Miller Huggins' Last Flag
In This Issue Devoted to a New World's Champion Among Ball Clubs it is But Fitting to Spare a Thought to the Man Who Won Six Pennants in His All Too Brief Managerial Career
BASEBALL MAGAZINE, December 1929
Colonel Ruppert once remarked, "Miller Huggins can manage my ball club, if he wants to, as long as he lives." That was a prophetic utterance. For, on the twenty-fifth of September, the Mite Manager yielded to the order of a greater [calling] than Colonel Ruppert and left forever the scenes of his many triumphs.
Thousands of mourning friends jostled one another on the street, which leads to the "Little Chapel Around the Corner." Thousands more turned out in Cincinnati to pay their respects to the sad procession which had come from New York. The front page notices carried the news in the leading journals of the Nation. Hundreds of sports writers added their tribute. And then baseball took up once more the routine grind. But there is no danger that Huggins' memory will fade, least, not until all who knew him have followed him on the last long journey. For his record is too deeply engraved in the records of the game which he helped to make great.
When Huggins came to the New York Yankees, that team had struggled through fifteen seasons of disappointment. Most of the time it had been in the second division. Twice it had finished the season a melancholy tail-ender. Not once had a pennant floated from the Yankee flagstaff. In fact, the club was an American League problem, a melancholy reminder of the success of the neighboring and rival Giant outfit.
Huggins assumed the management of the Yankee Club in the spring of 1918. His first game as a manager was played between New York and Washington on April 15 of that year. Although Walter Johnson, then in his prime pitched for the Senators, the Yankees won 6-3. It was an augury of better days.
In 1917 the club had finished in sixth place. Under Huggins' regime the club climbed to fourth place, to third the following year, to third again in 1920 and in 1921 they blossomed out with their first pennant. In the nine years that have elapsed since they made the grade, only once have the Yankees fallen under second place. That was in 1925 when a general collapse carried them to seventh position. But they snapped back the very next year with a new pennant. In the twelve years of Huggins' management the Yankees won sox pennants, and finished twice in second place. Only once did they fall into the second division. That record would have added to the laurels of any manager who ever lived.
Under Huggins' skillful control the Yankee team became the most formidable in all baseball history. They were a veritable steam roller, with competent pitching, fast and effective fielding and a batting punch that has never been equaled.
Before Huggins assumed management, the Yankees had won, in their long and checkered career, 1081 ball games and lost 1176 for a percentage of .435. Under Huggins they won 1070 games and lost 720 for an average of .598. There is all the difference between success and failure in those averages- between a struggling second division team and a proud pennant contender.
There is little wonder that Colonel Ruppert thought so highly of Huggins' ability. Under his management the colossal Yankee Stadium took form, the costliest amphitheatre ever dedicated to the National sport. Millions of invested capital went into that labyrinth of steel and concrete. And millions in profits poured into the club coffers. Under Huggins' leadership the New York Yankees were distinctly "big business."
It was never Huggins' way, however, to be conspicuous. Nature created him slight of stature. He was even more self-effacing from choice. Under his guiding hand the club became famous; its leading members among the Nation's popular favorites. Huggins was always content to remain in the background.
Babe Ruth was the stellar actor of his Big Show. No doubt Huggins owed much to Ruth, but it was no one-sided business arrangement. Ruth also owed much to Huggins. And there were many times when the big slugger was something of a problem to the Mite Manager.
Huggins' ability as a manager, which has been demonstrated past all possibility of contradiction, was founded upon years of success as a Major League player. He was undoubtedly one of the smartest second basemen who ever lived. He began his professional career in 1904 with Cincinnati. Six years he spent in his home town. Then, in 1910, he went to the St. Louis Cardinals where he passed seven more active seasons.
Huggins was never a great hitter. But twice in the thirteen seasons of his active play did he surpass the .300 mark. His life-time average was .265.
Oddly enough, the man who was destined to manage the greatest home run hitter of all time, himself made but nine homers in his thirteen seasons of Big League baseball. His best record was two home runs in a season. In six of his thirteen seasons he went without a solitary homer.
Light stick work, however, never kept Huggins down. He was a shrewd and canny player always, just as he was destined to become later, a shrewd and canny manager.
His fielding was not only mechanically brilliant but the result of smart headwork. And Huggins was fast. This fact is brought out by his stolen base record. No fewer than five times he stole over thirty bases. Once, in 1906, he stole forty-one.
Huggins complete player record, as well as the record of the New York Yankees under his guiding hand, accompany this article. His many thousands admirers will spare a moment to these figures. Many may wish to clip them out for scrap books.
[Editor's note: Huggins' player and manager statistics are available through a link in the Huggins' section of this web site.]
Huggins' greatest triumph came in the seasons of 1927 and '28. In those years he was destined to compete with two pennant winning National League clubs and to down them both by sweeping victories unmarred by a solitary defeat. His success last season was all the more remarkable because the Yankees were seriously crippled by injuries. Nevertheless, they won the Championship of the World, for the second time in four straight games, a record that has never been equaled.
Although the Yankees were secure in second place, Huggins was busily scheming to reorganize the club when he was stricken down. Had his heart not been set so strongly upon his chosen work, he would have sooner heeded the imperative demands for rest. He neglected his own welfare for the welfare of the club and he paid a heavy penalty.
Many victorious seasons are, no doubt, in store for the New York Yankees. But it may well be doubted if any subsequent successor ever moulds a team so powerful as the World's Champions of 1927 when Miller Huggins held the reins.