The Yankees are the most successful team in Major League Baseball history; they’ve been to the World Series 40 times and won 27 titles. And because that history exists, we almost take it for granted. We know where it is;we know–to an extent–where it comes from; and we have hopes for where it will be in the future. Today, we’ll travel to the launching point of the Yankees’ dominance, their 1921 squad.
This team lost the 1921 World Series to their stadium-partners, the New York Giants. Despite that, they had a great year and were set up well for the future. One year later, they once again lost the Fall Classic; however, in 1923, they finally broke through. As they say, the rest was history. Let’s get down to the nitty gritty about the ’21 Yanks.
They won the AL, obviously, with a 98-55 record by 4.5 games over the Indians. On the hitting side of things, they finished fourth in BA (.300), third in OBP (.374), and first in SLG/OPS (.464/.838) as well as runs (948) and home runs (134). On the mound, they led the league with a 3.82 ERA and struck out the most batters (481). Individually, there were some strong performances, too.
Starters Carl Mays and Waite Hoyt dominated on the mound, posting ERA+ marks of 138 (2nd in AL) and 136 (4th in AL), respectively. Hoyt was 21 at the time, by the way. At the plate, there were also some solid performances. Outfielder Bob Meusel and catcher Wally Schang OPS+’d 128 and 123 respectively, good marks for any player, regardless of position. However, the were overshadowed by one man: George Herman Ruth.
In 1921, Babe Ruth annihilated the American League. His .378 batting average didn’t lead the league, but his .512 OBP; .846 SLG (!); 1.359 OPS; 238 OPS+; 145 walks; 177 runs; 171 RBI; and 59 home runs all did. His 59 homers were more than five American League teams had and he accounted for 12% of all the home runs hit in the AL in 1921. To accomplish that feat today–12% of the AL’s HR–a player would need to hit 300 home runs (there were 2500 HR hit by AL teams in 2012). 1921 was arguably Ruth’s finest offensive season along with 1920, ’23, ’26, and ’27 (okay they were all pretty goddamn awesome).
1921 was the jumping off point for both Yankee and Ruthian dominance. While they didn’t win it all and it was neither the team’s nor Ruth’s most famous season, it was an important and exciting one nonetheless.