In many ways, the 1934 campaign represented a year of transition for the Yankees. With Bill Dickey, Ben Chapman, and Frank Crosetti the only members of the starting lineup under 30 years of age, the team began taking a look into the future by calling up from the minor leagues some of its top prospects. Lou Gehrig and Tony Lazzeri still appeared to have several good seasons left in them, but Babe Ruth and Earle Combs were both nearing the ends of their careers. New York also needed to find a replacement at third base for Joe Sewell, who retired during the off-season.
The Yankees attempted to fill the void at third with a pair of rookies. Jack Saltzgaver and Red Rolfe shared time at the hot corner, with Rolfe making the more favorable impression of the two by batting .287 and scoring 54 runs, in just over 300 total plate appearances. With Combs and Ruth starting only 62 and 111 games in center field and right field, respectively, Sammy Byrd and 26-year-old rookie George Selkirk received extensive playing time in the outfield.
Manager Joe McCarthy did an expert job of working younger players into the lineup, while still trying to compete for the American League pennant. In the end, though, it became impossible for him to lead New York past the powerful Detroit Tigers, who finished seven games ahead of his team in the final standings. The Yankees came in second, with a record of 94-60.
In spite of their second-place finish, the Yankees boasted the American League’s best pitching staff, compiling a league-leading 3.76 ERA. Red Ruffing finished 19-11, with a 3.93 ERA and 19 complete games. Rookie right-hander Johnny Murphy was a revelation. Splitting his time between starting and working out of the bullpen, Murphy won 14 games and saved four others, while posting a 3.12 ERA in his 208 innings of work. Lefty Gomez served as the staff ace, leading A.L. starters in virtually every major statistical category, en route to earning a third-place finish in the league MVP voting. Gomez topped the circuit with a record of 26-5, a 2.33 ERA, 158 strikeouts, 25 complete games, 282 innings pitched, and six shutouts.
The Yankee offense also performed well, producing 842 runs – the second most in the American League. Bill Dickey batted .322 and drove in 72 runs. Ben Chapman batted .308, knocked in 86 runs, and finished third in the league with 26 stolen bases. However, Babe Ruth batted just .288, hit only 22 home runs, and drove in just 84 runs. No longer an offensive force, Ruth’s days in New York appeared to be numbered. The Yankees unceremoniously released him on February 26, 1935, marking the end of an era. The Babe signed with the National League’s Boston Braves as a free agent later that very same day. Before Ruth left New York, though, he had one more moment of glory, hitting the 700th home run of his storied career at Detroit’s Navin Field on July 14th. No other major league player had yet to hit half as many homers. Ruth finished the season with a total of 708 home runs, hitting his final six round-trippers as a member of the Braves the following year.
Meanwhile, as Ruth slowly faded out of the picture, Lou Gehrig stepped to the forefront as the game’s greatest player. Gehrig won the American League Triple Crown in 1934 by topping the circuit with 49 home runs, 165 runs batted in, and a .363 batting average. He also finished first with 409 total bases, a .465 on-base percentage, and a .706 slugging percentage. Yet, somehow, the members of the BBWAA placed him just fifth in the league MVP balloting. Gehrig was one of six Yankees named to the American League All-Star Team, joining Babe Ruth, Lefty Gomez, Red Ruffing, Bill Dickey, and Ben Chapman on the squad.By Bob_Cohen
- Babe Ruth, Ben Chapman, Bill Dickey, Earle Combs, Frankie Crosetti, George Selkirk, Jack Saltzgaver, Joe McCarthy, Johnny Murphy, Lefty Gomez, Lou Gehrig, New York Yankees, Red Rolfe, Red Ruffing, Sammy Byrd, Tony Lazzeri