Mark Koenig - The Star of the Late World Series
Some Player at these Big Games is Always More Spectacular or Plays a More Dramatic Role than His Team Mates. This Season it was Mark Koenig's Turn to Shine
By J. Roy Stockton
BASEBALL MAGAZINE December 1927
While the seven hitless innings pitched by Herbert Pennock stands out as the most brilliant performance of the 1927 World's Series, a study of the batting and fielding averages and a careful review of the four games which the Yankee Steam Roller won from the Pittsburgh Pirates, force the selection of Mark Koenig as the outstanding star of the one-sided struggle.
There was no popular hero. In 1924 the country sang the praises of Walter Johnson. The next year Victor Aldridge's great hurling stopping the Washington Senators when they were within one more stride of the national championship and the winner's share of the swag, made the Pirate pitcher, the Hoosier Schoolmaster, the man of the hour in Pittsburgh.
Last year no study or reflection was needed to pick the hero. He stood out in bold relief and he was Grover Cleveland Alexander, that master of pitchers who stalked out through the mists of a hazy October afternoon, struck out Tony Lazzeri and checked the Yankee hordes.
There was no Alexander, no Aldridge, no Johnson, in the series that the American League champions won with such consummate ease from the Pirates, but the pendulum of fate, or luck, or what you will, swung from one extreme to the other, and Mark Koenig, the goat of the previous year's defeat, became the batting and fielding hero of the Yankees' triumph.vEvery time you looked up from your score book Koenig was on base or driving a fellow over the plate. Or if the Yankees were not batting, the Goat of 1926 was doing his stuff as the ball hawk of 1927. Far to this side and far to the other he ranged, cutting off potential Pirate safeties. The greater the pinch, the greater was Koenig.
Koenig handled only 14 chances in the field. Glenn Wright, his opponent at short, handled 18, but Wright made one error while Koenig went through the series without a break, handling throws, grounders, flies, and every chance with unerring precision.
Koenig's work was so clean-cut, so the work of a master craftsman that it did not stand out while he was doing it. But when the series ended the records showed that he had made nine hits, including two doubles, in 18 times at bat. He had driven in three runs. And he had fielded perfectly.
Ruth, it is true, drove in more runs. But the greatest slugger of them all made only six safeties, while Koenig was making nine. And those Koenig safeties made it possible for the runs to be on the bases for Ruth to do his stuff. And the shortstop, besides playing so brilliantly on the defensive and hitting the remarkable average of .500 scored one more run than Ruth and outhit the great home run producer by 100 percentage points.
Koenig's bat and Koenig's fielding were features and important factors in every game of the series. In the first contest, Kremer and Miljus silenced the Yankee guns to the extent of allowing only six hits. But Koenig had one of the six and his contribution to the Yankee cause was a double, a hit that started the fifth inning and paved the way to the run that proved the deciding tally in the 5 to 4 contest.
Koenig, moreover, scored two of the five New York runs. He reached first base with one out in the third inning when Grantham kicked his grounder, a difficult chance by the way, and on Ruth's single to right, Koenig raced to third, showing no hesitation at matching his speed against the reputedly strong arm of Paul Waner. A base on balls with the sacks all occupied later sent Koenig home with a run.
In the fifth inning Koenig doubled to right center, moved to third on Ruth's infield out and again showed his speed and daring by dashing home safely on Gehrig's fly to Paul Waner. That sacrifice fly was not a long one, but Koenig was willing to match his legs again with Waner's arm and his speed was sufficient.
It could not be said that Koenig was the outstanding star of this first game. He did his work and did it well, but the contest was lost by Pirate misplays, rather than won by Yankee prowess. The only outstanding figure in the game was Jovo Miljus, who pitched brilliantly after relieving Kremer with a Yankee on second and none out, in the sixth inning. Miljus was pitching for a lost cause, but he pitched remarkably well, giving only one safety in four innings and proving that the powerful Yankee guns could be silenced.
Koenig began to forge to the front as the leading batter among the regulars by contributing three singles in the second game, which the Yankees won 6 to 2, again aided by Pirate misplays.
The Yankee shortstop singled with one out in the first inning, but Ruth struck out. Gehrig walked and Meusel tapped to the pitcher. Combs, however, opened the third inning with a single and Koenig hit his second safety, a single to center. The hit sent Combs to third and when Lloyd Waner fumbled the ball the alert Koenig sped on to second and continued to third, in position to score on Ruth's sacrifice fly.
In the fifth and seventh inning Koenig flied to Paul Waner, but in the eighth, with the bases filled he singled to left, driving in a run.
Remember that Koenig occupies a position in the Yankee batting order that nobody covets. In the first place he follows the lead off batter and if Combs reaches a base he must hit behind the runner, sacrifice or hit and run. Batters have balked at hitting in second place and the objection to that position is said to be at the bottom of the unpleasantness between Kiki Cuyler and Messrs. Bush and Dreyfuss of Pittsburgh.
Then too, kindly note that after Koenig in the batting order there is a gentleman named Ruth. If ever there was anything to convince a pitcher that it was time to bear down and keep a batter from reaching base Ruth is it. Manager Donie bush before the series was quoted as saying that the Pirates would see to it that that Combs and Koenig didn't get on the bases. He sounded the keynote of the battle plan; he sounded the war cry of the hurlers,
"Get Combs! Get Koenig! Let the bases be cleared when Ruth and Gehrig the Terrible Twins, stride to the plate."
But Koenig, despite all the extra effort that all pitchers put into their work to keep the base paths clear for the threatening sluggers, compiled the sweet batting average of .500, a swatting mark that players dream of, but seldom manufacture in a struggle for the highest honors of baseball.
In the third game Koenig again was in the thick of the battle and played a prominent part in giving the great Pennock a working margin in his hurling battle with Lee Meadows.
Combs singled to start the Yankee first inning and Koenig followed with a sharp rap which Rhyne could not handle in time for a putout. There were two men on the bases and while the Terrible Ruth popped out, the equally dangerous Gehrig tripled to left center and Combs and Koenig scored.
In the third and again in the sixth Koenig failed to get the ball out of the infield, but in the seventh, another Yankee rally, he again delivered, shooting a double to right, scoring Pennock and sending Combs to third, and scoring with Combs when Ruth hit into the right field seats for his first home run of the Series.
Pennock's work in this game, as stated previously, was the most brilliant of any individual in the Series. But it was in only one game. Had the Series gone seven, Pennock might have stepped to the hill and mastered the Pirates in the crucial contest. Then this might be a story of Pennock, the man who studies craft and cunning by raising silver foxes. But he was not given the great opportunity and as Koenig was an outstanding factor in the winning of four games, the wealth must adorn his brow.
Koenig's work in the fourth and final contest removed all doubt as to who had to be recognized as the star of stars. He contributed three singles, played brilliantly in the field, put the first Yankee run into scoring position and in the ninth inning, with the entire Pirate team playing in to cut off the sacrifice that all the world knew he would put down, he did his job so deftly that the intended sacrifice became a base hit, stretched out the inning until it was possible for the Yankees to ride to victory on that now famous, or notorious, wild pitch by Jovo Miljus.
After Combs singled in the first inning, Koenig singled to right, putting Combs on second. It was well that he advanced his man as after Ruth's single scored Combs, the courageous Carmen Hill bent to his task and struck out Gehrig, Meusel, and Lazzeri.
In the fifth Koenig did not play a part in the scoring of two runs, and this was the only inning of the Series in which the Yankees scored without the bat of Mark Koenig. Combs' single and Ruth's second home run produced the two fifth inning tallies with Koenig striking out between the hits.
But these two runs were not enough and Koenig's bat helped to deliver the run that eventually flattened the Pirates. Combs walked to start the ninth inning, and everybody in the park knew that Koenig would be ordered to sacrifice. It was the only thing to do. And Koenig went to work to carry out the orders. The Pirates knew what was coming and crept in. Traynor edged in toward the plate and Harris moved in from first. The Pirates were going to try to turn the intended sacrifice into a force out. Perhaps even the strong-armed Traynor would grab the ball and the equally strong-armed Wright would pivot at second to confound the Yankees with a double play.
Koenig's sacrifice had to be perfect. Here was a real pinch, but he came through. He placed that bunt so perfectly that the alert Traynor, forewarned and all prepared, could not reach it. Traynor tried, but the very desperation of his effort merely helped Koenig to complete the niche that he had been carving for himself in the Hall of Fame as the Star of the 1927 World's Series. Traynor rushed in to grab that bunt, a little soft pop fly. But he felt short by a few inches, and the ball was so well placed that it dropped to earth just inside the foul line, caromed off Traynor's ankle and rolled away for a base hit.
Had the Pirates turned that bunt into a force out, or even into a sacrifice, the Yankees would not have won in that inning, for had Koenig been retired, the inning would have ended with the fanning of Gehrig and Meusel. But because Koenig put down that bunt so perfectly there was still an out to go and before that could be registered, Miljus made his wild throw.
There were several brilliant stops by Koenig, and many a throw that had to be perfect to get his man. No particular play of his stands out. But his record speaks for itself. He fielded for an average of 1.000. Than perfection, there can be nothing better. And with such a brilliant batting record combined with that fielding exhibition there can be no doubt Koenig had lost the horns that sprouted as he earned the title of Goat in 1926 and in their place is the laurel wreath of the hero of 1927.