SABR

Wilcy Moore

This article was written by Fred Glueckstein.

William Wilcy “Cy” Moore was a right-handed pitcher with a tremendous sidearm sinkerball. In the major leagues for only six seasons, Moore will always be remembered for his memorable rookie year at the age of 30 with the heralded 1927 New York Yankees, earning him the distinction of becoming the team’s first great relief pitcher.

Wilcy Moore was born on a farm in Bonita, Texas on May 20, 1897, to Alliefare Argilla (maiden name West) and George Frank Moore.1 Shortly after Wilcy was born, his father, a cotton farmer, took his wife, seven sons and two daughters to Hollis, Oklahoma, where he filed a homestead claim on 160 acres. As a youngster, Moore pitched for local semipro teams while working on the family’s cotton farm.

Moore began his professional career in 1922 with Paris of the Class D Texas-Oklahoma League.2 After winning all five of his starts, he was promoted to Fort Worth of the Class A Texas League, where he went a respectable 5-4 with a 2.55 ERA. Despite that promising professional start, Moore toiled in obscurity in the minor leagues from 1922 to 1926.3

Moore’s big break as a pitcher came about because of a big break. His arm was fractured by a batted ball while pitching for the Greenville Spinners of the Class B South Atlantic League in 1925. After he returned to the team late in that season, he found it hurt his arm to throw overhand, so he began throwing sidearm. This gave “the ball a novel gyration and an incredible sinker was born. That pitch drove South Atlantic League batters to distraction in 1926, and was Wilcy’s passport to the majors,” wrote Leo Trachtenberg.4 After losing his opening game in 1926, Moore won 17 in a row and ended the season 30-4 with a 2.86 ERA. He pitched 305 innings in 41 games, walked 70, and struck out 112.

Moore was a winner on the home front that season as well. On July 26, 1926, Moore’s wife, Alma Grace Sapp, gave birth to their first and only child, daughter Ellen Lavonia.

Moore’s amazing 1926 season prompted Yankee business manager [today known as general manager] Ed Barrow to sign the 29-year-old. “The newspaper fellows used to say that I got him out of a Sears Roebuck catalogue,” wrote Barrow in his autobiography, My Fifty Years in Baseball. “But it wasn’t as bad as that, but I did discover him while reading the Sporting News, the baseball weekly. Buried among the averages of the old Sally League [South Atlantic League] was a right-hander by the name of Moore who had won 30 games and lost only 4 for the Greenville club – and he had an earned average of 2.86 runs a game.”5

Although Barrow was impressed with Moore’s pitching statistics, he sent Yankee scout Bob Gilks to learn more about him. When Gilks returned, he told Barrow that Moore couldn’t pitch and seemed older than 30 years of age. Barrow would have none of Gilks’s pessimism and decided to take a chance on Moore. “I don’t care,” said Barrow. “Anybody who can win that many games even in the Epworth League is worth what they’re asking for him.”5 What Barrow thought to himself was if you can’t take a chance on a guy like that who can you take a chance on? So Barrow bought Moore for $3,500.6

Years later, Moore remembered when he heard that he was going to the Yankees: “I was saying goodby [sic] to my teammates. I wasn’t coming back because my farm needed my attention. The night before I left, they told me I had been sold to the Yankees. I decided I might as well see how they play in the majors, so I went.”7

Barrow signed Moore to a contract on February 21, 1927, for $2,500. The contract also stipulated that the “Club will pay an additional sum of $500, if player is retained in service of Club for entire championship season of 1927.”8

The Yankees invited Moore to spring training at Crescent Lake Park in St. Petersburg, Florida, in February 1927. Wearing uniform number 46, Moore, who had broad shoulders and powerful arms, attracted the attention of Yankee manager Miller Huggins. Huggins saw that Moore was a low fastball pitcher. “He seems to have pretty good stuff, but it’s too early to get an accurate line on a pitcher,” Huggins told the press. “After I have seen him work in some real ball games I will have a better idea of his worth.”7 Recognizing that 30 years of age was old for a pitcher to break into the majors, Huggins added: “Despite Moore’s remarkable record last year, I figure it is more sensible to take a pessimistic view of his chances to make the grade.”9

Huggins’s pessimism turned to optimism as spring training progressed, when Huggins used Moore in relief and was pleased with outstanding appearances against the Boston Braves, Cincinnati Reds, and St. Louis Cardinals. Huggins liked what he saw, and Moore made the club. Babe Ruth remembered Moore at spring training: “Moore was a farmer who had some cotton acres in Oklahoma,” he wrote in his autobiography. “He was a big easygoing, good-natured guy and the lousiest hitter in baseball history. I took a look at him the first day he worked for us and laid him $300 to $100 he wouldn’t get three hits all season.”10 Moore took the Babe’s bet.

Moore made his first appearance for the Yankees on April 14, 1927, on a sunny and clear afternoon at Yankee Stadium against Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics. After Yankee starter Bob Shawkey gave up three runs in the first inning, Huggins brought Moore into the game with one out. The announcer, using a megaphone, informed the crowd: Moore is now pitching for the Yankees.

Moore retired the side and had a perfect second frame before the Athletics reached him for five runs (four earned) on five hits and an error in 4 2/3 innings. The game was called a 9-9 draw after ten innings because of darkness. Huggins called on Moore again five days later on April 19, at Yankee Stadium. With the Boston Red Sox leading 5-2, Moore again relieved Shawkey and did not allow a hit in 1 1/3 innings. George Pipgras finished the game, but the Red Sox won 6-3. It was the Yankees’ first loss of the season, after opening with six wins.

Two days later, Moore won his first major league game against the Athletics at Shibe Park in Philadelphia. He relieved starter Waite Hoyt in the fifth inning after the Athletics scored three runs to tie the game at 6-6 and with runners on first and third. Moore ended the rally when Zack Wheat, pinch-hitting for Joe Boley, fouled out to Yankee catcher Pat Collins and Ed Rommel, the Athletics’ pitcher, grounded out to Moore. Moore pitched brilliantly, giving up only one hit over the final 4 2/3 innings. Paced by Lou Gehrig’s home run in the sixth with Mark Koenig and Babe Ruth on base, the Yankees went on to win 13-6.

As the season progressed, Huggins found Moore to be very valuable as a reliever and as a spot starter. Meanwhile, the Babe followed Moore’s plate appearances in view of the bet that Moore would not get three hits all season. On Friday, August 26, the Yankees and Detroit Tigers played their last game of the season at Navin Field. Moore relieved George Pipgras in the seventh. To the Babe’s shock, when Moore came to the plate, he swung on a pitch that slowly rolled down the third baseline, which Moore beat out for his third hit of the season. The Babe shook his head in disbelief in the dugout while the other Yankees, who knew about the bet, all laughed hysterically.

Interviewed after the game by reporters about his hitting and the fact that all of his three hits came at Navin Field, Moore said: “This is just an easy park to hit in.” Ruth paid the $300 to Moore. After the season, the Babe received a letter from Moore who thanked him for the $300 and told him that with the money he bought two mules, naming one Babe and the other Ruth. The Babe had a good laugh over that.11

In 1927, the mighty Murders’ Row won the American League pennant. Wilcy Moore had an outstanding season as a member of an excellent Yankee pitching staff that was overshadowed by the Babe’s banner year in which he hit 60 home runs. Moore pitched 213 innings in 50 games as a relief pitcher and occasional starter, went 19-7, (a .731 winning percentage), with a 2.28 era, the lowest in the American League. In his 38 relief appearances, Moore went 13-3 and led the league in saves with 13.

Only Washington’s Firpo Marberry had been credited with more saves in the American League since its creation in 1901. Marberry, the prototype of the modern-day relief pitcher, recorded 15 saves in 1924, 16 in 1925, and 22 in 1926. Wilcy Moore’s team record of 13 saves wasn’t broken until Johnny Murphy led the league with 19 in 1939.

The Yankees’ opponent in the 1927 World Series was the Pittsburgh Pirates. In the first game in Pittsburgh on October 5, Huggins brought in Moore to replace Waite Hoyt in the eighth with Yankees ahead 5-3. Moore pitched 1 2/3 scoreless innings while surrendering only one hit and allowing an inherited runner to score.

After the Yankees won Game Two in Pittsburgh and Game Three in New York, Huggins selected Moore to pitch Game Four at Yankee Stadium. The Pirates took advantage of two Yankee errors in the seventh to score two runs and tie the game at three. But in the last of the ninth, the Pirates’ Johnny Miljus struck out Lou Gehrig and Bob Meusel with the bases loaded, but unloaded his second wild pitch of the inning, allowing Earle Combs to score from third with the Series-winning run. Moore was the winning pitcher in the Yankees' 4-3 win.

John J. McGraw, Manager of the New York Giants, reviewed the final game of the Championship Series for the Washington Post. McGraw opened his piece: “To me, the outstanding feature of the last game which won the world’s championship was the steadiness of Wilcy Moore’s pitching. It wasn’t so much the kind of stuff he used but the fact that he was cool and calculating all the way, and knew exactly what he was trying to do. He lived up to all the things that American League Players and newspaper men (sic) had remarked about him during the season. I had never seen him until this series began.”12

“It is quite a strain on the average young fellow to be shoved into a critical game like that, but Moore is no kid,” McGraw continued. “He has seen enough of life to know that there is no use in getting excited about anything. He simply took his time and gave them the best he had. It was a remarkable exhibition of steadiness.”13

Overall in the 1927 World Series, Moore went 1-0, had a 0.84 ERA, with one complete game, and one save, and 10.2 innings pitched. He gave up 11 hits, one earned run, walked two, and struck out two.

Moore’s spectacular rookie season and World Series in 1927 was followed by a disappointing campaign in 1928 as he couldn’t get his sinker to sink. That year, Moore pitched only 60 1/3 innings in 35 games for the Yankees and went 4-4 with a 4.18 and three saves. It was determined that Moore suffered from a sore arm, and the doctors had no success in improving it. What Moore failed to tell anyone was that he hurt his shoulder falling from the roof of a barn that he built himself in Oklahoma.14 Perhaps Moore thought that time away from baseball would improve his arm because he went on the voluntary retired list.

In 1929, Moore was reinstated from the voluntary retired list, and he tried to come back. However, he still struggled, going 6-4, while compiling a 4.13 ERA with nine saves, tied with Marberry for the league lead. On November 21, 1929, the Yankees announced they had traded Moore and two others to St. Paul of the American Association for the team’s manager and catcher, Eugene (Bubbles) Hargrave.

Moore spent the 1930 season with St. Paul. The arm soreness disappeared; he revived his curveball and went 22-9, while leading the league in innings pitched. Moore’s performance at St. Paul led to the Boston Red Sox drafting him for the 1931 season.

With the Red Sox in 1931, Moore went 11-13, had a 3.88 ERA and tied for the American League lead with eight saves. In 1932, after he compiled a 4-10 record, 5.25 ERA, and four saves, Boston traded Moore back to the Yankees.

With New York, he finished the 1932 season, 2-0, a 2.52 ERA and 4 saves in 10 games and was the winning pitcher in the fourth game of the World Series against the Chicago Cubs.

In 1933, Moore was invited by the Yankees to spring training and made the club; however, he did not pitch well, going 5-6 with a 5.52 ERA and eight saves in 35 games. On December 7, 1933, the Yankees demoted Moore to the Newark Bears, their International League farm club.

From 1934 to 1937, Moore spent four seasons with Kansas City of the AA American Association. He then bounced around the minors until he hung up the spikes in 1940.

After his baseball career ended, Moore returned to a life of growing cotton in Hollis, Oklahoma. In later years, he attended an occasional Old Timers game at Yankee Stadium and reminisced about his Yankee teammates.15 He died on March 29, 1963, at the age of 65, in Hollis, Oklahoma.

Wilcy Moore, a cotton farmer from Oklahoma, will be remembered for his perseverance in the minor leagues and reaching the major leagues at an age considered, at the time, too old to begin a major league career. However, persistence enabled Moore to overcome all obstacles and become the relief ace of the legendary ’27 Yankees, establishing his place in the annals of Yankee history.

 

Sources

Baseball Hall of Fame, Cooperstown, New York

New York Times

Washington Post

 

Notes

1 William Wilcy Moore. Certificate of Death, State of Oklahoma, Department of Health; State File Number 007045, 4-11-1963.

2 Wilcy Moore, Famed Yank Reliever of ’27, Dies at 65, April 13, 1963. From Baseball Hall of Fame Archives. Name of publication not shown.

3 Moore played for the following minor league teams:

  • Ft. Worth Panthers, 1922, Level A, Texas League. 5-4. 2.55 ERA. 17 Games.
  • Ardmore Snappers; 1923, Level C, Western Association. 19-9.Unknown ERA. 37 games.
  • Ft. Worth Panthers, 1923, Level A, Texas League. Won 0, Lost 0. 15.00 ERA. 3 games.
  • Okmulgee Drillers, 1924, Level C, Western Association. Won 17, Lost 6. 3.95 ERA. 30 games.
  • Greenville Spinners, 1925, Level B, South Atlantic League. Won 10, Lost 10. 4.73 ERA. 26 games.
  • Greenville Spinners, 1926, Level B, South Atlantic League. Won 30, Lost 4. 2.86 ERA. 41 games.

4 Leo Trachtenberg, “Moore Blazed The Trail For Yankee Firemen,” Yankee Magazine, September 3, 1987.

5 Ken Tingley, “Wilcy Moore: The Missing Link of the ’27 Yankees,” Oneonta Daily Star, September 21, 1985.

6 Edward Grant Barrow with James M. Kahn. My Fifty Years in Baseball. Coward-McCann: New York, 1951. Note: Although not defined by Barrow, in all likelihood it refers to a league outside the major league level like the South Atlantic League.

7 Trachtenberg, 37.

8 Letter dated May 23, 1927 from American League Headquarters in Chicago to Ed Barrow, which confirmed New York player contracts sent for approval. Note: Babe Ruth’s contract was $70,000 for the 1927 season, “and an aggregate salary of $70,000 for the seasons of 1928 and 1929, including the World’s Series or any other official series in which the player may participate, and in any receipts in which the player may be entitled to share in each of said years.”

9 Billy Evans, “Wilcy Moore a Real Find,” April 16, 1927. From Baseball Hall of Fame Archives. Note: Billy Evans was an American League Umpire from 1906 to 1927. He also wrote countless articles, of which this is one.

10 Ibid.

11 Babe Ruth as told to Bob Considine. The Babe Ruth Story. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1948.

12 John J. McGraw. “Koenig is Hero of Series, McGraw Says; Moore Praised.” The Washington Post, October 9, 1927, SP23.

13 Ibid.

14 By Monitor. “1927 Series Hero Says He’s Ready For Big Season,” New York World Telegram, August 2, 1932.

15 Trachtenberg, 37.

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