Povich Rewind: Greatest Team Ever?

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Povich Rewind: Greatest Team Ever?
May 15, 2019

The Golden State Warriors are the latest team to be placed in the category of maybe the “best sports team since the 1927 Yankees.”

Shirley Povich actually covered the 1927 Yankees. Below is his account of their sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates in the World Series.

Yanks win Title, 4-3. On Wild Pitch And Ruth’s Homer

New York, Oct. 8 — Truth is stranger than fiction. They like to tell in story books of how, in the last half of the ninth inning, with the bases full, our hero knocked a home run and won the game. Or how, in the last half of the ninth inning, with the bases full, the chosen hero struck out the next three batters and saved the game.

But they have not told how, with the bases full in the ninth inning and none out, the potential hero struck out the next two batters and then, on the threshold of success and fame, he loosened a wild pitch and lost the game.

And thus ends the story of how, today, the New York Yankees defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates in the fourth game of the World Series by a score of 4 to 3 to win the championship in four consecutive games, rivaling the victory of the Boston Braves over the Philadelphia Athletics in the series of 1914, and the triumph of the Chicago White Sox over the Chicago Cubs in the series of 1906.

John Miljus, World War veteran, and a tall, right-handed pitcher, who has graduated to the major leagues and been shunted to the minors, later to be taken on by the Pirates and developed into a mainstay of their pitching staff, was the potential hero, but also the actual “goat” of today’s game, a sad figure after the unhappy wild pitch in the ninth inning, with the bases full and two out as a result of his striking out Lou Gehrig and Bob Meusel just minutes before.

Bucs in First Threat

Baseball has witnessed no more melodramatic ninth inning and its fateful ending than was presented in today’s game. It was a lucky and unlucky climax, a happy and unhappy ending, a glad and sad turn of events for the Yankees of New York and the Pirates of Pittsburgh.

Doubly disappointing to the Pirates was the wild pitch of Miljus. The Pirates, carrying the standard of the National League into the World Series as foes of the Yankees, hailed as the greatest team of all time, had played miserable baseball until today, when the true Pirate team threatened finally to stay the power in the Yankee bats and themselves to carry on to victory.

In the background, unmistakable, and silhouetted in bold relief against the procession of events, which marked the contest, was the one and only Babe Ruth, the Bambino, who had almost won the game for the Yankees single-handed by hitting another of his terrific home runs, with Mark Koenig on base, in the sixth inning of the contest, with the score tied. It was Babe Ruth’s second home run of the series and broke his own record of nine in World Series competition, which he set yesterday.

Moore Goes Route

The last pitching hope of the Pirates, the bespectacled Carmen Hill, and another pitching mainstay of the Yankees, Wilcey Moore, started to pitch today’s fourth game and innocently set the stage for the fateful ninth, aided by an error by Lazzeri in the seventh inning which had helped the Pirates to tie the score with a two-run rally and send the game into the last half of the ninth.

A pinch hitter forced Hill out of the game in the seventh inning, and Miljus assumed the pitching burden for the Pirates. Moore twirled the entire game for the Yankees, and it was the pitching of this 30-year-old veteran, rescued from the South Atlantic League last spring by Miller Huggins, which aided mightily in the Yankees victory.

Miljus survived the eighth inning safely, but at the start of the ninth he gave first evidence of what was to follow by walking Earl Combs, first to face him, on four straight balls. Koenig’s bunt down the third base line was safe and Combs went to second. Confronted with the ominous situation, Manager Bush ordered Miljus to walk Babe Ruth, the next batter, filling the bases.

Not Quite a Hero

Here was something for Miljus to conjure with, the bases full, the score tied, and a New York sort of a hit, error or outfield fly ready to be converted into the winning run. But he faced Lou Gehrig calmly. He gave Gehrig a low ball and Gehrig swung futilely. His next offering was another ball. Then Gehrig struck at a wide curve. A ball followed. Miljus struck Gehrig out with a low inside curve.

Bob Meusel was next up. The same situation obtained. Any sort of hit, error or outfield fly could account for the winning run. Miljus faced Meusel as calmly as he faced Gehrig, and he slipped over a strike on the first pitch. A low ball was not offered to Meusel. Meusel swung viciously at a slow curve and missed. He fouled the next pitch down the third base line. Miljus struck Meusel out on a slow curve.

Yankee Stadium was in a frenzy. New York fans or not, the 52,000 persons in the stands accorded the veteran a tremendous ovation. Here was being executed a baseball rarity. A veteran pitcher was matching his physical skill and his pitching acumen against three batters renowned for their slugging and on the result hung the championship and thousands of dollars in gold for the players of the teams.

The 52,000 persons in the three-tiered stands and the bleacher seats of Yankee Stadium, transformed again into a human arena by the masses that had gathered there, breathlessly awaited every pitch. And Miljus was unruffled. Three runners were tugging at the bases, ready for any break.

Tony Lazzeri was the next batter. The same Lazzeri that faced something of the same situation in the decisive game of the World Series between the Yankees and the St. Louis Cardinals last year. The same Lazzeri that faced Grover Cleveland Alexander, Cardinal pitching veteran, with the bases full, and struck out.

Miljus faced Lazzeri as he had faced Dehrig and Meusel, calm, unruffled and unperturbed. His first pitch to Lazzeri was over the plate and baseball history was repeated when Lazzeri fouled the ball into the far right field stands as he had fouled a ball into the right field stands against Alexander in that memorable game of the 1926 World Series. It was a potential home run, but it was foul, and Lazzeri, the 52,000 people in the stadium and the millions who were listening in awaited the next pitch from Miljus.

Then a strange thing happened. The ball that Miljus threw was a wild pitch. It was a side-arm curve and it left the beaten path to the plate 10 feet in front of catcher Gooch, it developed into a sweeping curve that “broke” with an eccentric dart far to the outside of the plate. Gooch made a gallant effort to catch the ball. He did manage to get his big mitt in front of it, but it bounded away. It bounded from his mitt in the general direction of the Pittsburgh bench and Earl Combs was already speeding to the plate from third base. Before Gooch could recover the ball, Combs, with a last joyful leap, had touched the plate. The game was over.

The last game of the 1927 World Series shamed every other in point of interest, action and good baseball. There was even the “master minding,” which until this contest had played a very minor role. Manager Huggins, of the Yankees, and Manager Bush, of the Pirates, were called upon to display the baseball tact and judgement that had carried the two teams to league pennants.

Bush, on the defensive, bore the most difficult task, and, only for Miljus’ wild pitch, he might have scored a decisive personal triumph. It was he who delegated Miljus to stay the Yankee attack after Hill had been relieved by a pinch hitter in the seventh inning, and it was he who ordered Babe Ruth be passes in order that Miljus might have a chance to strike out Gehrig and Meusel in the ninth inning.

Bush’s tactics were sound, for Gehrig and Meusel and Lazzeri are known to be frequent strike-out victims. Each had fanned once before in the game, and Lazzeri had struck out twice. Hugging played the game wisely. Twice he refused to take Moore from the game when a successful pinch hitter might have decided the matter with little more ado. He discounted Moore’s battling prowess in banking upon him as the team’s pitcher and again his judgement was proven right.

Again Babe Ruth came to the aid in time of need. Carmen Hill had been an enigma from the second inning until the sixth.

Then Babe Ruth hit another of his home runs. Hoenig was on base, and it was a terrific clout. It was nearer center field than right field, and it settled in the bleachers, far up among the tiers of seats. The home run broke the 1-1 tie in which the teams had been locked since the first inning. It gave the Yankees a commanding lead and was the decisive hit of the contest.

Carmen Hill justified every confidence that Manager Bush had placed in him as his starting pitcher. He allowed the Yankees one run in the six innings he pitched. He walked just one batter, and in the first inning, after the Yankees had knocked three consecutive singles, he struck out Lou Gehrig, Bob Meusel and Tony Lazzeri, the same trip that faced Miljus in the ninth, and he slipped a third strike over on each.

Opposing Hill was Wilcey Moore, winner of more than 18 games in his first season as a major leaguer, after spending more than 10 years as a pitcher in the minor leagues. Moore’s sinker ball was not an absolute puzzle, and he was in difficulties on very few occasions. He allowed a run on two hits in the first inning, and he allowed two runs on one his, his own error and Tony Lazzeri’s error in the seventh inning, which enabled the Pirated to tie the score and revive their hopes when it seemed that four straight defeats was their inevitable fate the hands of the Yankees.

The Pirates went down fighting. For the first time in the series they played like the team which won the National League pennant by a brilliant spurt at the finish. Wright and Traynor and Grantham provided Hill and Miljus with sensational support. Only Lloyd Waner’s unimportant error marred their performance in the field, overlooking, of course, the ill-fated wild pitch of Miljus, with the bases full and two out in the ninth inning, and the score tied.

Oct. 9, 1927

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