SI Vault
Noel Hynd
November 03, 1986
In 1912 the New York baseball club in the American League was a sorry operation indeed. Known as the Highlanders, they played in rickety, wooden Hilltop Park at Broadway and 165th Street and finished last in the league that year.
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November 03, 1986

When The Yankees Beat The Giants In The 1923 Series, A New Era Began

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Damon Runyon immortalized the incident in the New York American the next day. Rounding second, Stengel felt a sponge break free inside his left shoe. Rounding third, he wobbled like a cripple. Sliding home, he signaled himself safe. Fortunately, umpire Billy Evans agreed. Ruth had been deprived of hitting the first World Series home run at Yankee Stadium. And the Giants had the run that would win Game 1. Yes, 1923 looked like a replay of the previous two years.

But, as Heywood Broun wrote in the World the following day, "The Ruth is mighty and shall prevail." True enough. In the second game, at the Polo Grounds, Ruth walked in the first, and then in the fourth he caught a Hugh McQuillan curveball and belted it over the rightfield grandstand.

Ruth came up again in the fifth. Walk him? McGraw had answered that question before the game. "Why shouldn't we pitch to him?" said John J. "We pitch to better hitters in the National League."

Oh? Giants reliever Jack Bentley showed the Babe a slow curve. Ruth showed Bentley a fierce line drive into the lower deck. The Yankees had a 4-1 lead and the game. And the tide seemed to be turning. The Babe was starting to catch up to Giants pitching.

The unexpected hero in the third game was again Stengel. In the seventh inning Casey—who hit with surprising power during his career—lined a ball into the rightfield seats at Yankee Stadium. It would prove to be the only run of the game but not the only fun. The target of relentless heckling from the Yankee dugout, Stengel turned toward the Yankee bench and appeared to be flicking a fly off his nose with the tip of his thumb. But 62,430 people saw Casey's gesture of ill will. Ruppert later demanded that Stengel be punished, but commissioner Landis refused. "Casey Stengel," Landis said with uncharacteristic understatement, "can't help being Casey Stengel." Even the Bambino, one of the targets of Stengel's nose thumbing, was amused.

"I didn't mind it," Ruth said. "Casey's a lot of fun."

The Giants had a 2-1 lead in the Series. What followed was the equivalent of an old wall crumbling as a relentless tide rushes through. Game 4, played at the Polo Grounds on Oct. 13, was a watershed for professional baseball.

In the second inning the Yankees finally went to work on McGraw's pitchers, scoring six runs to move the game out of reach early. It was 8-0 when the Giants finally rallied in the bottom of the eighth, but they fell four runs short.

"It was a bad game for a good team to lose," McGraw remarked when it was over. But maybe he sensed something, too, because the fifth game, played at Yankee Stadium, was also a rout, 8-1 Yankees. The American Leaguers scored three runs in the first and four in the second to make it no contest early on. The turnaround was absolutely stunning. Forty-eight hours earlier, riding the heroics of Stengel's second home run, McGraw and his troops had seemed on the brink of their third straight Series title. Now their backs were against the wall.

Game 6, at the Polo Grounds, became a classic struggle between the old baseball and the new. Ruth hit a home run in the first inning. Then the Giants, playing their traditional game, chipped away for single runs in four different innings. The score was 4-1 Giants at the start of the eighth. That was the Big Inning.

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