team on the field, often putting up huge offensive numbers but struggling to put together a solid pitching staff. The Cardinals slipped to fourth place in 1929, but were back in the series in 1930, 1931, and 1934, winning in the latter two seasons.
4. 1932: Yankees over Cubs
Combined Score: 37-19
Upset Factor: None. The Yankees didn't have great pitching but still had that terrific offense lead by Ruth and Gehrig. The Cubs struggled to win 90 games, fired their manager along the way, and although they had a so-so offense, they did have a strong inner defense and some very good pitching. The pitching wasn't good in the Series, though-the Yankees hit .313/.421/.521.
Was the Series competitive despite the sweep? Not really.
Best Game: The Yankees had to sweat a little in Game Three at Chicago. This was the game of Ruth's controversial "called shot," but put that aside-the shot wasn't called, and what was more important was that the shot was quite timely. Ruth put a three-run shot in the seats in the first (this was not the famous homer), and Gehrig contributed a solo shot in the third. Kiki Cuyler helped carry the Cubs back into the game with an RBI double in the first and a home run in the third. In the fourth, Billy Jurges led off with a double and Lazzeri threw away Woody English's grounder to allow Jurges to come home and tie the score. It was in the top of the next frame that back-to-back home runs by Ruth and Gehrig-the first of them the so-called called shot, put the Yankees back on top. The Yankees added another run in the top of the ninth on a couple of Cubs errors and a Ben Chapman RBI double, making the score 7-4. Yankee starter George Pipgras was still in to pitch to the Cubs in the bottom of the ninth. Catcher Gabby Hartnett led off with a home run, and Billy Jurges followed with a single, bringing the tying run to the plate in the form of pitcher Bud Tinning. Cubs manager Charlie Grimm pinch-hit with switch-hitter Mark Koenig. Yankees manager Joe McCarthy went to the bullpen for 38-year-old lefty Herb Pennock, the two-time 20-game winner. Grimm pinch-hit for his own pinch-hitter, sending up reserve catcher Rollie Hemsley. Pennock, never much of strikeout pitcher, nevertheless K'd Hemsley. Billy Herman's groundout moved Jurges to second with two outs, after which Jurges made the totally pointless gesture of stealing third. Woody English's grounder to Gehrig ended the game.
Aftermath: The Yankees were done for a few years, as they transitioned from the team of Ruth to the team of Joe DiMaggio. The Cubs were a good team right through the end of the decade, getting back to the World Series in 1935 and 1938. With the exception of the fluke pennant of 1945, they largely disappeared after that, not resurfacing until the Leo Durocher years of the late 1960s.
Next week: The Yankees of the 1930s yield to a wider variety of teams.
Steven Goldman is an author of Baseball Prospectus.
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