Ten Intriguing Facts...Plus One about 1921, The Yankees, the Giants, and the Battle for Baseball Supremacy in New York
- Babe Ruth’s Exploits
1921 may have been Ruth’s greatest season, with 59 home runs, a career-best 171 RBI and 177 runs scored, and a .378 batting average. His 145 walks helped contribute to a .512 on-base average. His 16 triples (also a career high) and 44 doubles—in addition to the home runs—helped him post a .846 slugging average. The Babe hit more home runs than five of the other seven American League teams hit that year. He hit 12.4% of all home runs hit in the league. Had Barry Bonds hit 12.4% of all National League home runs in 2001, the year he hit 73, he would have hit 366. Such was Ruth’s dominance in 1921.
- New York Giants Manager John McGraw’s Dominance of his Players
McGraw would not tolerate challenges to his authority. He often called many of the pitches his pitchers threw. In the 1921 World Series, he called every pitch from the dugout. His catcher would turn toward the dugout to get the signal before relaying the signal to his man on the mound.
- Beleaguered Yankees Manager Miller Huggins
The little Huggins (listed in record books as 5’ 6”, though he was closer to 5’ 3”) could hardly control his team. He faced a season-long insurrection from a number of his players, including Babe Ruth. They were supported by Yankees’ co-owner Til Huston, who wanted Huggins fired. Fortunately, those efforts were negated by the other Yankee owner, Jacob Ruppert, who remained steadfast in his support of his skipper.
- The Uphill Climb of New York’s Teams in 1921
Neither the Yankees nor the Giants occupied first place most of the season. Those spots were held by the defending world champion Cleveland Indians in the American League and the Pittsburgh Pirates in the National League.
- Baseball was undergoing a surge of popularity after World War One
Attendance had risen from three million in the war-shortened 1918 season to six-and-a-half million in 1919 and more than nine millions in 1920, Ruth’s first year in New York. A combination of factors were driving this trend, including the Babe’s celebrity because of his many homer runs, the legalization of Sunday baseball (repeal of blue laws) in New York and other cities, and a new base of more casual fans. These fans could relate more easily to the power game of the Babe than to the low-scoring style of play John McGraw espoused.
- Babe Ruth’s Tape-Measure Home Runs in 1921
Not only did the Babe hit 59—breaking his own record of 54 (hit in 1920)—but many were the longest ever hit in many of the ballparks he played in. The long-distances shots made headlines everywhere. And for all the talk of the short right-field fence in his home park, the Polo Grounds, the Babe hit almost half his home runs in other ballparks in 1921. Moreover, many of his blasts were to center field, and some were to left.
- The 1921 season was played under the shadow of the 1919 Black Sox Scandal
The scandal did not come to light under the end of the 1920 season, almost a year after the “fix” took place. The suspension of the “Eight Men Out,” their indictment and trial, as well as their ultimate banishment from the game, were a backdrop to the 1921 season. Fortunately for the game, the drama on the playing fields and Ruth’s heroics overwhelmed the negative news.
- Even in 1921, good pitching still beat good hitting
...in spite of the explosion of offense at the start of what became known as the Lively Ball Era. In the 1921 Yankees-Giants World Series, five games had four runs or less scored, and a sixth game had only six runs.
- The Babe was tailor-made for the era...and for the city of New York
Babe Ruth had such an oversized personality—he was larger than life off the field as well as on it. It was only fitting that he began assaulting baseball’s long-distance records on the nation’s biggest stage, New York City. People were ready to throw off restraints and enjoy themselves after the burden of the Great War, and sports celebrities were a big part of the entertainment. However there were competing forces at work: Prohibition became the law of the land in 1920 and drove drinking underground, or at least out of the public eye. Yet nothing seemed to restrain the Babe, and people liked that. What better person to challenge John McGraw’s hold on the city for the previous two decades?
- America had a love-hate relationship with New York...and with John McGraw’s Giants
Fans hated the pugnacious and arrogant McGraw and the way his teams fought umpires and cornered the market on talent. Yet many wished their team had such a brash leader and such deep pockets. Players on other teams didn’t care for McGraw either, yet many wanted to play for the team that seemed able to compete for the pennant every year. Many opposing players took their games against the Giants as opportunities to impress McGraw and hope that he’d trade for them.
- And One. Ruth and McGraw, a Clash on Many Levels
What made 1921 such a dramatic season and compelling story were the opposing forces of McGraw and Ruth. The controlling manager and the uncontrollable player. The man who embodied the “Inside Game” of scratching out a run here and a run there and winning a low-scoring game and the man who wanted to settle matters with one swing of the bat. The game’s past and its future. Two forces competing for the allegiance of fans in the biggest and brashest baseball burg.