Under new manager Rogers Hornsby, who had replaced Branch Rickey 38 games into the 1925 season, the Cardinals brought St. Louis its first pennant in a half-century of National League competition. It was the first St. Louis championship of any kind since the American Association St. Louis Browns had won in 1888.
Perhaps distracted by his off-field duties, Hornsby slipped to a .317 batting mark with 11 home runs, 96 runs, and 93 RBI. His team, though, scored a league-leading 817 runs. First baseman Sunny Jim Bottomley led the National League in doubles with 40 and RBI with 120, third baseman Les Bell drove in 100 runs and hit .325, and MVP catcher Bob O'Farrell hit .293 with 30 doubles.
Hornsby put together a durable starting rotation of Flint Rhem, who tied for the league lead in wins with 20; Bill Sherdel,
who finished 16-12; and veteran Jesse Haines, who went 13-4 with a 3.25 ERA. Cardinals pitchers combined for a National League-high 90 complete games. The bullpen was held up by 39-year-old ex-Cub Pete Alexander, who went 9-7 in a relief/spot-starting role.
Cincinnati came in second by 2 games on the strength of good years from former Yankee Wally Pipp and .323-hitting Eddie Roush, as well as pitchers Pete Donohue (who won 20 games) and Carl Mays (who went 19-12 with a 3.14 ERA). Somehow, Pittsburgh managed only a third-place finish in spite of rookie Paul Waner's National League-high 22 triples and .336 batting average, Kiki Cuyler's league-leading 113 runs, and two 20-win performers -- ace Ray Kremer and Lee Meadows.
In the American League, the Yankees returned to the top with a 91-63 record, 3 games better than Cleveland, but had to survive late-season scares from the Indians, A's, and Senators, who nearly overcame New York's 10-game lead in August.
Washington's Walter Johnson finally showed his age, going 15-16 in his last full year as a starting pitcher, and the rest of the staff collapsed around him to allow 761 runs, fourth-most in the American League. Washington's Sam Rice and Goose Goslin turned in excellent years, batting .337 and .354, and scoring 203 runs with 58 doubles and 29 triples between them.
For New York, shortstop Mark Koenig solidified the defense, and the big three of Murderer's Row -- Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Earle Combs -- all had big years. Ruth hit .372 (second to Detroit's Heinie Manush at .378), scored a league-leading 139 runs, and drove in an American League-high 146; he also led in walks with 144, home runs at 47, on-base average at .516, and slugging average at .737. A blossoming Gehrig led all American League hitters in triples with 20, banged out 47 doubles, and scored 135 runs. Combs hit .299 with 12 triples and 113 runs.
Philadelphia had the American League's best pitching staff, including ERA winner Lefty Grove at 2.51; 12-4 junkballer Howard Ehmke; Rube Walberg; and Eddie Rommel, who was fourth in ERA at 3.08. And Cleveland's veteran first baseman George Burns won the MVP Award, hitting 64 doubles (second-most in history) along with 114 RBI and a .358 batting average.
In spite of Ruth's four-home run performance, the 1926 World Series went the full seven games and was decided when wily old Pete Alexander, who had already beaten the Yankees with complete-game efforts in games two and six, came out of the bullpen to protect Jesse Haines's 3-2 lead in the seventh. Alexander struck out rookie second baseman Tony Lazzeri with the bases loaded and two out, and shut down New York until he walked Ruth with two down in the ninth. A frustrated Ruth, who was walked 11 times by St. Louis pitching, tried to steal second, but was gunned down by O'Farrell to end the game and the Series.
Check out some of the headlines from the 1926 baseball season on the next page.