As Yankees fans, we are heirs to a tradition of excellence that is unique in American sports. With 27 championships, 40 pennants, and 95 winning seasons, the Bronx Bombers’ track record is simply unrivaled. Generations of Yankees fans have watched their team reach the mountaintop and claim October glory for the city that never sleeps.
At the beginning, however, the Yankees’ legacy was still unwritten. The organization’s first 20 seasons (1903-1922) included only two pennant wins and zero World Series titles. Babe Ruth’s arrival in New York in 1920 made the Yankees immediate contenders, but the team could not get over the hump in Ruth’s first three seasons. In fact, the 1921 and 1922 seasons ended in bitter disappointment. Both campaigns concluded with World Series losses to the rival New York Giants. Naturally, the 1923 season became a quest for redemption.
Lead-Up to the Fall Classic
The ’23 Yankees, playing their first season at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, were a force to be reckoned with. Coming off of a disheartening loss to the Giants in the 1922 World Series, the motivated Yankees powered through the American League. The Bombers would clinch the AL Pennant with 98 wins, 15 more than the second-place Detroit Tigers. Babe Ruth, who ran away with the AL’s MVP award, batted .393, smashed a league-high 41 dingers, and posted an outrageous 1.309 OPS.
While the Yankee offense led the American League in home runs, the pitching staff paced the AL in ERA. Starters Waite Hoyt and Herb Pennock combined for a 36-15 record, and Sad Sam Jones won a team-high 21 games. Elite pitching helped the Yankees win 18 games in September and cruise to the World Series.
The Giants had a much more difficult journey to the Fall Classic. Despite boasting the most productive offense in the National League, the defending champs had to battle the pesky Reds for the pennant in 1923. During a tight season, the Giants maintained a slim lead over Cincinnati on their way to an NL-best 95 wins. The Giants had done just enough, and the stage was set for another rematch with the Yankees.
Trading Games Early
The Bronx Bombers took an early lead in Game 1 thanks to timely hits by outfielders Bob Meusel and Whitey Whitt. Responding like reigning champs, the Giants caught fire in the 4th. In addition to taking a 4-3 lead, the Giants chased Yankees starter Wait Hoyt out of the ballgame. Bullet Joe Bush pitched a strong 6.2 innings in relief of Hoyt, but ultimately picked up the loss in the first World Series game at Yankee Stadium. The Yanks had tied the game at 4-4 in the 7th, but Casey Stengel hit a dramatic inside-the-park home run with two outs in the top of the 9th. Final score: 5-4 Giants.
As the series transferred to the Polo Grounds for Game 2, the Yankees found their rhythm. The Babe, who reached based only once in Game 1, walked twice and smashed a pair of critical home runs. Herb Pennock pitched exceptionally well in his first World Series game for the Yankees. Things got dicey in the 8th when Pennock allowed the tying run to reach base with two outs. Cool under pressure, however, Pennock got Giant pinch-hitter Hank Gowdy to end the inning on a fly ball to centerfield. A clean 9th gave Pennock the complete game victory and evened the series at 1-1. Final score: 4-2 Yankees.
After losing 1-0 in Game 3 at Yankee Stadium, the Bombers again tied the series with a road win. The Yankees’ Game 4 victory at the Polo Grounds came courtesy of a little small ball. Giants’ pitcher Jack Scott allowed three singles at the start of the 2nd inning before being replaced by Rosy Ryan. Ryan surrendered a double to Whitey Witt and then walked Ruth to face Meusel. Meusel made Ryan pay by roping a two RBI triple that broke the game open. The Giants stayed alive by scoring three runs off of Yankees’ starter Bob Shawkey, but Pennock would come out of the bullpen to record the save. Final score: 8-4 Yankees.
With the series tied at 2-2 and Game 5 being played back in the Bronx, the pressure was on the Yankees to deliver. And deliver they did. Building off of his strong relief outing in Game 1, Bullet Joe Bush held the Giants to only three hits and a single run over nine innings. Meusel played the hero once again, hitting a two-RBI triple in the bottom of the 1st. Joe Dugan, the Yankees’ third baseman, took a page out of Stengel’s book and ripped an inside-the-park home run in the 2nd that gave the Bombers a 6-1 lead. In convincing fashion, the Yankees collected their first World Series win at their new ballpark. Final score: 8-1.
Kings of New York
For the first seven innings of Game 6, things looked bleak for the Yankees. Ruth gave the Bombers an early lead on a solo shot in the top of the 1st, but then the Giants’ recovered and took a commanding lead into the late innings. Down 4-1 at the start of the 8th and in danger of letting the series slip to a seventh game, the Yankees came to life. With one out, Wally Schang, Everett Scott, and Fred Hofmann all managed to reach base.
After a pair of walks with the bases loaded, the Yankees had cut the score to 4-3. Ruth came to the plate with an opportunity to give the Yankees the lead, but Rosy Ryan struck him out swinging. With two outs Bob Meusel, who tagged Ryan for a triple in Game 4, stepped into the box. Once again, Meusel delivered a series-changing hit. His single to centerfield, combined with a costly throwing error, gave the Yankees a 6-4 lead. Sad Sam Jones recorded a six out save, Pennock earned his second win of the series, and the Yankees were world champions.
The Legacy of 1923
History could have been quite different had the Yankees lost the 1923 World Series. Three-straight World Series losses could have crushed the franchise and given the Ruth Yankees a reputation for choking in the big moments. Instead, 1923 was the beginning of a dynasty for the ages. Ruth’s Yankees would win again in ’27, ’28, and ’32. Between 1923 and 1962, the Yankees won an incredible 20 championships and established themselves as the preeminent franchise in American sports. It’s quite the legacy, and it all started in 1923.