September 27, 1921: Urban Shocker’s late-season gem trims Yankee lead

This article was written by Jack Zerby

Urban Shocker (TRADING CARD DB)As they navigated the 1921 season, the New York Yankees club that was positioning itself to become an American League juggernaut had never won a pennant. But by late September, they were getting close. When the St. Louis Browns arrived in New York on Tuesday, September 27, for a makeup game scheduled due to rainouts, the Yankees held a two-game lead over the defending league champion Cleveland Indians.1

New York had won 13 of its 21 games with the Browns during the season. But in this game they would once again face ex-Yankee Urban Shocker.2 Just 11 days before on St. Louis’s scheduled swing through New York, the 30-year-old righty spitballer disposed of the Yankees on seven hits. Babe Ruth, hitting .383 entering that game, hit his 56th home run – a solo shot – but Shocker struck him out three times while the Browns pounded three Yankees pitchers in a 10-3 romp.

Now Shocker was looking for his 27th win of the season. Yankees ace Carl Mays also had 26 wins and was tied with Shocker for the major-league lead.3 But Mays had picked up his latest win two days before in a crucial game against Cleveland. He wasn’t starting this game for manager Miller Huggins.

Instead, Huggins tabbed left-hander Harry Harper, a nine-year veteran American League swingman, to oppose Shocker. Harper, acquired from the Red Sox the previous offseason, was sidelined by a broken finger early in the season, but Huggins had used him regularly in September because of his “impressive form” down the stretch run.4

The 1921 Yankees, powered by Ruth and right fielder Bob Meusel,5 led the league in runs scored (948), runs per game (6.20), and RBIs (875). Their pitchers’ combined ERA (3.82) and complete games (92) also led the circuit. The Browns, though, were developing into an efficient offensive club that would make a season-long run at the Yankees a year later. First baseman George Sisler and outfielder Ken Williams reached triple digits in RBIs in 1921. In addition to Sisler and Williams, they had two other outfielders, Jack Tobin and Baby Doll Jacobson, as well as catcher Hank Severeid all hitting over .300 at this late point in the season. The 1921 Browns hit a cumulative .303 in 1921, the Yankees an even .300.6

A Tuesday afternoon crowd estimated at 10,000 graced the Polo Grounds,7 hoping to see the Yankees not only solidify their lead, but also solve Shocker, considered a jinx by at least some of the New York baseball press.8

Despite Shocker’s success against New York, the collected firepower of both teams had the potential for a lively offensive afternoon; the Browns might have to outslug the Yankees for Shocker to continue his mastery. And it looked that way in the top of the first inning. Tobin rolled out unassisted to first baseman Wally Pipp,9 but Frank Ellerbe ripped Harper’s next pitch into left field and past Ruth for a triple. Batting third, Sisler “let a couple go by, then picked out one to his liking and rammed it all the way to the [right-center field] bullpen, where it almost knocked off a couple of Yank pitchers who were warming up. There was a mix-up of players out there and when the ball was retrieved, Sisler was steaming over home plate.”10

Now behind 2-0 with only one out, Harper surrendered a single to Jacobson and walked Pat Collins. He dug in and got the dangerous Williams on a popup to second base for the second out. Then, with Wally Gerber batting, “the visitors tried to pull off a double steal but Jacobson expired gracefully at third,”11 nailed by catcher Wally Schang’s throw.

Shocker yielded a two-out single to Aaron Ward in the Yankees’ second inning but got         Mike McNally on a soft fly to shortstop to avoid damage. Harper nicked him for a single with one out in the third, but Shocker was in control – getting Elmer Miller to hit into a 6-4-3 double play.

St. Louis loaded the bases in the top of the fourth. With two outs, Marty McManus, then Shocker, hit singles. Tobin worked a walk, but this time Harper mastered Ellerbe, getting a popout to Schang.

Ruth’s drive had taken Tobin to the right-field fence in the Yankees’ first inning. But in the fourth, Shocker got the slugger to “whiff savagely.”12 As the game rolled on, Harper, still around, got stronger. He recorded a perfect inning in the fifth. He worked around Williams’s leadoff single in the sixth, Tobin’s leadoff walk in the seventh, and Roger Peckinpaugh’s error on Collins’s grounder in the eighth. And he bookended this stretch with another perfect inning in the ninth.

But Shocker was even more effective over the same stretch. He faced the minimum number of Yankee hitters from the fifth through the eighth innings, courtesy of Harper’s double-play ball after Schang’s leadoff single in the sixth. Even Ruth managed only a right-side dribbler that Sisler handled unassisted for the second out in the seventh inning. Through eight, Shocker had yielded only three hits, all singles.

After his first-inning trouble, Harper had settled in to pitch eight scoreless innings of his own, keeping the St. Louis lead at two runs. And the determined Yankees went after Shocker and gave him his “only troublesome inning” as they took their last turn in the ninth.13 Leading off, Schang “drove a twisting smash at Sisler, who played the ball far back of first base.”14 Shocker and McManus arrived at the same time to cover the bag. “They collided and went down in a heap,” as Schang was credited with a single. Shocker had fallen heavily on his right side; “From the press box it looked as if Shocker was badly hurt.”15 But after 10 minutes, during which Shocker “took a rest and massaged his leg,”16 he returned to the mound.

St. Louis manager Lee Fohl let Shocker continue, and he disposed of Home Run Baker, pinch-hitting for Harper, on a foul pop to Sisler. Miller also went out in foul ground – to Collins – but Peckinpaugh kept the inning alive, lofting a single over second base.

There were two on with two outs, setting the stage for Ruth, hitless so far after bashing two home runs and a double and driving in four runs the day before against Cleveland.17 “Shocker was willing enough to pitch to him, but Fohl gave the signal to pass the king of clouters.”18

“Boo-o-o-o-oh!” Hunt reported as the fans’ reaction, although Meusel, no slouch himself and hitting .325 with 137 RBIs going in but also hitless for the day, stepped in with the bases loaded. “The spitballer worked carefully on Meusel. He got over the first strike and then pitched two wide ones. The next was a spitter which Meusel swung at.”19 The result was an “easy out” fly ball to Jacobson in center.20

Shocker had soldiered through with a 2-0 shutout, won his 27th game of the season, and aided the Indians by cutting the Yankees’ lead to a game and a half. New York Tribune writer Jack Lawrence even despaired that “the pitcher’s last act of vengeance, his twirling of that game yesterday, may possibly cost the Yanks the highest honor in baseball.”

It didn’t though – at least not the pennant. The Yankees took care of business in their four remaining games of the season, traveling to Philadelphia to shut out the cellar-dwelling Philadelphia A’s two days later, then returning to the Polo Grounds to sweep a doubleheader against the A’s and the final game of the season against the Red Sox.21 Cleveland, meanwhile, finished its season on the road against the seventh-place Chicago White Sox. Although the Indians had won 14 of 18 games against Chicago for the season as they took the field for the September 29 opener, they were shut out in that game and lost two of the next three to finish 4½ games behind New York.

New to the World Series, the Yankees lost to their Polo Grounds hosts, the Giants, in 1921. The same teams were back at it again in 1922 – with the same result. The Yankees and Giants matched up yet again in 1923, this time with the Yankees playing in brand-new Yankee Stadium. It became the proverbial third-time charm; the Yankees finally got that “highest honor” – winning their first Series title.

Meanwhile, Shocker, “not one to follow the crowd,” was in and out of scrapes with management in St. Louis, where Sisler, with whom Shocker did not see eye to eye, had taken over as manager in 1924. With a subpar – for him – 16-13 record in 1924 and a $15,000 salary22 that topped the Browns payroll, at age 34 he was “considered expendable.” When his availability was made known, Huggins and Yankees general manager Ed Barrow were quick to reacquire the pitcher who, after they relegated him to St. Louis, had beaten them 22 times over his seven seasons there.23 It was prescient. Back with the Yankees from 1925 through 1927, Shocker was 12-1 against the Browns.24

 

Sources

In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, I consulted the Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org websites for player, team, and season pages, daily logs, and the box scores and play-by-play accounts for this game:

https://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/NYA/NYA192109270.shtml

https://www.retrosheet.org/boxesetc/1921/B09270NYA1921.htm

 

Notes

1 The Browns were on an extended Eastern road trip to close the season and hadn’t played at home since September 11. At this juncture they stopped in New York on their way from Boston to Detroit. Although the Browns were in third place, they were out of the pennant race, 17½ games behind the Yankees and only a half-game ahead of fourth-place Washington.

2 Shocker had reached the major leagues with the Yankees in 1916, and was 8-5 for them as a swingman in 1917. St. Louis acquired him in a trade before the 1918 season. Going into this game he was an impressive 65-38 (.631) over nearly four full seasons in a Browns uniform.

3 Both Shocker and Mays ultimately won 27 games in 1921, topping both leagues.

4 Henry L. Farrell, United Press, “Harry Harper Playing Important Role in Yankee Drive,” Sacramento (California) Star, September 21, 1921: 6.

5 Ruth, generally thought of as a right fielder, especially during the “Murderers’ Row” years after Lou Gehrig arrived for his first full season in 1925, played 132 games in left field and 20 in center field for the 1921 Yankees. He had no appearances in right field, Meusel’s bailiwick, in 1921.

6 Behind Shocker, however, the Browns’ 1921 pitching was below league average.

7 The New York Highlanders had debuted in the American League in 1903 and played at Hilltop Park. The club changed its name to Yankees for the 1913 season and moved into the Polo Grounds as tenants of the New York Giants. The Yankees played home games there until 1923, when Yankee Stadium opened.

8 Marshall A. Hunt, “Jinx Shocker Shuts Out Yankees, 2 to 0,” New York Daily News, September 28, 1921: 20. Hunt, with the classic verbiage favored by many sportswriters of the period, said of Shocker in the second paragraph of his game story, “The St. Louis spitballer, once caparisoned in Yankee livery and ever since his release an omnipotent jinx to the New York club …”  Entering this game, Shocker had made 22 appearances against the Yankees from 1918 to this point in the 1921 season with a 14-8 record. He had lost four of his first five decisions against New York in 1921, then bounced back to win three straight before this start. St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 28, 1921: 20.

9 Marshall Hunt’s game story describes Tobin’s out as an unassisted groundball to first base. Jack Lawrence’s story for the New York Tribune, cited in Note 10, corroborates it. Both the Baseball-Reference and Retrosheet play-by-plays report the out as a popup to catcher. Since Hunt and Lawrence are contemporary sources, their descriptions are used.

10 Jack Lawrence, “Yankees Again Humbled by Shocker, a Former Teammate,” New York Tribune, September 28, 1921: 12. Hunt’s account elaborates that Sisler, “batsman extraordinary, gripped his ashen club” as a prelude to his heroics. Hunt.

11 Hunt.

12 Lawrence.

13 “Mighty Babe Ruth Completely Tamed, Browns’ Hurling Ace Yielding but 5 Hits,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 28, 1921: 20.

14 Lawrence.

15 “Mighty Babe Ruth Completely Tamed.”

16 “Mighty Babe Ruth Completely Tamed.”

17 Carl Mays had closed out that game for winner Waite Hoyt with 1⅓ innings of scoreless relief as the Yankees won 8-7.

18 “Mighty Babe Ruth Completely Tamed.”

19 “Mighty Babe Ruth Completely Tamed.”

20 Hunt.

21 Ruth, who made only two pitching appearances for the Yankees in 1921 after beginning his career as an effective starter with the Red Sox, pitched four innings of relief in the second game on October 1. Although he allowed six runs on nine hits and three walks, he got the 7-6 win when New York scored in the bottom of the 11th inning.

22 Shocker’s $15,000 even topped player-manager Sisler’s $12,500 for the 1924 Browns.

23 Joseph Wancho, “Urban Shocker,” SABR Baseball Biography Project, sabr.org, accessed November 29, 2020.

24 Shocker appeared in only one game with the 1928 Yankees and did not pitch against St. Louis.

Additional Stats

St. Louis Browns 2
New York Yankees 0


Polo Grounds
New York, NY

 

Box Score + PBP:

Corrections? Additions?

If you can help us improve this game story, contact us.

Tags

1920s ·

© SABR. All Rights Reserved