The Yankees Way? A Brief Look At How The Championship Teams Were Built, Pt. 1: 1921-23

I contend that throughout their history, when the Yankees have been successful it is because they have used their great financial strength to acquire the necessary talent in order to build the best teams possible. I contend that has been the Yankees way from the very start of their success and it had defined their successful periods right up until the present day.

I decided to look at this in summary form to test my theory. In this new series, I will examine the various successful periods in Yankees history. I will look at the team’s starting players and find out how they were acquired to see if my perspective is correct.

We’ll begin with their first championship era: 1921-1923. The statistics I will share in this exercise are the typical counting stats of the time - batting average/home runs/runs batted in (and for pitchers, wins, losses, ERA). These will serve as a quick guide to see how that player performed over those years.

Please note that this is not an exhaustive study, it is only a start. More and deeper research is welcome.

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The First Successful Period - 1921-1923

1921: First Place (98-55) 4.5 games over second place Cleveland, Lost World Series to NY Giants

1922: First Place (94-60) 1.0 games over the St. Louis Browns, Lost World Series to NY Giants.

1923: First Place (98-54) 16 games over second place Detroit. Defeated the NY Giants in World Series.

The Players:

Catcher - The main catcher on the 1921-23 squad was Wally Schang who batted .307 in 342 games over that three year stretch. Schang was traded to the Yankees from the cost-cutting Boston Red Sox. He was one of numerous Red Sox players who had won in Boston and then brought that success to New York. Before playing in Boston, Schang had also been in two World Series with the Philadelphia A’s.

First Base - Wally Pipp played first base on all three of these Yankees teams. Pipp played in 449 games over those three years batting .310/23/306. Pipp had been a Yankees star for many years dating back to 1915. He came to the Yankees when they purchased his contract from the Detroit Tigers.

Second Base - Aaron Ward was the starting Yankees second baseman over this period. He played in 459 games and put up a batting line of .286/22/226 over that period. Ward came up with the Yankees appearing first in 1917. He would be considered a home grown player as in the 1920’s, the minor leagues operated differently than today.

Shortstop - In 1921, the Yankees’ shortstop was Roger Peckinpaugh who came to the Yankees from the Cleveland Naps in 1913. Peck was a Yankees leader, he was even a player-manager for 20 games in 1914. In 1921, Peckinpaugh batted .288/8/72. These were excellent numbers for a shortstop. After the 1921 season though, Peckinpaugh was traded as part of a package to the Red Sox for (among others) their shortstop, Everett Scott, who played the position for the Yankees on the 1922-23 pennant winning teams. Everett Scott, also a respected player, had previously won three World Series with the Red Sox. He played in all but two games in 1922-23 batting .286/9/111 over those two seasons.

Third Base - In 1921, the Yankees’ third sacker was a superstar from the time, a former member of the great Philadelphia A’s and future Hall-of-Famer Frank “Home Run” Baker. Baker batted .294/9/74 in 1921. Baker came to the Yankees, in a salary dump in 1916 after appearing in four (winning three) World Series with the great A’s teams. The Yankees paid $37,500 to acquire Baker. Joe Dugan came to the Yankees in the summer of 1922 in a big trade with the Red Sox, that also included the Yankees sending $50,000 to the Red Sox. (The Red Sox had acquired Dugan from the Senators in exchange for Roger Peckinpaugh.) Dugan had previously played for the A’s as well. Dugan played 206 games for the Yankees in 1922-23 batting .283/10/91.

Quick Summary - Thus far, of the starting players on the infield and at catcher, all but one came to the Yankees through cash deals and trades.

Left Field - This is where it gets a little tricky. I’m going to try to simplify this. People remember Babe Ruth as a right fielder, but in this period he actually played more games in left field than right field. In those three years, the Babe was a monster batting .366/135/394. What more needs to be said? Ruth won three World Series with the Red Sox before being sold to the Yankees. Babe Ruth was THE difference maker. Without their financial strength, the Yankees would have never had Babe Ruth and the history of baseball would be forever different.

Center Field - In 1921, the Yankees used a variety of players in center field (including Babe Ruth for 20 games), but the guy who played there the most (just 56 games) was Elmer Miller who hit .298/4/39. Miller had been a Yankee since 1915. They had purchased him from the St. Louis Cardinals in 1915. The center fielder in 1922 and 1923 was Whitey Witt a .306/10/92 hitter who came to the Yankees from the Philadelphia A’s, a team shedding payroll, in April 1922 just before the season started.

Right Field - Bob Meusel was a big hitter for the Yankees in this time. He hit .317/49/317 over those three years. He was considered a star and was later part of “Murderer’s Row.” Musial came up with the Yankees in 1920. He would have to be considered a home grown player.

Quick Summary - It is fair to say that the Yankees outfield, except for Meusel, was traded for or purchased. The standout here, of course, is Babe Ruth who changed the history of the franchise and brought them their first period (and their second period, as we will see) of success.

Main Pitchers:

Carl Mays - Led the Yankees in starts in 1921 (27-9, 3.05) and was on the team in 1922-23 as well. Mays had won two World Series with the Red Sox with whom he had played since 1915. Like so many Yankees of this period, the Yankees acquired Mays in a trade with the Red Sox.

Waite Hoyt - Started 91 in this period going 55-34, 3.18 . Hoyt, a future Hall-of-Famer, came to the Yankees from the Red Sox in the same deal that brought Wally Schang, and others, to the Bronx.

Bob Shawkey - Led the Yankees in starts over this period (with 96) going 54-35, 3.46. Shawkey had been a Yankee since 1915, but, while he was a long time Yankee, he came up with the A’s and was purchased by New York from them.

Sad Sam Jones - Made 55 starts for the Yankees in 1922-23 (going 34-21, 3.65). He came to the Yankees, from the Red Sox (among others) in the Everett Scott trade.

Bullet Joe Bush - Started 60 games for the Yankees in 1922-23 (45-22, 3.37). Yes, he had been on World Series teams with the A’s and the Red Sox previously. He also came to the Yankees, from the Red Sox, in the Everett Scott deal.

Herb Pennock - One of the Yankees’ most important pitchers (with Waite Hoyt) in the next championship era, Pennock, a future Hall-of-Famer, came to the Yankees in 1923 where he went 19-6, 3.13. I’m sure a careful reader can fill in the blanks. Pennock came up with the Philadelphia A’s (appearing in the 1914 World Series), went to the Red Sox in 1915, and then was traded, again with cash ($50,000) from the Red Sox to the Yankees before the 1923 season.

Conclusion - It is clear, abundantly clear, that the first great Yankees teams, their first pennant winners and their first World Championship squad was a team built through trades and purchases of great players from other teams - most notably the Philadelphia A’s and the Boston Red Sox. The first great Yankees period came because the owner, Jacob Ruppert, spent big to bring a winner to New York.

We will see how the other eras play out…