The Yankees (née Highlanders) had spent most of their early years in the American League as also-rans, playing second fiddle to the Giants in New York, even serving as their tenants at the Polo Grounds. But their addition of Babe Ruth from the Boston Red Sox prior to the 1920 season – in the largest contract purchase in major-league history to that point – had instantly reaped dividends. That season the Yankees, White Sox, and Indians engaged in a tight pennant race, with the Indians ultimately taking the AL pennant and the World Series.
In 1921 the Yankees spent most of the season’s first half in second place behind the Indians, finally moving into a tie for first by beating the Tribe on July 20. It was the Yankees’ ninth straight win, and Cleveland Plain Dealer sports editor Henry P. Edwards said many thought the Indians had their backs against the wall.1 But as it turned out, the Yankees’ reign at the top would be short-lived.
The Yankees started Carl Mays, “who has acquired the idea that all he has to do to defeat the Indians is to cast his glove into the box and the redskins will curl up and merely go through the motions of playing nine innings.”2 It was Mays’ second appearance in Cleveland since the fatal beaning of Ray Chapman in a game in New York the previous August, and the announcement that he’d be starting, as well as his initial appearances on the mound and at the plate, were met with silence from the crowd of 16,000,3 which included Indians owner Jim Dunn, who’d returned from a business trip to Chicago “to see if his presence would be of any inspiration.”4
Also in the crowd were about 50 rodeo riders, cheering on Indians player-manager and fellow Texan Tris Speaker. They were in town for a celebration of the 125th anniversary of Moses Cleaveland’s landing on the shores of the city that would bear his name.5 (“It was rumored that umpire Brick Owens declined to umpire until he had been assured the cowboys from the rodeo, who occupied seats on the field back of first base, had checked their six guns at the gate,” Edwards wrote the next day.6)
Mays was staked to an early lead, as Wally Pipp singled home Home Run Baker, who had walked to start the second inning, then stole second, and Roger Peckinpaugh’s double scored Chick Fewster, who’d bunted his way aboard, from first in the third inning.
Meanwhile, the Indians could scratch out just one hit in each of the first two innings. They ran themselves out of the first inning. With two outs and Bill Wambsganss on first, Elmer Smith signaled for a hit-and-run. Wamby took off as Smith swung, as did shortstop Peckinpaugh to cover second. Peck was in position to leap up and snag Smith’s hit, which would have otherwise gone into the ballpark’s expansive outfield, likely for extra bases.7
But the floodgates opened for the Indians in the third. Pitcher Ray Caldwell led off with a single that bounced off Mays’ glove, but was erased by a fielder’s choice up the middle by Charlie Jamieson. Wambsganss walked and Jamieson went to second. Speaker singled to right field to score Jamieson, and after throwing errors by Peckinpaugh and Bob Meusel, Wamby had scored to tie the game and Speaker was on second.
Smith doubled to score Speaker and took third on a groundout by Larry Gardner. Joe Sewell then hit his second double of the day, to left field, scoring Smith, and took third on a single by Doc Johnston. Steve O’Neill’s single scored Sewell, advanced Johnston to third base and sent Mays to the showers with the Yankees trailing, 5-2. He was replaced by Jack Quinn.
Caldwell, batting for the second time in the inning, doubled to score Johnston. O’Neill advanced to third, and then scored on a passed ball. Jamieson flied out to end the inning, and the Indians had turned a 2-0 deficit into a 7-2 lead.
Aaron Ward singled to lead off the top of the fourth, but was stranded at first after Caldwell set down the next three batters. Wamby led off the home half of the inning with a walk and went to third on a single by Speaker. Smith’s double drove in Wamby, and Gardner – the only Indians player not to get a hit that day – struck out. Sewell then singled to center to score Speaker. An error by Fewster led Smith to score, and Sewell took second. Johnston and O’Neill both grounded out, and the Indians were now leading 10-2.
The offensive onslaught would continue for both teams, but the outcome was never really in doubt. Gradually, Yankees manager Miller Huggins ran up the white flag, pulling his starters. Ruth was lifted for pinch-runner Ping Bodie after bouncing a single off the right-field wall in the fifth inning to score Peckinpaugh, who had doubled. Bodie, who scored on a double by the next batter, Baker, replaced Ruth in left field in the bottom of the fifth.
In the top of the seventh, Al DeVormer pinch-hit for catcher Wally Schang, replacing him in the field in the bottom half of the inning, when Johnny Mitchell replaced Peckinpaugh at shortstop and Tom Connelly replaced Meusel in right field. Baker was lifted for pinch-hitter Mike McNally in the eighth inning. Ruth’s knee had been bothering him, but the others were taken out of the game to shower and change to get on a special train for Akron, Ohio, where they would play the Firestone team in an exhibition the next day.8
Bodie doubled in the sixth to score Schang and Peckinpaugh, cutting Cleveland’s lead to 10-6. It speaker removed Caldwell; the crowd cheered for the pitcher as Speaker lifted him, turning the game over to George Uhle.
In the bottom of the sixth, Alex Ferguson, who’d replaced Quinn on the mound for the Yankees the previous inning, gave up a leadoff walk to Gardner. Two batters later, Johnston doubled to score Gardner. A single by O’Neill scored Johnston. Uhle singled, Jamieson grounded out, and Wambsganss doubled, driving O’Neill and Uhle home. Speaker then doubled to score Wambsganss, and that was it for Ferguson, who was replaced by Rip Collins. Smith greeted Collins with a single scoring Speaker and bringing the Indians’ lead to 16-6.
Aaron Ward singled home Meusel in the top of the seventh to reduce the Indians’ lead to single digits, but the Tribe tacked on another run in the bottom of the inning when Sewell hit his third double of the day and Ginger Shinault, who’d replaced O’Neill at catcher, singled to drive him home.
The Yankees pushed one more across in the top of the ninth when Chicken Hawks, pinch-hitting for Collins with two outs, singled Ward home, but any further rally fell short when Fewster fanned to end the game, which had taken a total of 2 hours 40 minutes.
The 22 hits by the Indians were a team record, and the two teams combined for 16 doubles, another record. The next day’s Cleveland Plain Dealer noted that with that many doubles, one could reasonably assume that there was an overflow crowd, leading to ground rules being in play. But that day, “every two-sacker was legitimate.”9
The Indians retook first place with the win, but the Yankees never fell further behind than three games, eventually pulling into first place as the calendar turned to September. Cleveland had one more surge left, enough to regain the lead by September 16. But the Tribe then lost eight of the last 12, and the Yankees won their first pennant.
The author accessed Baseball-Reference.com for box scores, play-by-play, and other data.
1 Henry P. Edwards, “Indians Climb Back to Top, Treating Yankees to Tasty 17 to 8 Drubbing,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, July 22, 1921: 16.
2 Edwards, “Indians Climb Back to Top.”
3 “Yanks’ Stay at Top Painfully Halted,” New York Times, July 22, 1921: 14.
4 Henry P. Edwards, “Only Three Indians Hits Wasted,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, July 22, 1921: 19.
5 “Cleveland Is 125 Years Old Today,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, July 22, 1921: 1.
6 Edwards, “Only Three Indians Hits Wasted.”
7 Edwards, “Only Three Indians Hits Wasted.”
8 Edwards, “Indians Climb Back to Top.”
9 Edwards, “Indians Climb Back to Top.”