The 1929 Yankees made history by becoming the first team to adopt the practice of wearing numbers on their uniforms. Although the method of assigning numbers later became far more random, the initial distribution was made according to the player’s position in the batting order. As a result, leadoff hitter Earle Combs wore #1, second-place hitter Mark Koenig sported #2, Babe Ruth wore #3, Lou Gehrig donned #4, and so on. Other teams soon followed suit, making uniform numbers standard procedure by 1932.
Once the season got underway, it soon became apparent that it would be extremely difficult for the Yankees to win their fourth straight American League pennant. The combination of an aging pitching staff and the evolution of the Philadelphia Athletics into a powerhouse ball club did not bode well for the Yankees, who finished the year with a record of 88-66, 16 games behind first-place Philadelphia.
The Yankees didn’t have a particularly difficult time scoring runs, finishing third in the league with 899 runs scored – only two fewer than the A’s. Unfortunately, they also surrendered 775 runs to the opposition – 160 more than Philadelphia’s pitching staff allowed. George Pipgras had another good year, finishing the campaign with a record of 18-12. But Waite Hoyt won only 10 games, while 35-year-old Herb Pennock finished 9-11, with a 4.92 ERA. The team’s most effective pitcher was actually veteran left-hander Tom Zachary, who only two years earlier had given up Babe Ruth’s record-setting 60th home run as a member of the Washington Senators. Working primarily in relief, Zachary finished the 1929 season a perfect 12-0. He also compiled a team-best 2.48 ERA. Zachary’s 12 victories without a defeat still stand as the Major League record for most pitching wins without a loss in one season.
Meanwhile, several Yankee regulars posted some extremely impressive offensive numbers. Earle Combs batted .345, scored 119 runs, and collected 202 hits. Tony Lazzeri hit 18 home runs, knocked in 106 runs, scored 101 others, and batted a career-high .354. Rookie Bill Dickey batted .324 and knocked in 65 runs. Lou Gehrig had something of an off-season, batting just .300. Nevertheless, he still managed to hit 35 homers, drive in 126 runs, score 127 others, and compile a .431 on-base percentage. Babe Ruth did his best to lead the team to another pennant, topping the circuit with 46 home runs and a .697 slugging percentage, while also knocking in 154 runs, scoring 121 others, and batting .345. But the A’s were just too much to overcome, leaving the Yankees a mere afterthought in the pennant race by early September.
Things only got worse later in the month when manager Miller Huggins passed away at the age of 50 on September 25 as a result of erysipelas, visible under his right eye, which progressed into sepsis (blood poisoning). The American League canceled all its games for the following day out of respect for Huggins, who led the Yankees to their first six pennants and three world championships in his 12 years as the team’s skipper. Flags at Yankee Stadium flew at half-mast as thousands of tearful fans arrived at the ballpark to view his casket. Less than three years later, on May 30, 1932, the Yankees dedicated a monument to Huggins, placing it in front of the flagpole in center field at Yankee Stadium. He became the first man to be so honored, eventually sharing the plot of land that came to be known as “Monument Park” with other Yankee legends.
When play resumed the following day, Coach Art Fletcher assumed Huggins’ vacated managerial post, leading the team to a 6-5 record over the season’s final two weeks.By Bob_Cohen
- Art Fletcher, Babe Ruth, Bill Dickey, Earle Combs, George Pipgras, Herb Pennock, Lou Gehrig, Mark Koenig, Miller Huggins, New York Yankees, Tom Zachary, Tony Lazzeri, Waite Hoyt, Yankee Stadium