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The wonderful memories appear with a grainier texture these days, flickering inside Mark Koenig's head like a fading silent movie. He can make out images, but the echoes are gone, for the cheering stopped more than 60 years ago. The only voice heard now is his own: He is the last of the 1927 New York Yankees.
"Those days are one of the highlights of my life," Koenig said recently during a conversation at his California home. "They were my life. I sure miss those guys."
And in life's autumn reverie, he can see them as if it were only yesterday: Ruth, Gehrig, Meusel, Lazzeri, Dugan, Combs, Pennock, Hoyt...still considered by many baseball observers to be the greatest team ever. Koenig was the shortstop.
"I was ordinary. Very ordinary," he says. "I had small hands and made too many errors. The only thing I had was a powerful arm. I don't think I could have stayed up on any other club. The Yankees could have carried a midget at shortstop. That's how good a club it was."
Koenig, 86, is bewildered that he should be the last survivor of that storied '27 team. "I don't understand it," he says. "Maybe they got on base more and wore themselves out."
Yet it was Koenig who was on third, after slapping a triple, when Ruth lifted his 60th home run into the record books. "I just ran to the dugout," Koenig says of that historic moment. "It was just another home run."
The Babe. Koenig remembers the man more vividly than any of his home runs.
"Ruth wasn't too well educated. He didn't read much. He didn't know Robin Hood from Cock Robin," Koenig says. "We never saw much of him, just on the field. On the road, he roomed by himself. But myself, [catcher] Benny Bengough and [leftfielder] Bob Meusel went to New Jersey with him several times after ball games. Ruth had a friend named Jimmy, a little bald-headed guy who owned this place in Passaic. Ruth would bring him a couple of autographed balls and a bat. You should have seen it, long tables loaded with sandwiches, beer coming in large steins. Sure, it was Prohibition. But it didn't matter."
Nothing mattered to those '27 Yankees, who had the stamina to play hard by day and by night. Even without a curfew, they batted .307 as a team, won a then league-record 110 games (in a 154-game schedule), ran off with the pennant by 19 games and swept Pittsburgh in four games in the World Series.
"We stayed in this fancy hotel in Washington with these ambassadors who wore red ribbons across their chests," Koenig remembers. "We came in one morning at three and decided to take a swim. The pool was in the lobby, and by the time I asked someone at the front desk if it was all right, [catcher] Johnny Grabowski had taken off all his clothes and dove in. Only it was the wrong end and he came up with this big bump on his head."