: August 18, 2008
The Pitching Staff Behind Murderers' Row: Waite Hoyt, Herb Pennock, Wilcy Moore and the 1927 New York Yankees
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he 1927 Yankees Pitching Staff
by Jeff Linkowski (Pitsburgh, PA)
The 1927 New York Yankees often vie for the mythical title of "The Greatest Baseball Team of All Time," a club noted for its terrifying offense. But as Jeff Linkowski pointed out in our pages on October 24, 2003, it was the pitching staff that made this unit special
Often overlooked is how good pitching staffs will set a few teams above all the rest. Entering 1927, the Yankees definitely had an updated version of their “Murderer’s Row” offense, but what separated the club apart from other great teams in baseball history was that they could also toe the rubber and pitch as well as their slugging teammates could hit. However, it was a different story in spring training, as the Yankees’ middle of the diamond would be manned by what many considered to be a questionable corps, which is why the team was not even viewed as the favorite for the pennant; Connie Mack’s Athletics were the top pick.
Manager Miller Huggins would counter with a somewhat aging starting pitching staff and had planned on using several rookies to supplement his five key veteran pitchers. Four of them, Urban Shocker (age 36), Bob Shawkey (36), Dutch Ruether (33) and Herb Pennock (33), were the oldest players on the team, and they had all pitched in at least ten different big league seasons. In Florida, Huggins had said, “If any of the young pitchers show me anything, they will get a chance. I’ll admit that in the past I’ve been cautious about using rookies, but that was the past. This year experience isn’t going to cut so much of a figure; a young arm is sometimes better than an old head.”
Shocker was in his second tour of duty with the Yankees. It was in the minors that he had acquired a variety of curveballs, and most importantly, a spitball. His delivery was aided by a permanent crook in the end joint of his ring finger, suffered when he had speared a ball while still a catcher. He always said that the crooked finger improved his grip and actually enabled him to hook it around the ball, allowing him to break off a slow pitch that acted just like a spitball, thus increasing the effectiveness of his pitches.
Shocker had been shipped out to St. Louis in January of ’18 that would clearly prove to be one of Huggins’ rare misjudgments. When the spitball was abolished in ‘20, Urban was one of only 17 who could still legally throw the pitch, and he quickly established himself as one of the foremost pitchers in the league, stringing together four consecutive 20-win seasons from ‘20 through ’23. Atoning for a previous mistake, Shocker was reacquired by New York in December of ’24.
Nearing the end of his career, Shocker was still an intense and studious pitcher, widely admired for his profound knowledge of hitters. Heading into the ‘27 campaign, Shocker could boast an impressive big league resume. In 12 years, he never had a losing season, owning a career record of 169-111, one of the top 30 winning percentages in baseball history (.604), and a 3.20 earned run average. Commensurate with his resume, Urban had a contract that called for a salary of $13,500, making him the third highest paid Yankee.
Bob Shawkey had been a stalwart on the Yankees staff for years. During their first three pennant years from 1921-23, he had won 54 games, including a 20-12 record in ’22, and also struck out at least 125 batters each year. Heading into ‘27 and nearing the end of his career, Shawkey owned a career mark of 194-147, with a 3.09 earned run average, the best on the staff, and was under contract for $10,500.
Ruether was a former veteran National Leaguer who unfortunately carried with him a reputation for trouble. He had come to the Yankees in a peculiar manner, when he was picked up on waivers from the Senators on August 27, 1926 for “cash well exceeding the waiver price”, beating the postseason eligibility deadline by four days. Heading into ‘27, the 33-year old southpaw had a career record of 124-89, with a 3.51 ERA, and his signature was on a contract that paid him $11,000 in base salary, plus an additional incentive bonus of $1,000 if he won 15 games.
Pennock was recognized as the top southpaw in baseball, and after going 23-11 in ’26 and picking up two more wins in the series, Huggins had called him “the greatest left-hander of all time”. There may have been a little bias behind it, but the assessment was not that far off. Heading into ’27, Herb owned a 156-115 record with a 3.45 ERA. Pennock also had a first rate contract befitting of that status, signed to a three-year deal that called for $17,500 each season, making him the second highest paid player on the team behind Babe Ruth, and the deal included a bonus clause, which would pay him another $1,000 for winning 25 games.
Pennock had a smooth, graceful and almost effortless motion that was deceptive to hitters, and he was very durable because he did not expend a lot of energy while pitching. Not overpowering, he was even tempered, cool under pressure and extremely effective. He possessed a decent fastball, a great curve, and a baffling change up that were all augmented by impeccable control, the kind that managers, catchers, and infielders alike loved, but opposing hitters loathed. He was also a smart pitcher, constantly studying the great hitters for weaknesses. Many an opponent was psychologically crossed up, as he routinely faked out hitters by pretending to shake off different pitches, then returning to the original signal. Huggins had also once said, “If you were to cut that bird’s head open, the weakness of every batter in the league would fall out.”
Waite Hoyt was the emerging ace of the staff. Back in spring training, the fatherly Huggins had sat his temperamental star down and discussed his pitching. “If Hoyt could curb his temper, he would be a better pitcher. There is no reason he should not win 20 games every year. He has stuff and he knows how to use it. After the ball he pitched in the 1921 World Series, he should have gone to the very top.” The manager was referring to his pitching three complete games without allowing an earned run in the ‘21 classic against his adversary, McGraw’s Giants.
Still commonly called “Schoolboy”, Huggins had also handed him the ball for both the deciding seventh game of the ’26 series, and also for the ’27 season’s Opening Day. Going into his tenth season, the 28-year-old Hoyt had a 110-85 career record, along with a 3.56 ERA, and was under contract for a salary of $11,000, plus another $1,000 if he won 20 games.
Wilcy Moore was a cotton farmer from Oklahoma who had a batted ball hit his right wrist, fracturing the bone during the ’25 season. When he returned later in the year, he found it hard to continue throwing overhand, so he switched his delivery to sidearm, and a naturally sharp and wicked sinker was found. The pitch augmented his already good fastball and decent curve, which Wilcy commanded with excellent control. The following year, fully recovered and with his new found pitch, he reeled off a string of 17 straight wins, four more than the previous record, and after reading about him in a paper, Ed Barrow promptly dispatched a scout to find out about Moore, remarking, “Anyone who has a 20-1 record anywhere is worth taking a look at”.
When Wilcy was signed nobody made a big deal of it, but Barrow and Huggins had figured he had a decent shot at making the team for ’27. The Yankees didn’t even have much invested in Moore, as he had agreed to a $2,500 contract, making him the second lowest paid player on the team, and included a $500 bonus if he stuck with the club the entire year.
In spring training, he had shown all of the pitches for which he was signed. “I guess it is more sensible to take a pessimistic view because of his age,” Huggins had said. “He is one of those old youngsters. He is breaking into the majors at thirty, old for a pitcher.” Moore proved the brain trust right when he emerged as something of a sensation in camp, working 25 exhibition innings and allowing less than a dozen hits. It was a precursor to his season.
Ever since George Pipgras’ acquisition from the Boston organization prior to ‘23, a year in which he was actually included on the eligible list for the postseason, his progress had been watched carefully. After two seasons of wildness, Huggins had farmed him out to the minors for a few years of curing, before he finally stuck with the team for ’27.
So, heading into the regular season, the pitchers were viewed as the key to the Yankees success. They were a group consisting of three right-handers, one a veteran young emerging ace, one a reacquired old proven veteran, and another an old former ace, and two southpaws, one the best in baseball and another that was among the better ones, that would be supported by a couple of rookies, one an impressive old man and the other an unimpressive young one. It was a contingent that surprised almost everyone, as they went out and dominated the league as few staffs had before, and in one descriptive word, was “superb”.
In 1927, the Yankee staff led the league with a 3.20 earned run average. It was ľ of a run better than the nearest competitor, and at almost a full run lower (.92) than the league average, it was the second largest margin in history. The staff also made baseball history by becoming the first to have the top four pitchers in winning percentage, and the top three in ERA, in the same year. There were seven pitchers in the league with an ERA less than 3.00 who threw often enough to qualify for the title and four of them were Yankees. Additionally, the pitchers held opposing teams to a .271 batting average, lowest in the league, while also leading the league by posting 11 shutouts. The Yankees were 69-13 in their starting pitcher’s complete games, but when relief was summoned, they were just 41-31.
Hoyt had a breakthrough year with his best campaign yet and for the first time in his career he won 20 games, tying for the league lead in wins with a 22-7 record. He also led with a .759 winning percentage, was second in the league with a 2.64 ERA, was third with 23 complete games, and fourth with 256 innings pitched. A consistent performer, he was 11-3 on the road in ‘27, with a 2.70 ERA. Of his 32 starts during the season, the Yankees had won 26 of them. However, he held the dubious distinction of surrendering ten home runs, the most on the staff.
Pennock was number two in the rotation, and finished 19-8 with a 3.00 earned run average. His 19 wins tied him for fourth best in the American League and second on the team, while his .704 winning percentage was fourth best in the loop and fifth on the team (Pipgras didn’t qualify for the league title). In addition, his 18 complete games were fifth in the league and second on the team.
Shocker started the season slowly before winning 15 of his final 18 decisions. Overall, he finished the campaign with an 18-6 record, and was third in the league with a 2.84 ERA. Shocker was a proven veteran who had not lost a decision in the final two months, but as a spitball pitcher, had walked more batters (41) than he had struck out (35). His ERA was third in the AL, and he was second in winning percentage (.750), a career high. A control pitcher, Shocker only allowed 1.85 walks per nine innings (lowest on the staff), and he only struck out 1.58 batters per nine innings (also lowest on the staff).
However, unbeknownst to virtually everyone, Shocker was actually very ill. After having contracted a rare degenerative heart disease a few years earlier, he fought bravely to continue to play baseball, but his condition became so serious that Urban was unable to sleep in the normal position of lying down.
Ruether began the year as a regular in New York’s rotation. He came out of the gates strong, winning 12 of his first 14, before hitting a bit of a snag late in the year. His final numbers were a 13-6 record with a 3.38 earned run average.
Though inexperienced, Pipgras was the hardest throwing hurler on the team, and was eased into the rotation in mid-season. He contributed a 10-3 record that actually gave him the highest winning percentage (.769) on the team, but did not qualify for the league title. Opposing batters hit .247 against him, second lowest on staff behind Moore, while permitting only two home runs. He struck out an average of 4.38 batters per nine innings pitched, the fourth best mark in the league and seventh best in all of baseball. He had yielded only two home runs, lowest among all league pitchers with at least 150 innings pitched, and the Yankees had won 16 of his 21 starts.
Moore was the best rookie in the league, having burst into the majors as the best relief pitcher in baseball. His real strength was how cool he would remain under pressure, and his specialty pitch, a deadly sinkerball, had lifted him from minor league obscurity to a place among the elite of pitchers in one year. Overall, he was 19-7 in ‘27, the third best winning percentage (.731) in the league. He also led the league with a 2.28 earned run average, while holding opponents to a league-low .234 batting average. He won 13 games in relief, leading the league, and saved another 13, tying for the league lead. Versatile, Moore had also made 12 starts among his 50 appearances, and only Hoyt had logged more innings on the staff during the season. As a sinkerball pitcher, he induced mostly ground balls as opposed to fly balls, and had only permitted two home runs in 212 innings pitched, lowest in the majors. Additionally, Moore was nearly untouchable on the road, posting a 1.77 ERA in enemy territory while limiting opposing hitters to a paltry .217 batting average.
After a few shaky April starts, Huggins had moved Shawkey to the bullpen. In 17 relief appearances, the tall and slender Shawkey responded by posting a 2-2 record, with four saves and a 1.67 earned run average. Combined with his early season futility, overall he was 2-3 with a 2.89 ERA, a mark that was fourth best on the team and seventh best of all league pitchers, regardless of innings pitched. He also struck out 4.74 batters per nine innings pitched, the highest mark on the staff.
Myles Thomas was the eighth man in the deep staff, and with not much opportunity to pitch, he contributed a solid 7-4 record, finding the bulk of his work had come steadily during the month of June. Joe Giard appeared in only 16 games, but gathered no decisions and posted an 8.00 ERA, while Walter Beall had appeared in only one inning on Memorial Day. With six frontline pitchers, and two others not far off, it was easily the most impressive staff in baseball during 1927.
In the World Series, Huggins’ staff was outstanding against a hard-hitting Pittsburgh Pirates team. Hoyt was the starter for the first game, but after developing a blister, was removed late for Moore to preserve a 5-4 Yankees’ win. Named as a surprise starter, Pipgras used mostly fastballs to pitch a 6-2 gem in the second game. In the third contest, Pennock was an absolute master, retiring each of the first 22 batters he faced, an unprecedented string, before finishing with a three-hit, 8-1 win. And in what turned out to be the final game of a sweep, Moore went the distance in a 4-3 clincher.
New York had used only four different pitchers to shut down Pittsburgh, also the first time that four different pitchers had won on four successive days for the same team. Yankee pitchers had an earned run average of only 2.00, walking only four and throwing no wild pitches, despite only striking out seven batters. The Pirates batted just .223 against Yankee pitching. It provided the exclamation point on an unbelievable season.
Jeff Linkowski maintains a 1927 Yankees website at 1927 Yankees and is currently in the final stages of writing his detailed manuscript.