After finishing a disappointing seventh in the American League the previous year, the New York Yankees replaced the Washington Senators atop the A.L. standings in 1926, surviving late-season scares from Cleveland, Philadelphia, and Washington to capture their first league championship in three years. The Yankees finished the campaign with a record of 91-63, three games ahead of the second-place Indians. The Athletics finished third, six games back, while the Senators slipped to fourth, eight games off the pace.
New York boasted the league’s top offense, scoring a total of 847 runs – 45 more than any other team in the circuit. Rookie second baseman Tony Lazzeri established himself as one of the league’s top sluggers by placing among the leaders with 18 home runs and 114 runs batted in. Centerfielder Earle Combs had a solid second season, batting .299 and scoring 113 runs. Also in his second full season, Lou Gehrig led the league with 20 triples, and he also finished among the leaders with 112 runs batted in, 135 runs scored, 47 doubles, and 105 bases on balls. However, Lazzeri, Combs, and Gehrig merely served as members of Babe Ruth’s supporting cast. Returning to the Yankees fully healthy after stomach surgery limited him to only 98 games the previous year, Ruth reestablished himself as the American’s League’s top player. In addition to placing second in the junior circuit with a .372 batting average, Ruth led the league with 47 home runs, 146 runs batted in, 139 runs scored, 144 walks, 365 total bases, a .516 on-base percentage, and a .737 slugging percentage. Had Ruth been eligible to win the A.L. MVP Award in 1926, he likely would have done so. However, the league had a rule in place at the time eliminating from consideration any player that previously won the award. As a result, the baseball writers named Cleveland first baseman George Burns A.L. MVP instead. Burns helped lead the Indians to a close second-place finish by batting .358, driving in 114 runs, and topping the circuit with 216 hits and 64 doubles.
The heavily-favored Yankees subsequently faced the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series, with the Cardinals representing the senior circuit in the Fall Classic for the first time. Despite four home runs by Babe Ruth, including three in New York’s 10-5 Game Four victory, the two teams split the first six contests, with wily old Pete Alexander tossing complete-game victories for St. Louis in Games Two and Six. Alexander then came out of the bullpen in the seventh inning of Game Seven to protect Jesse Haines’s 3-2 lead. Facing Tony Lazzeri with two men out and the bases loaded, Alexander fanned the Yankee slugger on four pitches, before retiring the next five Yankee batters in order. Alexander then walked Babe Ruth with two men out in the bottom of the ninth inning, putting the potential tying run on base. But, with Lou Gehrig at the plate, Ruth inexplicably attempted to steal second base. N.L. MVP Bob O’Farrell gunned him down, thereby ending the game and the Series.
While the Yankees’ league-leading offense enabled them to capture the American League pennant, the third-place Philadelphia Athletics had the circuit’s top pitching staff. Lefty Grove led all A.L. hurlers with a 2.51 ERA and 194 strikeouts. Teammate Eddie Rommel also placed among the ERA leaders with a mark of 3.08. Meanwhile, Cleveland’s George Uhle was the league’s best pitcher, topping the circuit with 27 victories, 32 complete games, and 318 innings pitched, while also compiling an ERA of 2.83.
Other notable events from around the league and players who distinguished themselves over the course of the season included:
• George Burns of Cleveland established a new major league record by accumulating 64 doubles.
• Washington’s Firpo Marberry set a new major league record by saving 22 games.
• Detroit’s Heinie Manush led the American League with a .378 batting average.
• April 13 - In one of the greatest Opening Day pitcher’s duels ever, Walter Johnson of the Washington Senators defeated Eddie Rommel and the Philadelphia Athletics, 1–0, in a 15-inning battle. Johnson struck out nine and surrendered just six hits.
• May 12 - Walter Johnson recorded his 400th career win when he defeated the St. Louis Browns, 7–4. Johnson became just the second pitcher to reach the 400-win plateau (Cy Young being the other).
• August 21 - Ted Lyons pitched a no-hitter in a 6–0 Chicago White Sox win over the Boston Red Sox.
• September 26 - The Browns and Yankees played the shortest game in American League history - 55 minutes.
• October 6 – Although the Yankees ended up losing the World Series in seven games, Babe Ruth’s Game Four performance remains one of the most memorable in the history of the Fall Classic. Ruth homered three times during New York’s 10-5 victory, with each homer being more majestic than the one that preceded it. After hitting a 400-foot drive over Sportsman’s Park’s right field bleacher roof in the first inning, Ruth cleared the roof in right center with his second blast, which broke a window on the other side of Grand Avenue, some 515 feet away from home plate. Ruth’s final blow carried deep into the never-before reached centerfield bleachers, far beyond the 430-foot mark. Estimated at 530 feet, it is still considered to be the longest home run ever struck in World Series play.
- 1926 World Series, American League, Babe Ruth, Bob Meusel, Earle Combs, Eddie Rommel, Firpo Marberry, George Burns, George Uhle, Goose Goslin, Harry Heilmann, Heinie Manush, Herb Pennock, Jesse Haines, Lefty Grove, Lou Gehrig, New York Yankees, Pete Alexander, St. Louis Cardinals, Ted Lyons, Tony Lazzeri, Waite Hoyt, Walter Johnson