1921 Baseball Season

Harry Heilmann was a top hitter for Detroit in 1921.
Harry Heilmann was a top hitter for Detroit in 1921.

The home run revolution rolled on in both leagues during the 1921 baseball season, as the majors' homer production increased by about 50 percent over 1920. Babe Ruth, of course, led the way, as he cracked a record-setting 59 home runs for the first great team of the New York Yankees dynasty.

This may have been Ruth's finest season ever. He set all-time major league records for runs with 177 and total bases with 457. He also boasted an .846 slugging average -- just one percentage point below his 1920 mark. Moreover, Ruth batted .378 in 1921, walked 144 times, and knocked in 171 runs.

Teammate Bob Meusel batted .318, drove in 135 runs (third-best in the American League), and hit 24 home runs (tied for second in the American League with St. Louis' Ken Williams). Besides receiving the best support in the league, the New York pitching staff was first in team ERA at 3.79 and strikeouts with 481. Staff workhorse Carl Mays went 27-9 and led the American League in wins, games, and innings pitched. Righthander Waite Hoyt (age 21) went 19-13 with a 3.10 ERA, fourth-best in the league behind Mays' 3.04.

Tris Speaker's Indians finished second, 41/2 games back behind New York, as Speaker hit .362 and led all hitters with 52 doubles. Sixth-place Detroit featured a strong hitting duo of young Harry Heilmann (who won the batting title at .394) and old Ty Cobb, who was second in hitting at .389, fifth in runs with 124, and third in slugging at .596.

John McGraw won his seventh National League pennant by four games over Pittsburgh behind strong performances from George Kelly, the National League home run leader with 23; Frankie Frisch, who was first in stolen bases with 49 and second in runs with 121; and Ross Youngs, who was third in RBI with 102. The Giants fended off a season-long challenge from a strong-armed Pirates team that compiled the league's lowest ERA at 3.16, thanks to Babe Adams (runner-up in ERA at 2.64) and Whitey Glazner (third in ERA at 2.77).

Rogers Hornsby, of third-place St. Louis, dominated the National League hitters even more completely than Ruth did the American League's. Hornsby took the batting title with a .397 average, and also led the National League in runs, hits, doubles, triples, total bases, RBI, on-base average, and slugging.

Interestingly, a year after baseball's limited prohibition of the spitball, pitching categories in both leagues were dominated by the 17 legal spitball pitchers. In the American League, Chicago's Red Faber led in ERA at 2.47 and won 25 games; St. Louis' Urban Shocker led in wins with 27. In the National League, Cardinal Bill Doak won the ERA title at 2.58 and led in winning percentage at .714; Brooklyn's Burleigh Grimes spat his way to a league-leading 22 wins.

The first-ever "Subway Series" demonstrated that the New York Giants' bad postseason luck had changed, as the National League champs overcame a 2-0 deficit to win in eight games. The Giants were helped by a Ruth injury that kept him out of action for games seven and eight, which were won by the Giants 2-1 and 1-0.

Pitching decided the 1921 World Series, as Giants Jesse Barnes and Phil Douglas went 4-1 with a combined ERA under 2.00. Waite Hoyt was the only pitching bright spot for the Yankees, compiling a 2-1 record with an ERA of 0.00 (Hoyt lost game eight 1-0 on an unearned run). Ruth's then-Manhattan Bombers were outhit .269 to .207, and matched in team home runs two apiece.

Check out the next page for some of the major headlines of the 1921 baseball season.

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