Legends On Deck

1927 Yankees vs 1933 Pittsburgh Crawfords

Over time, the 1927 Yankees have been considered by many to be one of the best teams of all-time in baseball.  Certainly, with a lineup that had the likes of Earle Combs, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Bob Meusel was an offensive juggernaut that could give any team a battle at any time. But, were they in fact the best of all-time or for that matter, were they the best of the era they played in?

Many examples of teams that could rival the ’27 Yankees can be given. The 1929-1930 Philadelphia Athletics with Jimmy Foxx, Lefty Grove and Al Simmons is one. Could the 1936 Yankees be better than their brethren the 1927 squad? One group of teams that is forgotten is the Negro League teams, like the 1923-1925 Kansas City Monarchs, the Homestead Grays team that won nine consecutive pennants or the Hilldale Daisies.

First off let us look at the roster of the 1927 Yankee squad: the pitching part of the lineup consisted of Walter Beall, Joe Girad, Waite Hoyt, Wilcy Moore, Herb Pennock, George Pipgras, Dutch Ruether, Bob Shawkey, Urban Shocker and Myles Thomas. There were three catchers on the ’27 Yankee squad and they were Benny Bengough, Pat Collins and Johnny Grabowski. In the infield there was Lou Gehrig, Mike Gazella, Joe Dugan, Mark Koenig, Tony Lazzeri, Ray Morehart and Julie Wera. The outfield part of the ’27 Yankees included Earle Combs, Cedric Durst, Bob Meusel, Benpaschal, and Babe Ruth.

Josh Gibson circa 1930urst, Bob Meusel, Ben Paschal and Babe Ruth.

Now for the 1933 Pittsburgh Crawfords we have Josh Gibson and Bill Perkins catching. The pitching staff consisted of Leroy Matlock, William Bell, Sam Streeter, Bert Hunter, Harry Kincannon, Spoon Carter, Bill Harvey and a youngster by the name of Satchel Paige.

In the infield there was Oscar Charleston, John Henry Russell, Judy Johnson and Chester Williams. Outfielders including Jimmy Crutchfield, Ted Page, Anthony Cooper and James “Cool Papa” Bell. One thing to be remembered about Negro League teams is that many of the players were versatile and could play one or more positions making them an invaluable part of the lineup.

The catcher is the field general of the team and in the case of the Yankees the duties fell upon the three men, Bengough, Collins and Grabowski. For the Crawfords it was Josh Gibson and Bill Perkins with the 21-year-old Gibson just beginning on the road to immortality. Here advantage to the Crawfords even though Gibson was a rookie, he was a feared slugger and a fairly good defensive catcher. The Yankees three catchers together just can’t measure up to both Gibson and Perkins, so advantage Crawfords.

Yankee pitchers on the 1927 squad provided a great veteran presence that would eventually help the squad to their second World Series title in four years. That Yankee staff anchored by future Hall of Famers Waite Hoyt and Herb Pennock, and the veteran Bob Shawkey along with the unheralded Wilcy Moore and Urban Shocker provided the Yankees with veteran leadership and quality pitching. The Crawfords pitching lineup of Satchel Paige, Sam Street and Leroy Matlock would give headaches to the Negro Leagues teams and others, but Paige cannot pitch in every game and with the experience of the Yankees staff the advantage here would go to the Yankees.

Now onto the outfield of the ’27 Yanks which consisted of a starting three of Earle Combs, Bob Meusel and of course one of baseball’s best, Babe Ruth. For the ’33 Crawfords it would be Jimmie Crutchfield, Ted Page and “Cool Papa” Bell reputed to be one of the fastest men in baseball. For the Yankees Ruth and Meusel would alternate between left and right field given the sun factor and the fact Meusel was very under rated because he was so good it almost looked like he did not care or was not trying. Ruth, of course was Ruth, certainly the game’s greatest slugger and possibly the greatest player given the fact he was also one hell of a pitcher early on in his career. Earle Combs was a proto-typical leader hitter. It was often he who score one of the Yankees first runs given his propensity for getting on base. He also covered tremendous ground in the huge outfield of Yankee Stadium.

The ’33 Crawfords outfield of Page, Crutchfield and Bell matches up pretty good with the ’27 Yankees outfield. Ted Page was the type of player who could beat you at the plate, on the bases or in the field. He would use his speed to his advantage and would always play to win. Jimmie Crutchfield displayed better than average skills as a player and while never a league leader in offensive or defensive categories he was an invaluable member of any team he was on. Cool Papa Bell thought Crutchfield was the best team player in baseball. Now we move on to Cool Papa Bell, the stories and the legend. Bell’s stories are entertaining but mask the fact he was a very good leadoff hitter as well a pretty good defensive player who certainly could cover some ground.

In looking this over advantage here offensively would go to the Yankees based solely on Ruth’s prowess at the plate. However, over all, together both offensively and defensively the advantage here would probably go to the Crawfords but not by a large margin.

Finally, we get to the infield and starting at third base it is Joe Dugan for the Yankees against the Crawfords Judy Johnson. Both men were steady infielders with great ability. Dugan was very steady but not spectacular. Johnson was sure handed, had good range and a strong throwing arm. On offense, he was instinctively good on the bases but not exceptionally fast. While he could hit for average, he was not a power hitter. Here the advantage goes to the Crawfords, after all Johnson did make the Hall of Fame.

The shortstop position would match Mark Koenig of the Yankees and Chester Williams of the Crawfords. Koenig was steady if not spectacular and Williams was known for his hustle and for being scrappy. This one could go either way and to be fair this one is a tie. Each man had his advantage for his team and a manager could not go wrong with either man.

At second base, we have Tony Lazzeri of the Yankees and John Henry Russell for the Crawfords. Lazzeri was a good offensive player, known as “Poosh em up Tony” for his ability to drive in runs. He was cool under pressure with good baseball sense and he formed a great double play duo with shortstop Mark Koenig. Russell was fair with the bat and a good baserunner. He was a superb defensive player with a good arm and great range. Advantage here goes to Lazzeri just on offensive ability.

Charleston, Gibson, Paige, and Johnson

The last position is first base and as the saying goes, this was a toughie with no clear-cut or obvious winner. New York would send Lou Gehrig the “Iron Horse” up against the Crawfords Oscar Charleston. Gehrig known for his consecutive game streak of 2,130 was a pure slugging machine. 1927 would be his third year as the full time Yankee first baseman. 1927 the year the Babe hit 60 was also a pretty good offensive year for Gehrig as well. Batting behind the Bambino in the batting order meant Gehrig came to bat 60 times in the 1927 with no one on base after Ruth had homered. Gehrig himself would hit 47 home runs and drive in 173 runs. He did not start out as a great defensive first baseman but through hard work and perseverance he made himself into a major league first baseman who would be elected to the Hall of Fame.

Oscar Charleston began his career as an outfielder and defensively he was compared to Tris Speaker. Throughout his career he was an offensive threat who was compared to Babe Ruth as a slugger and Ty Cobb as a baserunner. Later on, in his career as a first baseman he was selected as the starting first baseman for the first three East/West All Star games, the Negro League showcase and yes like Gehrig Charleston is enshrined in the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown as well. So, in taking all of what was written and the available statistics, the choice here is Oscar Charleston. If this had been later in his career Gehrig may have been the choice but with only three years under his belt, the choice is Charleston who may have been the greatest player of all-time, black or white.

The Yankees have the advantage in pitching and at second base. The Crawfords hold an advantage in the outfield, at the catching position and at two of the four outfield positions. In looking at these facts it is very hard to pick a winner but it sure does look like the Crawfords have an advantage. Either way if it had ever happened that these two powerhouses met on the baseball field, certainly the game or games could be considered some of the greatest of all time.

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