Coming from behind to catch the Pittsburgh Pirates during the season’s second half, the New York Giants captured the National League pennant in 1921, finishing the campaign with a record of 94-59, four games ahead of second-place Pittsburgh. The senior circuit’s most well-balanced team, the Giants led the league with 840 runs scored, while also allowing their opponents to score the second-fewest runs in the league (637).
New York had easily the National League’s deepest lineup. Shortstop Dave Bancroft batted .318 and scored 121 runs. Outfielder George Burns batted .299 and crossed the plate 111 times. First baseman George Kelly batted .308, knocked in 122 runs, and led the league with 23 home runs. Outfielder Ross Youngs placed among the league leaders with a .327 batting average, 102 runs batted in, and 16 triples. Second baseman Frankie Frisch was the team’s best player, driving in 100 runs, leading the league with 49 stolen bases, and finishing near the top of the league rankings with a .341 batting average, 121 runs scored, 211 hits, and 17 triples. Meanwhile, Art Nehf anchored New York’s pitching staff, winning 20 games, throwing 261 innings, and tossing 18 complete games.
The Giants subsequently defeated the Yankees in eight games in the first-ever “Subway Series.” John McGraw’s ball club overcame a 2-0 deficit to win five of the final six contests, thereby giving McGraw his first world championship since 1905. Aided by an injury to Babe Ruth that forced the Yankee slugger to sit out the final two games, Giants pitchers held New York’s powerful offense to only one run over the final 18 innings. The Yankees posted a team batting average of just .207 during the Series, with Giants hurlers Jesse Barnes and Phil Douglas going 4-1 with a combined ERA under 2.00.
The Pittsburgh Pirates proved to be New York’s stiffest competition over the course of the regular season, winning 90 games en route to finishing just four games behind the Giants. The Pirates had the circuit’s best pitching staff, surrendering a league-low 595 runs to their opposition. Wilbur Cooper tied for the N.L. lead with 22 victories, while Babe Adams (2.64) and Whitey Glazner (2.77) finished second and third in the league in earned run average.
The third-place St. Louis Cardinals, who finished seven games behind pennant-winning New York, had the senior circuit’s best player in Rogers Hornsby. The St. Louis second baseman dominated the various National League hitting categories, finishing first in everything except home runs and stolen bases. Hornsby topped the circuit with a .397 batting average, 126 runs batted in, 131 runs scored, 235 hits, 18 triples, 44 doubles, 378 total bases, a .458 on-base percentage, and a .639 slugging percentage. Hornsby’s 21 home runs also placed him just two four-baggers behind the league-leader in that category.
Other outstanding performers, notable events, and points of interest from around the league follow:
• April 13 - George Toporcer made his major league debut at second base for the St. Louis Cardinals. Nicknamed "Specs," he was the first position player to wear eye glasses on the field.
• New York Giants outfielder Irish Meusel was the top batsman in the 1921 World Series, collecting 10 hits and seven runs batted in. His brother Bob played left field for the American League champion New York Yankees.
• Bill Doak of the St. Louis Cardinals captured the N.L. ERA title with a mark of 2.58.
• Brooklyn’s Burleigh Grimes and Pittsburgh’s Wilbur Cooper tied for the league lead with 22 victories.
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- 1921 World Series, Art Nehf, Babe Adams, Babe Ruth, Bill Doak, Burleigh Grimes, Dave Bancroft, Frankie Frisch, George Burns, George Kelly, Irish Meusel, Jesse Barnes, John McGraw, New York Giants, Pete Alexander, Phil Douglas, Rogers Hornsby, Ross Youngs, Specs Toporczer, Whitey Glazner, Wilbur Cooper