Friday, June 24, 2011
SUMMER OF 1927 (Excerpt from Five O'Clock Lightning )
By Dr. Harvey Frommer
"It isn't a race in the American League, it's a landside."
-- John Kieran, New York Times
July would be the best of all months for the Yankees. They would win 24 of 31 games and stitch together their longest winning streak of the season, nine games, from June 13th through July 23rd.
In first place where they had been all season, flying, unstoppable, cocksure, determined and proud of what they were accomplishing, they played on.
And Gehrig and Ruth especially played on. Ruth played off Gehrig, and Gehrig played off Ruth. They both gave opposing pitchers fits and the fans delight. The pennant race was over. It had actually been over before it began.
But the "Home Run Derby" was in full throttle, mesmerizing more and more baseball fans day after day. Gehrig and Ruth, Ruth and Gehrig. Neither man could gain significant separation from the other as they took those mighty swings that baseball summer. And what separation there was, was never more than two home runs.
On the first day of July, the Yankees faced the hapless Red Sox. The Buster and the Babe were tied with 25 home runs each. Gehrig slammed a home run to pace the 7-4 Yankee win, the 13th straight defeat for Boston. That game was a marker moment for the "Bammer" the first time since 1922 that he trailed a rival on that date in the home run race.
"There's only one man who will ever have a chance of breaking my record, and that's Gehrig. He is a great kid," the King of Clubbers said.
Whenever Ruth hammered a homer, Gehrig waited at home plate to shake his hand as he rounded third and touched home plate. If Gehrig homered with Ruth on base, the two would trot around the bases. The Babe waited for Lou to touch home. Then the happy pair like two school kids, smiling all the way, would enter the Yankee dugout to the cheers of their adoring fans, to the congratulations of their teammates.
The younger Gehrig said: "There will never be another guy like the Babe. I get more of a kick out of seeing him hit one than I do from hitting one myself."
The older Ruth said: "Gehrig is one of the greatest fellows in the game and a real home run hitter."
And the self effacing Iron Horse said: "I'm just fortunate enough to be close to him."
But Tony Lazzeri, who knew the score all too well, noted: "They didn't get along. Gehrig thought Ruth was a big-mouth and Ruth thought Gehrig was cheap. They were both right."
Despite Lazzeri's comments, there was no public animosity, no obvious jealousy, no enmity evident between the pair. Ruth even had a kind of big brother, semi-paternalistic interest in Gehrig. "This college kid," the Babe said, "is one of the queerest ballplayers I ever knew. It seems he never feels the cold weather. The coldest day in winter he'll come swinging down Broadway without an overcoat, his coat open and no vest. Never wears gloves and half the time goes bare-headed. Some of the boys claim he never had an over coat on his shoulders until he joined the Yankees."
They were known in the media and by the fans as the "home run twins." But when it came to who was the favorite, it was no contest.
Ruth struck out in a game, and Gehrig followed with a homer. Afterwards at the exit gate kids swarmed all over the Big Bam with adoring looks and cheers, scorecards, pieces of paper, autograph books. Ruth obliged every one of them. No one paid Gehrig any attention. Seemingly content, he walked away and down the street.
"Babe and Gehrig were entirely different disposition-wise," Bill Werber said. "But they both had an intense desire to win. And you'd better have the same disposition on that ball club, or they were on your ass. Eating or drinking during the course of the game, you'd better not do that."
Their lockers were just a few feet from each other and like all the rest at Yankee Stadium, their names were printed in white chalk near the top:
The Yankee first baseman's locker was orderly. The Yankee outfielder's locker was the opposite. Overflowing with telegrams, letters in the hundreds, salves and balms and toiletries, phonograph records of "Babe and You," the top of locker had a green gourd about five feet long on it. After games ended, Gehrig sat on a stool in front of his locker, dressed quickly and left. Ruth hung around. Sometimes he sat on a stool but most times he stood, enjoying the give and take with reporters.
2011 marks Harvey Frommer's 36th consecutive year of writing sports books. A noted oral historian and sports journalist, the author of 41 sports books including the classics: "New York City Baseball,1947-1957" and "Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," his acclaimed REMEMBERING YANKEE STADIUM, an oral/narrative history was published in 2008. Frommer's newest work is REMEMBERING FENWAY PARK - (http://harveyfrommersports.com/remembering_fenway/)
on Twitter: http://twitter.com/south2nd.
on Linked In: http://www.linkedin.com/profile/edit?locale=en_US
on the Web: http://www.dartmouth.edu/~frommer
Get autographed, discounted copies of books directly from the author @ harveyfrommersports.com. He is available for speaking engagements. FROMMER SPORTSNET (syndicated) reaches a readership in the millions and is housed on Internet search engines for extended periods of time.