The Yankees began to emerge as a force to be reckoned with in the American League in 1919 under the leadership of Miller Huggins. New York finished third in the junior circuit with a record of 80-59 in the “Mighty Mite’s” second year as manager. By finishing 7 ½ games behind the pennant-winning Chicago White Sox, the Yankees ended the campaign closer to first place than in any other season since 1906, when they placed second in the final standings, just three games behind the White Sox. The team also fared extremely well at the turnstiles, establishing a new franchise record by drawing 619,164 fans to the Polo Grounds.
Team owner Jacob Ruppert displayed his penchant for acquiring top talent from other teams by fleecing the Boston Red Sox of two of their better players. The Red Sox, who had won four of the previous seven American League pennants, began dismantling their club at the conclusion of the 1918 campaign, and Ruppert was only too happy to take part in the fire sale. First, he traded pitcher Ray Caldwell, three lesser players, and $15,000 to Boston for star outfielder Duffy Lewis, who had spent most of his eight-year major league career playing left field for the Red Sox alongside the great Tris Speaker. In fact, Lewis did such an outstanding job of playing Fenway Park’s tricky left field wall that Boston fans dubbed that section of the ballpark Duffy’s Cliff (of course, it eventually came to be known as The Green Monster). A solid hitter as well, Lewis ended up batting .272 and knocking in a team-leading 89 runs for the Yankees in 1919.
Ruppert made another sagacious move when, on July 29, he traded two nondescript players and $40,000 to Boston for right-hander Carl Mays, who had won more than 20 games for the Red Sox in each of the previous two seasons. Mays compiled a record of 9-3 and an ERA of 1.65 for the Yankees over the final two months of the 1919 campaign, while completing 12 of his 13 starts.
Other key contributors to New York’s pitching staff included Jack Quinn and Bob Shawkey. Quinn, who earlier pitched for the Yankees from 1909 to 1912 before being dealt to the National League’s Boston Braves, returned to New York to post 15 victories, a 2.61 ERA, and 18 complete games. Shawkey returned to the Yankees from an eight-month stint in the Navy to lead the team with a record of 20-11 and 22 complete games, while also compiling an ERA of 2.72.
Frank Baker once again paced the offense, batting .293, driving in 83 runs, and leading the team with 10 home runs. He received a considerable amount of help from Roger Peckinpaugh, who had his finest offensive season-to-date. The shortstop hit seven home runs and led the team with 89 runs scored, a .305 batting average, and a .390 on-base percentage.
Interestingly, two young men who later went on to accomplish great things with other organizations graced New York’s roster in 1919. An aspiring 24-year-old outfielder named George Halas played his lone big-league season, appearing in 12 games for the Yankees and coming up with only two hits in 22 times at-bat, for a batting average of just .091. Halas subsequently turned his attention to football, serving as one of the founding fathers of the National Football League, and of the Chicago Bears in particular. Also making his major league debut with the team was a 22-year-old outfielder named Lefty O’Doul. After failing first with the Yankees and, later, with the Red Sox, O’Doul resurfaced in the National League in 1928, putting together some truly exceptional years for the Philadelphia Phillies and the Brooklyn Dodgers. O’Doul had his greatest season for the Phillies in 1929, when he hit 32 home runs, knocked in 122 runs, scored 152 others, and led the National League with 254 hits, a .398 batting average, and a .465 on-base percentage. O’Doul later managed Joe DiMaggio in the Pacific Coast League.By Bob_Cohen
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- Bob Shawkey, Carl Mays, Del Pratt, Duffy Lewis, Frank Baker, George Halas, Jack Quinn, Jacob Ruppert, Joe DiMaggio, Lefty O'Doul, Miller Huggins, New York Yankees, Polo Grounds, Ray Caldwell, Roger Peckinpaugh, Tris Speaker, Wally Pipp