Harvey Frommer / History Yankees
Five O'Clock Lightning
Book: Five O'Clock Lightning
Also Read: Summer of 1927Feb 1927 Excerpt The Best of TimesMarch 1927 ExcerptPre Season ExcerptFeb 2008 Excerpt Ruth Excerpt Ruth 60 Excerpt Yankees Excerpt Has It Really Been a Yankee Century? NY POST/FIVE O'CLOCK LIGHTNING
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HARVEY FROMMER ON SPORTS
THE BEST OF TIMES
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(For your reading pleasure adapted from FIVE O'CLOCK LIGHTNING: BABE RUTH, LOU GEHRIG AND THE GREATEST TEAM IN BASEBALL HISTORY, THE 1927 NEW YORK YANKEES)
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Charles Lindbergh was given a grand ticker tape parade on his return from Paris and his solo, nonstop transatlantic flight that began in New York. In Harlem, dancer Shorty Snowden, during a dance marathon, named his dance step the Lindy Hop inspired by the headline: "Lindy Hops the Atlantic."
The twenty-two newspapers of William Randolph Hearst, published in fifteen cities, had a daily circulation of 3,500,000 and reached 4,000,000 on Sundays. New York City had 18 daily newspapers in the 1920s. The New York Daily Mirror was a morning tabloid first published in 1924 in New York City by the William Randolph Hearst organization to compete with the New York Daily News, the most widely circulated newspaper in the United States. The News had begun in 1919 as the first picture newspaper, one that sports fans loved. In 1923, the year Yankee Stadium opened, the circulation of the News moved past 600,000 making it the best selling newspaper in the United States. That year of 1923 the percentage of newsprint devoted to sports rose from the four per cent it had been in 1890 to 17 per cent. Widespread coverage of baseball was already in place in specialized publications like the Sporting News and Baseball Magazine.
By 1927, newspapers in New York had 10 columns of sports. The news tabloids often led their front pages with sports news and pictures. Even the New York Times and New York Herald-Tribune were giving over more and more column space to sports
It was a time when most people received virtually all of their current information from newspapers. Afternoon newspapers cost three cents; morning papers were two cents. The half a dozen or so afternoon papers, like the Sun, Telegram, and Journal featured baseball results on page one. Papers were positioned face up on newsstands, and fans could see the score without buying the paper.
Arguably, the most talented bunch of newspaper sports journalists in action at one time worked back then. They called themselves "the Gee-Whizzers," and their zeal and love for sports and games at times surpassed that of the people they wrote about and for. They told the stories, provided the game accounts, wrote the poems. There was no television, little radio, some excellent but somewhat limited photography. What images, views, information on sports there was, came in the main from these sportswriters.
The sports pages had facts, but they were also sources of entertainment, soft news. Educated and eloquent, dedicated and opinionated, lyrical and knowledgeable, the sports writers of that time plied their trade in an era when players were drinking buddies, not antagonists. Yet the writers competed with themselves and among themselves to tell the stories, to break the scoops, to come up with new angles.
Those who plied their trade on the New York City newspapers were a who's who of sports writers. The New York Times boasted sports editor and columnist John Kiernan, Yankee writers Richards Vidmer and James Harrison. W.B. Hanna, Rud Rennie and sports editor W.O. McGeehan worked for the Herald Tribune. New York Daily News writers included Paul Galico, Marshall Hunt and Roscoe McGowen. Ford C. Frick wrote for the Evening Journal. Frank Graham, Joe Villa and Will Wedge did their stuff for the New York Sun. The New York Telegram featured Fred Lieb, Dan Daniel and Joe Williams. Lieb later wrote for The New York Post .The Monitor had George Bailey. Dan Parker and Charles Segar were on the New York Mirror, Edward Luster and Bill Slocum wrote for the New York American, and Arthur Mann was on the New York Evening World. Still doing their thing on the newspaper scene were icons Ring Lardner and Damon Runyan.
Jack Dempsey held the heavyweight-boxing title from 1919 through 1926. Then in 1927 in an epic grudge match seen by more than 150,000 who had paid two and a half million dollars at Soldier Field in Chicago, Gene Tunney won a controversial decision over Dempsey for the heavyweight boxing title. Big Bill Tilden dominated a lot of the tennis news in a sport that was the most rapidly growing one in America in 1927. Golf was also expanding big time. The great golfers Bobby Jones, Walter Hagen and Gene Sarazen dominated not only American courses but the venerable British greens as well. Red Grange at Illinois was a three time football All-American. At Notre Dame, Knute Rockne coached the "Fighting Irish" to three national championships. In 1927, the Harlem Globetrotters played their first basketball game. The New York Giants won the National Football League title game, and Johnny Weissmuller set several swimming records. Henry G. Steinbrenner, the father of George, won the 1927 NCAA low-hurdles championship.
In that golden age of sports there were those who towered above the rest: Red Grange in football, Jack Dempsey in boxing, Bobby Jones in golf, "Big Bill" Tilden in tennis, and the poster boy for excess . . .for more, George Herman "Babe" Ruth in baseball,
The 1920s, the age of Ruth, witnessed the largest increase in a decade for recreation and entertainment. In the previous decade those who attended baseball games were mainly affluent, white collar workers. In the 20s a better standard of living and the introduction of Sunday baseball widened the audience - attracting all classes including immigrants and the children of immigrants - working-class Italians, Poles and Jews. Like the cities baseball was played in, urban stadia were now becoming a meeting and melting ground for Americans of all classes and backgrounds.
Major league baseball, played in the daytime concluding before darkness fell, saw its average attendance rise 50% in the roaring 1920s, reach 93 million, nearly three thousand a game more than it had been in the previous ten years.
In New York City all sports were pretenders to the throne that baseball sat on. At least one Big Apple baseball team played in the World Series in eight of the years of the 1920s. In 1921, 1922 and 1923, the Yankees and Giants played in Subway Series.
Contrary to what many might believe, according to one 1927 estimate, 107 men from 79 colleges made up nearly one-third of big league regulars. The farm system belonged to the future.
Players spent a lot of time on long train trips. It was bonding time, a restful time, a time to eat and sleep, to play cards, read books and newspaper sports pages. Liquor and beer were the liquid refreshment of choice, both available in abundance. The game was the national pastime. All the best athletes gravitated to baseball. So many with a very strong work ethic and competitive fires were drawn to being part of the game.
The game was very different from baseball in the 21st century. Pitchers didn't throw nearly as hard. Strikeouts were way down because batters focused more on putting the ball in play and making contact. Pitchers threw far fewer pitches. Conserving strength and going the distance was the goal.
In 1927 batted balls bouncing into the grandstand were counted as home runs instead of ground-rule doubles, as they do today. But each of Babe Ruth's home runs hit that year were examined by historians who are convinced that none of them bounced into the seats. But there were four baggers smacked by others that got where they got on the bounce.
The time it took for games to be played was much less than today. There was no need to build advertising into the structure of the contests. A batter rarely got in and out of the batter's box. And if one did the home plate umpire would call for a pitch. And if it was anywhere near the plate it was deemed a strike.
Babe Ruth totally dominated all. In that glorious decade Babe Ruth finished number one in home runs (467), RBIs (1,328), walks (1240), strikeouts (795), slugging percentage (.740). Babe Ruth, a self made man, the American dream come true, a free swinger in a free swinging time.
"Once my swing starts," he said, "I can't change it or pull up on it. It's all or nothing."
Babe Ruth was the king. The 1927 New York Yankees were the royalty of baseball.
Historian A. D. Suehsdorf said: "If you didn't like the Yankees, it was a tough time to be alive."
But if you loved the Yanks, it was the best of times.
Harvey Frommer is in his 34th consecutive year of writing sports books. The author of 40 of them including the classics: "New York City Baseball,1947-1957" and "Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball." His latests are REMEMBERING YANKEE STADIUM, an oral/narrative history (Abrams, Stewart, Tabori and Chang) as well as a reprint version of his "Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball."