Five O'Clock Lightning
(Wiley, October 2007, ISBN-10: 0471778125, ISBN-13: 978-0471778127)
EXCERPT: ROLL OUT THE BARREL: THE 1927 Yankees
The season was anything but over for the Yankees and for Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. They just were rolling along, rolling over teams. Like the team's theme song = it was the time of "roll out the barrel, we'll have a barrel of fun!" The mystique and drawing power of the Yankees was such that a second big-voiced man was kept on the payroll to use a megaphone to shout out the names of the pitchers and batters to those who sat in the distance reaches of Yankee Stadium. The mystique and drawing power of Murderer's Row was such that more than ever before fans came to the ballpark with baseball gloves hoping to catch a ball smashed by Ruth or Gehrig or one of the other Yankee sluggers.
There was a culture in place for all the sluggers, for all members of the Yankees. Miller Huggins had schooled each and every player about attitude, disposition, bearing. If they didn't get it the first time there was always time for lectures and lessons in Hug's spartan Yankee Stadium office that consisted of a desk for him, a desk chair and a leather couch for all others.
Players were required to report for games at 10:00 at the Stadium - -to sign in, not to practice. It was a way designed to cut down on late night goings on. No food, no beer was allowed in the clubhouse between games of a doubleheader.
There was a machine-like way about the Yankees, a precise, orderly, ritualistic rhythm that was repeated game after game. When the team was at bat and there were two outs, the regulars stood at the ready, poised at the second step of the dugout primed to rush out to their defensive positions on the field when the final out of the inning occurred.
There was to be no backslapping, no flamboyant displays, no noisemaking or razzing, no teasing of players on the other teams.
"We were never rough or rowdy," Waite Hoyt said, "just purposeful." Throughout that long 1927 season, no Yankee ever had a fight on the field. And only once was a player thrown out of a game by an umpire - Joe Dugan Unseen by the fans and the opposition, the only emotional show taking place at Yankee Stadium after a victory was players exiting the dugout into the clubhouse chanting all the way:
"Roll Out the Barrel!"
"Roll Out the Barrel."
Waite Hoyt explained: "When we were challenged, when we had to win, we stuck together and played with a fury and determination that could only come from team spirit. We had a pride in our performance that was very real. It took on the form of snobbery. And I do believe we left a heritage that became a Yankee tradition"
Those Yankees who were not in the day's starting lineup were expected to pay attention to everything that was happening on the field. There was no slouching in the dugout and no conversation about anything but baseball despite Waite Hoyt's famous lines: "In the daytime you sat in the dugout and talked about women. And in the nighttime you went out with women and talked about baseball. It's great to be young and a Yankee."
The Yankee bullpen was in left field on an embankment that was slightly graded. Huggins called down when he needed to and when the phone rang it was usually a signal that a pitcher should get ready. Ed Barrow sat in his mezzanine box at Yankee Stadium observing all that took place on the field. If there was any lolling around, any one trying to sneak a snooze, any food being consumed "Cousin Eggbert" used the telephone in his box to get things in Yankee order usually blending profanity with annoyance with questions like "What the hell do you think we are paying you for?"
EXCERPT: SUMMER OF 1927
"It isn't a race in the American League, it's a landside."
-- John Kieran, New York Time
July would be the best of all months for the Yankees. They would win 24 of 31 games and stitch together their longest winning streak of the season, nine games, from June 13th through July 23rd.
In first place where they had been all season, flying, unstoppable, cocksure, determined and proud of what they were accomplishing, they played on.
And Gehrig and Ruth especially played on. Ruth played off Gehrig, and Gehrig played off Ruth. They both gave opposing pitchers fits and the fans delight. The pennant race was over. It had actually been over before it began.
But the "Home Run Derby" was in full throttle, mesmerizing more and more baseball fans day after day. Gehrig and Ruth, Ruth and Gehrig. Neither man could gain significant separation from the other as they took those mighty swings that baseball summer. And what separation there was, was never more than two home runs.
On the first day of July, the Yankees faced the hapless Red Sox. The Buster and the Babe were tied with 25 home runs each. Gehrig slammed a home run to pace the 7-4 Yankee win, the 13th straight defeat for Boston. That game was a marker moment for the "Bammer" ?the first time since 1922 that he trailed a rival on that date in the home run race.
"There's only one man who will ever have a chance of breaking my record, and that's Gehrig. He is a great kid," the King of Clubbers said.
Whenever Ruth hammered a homer, Gehrig waited at home plate to shake his hand as he rounded third and touched home plate. If Gehrig homered with Ruth on base, the two would trot around the bases. The Babe waited for Lou to touch home. Then the happy pair like two school kids, smiling all the way, would enter the Yankee dugout to the cheers of their adoring fans, to the congratulations of their teammates.
The younger Gehrig said: "There will never be another guy like the Babe. I get more of a kick out of seeing him hit one than I do from hitting one myself."
The older Ruth said: "Gehrig is one of the greatest fellows in the game and a real home run hitter."
And the self effacing Iron Horse said: "I'm just fortunate enough to be close to him."
But Tony Lazzeri, who knew the score all too well, noted: "They didn't get along. Gehrig thought Ruth was a big-mouth and Ruth thought Gehrig was cheap. They were both right."
Despite Lazzeri's comments, there was no public animosity, no obvious jealousy, no enmity evident between the pair. Ruth even had a kind of big brother, semi-paternalistic interest in Gehrig. "This college kid," the Babe said, "is one of the queerest ballplayers I ever knew. It seems he never feels the cold weather. The coldest day in winter he'll come swinging down Broadway without an overcoat, his coat open and no vest. Never wears gloves and half the time goes bare-headed. Some of the boys claim he never had an over coat on his shoulders until he joined the Yankees."
They were known in the media and by the fans as the "home run twins." But when it came to who was the favorite, it was no contest.
Ruth struck out in a game, and Gehrig followed with a homer. Afterwards at the exit gate kids swarmed all over the Big Bam with adoring looks and cheers, scorecards, pieces of paper, autograph books. Ruth obliged every one of them. No one paid Gehrig any attention. Seemingly content, he walked away and down the street.
"Babe and Gehrig were entirely different disposition-wise," Bill Werber said. "But they both had an intense desire to win. And you'd better have the same disposition on that ball club, or they were on your ass. Eating or drinking during the course of the game, you'd better not do that."
Their lockers were just a few feet from each other and like all the rest at Yankee Stadium, their names were printed in white chalk near the top:
The Yankee first baseman's locker was orderly. The Yankee outfielder's locker was the opposite. Overflowing with telegrams, letters in the hundreds, salves and balms and toiletries, phonograph records of "Babe and You," the top of locker had a green gourd about five feet long on it. After games ended, Gehrig sat on a stool in front of his locker, dressed quickly and left. Ruth hung around. Sometimes he sat on a stool but most times he stood, enjoying the give and take with reporters.