April 17, 1927, Boston Red Sox at New York Yankees
(Excerpt from my manuscript for the upcoming book “The 1927 Yankees: Anatomy of the Greatest”)
It was Easter Sunday all across the country. In addition to the usual masses for Catholics, there were the traditional parades that would take place in towns everywhere. Many men, but mostly the women, dressed in their finest new Spring fashions to partake in the parades, and in the big cities, they were big society events.
In Gotham, it also coincided with Verrazano Day, commemorating the discovery of New York Harbor in 1524. Heading north from the harbor was the East River that connected to the Harlem River, which led up to Yankee Stadium in the Bronx.
Colonel Ruppert’s playground was where about 35,000 paying customers wanted to spend the afternoon. Amid a nice sun and pleasant 50-degree temperature, the Yankees and visiting Red Sox had a 3 p.m. start time.
Boston manager Bill Carrigan sent 21-year-old sophomore righthander Jack Russell to the mound. Used regularly as a relief man the year before, he had yet to win a big league game, posting a 0-5 record with a 3.58 earned run average.
Doing the catching for the second game in a row would be former Yankee Fred Hofmann. He first joined New York for one game back in 1919, and then he spent the bulk of the next six years as a seldom-used backup. Fred’s best year in pinstripes was during their world title year of ’23 when he played in 72 games, batted .290 and established career highs with three home runs and 26 runs batted in. He was sold to St. Paul in May 1925, leaving behind a major league ledger that showed 213 games, a .245 batting average, seven homers and 53 RBI, in a deal that many believed help pave the way for the Mark Koenig purchase soon afterwards. Hofmann resurfaced in the majors when the Red Sox purchased him in December 1926. So far on the young season he was batting .250, with three hits in 12 at bats.
Huggins countered with Waite Hoyt for his second start of the season. Facing his former team for the first time in ’27, it provided added motivation.
On paper, the pitching match-up appeared to be a mismatch, as did the game. Fortunately for the visitors, sometimes things didn’t necessarily go as planned, but it was up to them to make sure they didn’t.
Every player liked to do well against a former team, and with Hoyt, it was no different. In the top of the first inning, the Sox proved little trouble for him.
The Yankees set about to start the festivities immediately in their half of the first when Combs slapped a single, and Ruth was walked. Gehrig stepped to the plate. He waded into a nice offering and slammed a long line drive to right field that easily cleared the wire fence and landed in the bleachers a few feet inside the foul pole. It was his first home run of the season, and it staked the Yanks to an early 3-0 lead.
Dare anyone think, but it just might be enough. The Red Sox had yet to score more than two runs in any game, but there was still a lot of game left.
In the next frame, things unraveled quickly for Boston when Pat Collins singled, and then from the manner in which Russell delicately followed Hoyt’s sacrifice bunt one could have figured the Sox hurler was in an egg race. Later, Koenig also got into the hit column with a single that drove in two runs to up the count to 5-0.
In the home third after Lazzeri had lathered the ball for a triple, Gazella was at the plate and he tried a squeeze play. Unfortunately, he missed the ball and instead of a squeeze, Lazzeri was squashed between third and home.
Come the top of the fourth, Koenig reached back for an extra effort and starred in the field when he went deep to his right to take away a hit and throw out the batter, and it was none other than Wanninger. Maybe, just maybe, Mark Anthony wanted to drive home a certain point, and who better to do it against. Two batters later, little lefty Jack Tobin put all of his 5’8” and 145-pound frame into one of Hoyt’s pitches, and he deposited the ball into the right field sector for both his and Boston’s first home run of the season. When Ira Flagstead grounded a hot one to third, Gazella made a great stop and peg from the depths to nip him at first.
Combs’ double brought in another run in the home half to make it 6-1. Three batters later Gehrig roped a savage grounder towards first baseman Phil Todt that zipped right past his ear on its way into the outfield for a single. It proved the inning’s action though, because both Combs and Gehrig died on base.
Just as the Sox were coming to bat in the top of the fifth, a beautiful woman flaunted her broad-brimmed yellow hat as she made her way to a seat in the grandstand. She was Mary Cecilia “Texas” Guinan. The “Queen of the Night” was one of Broadway’s best known nightclub hostesses whose popular “300 Club” at 151 West 54th Street was shut down by federal prohibition authorities for six months back in February. She was also pretty tough to miss in the crowd, and many in the grandstand wanted to see her, and strained to do so.
Boston proceeded to go down quietly. Then an aimless hurl by Russell and a powerful sacrifice by Gazella brought in two more runs for the Yankees in the home half.
Heading into the bottom of the sixth, the Yanks had a fairly commanding 8-1 lead. With mates on the second and third sacks, Gehrig was at it again. He crushed the longest fly of the season to deep center field, and it forced Flagstead to turn completely around, jump on his horse, and race back and up the grade. When he caught the ball, he almost had one foot in the centerfield bleachers that measured some 480-plus feet away, and Lou had himself a very long sacrifice, as both men moved up 90 feet after the catch. If Gehrig could have connected just a fraction of an instant sooner and his blow could have been hit a little more towards right, the ball would have left the park for a second three-run homer, but instead it only plated Koenig, and the Hugmen had to be content with a 9-1 lead.
After the seventh inning stretch, with two outs Carrigan trotted another baby face to the mound amid a Yankee threat. Danny MacFayden was an inexperienced 21-year-old righty out of Holy Cross, who had pitched all of 13 innings in a three-game stint in ‘26, and on Opening Day of ‘27, he got to pitch to three batters in the ninth inning at Washington. Asked to get his teammates out of a jam, MacFayden did when he retired Combs to end the inning.
In the top of the eighth, still trailing by a hefty eight runs, and somewhat resigned to looking for a white flag given that thus far Boston had only scored eight total runs in five games, Carrigan sent a rash of substitutes into the game. Included was 23-year-old William “Red” Rollings to make his major league debut. However, all of the maneuvers could not push a run across, as Hoyt did a little bending, but no breaking.
When the home team came to bat in the bottom of the frame, MacFayden was going to face the heart of the Yankees’ lineup. Koenig started the inning innocently, and Ruth again walked to bring up Gehrig, who had already hit the ball hard three times. He kept up his antics when he pounded yet another shot that flew into the seats in right. It was Lou’s third multi-homer game in his young career, having last done it on August 13, 1926 when he hit both off Washington’s legendary Walter Johnson, and the home run also gave New York the league lead in ’27 with three. During his tour around the bases, Gehrig literally almost caught the Babe, the man he had just passed for the team lead in homers. Not to be lost, the two runs that crossed the plate made the game even more of a laugher, 11-1.
Meusel and Lazzeri followed with singles, and Mike Gazella smacked a double to right-center which scored one. Collins next punched a single into left that scored two, making it 14-1, and thankfully, the Sox turned a double play to end the carnage.
With nothing left to play for in the Boston ninth but individual pride, Wally Shaner doubled to lead off the frame. Todt hit a sacrifice to advance him, and Rogell’s line drive single back through the box scored the token run. But it mattered little when Hoyt struck out reserve catcher William Moore to end the game.
The final score was 14-2. The pitching mismatch on paper turned out to be just that on the field. The easy victory was the Yanks’ fifth in a row to start the season, establishing a new franchise mark, thus erasing the ‘11 and ’23 winning starts of four straight from their record book.
As for Carrigan, he had only been at the Red Sox helm for five games in 1927. Unfortunately, those five games were all it took for him to already equal his previous longest losing streak, having lost five straight but not six in each of the ‘13, ’14, and ’15 seasons during his previous stint.
Hoyt had pitched brilliantly. He struck out five while scattering eight hits, and behind him he had a defense that again played errorless ball.
The Yankee offense was all the rage. They unleashed a punishing attack and again pounded two young Boston pitchers, this time for 18 hits. Every New York position player had at least one hit, all but Ruth collected at least two, the Yanks hit safely in every inning and produced 28 total bases, and every player scored at least one run. It was an awesome overall display.
It was rare that a player would have a two-for-five batting performance and see his average actually drop, but that is what happened to Koenig. His two singles actually dipped his league-leading average to .560.
But the big story of the afternoon was Gehrig, who went three-for-four with two homers. He knocked in six runs, two short of the league’s production record, and it raised his league-leading total to 12 runs batted in. Settling nicely into the cleanup spot in the Yankees’ order, Lou was off to a great start, and he was putting up Ruthian-type numbers. Gehrig had eight hits in 20 at bats for a .400 average, and five extra base hits gave him 18 total bases and an incredible .900 slugging percentage.
When the game was over, Miss Guinan walked onto the field and attempted to cross it. However, about 5,000 people wanted to see who was wearing the big yellow hat and surged as close as possible before she finally escaped through the grandstand.
For his article in The New York Times, James Harrison scribbled, “Henry Louis Gehrig, the Morningside scholar, whiled away the golden hours by slapping two home runs into the right field bleachers. This pair of blows, combined with a single, gave Henry a total baseage of nine, and he drove in six runs.”
It might have been very early in the season, but Gehrig was already showing his immense ability. There was little question that he was one of baseball’s brightest young stars, and the hometown born and raised product was the pride of New York.