A Moment In Time – 7/28/25

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soxsens1Back we go to 1925, and back to Griffith Stadium, White Sox/Senators twin bill on Tuesday, July 28, third inning of Game 1. Johnny Mostil trots home standing up, as instructed by teammate Ray Schalk (the high-five had yet to be invented) as the Sens’ C Muddy Ruel looks to corral an errant throw or back up another play, as none other than Walter Johnson got roughed up by the Pale Hose this day (including 5 walks) and was sent to the showers by the 6th inning. And when the White Sox knocked Tom Zachary out of the box with four runs in the first in Game 2, the Senators were on their way to a double defeat, which would drop Washington 1 1/2 games behind the Philadelphia A’s, although the Senators would rebound to win the 1925 AL crown. And while the White Sox enjoyed the spoils that day, the franchise was in the midst of an extended period of inconsistency since the Black Sox scandal gutted the club in 1921, and wouldn’t return to the playoffs until 1959.

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Walter Johnson warming at Forbes Field prior to the 1925 WS

Johnson himself would otherwise have a stellar campaign in the Senators’ pennant winning season, winning 20, which would prove to be his last year with a winning record. He was also as good a hitter as a pitcher in 1925, batting an astounding .433 with 20 RBI’s. And facing the Pirates in the 1925 World Series, Johnson was the hero of Games 1 and 4, allowing only one run – but, like in 1924, Johnson was counted on by the Senators to come up big once again in Game 7, and “faced his Waterloo with head unbowed”, but turned out to have the worst post-season outing of his career, giving up 9 runs, including 3 in the bottom of the 8th (although there was a bit of bad luck as well – it was a muddy, rainy affair at Forbes Field, as night was falling in the late innings, and a Peckinpaugh error eventually allowed 2 unearned runs), to put the Bucs ahead 9-7 and virtually seal the championship for the Pirates.

Johnson would fall to 15-16 the next season, and then win only 5 games while pitching to a 5.10 E.R.A. in 1927, and his storied playing career was at an end.

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Ray Schalk

White Sox Hall Of Fame catcher Ray Schalk had a storied career himself – he is considered to have revolutionized the position with his speed and quickness to redefine the capabilities of what a catcher could do, and was the best defensive catcher of his era. Thankfully, he also wasn’t one to give in to quick temptation, as he was among the “clean” White Sox players in the 1919 World Series, batting .304 and admitting later that he knew something was afoot when tainted hurlers Cicotte and Williams wouldn’t throw the pitches he was calling for.

In 1925, Schalk’s career was already in twilight – he had his last strong season that year, but after being slowed by injury the following season (which would be a typical lament for similar aggressive, defensive-minded catchers going forward), became a player-manager in 1927, limiting his playing time greatly, and after assuming the same role with the Giants, retired after the 1929 season.

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Johnny Mostil

Johnny Mostil may have joined the ranks of the above Hall of Famers if he hadn’t derailed his career prematurely due to an unfortunate incident off the field preceding the 1927 season. Mostil emerged as a budding star in the mid-1920’s, leading the league in runs, walks and stolen bases in ’25, and the slick fielding center fielder would be second in the MVP voting in 1926. However, the following March, during Spring Training in Shreveport, Louisiana, Mostil was found in a hotel room in a pool of blood due to many self-inflicted wounds throughout his body from a pocket knife and razor, and teammates, including Schalk, administered aid as help arrived. While initially he was not expected to survive, Mostil made a rapid physical recovery, but was put on the “voluntarily retired” list (likely recovering from emotional issues), and would not return to the White Sox until September of ’27. He did play a full season in 1928, but his speed was inexplicably slowed (with his stolen base percentage plummeting to near .500), and after breaking his ankle in May 1929, his career was over.

Mostil never did disclose the reason for the suicide attempt, but it may have stemmed from rumors circulating that he was having an affair with a teammate’s wife, or perhaps a result of painful neurological problems he was going through. While it’s sad that the event effectively ended his major league career, he did survive, was very successful in the minor leagues afterward, and was also a long time scout for the White Sox, and lived to 70 years of age.

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Muddy Ruel

Muddy Ruel was also an outstanding defensive catcher in his own right, helping to usher in era of defensive-minded backstops that originated during the Deadball Era, and led the AL in assists and putouts in 1925, and was also Walter Johnson’s “personal” catcher in his later career. He also happened to score the winning run for Washington in the 1924 World Series. Ruel was also no stranger to baseball-related tragedy, this time on the field – he happened to be the catcher when the Yankees’ Carl Mays threw the pitch that struck and mortally wounded Cleveland’s Ray Chapman in 1920, still the only player to perish from an on-field injury.

Ruth in 1925; a gut-punch to the Yankees

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Tuesday, June 23, 1925, Senators/Yankees at Griffith Stadium, Washington, DC. The Babe in action, as he advances to third on a flyout by Bob Meusel in the 4th inning after lashing a double off the right field wall, and would eventually score on a sac fly to tie the game at 1-1 (Ossie Bluege is the Sens’ third sacker). Unfortunately for the Yanks and Ruth, it was only the Babe’s 21st game of the season, and with the Yankees 1925 campaign already nearing the midpoint, and the Bombers sitting at 10 games under .500 and in 7th place as the day began (with only the lowly Red Sox behind them), the season was virtually already over, and in reality, Ruth really only had himself to blame.

After rising to prominence in the AL in 1921-22-23, the Yankees slipped to second in 1924, but just barely – after a neck-and-neck race for much of the second half, the Yanks were 2 games back of Washington with two to play, but the Nats split their last two, and a final day doubleheader for the Yankees at Shibe against the Phillies was washed out and eventually cancelled as the Senators mathematically clinched. But the spring of 1925 brought more gloomy skies: Ruth, who seemed to suffer a variety of ailments throughout the spring, shockingly collapsed unconscious coming off a train on April 7, a week before Opening Day (click graphic at right for full article).

ruth25aa.JPGThe Babe, experiencing marital problems, really amped up his wanton ways that off-season, and showed up in Hot Springs, Arkansas in February (a yearly pre-spring training regimen) at anywhere from 243 to 256 pounds, depending on the source. Being overweight and out of shape was not unusual for Ruth, but coupled with a bout of the flu, and suffering a back ailment just after arriving in Arkansas, it was a long road back to playing shape. Then a groin injury in Atlanta in late March, culminating in sever chills added to his trouble – there is much speculation that his groin was the actual location of the malady, either “self-inflicted” or otherwise (he suffered a groin injury in playing that day), but as such things were not press-worthy at the time, the “Bellyache Heard ‘Round The World” was alluded to instead.

Being rushed to New York for examination, and even suffering a blow to the head on the train en route to arrive at Penn Station again unconscious, allowed the press around the world to speculate wildly on his condition (curse those fried potatoes!).

babe-ruth-hospitalizedThe London Times went so far as to announce that the great Ruth had in fact died, reported from rumors that were allowed to circulate unchecked due to the length of the Babe’s long train ride north. While he was far from death, he was more ill than Ruth’s handlers would admit, as they chalked it up to “influenza” and “severe indigestion”, despite needing an operation to treat an “abscess” on April 17.  In fact, many newspapers relayed his numerous severe convulsions upon his arrival in New York (further feeding the private speculation of syphilis), and one of his personal physicians offered some insight into his plight when asked if the Babe kept late hours or slowed down his social life in the off-season – “he’s very careless”, he said with a laugh.

As Ruth’s hospital stay continued to lengthen, the press started to speculate about its effect on the team – “Unless the bats of Ben Paschal and Bob Meusel are tuned to home run pitch, the result of the Babe’s absence may be disastrous”, and they were right. Without a Ruthian bat in the middle of the lineup, the Yankees stumbled out of the gate, going 4-7 in April, and then when it was announced on April 29 that Ruth would not play until June at the earliest, lost their first four in May as the season started to slip away.

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Ruth’s physical therapy was certainly one from another era – on May 20th, and some days afterward, he motored to Yankee Stadium with his chauffeur and members of the Yankees’ staff and would don the Yankee uniform and take BP, with no hospital personnel in sight. It seemed to have helped, as Ruth was finally discharged from the hospital on May 27th, almost 7 weeks since arriving.

ruth25cBy the time Ruth finally returned to the Yankee lineup on June 1 against Washington at the Stadium, the Yanks were 15-25, in 7th place, 13 1/2 games behind the Philadelphia A’s, and 10 1/2 behind the Senators. And while Ruth made a fine catch in right, his presence alone wasn’t enough to stir his teammates to victory, a scenario that would continue to be repeated as the season continued.

Which brings us to June 23 and the contest against the Senators in Washington, as shown in the top photo(s). It turns out this particular game may have had an effect on further developments later in this lost Yankee season.

While Ruth’s line shot off the right field wall set up the tying run in the 4th inning, it was the developments in the 8th inning that would reverberate for a while. With the Yankees down 2 runs in the 8th and the bases loaded, Ruth stepped up against Fred “Firpo” Marberry, who “looked Babe right in the eye and then threw three straight strikes over the plate. Ruth swung, but he did not see.”

After the disappointing at bat, and also beginning to suffer ankle pain that day, Yankee manager Miller Huggins announced the next morning that Ruth would be given a few days off, and perhaps “may play only at intervals this season”. “I am not going to take a chance of ruining Ruth as a player simply because he is a great box office asset,” stated Huggins. Although it appeared that the manager had the Babe’s best interests in mind, Ruth did not appear to take it as such, and was seen “brooding gloomily in a dark corner of the dug-out” that afternoon. While Ruth returned to the lineup on June 27, and again on the 30th, whether it was his disappointment regarding his inability to perform to a high level, or the continued lack of success of the team, he wasn’t a happy camper, and Huggins’ drastic measures didn’t appear to sit well with the Babe.

Ruth did play regularly throughout the summer, but as the team continued to languish, and after a 1-0 loss to the Browns in St. Louis on Friday, August 29th to run a current road trip to a 3-10 mark, it all came to a head.

ruth25dWhen the Yankees took the field on Saturday, Ruth was not present, and initial reports were that Ruth simply deserted the club and had left for New York, but when confronted with this information, manager Huggins disclosed that he had fined (a then record $5000) and suspended the Babe indefinitely, for misconduct “off the field”. “No use putting on that uniform.” he had told Ruth when informing him of the fine and suspension, who promptly left the park.

“Of course it means drinking – and it means a lot of other things besides,” relayed Huggins to the press. “There are various kinds of misconduct. Patience has ceased to be a virtue. I have tried to overlook Ruth’s behavior for a while, but I have decided to take summary action to bring the big fellow to his senses…when he started playing the first of June he was on probation more or less, bound to take care of himself physically and live up to the rules of club discipline. He has forgotten all about these restrictions on this trip, hence the fine and suspension.”

Word was that Ruth was keeping time at a St. Louis house of ill repute each night that week, and Huggins had had enough.

Ruth lashed out at his manager in the press the following day. “If Huggins is manager, I am through with the Yankees. I will not play for him. Either he quits or I quit.”

“Huggins is making me the ‘goat’ for the rotten showing of the team,” Ruth continued. “…he has been laying for a chance to get me and I gave it to him by staying out until 2:30 Saturday morning in St. Louis.As for the drinking charge, he’s all wrong…The truth of the matter is that Huggins is incompetent…last year he lost the pennant to Washington when we could have won by 15 games.”

However, after Yankees owner Colonel Ruppert backed his manager, Ruth had no choice but to swallow his words a few days later. “I made a fool of myself. I don’t know what made me talk about Huggins the way I did.” said Ruth.

In light of the Babe’s attack against his superior, the press and fans alike were forced to examine the blind adulation that was given sports stars and famous figures without compromise. In an editorial, the New York Times, for one, was pretty clear in their changing opinion of the once-untouchable Ruth:

“Ruth…is emerging in a less favorable light. The man…can hardly be viewed as an heroic figure in any argument. …The vitriolic remarks he was quoted as making…were the utterances of a man in a violent temper. Moreover, the Babe…had twice failed to follow orders in a game…and Ruth, in attempting to defend his impromptu tactics on the grounds of good baseball, made out a bad case for himself. The ring of authority and discipline is growing tighter around the playboy of baseball.

He returned to the lineup on September 7, but by that time, the Yankees were a dismal 54-72, still in the now-familiar 7th place, 27 1/2 games behind the Senators, and the season that could be called the Mess That Ruth Built (whether purposely or not) was for all intents and purposes, over.

Of course, Ruth and the Yankees rebounded splendidly, and the Yankees’ long-standing dominance of the American League would begin in earnest in 1926, with Ruth hitting 47 clouts for the AL Pennant winners, and then of course his long-standing record of 60 in 1927 for one of the best teams of all time, by which point his off-field exploits were likely again tolerated or outright ignored, and perhaps content of character again took a back seat to unbridled success. And maybe with good reason – the Yankees themselves would not have another losing season for another 40 years.

Lost in all the Ruth-induced drama of 1925 was the emergence of a young Yankee first baseman from nearby Columbia University who finally came north with the club, and on June 1, the same day as the Babe’s first game of the season, pinch-hit for Pee Wee Wanninger in the 8th inning, and never came out – it was officially Game #1 of 2,130 straight for Lou Gehrig (box score below). And, like Ruth, Mr. Gehrig would also be the subject of a well-publicized illness of his own that would dramatically play out in the press many years later. Unlike Ruth, however, Gehrig’s struggle would be seen in a somewhat more empathetic, albeit tragic, light.

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A Moment In Time – 8/16/25

Sunday, August 16, 1925, Griffith Stadium Washington, DC. A young Lou Gehrig, in his first full season, barrels into home in the 4th inning to score from third on a safety (or suicide?) squeeze off the bat of Benny Bengough, to plate the Yankees’ second run of the afternoon to go up 2-0, as P Vean Gregg’s throw is wide to C Hank Severeid. Umpire Dick Nallin looks on. Gehrig had led off the inning with a double, and was sacrificed to third. Yankees would go on to win the contest by a 3-2 score, with Larrupin’ Lou going 4-5 with a double and HR, only the second 4-hit game of his illustrious career, to raise his average to .322 for the year.

The Senators, not the Yankees, were flying high in 1925, being the reigning World Champions with the Series victory of 1924, and Washington was again in the middle of a successful campaign, although the loss above would drop the Senators 2 full games behind the league leading A’s. Washington would eventually overtake Philadelphia and win their second AL crown in a row, but lose to the Pirates in the 1925 World Series. The Yankees were deep into the second division at this point, but their dominance of the American League would begin in 1926 (thanks in no small part to the emergence of Gehrig), and the Senators wouldn’t get back to the Fall Classic until 1933 (and lost again, never to win another pennant or championship).

NYT article from the game, below. Gehrig was still so young that they still referred to him as “Columbia Lou” or the “Columbia savant” (as in Columbia Univerisity in upper Manhattan, just a quick subway ride to the Bronx and the new Yankee Stadium). Either way, he was already a star.

 

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Vean Gregg

Vean Gregg, the pitcher who allowed the run above, was referred to as the “Old Man” and “ancient southpaw” with good reason. A rookie with the Cleveland Naps in 1911 (with teammates such as Joe Jackson, Nap Lajoie and 44-year old Cy Young), and a key hurler for the 1915 and 1916 Champion Red Sox, he had recurring arm trouble and was out of the game by 1919. Years later, when his farm fell on hard times, he returned to baseball in 1922 in the Pacific Coast League, culminating an impressive comeback by eventually returning to the majors in 1925 with the Senators, at the age of 40, certainly ancient for a ballplayer in those days. Alas, his comeback would be short-lived – appearing in 26 games for Washington, August 16 above would be his last home game, and after 4 more road appearances, was returned to the minors, never to return to the big show – but he was probably one of the few MLB pitchers that pitched to both a young Ty Cobb and a young Lou Gehrig.

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Hank Severeid

C Hank Severeid was an MVP candidate for the St. Louis Browns in 1924, but was relegated to part-time status and then traded to the Nats in 1925, making the postseason for the first time. He would end his career, ironically, as a reserve catcher for the Yankees in 1926, winning his second AL pennant in a row, and when their starting catcher Pat Collins went down, caught all 7 games against the Cardinals in the 1926 World Series. In the final at bat of his career, in Game 7 at Yankee Stadium, he doubled in a run in the 6th inning to pull the Yanks to within 3-2, but the scoring would end there, thanks to Grover Cleveland Alexander’s celebrated relief appearance later in the game (came in to strike out Lazzeri with the bases loaded in the 7th, and got the save when Babe Ruth inexplicably tried to steal second with 2 outs in the bottom of the 9th), and the Yanks would lose the game and the series, and Severeid never got a World Series ring.

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Umpire Dick Nallin

And as for Dick Nallin, he was only one of three umpires in MLB history to be behind the plate for two no-hitters in the same month, and they happened to be on back-to-back days (May 5th and 6th, 1917), umpired in two World Series, and was also the home plate umpire for Ty Cobb’s final game, on September 11, 1928 (not a strikeout though, he popped to short).

Now batting, NUMBER THREE, Babe Ruth…

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Babe Ruth in his first year wearing #3, 1929

 

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Yankee Stadium, Opening Day, April 18, 1929. And if you look close (or click the photo to see the larger version), something is unusual about the players in this photo. A sharp eye reveals that the hometown Yankees have numbers on their backs (with Gehrig’s #4 at first base most prominent), while the visiting Red Sox do not. As it turns out, this is the first year (and the first game) that the Yankees introduced numbers to their already iconic uniforms.

As the article below states, “There is never anything half measure about the way Colonel Ruppert does things. When he built the Stadium he gave baseball the biggest arena of its kind in the world. And when he decided to number his players he got them the largest numerals that money could buy and still fit on a baseball uniform. The numbers proved an unqualified success. They are clearly discernible to the naked eye.

1916 Indians

Actually, Ruppert wasn’t entirely original in this idea. At the beginning of the 20th century, a few minor league and traveling/barnstorming teams experimented with numbers, but on the players’ sleeves. The first major league team to try the idea was the 1916 Cleveland Indians, who did it for a few weeks in mid-season, and again for a short time in 1917, but was quickly abandoned.

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Harry McCurdy, 1923 Cardinals

Later, the 1923 St. Louis Cardinals gave it a try, but, per Wiki, as then-manager Branch Rickey recalled, the Cardinals’ players were “subjected to field criticism from the stands and especially from opposing players,” so the numbers were removed.

Also, the aforementioned Indians had also planned to introduce numbers on uniform backs for the 1929 season, and both teams were scheduled to open their seasons on the same day, April 16, but the Yankees were rained out, so the Indians have the honor of playing the first MLB game with proper uniform numbers. The Yankees couldn’t introduce their soon-to-be-legendary digits until April 18 (above). And as the only two teams wearing them, the first game featuring numbers on every player was the first meeting of the Indians and Yankees that year, on May 13 (in Cleveland, at League Park).

What would have been interesting is to see one team on the field with numbers, and one without. And one can just imagine the fans seeing the numbers for the first time and the interesting chatter in the stands that day; some undoubtedly decrying the modernization of the game (“they look like racehorses out there”) while others marveling at how easy it is to tell who’s who now. I wouldn’t doubt that the numbers allowed more casual fans to become more involved in the games.

As most fans know, interestingly, the Yankees were intially numbered according to their spot in the batting order on that first game in 1929 (except for the pitcher), as follows:

Combs cf #1
Koenig 3b #2
Ruth rf #3 (of course)
Gehrig 1b #4 (of course)
Meusel lf #5
Lazzeri 2b #6
Durocher ss #7 (yes, Leo Durocher was the Yankees SS in 1929!)
Grabowksi c #8

The remainder of the roster was apparently numbered as follows: The other two catchers were assigned #9 and #10, #11 through #21 were assigned to pitchers (except unlucky #13 wasn’t used), and #22 through #28 given to the remaining position players, then #29 and up assigned to coaches (manager Miller Huggins did not wear a number, but when he died suddenly in late 1929, coach Art Fletcher, #34, took over as manager and was then the first Yankee manager to have a number – good trivia question – stump your friends! Of course, this number system was too rigid to follow through the course of a season, and with pitchers going down or being released, new position players would take numbers in the 20’s, etc.

Times article from Opening Day 1929

Turns out numbered uniforms proved to be very popular indeed, with all teams having numbers by the 1930’s, including road uniforms, and now old baseball photos of uniforms without numbers look very unusual in modern times.

The Times itself had the understatement of all time in the article above: “In the event any one needs the information, Babe Ruth is No. 3. It is now expected he will make “3” as famous as the “77” Red Grange wore at Illinois.” Dare I say, Mr. Ruth’s #3 may be even a bit more famous than Mr. Grange’s #77 by now.