On the eve of the 1927 World Series, the New York Yankees were installed as 7-5 favorites over the Pittsburgh Pirates.1 Excitement was in the air in Pittsburgh, as the mighty Yankees prepared to take on the local nine.
In 1926 the Yankees won 91 games and the American League pennant but lost the World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games. Seeking to finish the job and win their second-ever championship (they won their first, over the New York Giants, in 1923), the 1927 Yankees won 110 games and finished 19 games ahead of the second-place Philadelphia Athletics. Famously nicknamed Murderers’ Row, the lineup featured Babe Ruth (fresh off hitting 60 home runs), Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri, Earle Combs, and Bob Meusel. New York ranked first in the American League in hits, home runs, and batting average. And they featured a stellar pitching staff anchored by Waite Hoyt, Herb Pennock, and Urban Shocker.
The Pittsburgh Pirates won 94 games and finished 1½ games ahead of the Cardinals. Many players remained from the squad that won the 1925 World Series, including future Hall of Famers Pie Traynor and Kiki Cuyler, but the ’27 Pirates also had the benefit of two critical new players: 1927 NL MVP Paul “Big Poison” Waner and his little brother Lloyd “Little Poison” Waner.
Sunny skies and balmy weather made for an ideal Wednesday afternoon at Forbes Field. The park was packed, with the official attendance listed at 41,467, and many more listened in via radio. Many dignitaries were there, including Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, National League President John A. Heydler, John McGraw, Honus Wagner, and Rogers Hornsby.2
Pennsylvania Governor John Fisher threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Soon after, Ray Kremer took the mound for the Pirates. Kremer led the National League with a 2.47 ERA in 1927 and won 19 games. Described as a “calm, imperturbable Frenchman,” Kremer featured a fastball, curveball, and off-speed pitch.3
With two out in the top of the first, Ruth singled to right field on the first pitch, bringing up Gehrig. On a full count, Gehrig hit a looping liner to right. Playing deep, Paul Waner sprinted and dived in an attempt to catch the ball. But he missed it, and the ball rolled 40 feet behind him.
By the time Waner got to the ball, Ruth had scored and Gehrig was standing on third. In a newspaper column, Detroit Tigers manager George Moriarty called the play a fatal mistake, writing that “a more experienced outfielder would have been satisfied to hold the drive to a single.”4 Kramer got out of the inning with no further damage as Meusel flied out to Paul Waner, but the Yankees led, 1-0.
Waite Hoyt started for the Yankees. Hoyt was the Yankees’ ace in 1927, winning 22 games while putting up a 2.63 ERA. He hit Pirates leadoff man Lloyd Waner, and, with one out, brother Paul doubled to put runners on second and third. Cleanup hitter Glenn Wright hit a sacrifice fly to center, scoring Lloyd and moving Paul to third.
Traynor hit a fly ball near the right-field line that Ruth ran over to catch, preventing another run from scoring. Lou Gehrig called Ruth’s catch “a fine contribution” to winning the game.5
Neither team made any noise in the second. In the top of the third, Pittsburgh’s defense faltered again. With one out, Yankees shortstop Mark Koenig hit a slow-rolling grounder to second baseman George Grantham, who juggled the ball long enough for Koenig to reach first base. Up next was the Bambino, who hit the first pitch for a single, advancing Koenig to third.
Kramer walked the next two batters – Gehrig and Meusel – to force in a run. Lazzeri grounded into a 6-4 force out, driving in the second run of the inning.
Another fatal error followed. With runners on the corners, the Yankees attempted a double steal. When Lazzeri started for second, Pirates catcher Earl Smith faked a throw to second, getting Gehrig in a rundown. Smith threw the ball to third baseman Traynor, who threw it back to Smith. But the ball got away from Smith, allowing Gehrig to score and give the Yankees a 4-1 lead. Kramer induced a fly out to left for the final out of the inning, but not before Pittsburgh had gifted the Yankees three unearned runs.6
The Pirates picked up one run in the bottom of the third on a double by Kremer and a single by Paul Waner. Both teams’ bats were silent in the fourth, but both teams scored in the fifth. In the top half, Koenig doubled and advanced to third on Ruth’s groundout. Gehrig hit a sacrifice fly to Paul Waner that scored Koenig. In the bottom half, Pittsburgh scored on Lloyd Waner’s double and Clyde Barnhart’s single. At the end of five, New York led 5-3.
When Lazzeri doubled to start the sixth, the Pirates changed pitchers, bringing in Johnny Miljus. Once Miljus came into the game, the Yankees bats went quiet. Pitching four innings, Miljus faced the minimum, allowing only a walk in the sixth, followed by a double play, and a seventh-inning base hit by Ruth – who was promptly picked off first. The Yankees simply could do nothing with Miljus’ tricky curveball.
New York maintained its lead into the bottom of the eighth. Hoyt, who had cruised through the sixth and seventh, ran into trouble with one out in the eighth, giving up consecutive singles to Wright and Traynor.
Yankees manager Miller Huggins brought in Wilcy Moore. With the tying men on base and only one out, Moore got Grantham to hit a grounder to Gehrig, who threw to second for the force. With runners on the corners and two out, Joe Harris punched a single to center, bringing Pittsburgh within one. The crowd cheered hysterically. Unshaken, Moore ended the inning by getting Earl Smith to ground out to Gehrig. The score was 5-4, Yankees.
After the game Pirates manager Donie Bush was sanguine. “It just wasn’t Kremer’s day or we’d [have] won,” he said. “This will be a long series and I’m not a bit worried. Other ball clubs have lost the opening game and come back to cop the championship.”7 Indeed, the loser of the first game in 1924, 1925, and 1926 had come back to take the Series.
On the Yankees’ side, Ruth received the accolades after contributing three hits and scoring two runs. It was a solid, unflashy victory for the Yankees, who benefited tremendously from Pittsburgh’s miscues. As the New York Times summarized it: “[W]ith steady hand and stout heart and unwavering nerve the Yanks hewed to the line and chiseled out a victory that was a triumph of veteran calm and coolness over the fire and dash of youth. It would be nearer the truth, perhaps, to say that the Pirates beat themselves.”8
1 James R. Harrison, “Yanks, Favored 7-5, Face Pirates Today in World’s Series,” New York Times, October 5, 1927: 1.
2 James R. Harrison, “Ruth Blasts Road to Yankee Victory Over Pirates, 5 to 4,” New York Times, October 6, 1927: 16-17.
3 Harrison, “Ruth Blasts Road to Yankee Victory Over Pirates, 5 to 4.”
4 George Moriarty, “Puts Blame on P. Waner,” Kansas City Times, October 6, 1927: 8.
5 Alan D. Gaff, Lou Gehrig: The Lost Memoir (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2020), 87-88.
6 My recap of the top of the third comes from “Pirates Display Power; Yankees Get Breaks in First,” Pittston (Pennsylvania) Gazette, October 6, 1927: 8.
7 “Not Kremer’s Day,” Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, New York), October 6, 1927: 7.
8 Harrison, “Ruth Blasts Road to Yankee Victory Over Pirates, 5 to 4.”