Five O'clock Lightning: Babe
Ruth, Lou Gehrig and the Greatest Team in Baseball History, The 1927 New
Beer baron Jake Ruppert could remember names
but never addressed anyone by a first name. The Yankee owner was
characterized in Ed Barrow's memoirs as an "imperious" man, one who "in
all the years I knew him, always calling me 'Barrows,' adding an 's'
where none belonged.
Ruppert "was a fastidious dresser," Barrow remembered, "who had his
shoes made to order, changed his clothes several times a day, and had a
Arriving in style with his secretary Al Brennan for spring training in
St. Petersburg in his own private railroad car, it was said that the
honorary Colonel savored the comforts of his own drawing room and
sleeping in a silk brocade nightshirt. Ruppert was particularly
interested in and impressed with the man he had sunk all that money
"Ruth looks great," he announced. "Watch that boy. In fact, he may set
another home run record. The team as a whole is in fine shape, shows
real fighting spirit and looks like a winner, although I admit I'm not
much of a prophet."
Despite the sunny side up outlook of their owner, there was an
undercoating of gloominess that pervaded spring training for the
Yankees whose wrenching loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1926
World Series was still close to the surface especially for the frail
Miller Huggins who stayed during spring training with his sister Myrtle
in a home he owned in St. Petersburg. A bachelor, he also lived with
her in a Manhattan apartment.
There were times in his early years with the Yankees that he would come
home dejected: "Ah, it's just too frustrating. Life is too short for
this kind of rotten stuff and rowdy players I have to put up with. I
think I'll chuck the whole thing."
"Stick it out" Myrtle would prop him up. "Don't let them be able to say
that you quit when you were under fire."
Dubbed "the unhappy little man," Huggins was always with a short stemmed
pipe in hand or mouth, a gray visage, a worrier, anguishing over his
stock market investments although he played that game with great skill
and enthusiasm and at times invested for players, turning a profit for
them. He anguished over his real estate holdings, his players, his
appetite, his real and imagined medical problems. One could never tell
by the way he dressed, by the little well worn traveling bag he carried
on the road that the mite manager's salary for 1927 was $37,500.
He had all those expressions that he was fond of repeating:
"Baseball is my life. Maybe it will get me some day. But as long as I
die in harness, I will be happy."
"A manager has his cards dealt to him and he must play them."
"Great players make great managers."
When Colonel Ruppert and Huggins first met, the patrician owner was not
at all enamored with what he called: "the worker's clothes, the cap
perched oddly on Huggins head, the smallness of the man."
Truth be told, Miller Huggins was the most unlikely Yankee. The
Cincinnati native was 5'4", 140 pounds, aloof, superstitious. He had a
law degree from the University of Cincinnati, but he never practiced
Initially, Ruppert balked at employing Huggins as Yankee manager.
Initially, Huggins viewed managing an American League team as a step
down from his time as skipper with St. Louis in the National League.
Somehow, the little man at the age of 39, became the eighth manager in
the franchise's 16-year- history in 1918.
"HUGGINS IS READY TO MOLD YANKEES" was the
headline in the February 2, 1918 edition of The New York Times.# #
Dwarfed by Babe Ruth and other Yankees in size, reputation and image,
Miller Huggins bitched: "New York is a hell of a town. Everywhere I go
in St. Louis or Cincinnati, it's always 'Hiya Hug.' But here in New York
I can walk the length of 42nd Street and not a soul knows me."
As pilot of the Yankees, it took him a while to make things happen.
There was a 1918 fourth place finish in his first year as manager, then
two third place finishes. There was a 1921 pennant, the first for the
Yankees. A pennant in 1922. Another pennant in 1923 and this time,
finally, a World Series victory over the Giants. After a seventh place
finish in 1925, the roster was re-shaped for 1926 and there was another
pennant. But that was the time of the wrenching loss to his old St.
Louis team in the World Series.
Now in spring training of 1927, the shuffling, scuffling, searching for
any edge Huggins was more intense than ever, looking for ways to improve
his Yankees. In 1926, shortstop Mark Koenig had batted leadoff.
Centerfielder Earl Combs, the Kentucky rosebud, had batted second. In
June Huggins flip-flopped them in the lineup; they stayed that way for
the remainder of the season. That would be the way it would be in 1927,
too, Huggins decided.
Now in spring training, Huggins made another far more crucial, more
dramatic lineup switch. Lou Gehrig would now bat cleanup, sandwiched in
between the outgoing and energetic Ruth moved to the third slot and the
taciturn and unpleasant Bob Meusel, in the fifth hole.
Huggins also added a new coach, Arthur Fletcher. The Phillies manager in
1926 would now be a fixture for the Yankees at third base and a heckler
without equal. A former shortstop, a clone of John McGraw, whose Giant
teams he had played on for more than a decade, "Fletch" was the leader
and sparkplug of one of the Deadball Era's top infields that featured
Fred Merkle at first, "Laughing Larry" Doyle at second, Buck Herzog at
third. Fletcher was the shortstop.
"If there be one among the gamesters of baseball who is gamer than the
rest, that man be Fletcher," wrote sportswriter Frank Graham. Everywhere
the Giants went, Graham wrote, "There was fighting and Fletcher always
was in the thick of it. He fought enemy players, umpires, and fans. He
was fined and suspended frequently." A friend of Huggins from their
National League days, reluctant at first to take the job, Fletcher loved
being a Yankee coach and being on the scene of a winning team.
Charley O'Leary, a buddy of Huggins, had been on the scene as Yankee
first base coach since 1921. Skilled at and fond of getting on umpires
and players, his rowdiness sharply contrasted with the muted personality
of the cerebral Huggins. The slightly built Irishman, one of eleven
boys in a family of sixteen children, like Fletcher, was a former
shortstop and had starred for Detroit's pennant-winners in 1907-1908.
It was O'Leary who Huggins would later give credit to for the
development of the kid infielders Tony Lazzeri and Mark Koenig.
You can reach
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About the Author:
Harvey Frommer is in his 38th year of writing books.
A noted oral historian and sports journalist, the author of 42 sports
books including the classics: "New York City Baseball,1947-1957" and
"Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," his acclaimed REMEMBERING YANKEE
STADIUM was published in 2008 and his REMEMBERING FENWAY PARK: AN ORAL
AND NARRATIVE HISTORY OF THE HOME OF RED SOX NATION was published to
acclaim in 2011. The prolific Frommer is at work on When It Was
Just a Game, An Oral History on Super Bowel One.
His work has appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times,
Washington Post, New York Daily News, Newsday, USA Today, Men's Heath,
The Sporting News, among other publications.
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