Five O'clock Lightning: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and the
1927 New York Yankees, the Greatest Baseball Team Ever
1927 YANKEES: Pre Season (Book Excerpt)
The press release on December 30, 1926 out of the offices
of the New York Yankees in Manhattan on 42nd Street overlooking Bryant
Park and the old Sixth Avenue El began:
"YANKEES WILL PLAY 21 SPRING BATTLES."
There would be a dozen games in Florida, seven heading north with
the Cardinals, and two against the Brooklyn Robins at Ebbets Field.
The Yankee schedule was of interest to a multitude of fans and the
players themselves, but to no one more than 23-year-old Tony Lazzeri.
For on a gloomy and overcast October 10, 1926 at Yankee Stadium,
Cardinals versus Yankees, he came to bat for the Yankees who had
loaded the bases in the seventh inning of the seventh game of the
World Series with St. Louis clinging to a 3-2 lead. There were two
"The bullpen in Yankee Stadium, Redbird hurler pitcher Grover
Cleveland Alexander recalled "was under the bleachers then and when
you're down there you can't tell what's going on out in the field
only for the yells of the fans overhead. There was a telephone in
the only real fancy, modern bullpen in baseball. Well, I was sitting
around down there not doing much throwing. The phone rang and an
excited voice said 'Send in Alexander.'"
Having already pitched complete game victories in Games 2 and 6, it
was said that the grizzled veteran was recuperating from too much
"So I come out from under the bleachers," Alexander continued. "I
see the bases full and two out and Lazzeri standing at the box.
Tony is up there all alone with everyone in that Sunday crowd
watching him. So I just said to myself, 'Take your time, Lazzeri
isn't feeling any too good up there and let him stew.'"
The crowd chanted: "Poosh-em-up Tony! Poosh-em-up Tony!" In four at
bats the day before against the 39-year-old right-hander Alexander,
Lazzeri had gone hitless.
First pitch, curve, a swinging strike.
Next pitch lined into the left-field seats. Foul ball.
"Lazzeri swung," said Alexander, "where that curve started but not
where it finished. The ball got a hunk of the corner and then
finished outside. If that line drive Lazzeri hit had been fair,
Tony would be the hero, and I'd just be an old bum."
Then an over-anxious Lazzeri swung and missed and struck out.
Alexander breezed through the eighth inning. In the ninth with two
outs, he pitched around in his phrase "the big son of a bitch" Babe
Ruth and walked him. The very dangerous Bob Meusel was next.
"If Meusel got hold of one, it could be two runs and the series,"
Alexander later said. "So I forgot all about Ruth and got ready to
work on Meusel. On my first pitch, the Babe broke for second. I
caught the blur of Ruth starting for second as I pitched and then
came the whistle of the ball as catcher O'Farrell rifled it to
second. I wheeled around and there was one of the grandest sights of
my life. Hornsby, his foot anchored on the bag and his gloved hand
outstretched, waiting for Ruth to come in."
Incredibly, the Babe had attempted to steal second base and was
thrown out. The Cardinals had their first world championship. The
Yankees had a long winter talking about what-might-have-been.
Somehow, Babe Ruth got off the hook. The story that made the rounds
was that the "Big Bam" had not attempted to steal a base but was cut
down in a botched hit and run play. The man on the hook was young
Tony Lazzeri who spent a lot of his winter suffering the slings of
"what happened?" and the pain of boils.
And that is why when he received the news that his Yankees and the
Cardinals would have a series of exhibition games barnstorming north
after the spring training of 1927 ended, it was reported that the
San Franciscan shouted out: "Vendetta," raising his fists into the
air, "I shall have revenge."
There was no doubt that the 1926 World Series loss to the Cardinals
stung Babe Ruth. But he did not suffer from boils. He also did not
lust for any revenge. An incredible force of nature, he just kept
rolling along, engaging in a tidal wave of activities after making
that final out of the World Series.
Hither and yon, the great Ruth went, barnstorming
vigorously for two weeks. On October 17 in Montreal the Yankee
slugger slammed so many shots into a nearby river, according to a
report in The South Bend Tribune, that the game was called for lack
Barnstorming completed, the Babe switched gears embarking on a 12
week Pantages circuit single act vaudeville tour. It kicked off in
October 1926 in Minneapolis and would finally come to a conclusion
in January 1927 in southern California. The gig netted Babe Ruth
$8,333 weekly. No performer had ever made that kind of money, not Al
Jolson, not Fanny Brice, not even W. C. Fields. There were those
who said the Yankee slugger had to be doing something right to be
earning all that money.
George Herman Ruth was everywhere doing everything in the time
leading up to spring training in 1927. He was a one man endorsement
machine - for pure milk, appliances for the home, housing
developments, different kinds of cars, some that no longer exist
like Reos, Auburns, Packards, Studebakers and Oldsmobiles. All told,
it was estimated that the Sultan of Swat earned $250,000 in 1926
from playing baseball, movie work, barnstorming, endorsements and
syndicated ghost written pieces.
And the Babe, who it was claimed needed little sleep, even had some
spare time for golf, women, fishing, mingling with celebrities and
But the sluggers of sluggers had not yet signed a new contract and
seemed not likely to do so anytime soon. Hands down, he had rejected
the $52,000 salary he earned in 1926.
In early February, Yankee owner Jake Ruppert sent another in what
would be a series of contract offers to Ruth. This one was for
$55,000. The offer annoyed the hell out of the competitive Babe who
said he had it on good authority that Ty Cobb, now with the
Philadelphia Athletics, was slated to get $75,000.
The peripatetic Yankee outfielder moved on to "Hooray for Hollywood"
time, making his first movie, "The Babe Comes Home" for First
National pictures. In a break during shooting he said: "Reading,
like picture shows is almost taboo, I've got to watch the old optics
closer than anything else."
Under strict orders from his trainer Artie McGovern, the Bambino,
also got his beauty sleep. He was early to bed by 9 P.M. (it wasn't
clear whether he was there alone or had company), and early to rise
he was on there on the movie set no later than six A.M.
On Hollywood Boulevard, running three to five miles a day, George
Herman winked and smiled at folks all along the way, truly a sight
for all kinds of eyes. After the up and downing on the streets, Ruth
was rewarded back at his Hollywood Plaza Hotel with a comforting and
stimulating rub down by McGovern who had taken leave of his New York
City gymnasium on 42nd Street and Madison Avenue to press the flesh
of his most illustrious client still unsigned to a Yankee contract
for the 1927 season. McGovern, in a comment praising himself and the
wondrous work he was accomplishing remarked about his beginnings
with Ruth: "He was as near to being a total loss as anyone I ever
had under my care."
On February 22, six days before the first Yankees were scheduled to
arrive in St. Petersburg for spring training, Babe Ruth mailed to
Rupper an outline of what he thought he should be paid for 1927,
just another salvo in their continuing out in the public eye
contract wrangling. The Babe pressed the point that he would retire
from baseball and organize a string of gymnasiums with Artie
McGovern if his salary needs were not met.
On February 25, the day before the big man left
California for New York, his salary demands were published in the
New York Daily News. Two days later a letter he wrote to Colonel
Ruppert appeared in The New York Times. The letter's tone was
conciliatory. It was also forceful. . .
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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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