In the off-season leading into the 1918 season, the New York Yankees were a team in transition – they were poised to compete in the American League, and were willing to spend money to do so. The key to taking that step, in the mind of co-owner Jacob Ruppert, was hiring an experienced and well-respected baseball mind not only to develop the Yankees’ talent and guide the team on the field, but to improve the team’s reputation around the league. The process of finding was rather contentious, with co-owner Cap Huston pushing to hire a friend to the post, and Ruppert throwing his weight behind former Cardinal great Miller Huggins. The dynamic Huggins, of course, ended up with the gig – and many feel that his hiring was the beginning of the end for the co-ownership of Rubbert and Huston, which ended with Huston selling his share of the Yankees for a cool $1.5 MM.
In the seven years preceding the hiring of Huggins, the Yankees finished 6th, 8th, 7th, 6th, 5th, 4th, and 6th in the American League (which consisted of eight teams at the time). Over that time, the team never finished with single-digit wins of the pennant winner, winning a tick over 44-percent of their games along the way. The Yankees were, in short, a borderline laughingstock, as the only team that did not have more than a puncher’s chance at the time.
That all changed with Huggins taking the helm in 1918. In his dozen years with the team, the Yankees won nearly 60-percent of their games, dipping below a 57.3% winning percentage twice. Huggins led the team to three World Series victories (the Yankees first, second, and third titles), and an additional three American League Pennants.
Huggins may best be known for clashing with Babe Ruth, with the two having a relationship that makes Billy Martin and Reggie Jackson’s squabbles Disney-esque in comparison. Over the ten years that Huggins and Ruth shared a dugout, the man known as Mighty Mite suspended the Colossus of Clout on several occasions, refusing to let the team’s superstar run the show. In the end, Huggins did get through to the slugger, with Ruth saying late in his career “[w]e had a few battles, but there was no man I liked better in baseball. Whatever he said to me was for my own good.”
While he may be best known for his 1,067 victories in pinstripes, Huggins was a damn fine ballplayer, as well. In thirteen seasons in the midst of the Deadball Era, Hug posted a .265/.382/.314 slash line, leading the league in on-base percentage once and walks four times. Huggins was also known as a fine baserunner, stealing an average of 25 bases per year, and an excellent fielder. For the sake of context, it is worth noting that Bill James ranked Huggins as the 37th best second baseman in The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract.
Unfortunately, Miller Huggins passed away from a blood and skin infection in September of 1929 at the age of 51. He was honored with an open casket service in Yankee Stadium, and the very first monument in what became Monument Park. Huggins was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1964, as well.