SI Vault
Robert Creamer
August 25, 1958
There's a strong argument in favor of this year's runaway Yankees. But how about 1927? And 1953?
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August 25, 1958

The Greatest Yankee Team Ever

There's a strong argument in favor of this year's runaway Yankees. But how about 1927? And 1953?

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This detail is to a purpose, to illustrate the effect the Yankees had on a potentially good team. Riding on that first wonderful surge against New York, Detroit had come from six games under .500 to an even keel, but, after the Yankees had finished smothering them in Detroit, the Tigers collapsed. They lost 10 of 12 games in all, fell from second place to seventh and were further below .500 than they were before they first snarled at Casey Stengel.

The Cleveland Indians, too, felt the morale-breaking strength of this team. The Indians were gay when they came into New York in July, and were even gayer when they beat the Yankees 12-2 in the first of a five-game series. The next day the Yankees beat the Indians in a double-header, beat them 11-3 the day after that and then humiliated them 10—0 in the final game of the series. The Indians lost 11 of 14 games before they shook out of their stupor.

This was Norman's point and the cardinal attribute of the 1958 Yankees: they crush every challenge, they don't allow an opposition party time to organize.

In the beginning, when the race by its very newness was close, they were overwhelming. They won 25 of their first 31 games to open a huge nine-game lead. Seven times they shut out their opponents in that first 31-game sprint, and eight other times they held them to one run. Of the six games they lost, three were by one run, another by two. Only once were they soundly defeated. Later, after their June letdown, when first the Red Sox and then the Tigers and then the Indians made faintly threatening noises, the Yankees again roused themselves. In a five-week drive, they won 24 and lost eight, sent their rivals spinning and more than doubled their already substantial lead. When they surge again after their August doldrums (their seven-and-10 record from Aug. 3 through Aug. 17 paralleled the earlier recession—six wins and nine losses—that slowed them temporarily in June), a record 20-game margin by the end of the season will be within clear reach, especially if the other clubs, demoralized by the Yankees, continue to flounder.

Then, if Joe Cronin is right and the Yankees demonstrate that they are by far the best team in their league and probably in baseball, who is to say that this beautifully balanced squad is not the greatest Yankee team of all?


Well, Casey Stengel for one says this isn't even his best Yankee team, though he won't say which team was. Casey, who fears creeping complacency in his men the way a gardener fears crab grass in his lawn, may have been using a psychological spur to rouse his players who on occasion do seem slightly bored by it all.

George Weiss, the Yankees' general manager, won't say this is the best team and he won't say it isn't. He admits a fondness, however, for the 1947 and 1949 Yankee teams, preseason underdogs, who fused into pennant-winning teams and played with far more fire and dash than this year's superefficient model.

Sportswriters who cover the Yankees say emphatically that this year's club cannot compare with the Yankees of the past. They talk of 1923 and 1932 and 1941, but highest praise ultimately focuses on the Yankees of 1927, 1936 and 1953.

The 1927 Yankees have been called the greatest of all time more often than any other club in the annals of baseball. There is much to support this claim, though long years of retelling stories have left a rich patina of legend over the facts. For instance, legend insists the team was packed with explosive out-of-the-park hitters from the top of the batting order to the bottom. This is simply not true. The fence-busting power of the 1927 Yankees was concentrated in the really fabulous performances of Babe Ruth, who hit 60 home runs, and Lou Gehrig, who hit 47. These totals are impressive today, but in 1927 they were almost unbelievable. Ruth hit more home runs by himself than any other club in the league did as a team. Ruth was first in the league with homers, Gehrig second and teammate Tony Lazzeri third, with 18. Only five other men in the league hit more than 10 home runs. To dominate as overwhelmingly today, Ruth would have to hit 139 home runs and Gehrig 111.

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