Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Greatest 20th Century Outfield Tandems (Part II)

A competent set of outfielders can define a team's success.While plenty of pennant-winning clubs have used patchwork lineups to carry them into the postseason, baseball's most impressive dynasties were built with standouts at every outfield position. I would like to continue my discussion of the greatest outfield tandems beginning with the obvious:

New York Yankees 1925-1929
Virtually everyone has heard of the "Murderer's Row" Yankees of 1927. They outdistanced their closest AL competitors by 19 games that year then swept Pittsburgh in the World Series. Legend has it that when the Yankees took batting practice before Game 1, members of the Pirates gathered to size up their competition. After witnessing multiple players launch tape measure shots into the nether regions of Forbes Field, they were demoralized before they had even picked up a ball or a bat. "Murderer's Row" was not so murderous in 1925, however, finishing in seventh place. The roots of a championship team were there with Hall of Famers Earle Combs and Babe Ruth manning the outer perimeter with "Long Bob" Meusel. When Ruth fell ill in '25 and was limited to 98 games, Meusel and Combs picked up the slack. Meusel enjoyed the most productive season of his career, launching 33 homers while collecting 138 RBI's (both tops in the AL). Combs hit at a robust .342 pace while compiling an impressive .411 on-base percentage. Ruth, Gehrig and Meusel would spend five seasons together in New York as the starting three. Center fielder Combs was the leadoff man, scoring more than 100 runs per year from 1925 through 1932. He played hard in the outfield, diving for balls and crashing into barriers. In 1934, he fractured his skull after slamming into the concrete wall at Sportsman's Park in St. Louis. He later sustained a career-ending collarbone injury. Meusel was quiet and enigmatic, earning himself an undeserved reputation for being "lazy." He wasn't good at generating copy for sportswriters, but he knew how to hit and throw a baseball. In 1927, he compiled a career-best .337 batting average and drove-in 103 runs with just 8 homers. It's hard to imagine there was anybody left on the bases with Gehrig and Ruth hitting in front of him in the lineup. Meusel had a strong arm in left field, leading the league in assists on two occasions. His activities on the diamond were often overshadowed by his larger than life teammate Babe Ruth. Ruth's defense was irrelevant as he chipped away at the record books for 22 years and fashioned the most storied career in major league history. He enjoyed his signature season in 1927, when he hit .356 and established a new single season record for homers (60) while leading the AL in at least 8 major offensive categories. This triumvirate of Yankee greats was dismantled in 1929,when Meusel's production began to slip. He was traded to the Reds and replaced by Harry Rice, who gave way to Ben Chapman in 1931. The Bombers did just fine without him, winning 5 world championships during the decade of the '30's. 

Chicago Cubs 1928-1931
Though the Cubs are a star-crossed franchise, they have assembled some fine outfield combinations over the years. The pooled efforts of Riggs Stephenson, Kiki Cuyler and Hack Wilson from 1928 through 1931 nearly propelled the club to an elusive world championship. The oddly proportioned Wilson was among the most dangerous sluggers of his era. Standing 5-foot-6 and weighing 190 pounds, he hammered his way into the record books then drank himself out of the majors. He drove in 120 runs in 1928 then followed with a 159 RBI effort the following year. The best was yet to come as he enjoyed a mythical season in 1930, slamming 56 homers while knocking in 191 runs--a record that still stands. Left fielder Cuyler had a rare combination of power and speed. He led the NL in stolen bases every year from 1928 through 1930 while reaching the century mark in RBI's twice in that span. His signature offensive campaign came in 1930, when he reached career-high marks in hits (228), doubles (50) and RBI's (134). An excellent defensive outfielder, Cuyler's range factor was among the top 5 in the NL four years in a row. Stephenson had suffered a football injury while playing for the University of Alabama. Opposing players soon learned that they could take an extra base on him in right field. Despite this weakness, Stephenson kept himself in the lineup with his productive bat, posting averages of .324, .362, .367 and .319 from 1928-'31. The latter campaign ended prematurely for him when he sustained an ankle injury. In the 1929 World Series, Stephenson, Cuyler and Wilson combined for a .357 batting average and a .429 on-base percentage. Carried by their pooled efforts, the Cubs led 8-0 in Game 4 and were on the verge of tying the Series at two games apiece when Chicago's pitching corps experienced a sudden meltdown, allowing 10 runs to the Philadelphia A's in the bottom of the seventh. The demoralized Cubs lost 10-8, but bounced back to carry a 2-0 lead into the ninth inning of the fifth contest. The resilient A's rallied for 3 runs to clinch the Series and leave the Chicago faithful waiting for next year (again). The hard-drinking Wilson got along poorly with manager Rogers Hornsby in 1931. He appeared in just 112 games and ended up being traded to Brooklyn in the offseason. Cuyler and Stephenson stayed together for the '32 slate as the Cubs captured their second pennant in four years. They ended up getting steamrolled by the Yankees in 4 games. Cuyler and Wilson both found their way into the Hall of Fame while the defensively challenged Stephenson never earned more than 1.5% of the vote.               

No comments:

Post a Comment