The Yankees, the Giants, and the Battle for Baseball Supremacy in New York

By Fenster, Kenneth R. | Nine, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview

The Yankees, the Giants, and the Battle for Baseball Supremacy in New York


Fenster, Kenneth R., Nine


Lyle Spatz and Steve Steinberg. 1921: The Yankees, the Giants, and the Battle for Baseball Supremacy in New York. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2010. 538 pp. Cloth, $31.95

The early 1920s were a critical time for America and baseball. World War I was finally over, the acrimonious fight in the US Senate over the ratification of the Versailles Peace Treaty had ended with the Treaty's rejection, prohibition became the law of the land, and women won the right to vote. Warren G. Harding captured the presidency in a landslide victory, promising a return to normalcy after two decades of progressive activism and involvement in a foreign war. At the same time, baseball confronted two of its darkest moments: in August 1920 Yankees pitcher Carl Mays beaned Ray Chapman, killing the popular Cleveland shortstop, and the following month came the revelations that eight members of the Chicago White Sox had conspired to throw the 1919 World Series. At this crucial time in baseball history, two teams, the New York Giants and the New York Yankees, challenged each other for supremacy over the future of the game and for the loyalty of New York baseball fans.

In this book, veteran authors Lyle Spatz and Steve Steinberg argue convincingly that the 1921 baseball season was a turning point in the sport's history. That year, each league experienced tight, exciting pennant races, and for the first time, both New York teams won championships. The Giants captured their seventh pennant under their longtime manager, the pugnacious John McGraw. The Yankees, also-rans since they entered the league in 1903, won their first flag behind their manager, the introspective Miller Huggins, and the home-run hitting of the incomparable Babe Ruth. All the World Series games would be played at the Giants' home field, the Polo Grounds, where the Yankees had been tenants since 1913. McGraw, who despised the American League, Babe Ruth, and his style of play, epitomized the scientific or inside baseball that had dominated the game for the past twenty years. Ruth, who had hit 54 home runs in 1920 and then 59 in 1921, single-handedly revolutionized the way the game was played. The low-scoring, pitching-dominated game that McGraw had helped to create gave way to the high-scoring, big-inning, offense-oriented game that Ruth invented. Because of their winning ways, McGraw and the Giants had long dominated the city's baseball scene. But beginning in 1920 the Yankees challenged that supremacy. The upstart Yankees became the first team in baseball history to draw more than 1000,000 fans, and the team outdrew their landlords by almost 360,000. Ruth and the Yankees lost the 1921 World Series to McGraw and the Giants five games to three, but they won the hearts and minds of New Yorkers and also of millions of Americans elsewhere. In 1921, the Yankees replaced the Giants as baseball's premier team, and the Yankees dominated the game for the next fifty years.

Spatz and Stenberg divide their book into three parts: the Preseason, the Season, and the Postseason. The Preseason traces the major developments in the history of the two New York teams with an emphasis on those events that influenced the 1921 season. In the Season, the authors provide a detailed chronological narrative of the 1921 pennant races in the two leagues. One or two consecutive chapters describe the Yankees and the American League race, and the next one or two chapters switch to the Giants and the National League campaign. …

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