Their name evokes an image that has become shorthand for head-shaking, awe-inspiring dominance, dropped into press box and sports bar conversations 80 years after they pummeled their last opponent: “And then, out of nowhere last September, the Rockies morphed into the ’27 Yankees.”
Their nickname carries the same kind of currency: “Sure, Grady Little had his faults, but that lineup he had wasn’t exactly Murderers’ Row.”
The 1927 New York Yankees are the standard by which all baseball teams are measured, even by those that have eclipsed some of the club’s achievements. With 116 victories in 2001, the Seattle Mariners won a half-dozen more games than the ’27 Yankees, but no one refers to the ’01 Ms (failed to win the pennant) in hushed, reverent tones.
The ’27 Yankees made their mark with offensive exploits that seemed otherworldly at the time, their reputation driven by two of the game’s most legendary larger-than-life figures, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.
Ruth hit 60 home runs in 1927, breaking his major league record of 59, set in 1921. He also had 164 runs batted in, a staggering total, except for one thing: It ranked only second on his own team. Gehrig finished the 1927 season with 175 RBIs, a .373 batting average (Ruth hit .356) and 47 home runs. That year, the American League most-valuable-player award went to Gehrig, not Ruth.
Joining them in the Yankees’ “Murderers’ Row” batting order were second baseman Tony Lazzeri (.309, 102 RBIs) and outfielder Earle Combs (.356), both future Hall of Famers.
Playing a 154-game schedule, the Yankees were the first team in baseball history to occupy first place every day of the season, finishing with a record of 110-44 and a winning percentage that would hint at Ruth’s eventual career home-run total: .714.
At the time, however, the greatest accomplishment of the ’27 Yankees was sweeping the Pittsburgh Pirates in the World Series, four games to none. Before that, the Yankees had won only one World Series, in 1923, and they were starting to hear gripes about underachievement.
After Ruth hit his 60th home run, against Washington’s Tom Zachary on Sept. 30, he shouted, “Sixty! Count ‘em! Sixty! Let’s see some . . . match that!”
Thirty-four years later, Roger Maris found a way, though it cost him clumps of hair and peace of mind. More than three decades after that, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds found their own ways. And we know what that cost them.