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Muscle Sport Magazine

’29 Philadelphia Athletics – Better Than ’27 Yankees?

Wikipedia Commons/Labeled For Reuse

The measuring stick for a team’s single-season success is often the 1927 New York Yankees, better known as “Murderer’s Row.” Their formidable line-up included Babe Ruth (.356, 164 RBI and a then-record 60 home runs), Lou Gehrig (.373, 47 home runs and 175 RBI), Tony Lazzeri (.309/18/102) and Earle Combs (.356) and their pitching staff was led by Waite Hoyt (22-7) and Herb Pennock (19-8).

A 110-44 regular season resulted in a runaway pennant, with the Philadelphia Athletics 19 games off the pace as the bridesmaid of the ‘junior circuit.’ Miller Huggins‘s ball club then went on to sweep the Pittsburgh Pirates in the Fall Classic, giving the Bronx Bombers what seemed like dominance that would never be duplicated nor eclipsed. 

But only two seasons later, the argument can certainly be made…

The Yankees repeated in 1928 but the following year, the City of Brotherly Love experienced one special summer, the type that has become the greatest overlooked piece of baseball folklore in the twentieth century.

THE FIRST A’s DYNASTY

Connie Mack had led the A’s since 1901, the first year of the American League, and the organization enjoyed great success early on, with six pennants and three World Series titles between 1902 and 1913. But after losing in 1914 to the “Miracle Braves,” Mack broke the team up amidst rumors that they either threw the World Series or deliberately played to less than their full abilities as a form of protest against Mack’s tight wallet. The turnover on the roster was so great that the A’s went from a pennant-winning 99 wins to 105 losses, not only bad enough for the ‘second division,’ but also last place. But as the next decade progressed, a winning ball cub once again inhabited Shibe Park. 

The Yankees may have easily fended off the Athletics in 1927 and 1928, but the lean years were a thing of the past and the team’s fortunes rose as the stock market crashed.

BACK ON TOP

Three future Hall of Fame members paced the Athletics as the heart of their batting order shredded the AL. Al Simmons, Jimmie Foxx and Mickey Cochran punished pitching staffs league-wide, while Lefty Grove had  hitters talking to themselves as they returned to their dugout, heads down for the most part.

Left fielder Simmons was the main run producer with a .365 batting average, 34 home runs and 157 RBI. Foxx, who manned the gateway, hit .354 with 33 fingers and 118 RBI. A heavy-hitting catcher, Cochrane batted .331 with 7 homers and 95 RBI. Grove threw an unthinkable 275.1 innings and went 20-6 with a 2.81 ERA and 170 strikeouts. George Earnshaw nipped at his heels (24-8, 3.29 ERA, 149 Ks, 254.2 innings), with Rube Walberg (18-11) and Jack Quinn (11-9) rounding out the four-man rotation all with double-digit wins. It all culminated in a five-game World Series win over the Chicago Cubs. 

Another championship followed in 1930 and the next campaign was the last of three consecutive AL pennants for the A’s. The Great Depression was in its third year and economics effected the way that Mack could keep his big named littered roster intact. The fans did not have the money to visit the ballpark, so declining attendance was a major issue across baseball and Philadelphia was certainly no exception. Needless to say, this was the beginning of the end of the second A’s dynasty.

BACK TO THE SECOND DIVISION

Mack either traded or sold his marquee players and the team’s fortunes predictably sank. To make matters worse, the name and face of the franchise kept conducting business the old fashioned way, even with the game changing following the second World War. This did not bode well for winning baseball games and Mack’s declining to pass the baton was a major sticking point in having the franchise change with the times. Infighting within the immediate family  – the same people who made up the ownership group  – resulted in the team eventually being sold and moved to Kansas City following one final dismal summer in 1954.

The final process was dragged out into the offseason and was painfully slow, with the team’s new owners and if they would in fact be relocated hanging in the balance. When it was all said and done, the team packed up and moved west with many years of futility sandwiching two dominant eras.

SO WHO WAS BETTER? 

The numbers are fairly even when comparing the Athletics and Yankees in their respective three-year dominant periods. The A’s went 313-143 (a .686 winning percentage) between 1929-1931 and the Bombers 302-160 (.654) from 1926 to 1928. Run differential is basically identical and most experts are free to admit that the Yankees had the upper hand offensively and the A’s defensively and in the pitching department.

Even in the roaring 20s, New York was the media capital of the world. So the Yankees received the bulk of the headlines and their superstars carried the tabloids more than their brethren in Philadelphia did. So it was an uphill battle fighting the legends at Yankee Stadium and at the printing press.

The greatest team of all time? For argument’s sake, let’s just say ‘teams.’

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