Classic Yankees: Miller Huggins

New York Yankees Miller HugginsYankee legends weren’t just players. Some were coaches, some were managers, some were broadcasters, some were owners, and some were front office personnel.

For many years, people would visit the monuments. They still do. For a while in the Old Stadium, they were on the field, in front of the fence, some 450 feet or so from home plate. Starting in 1976, they were behind the fence in Monument Park. Many go to Monument Park today to visit the monuments, plaques and retired numbers.

The first monument went up in 1932. I’d ask the question, but being that you are reading this profile, you’ll probably guess the answer. Whose monument was the first monument put up by the Yankees?

It’s by the smallest person you could imagine. There are monuments out there for Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. There is another for 9/11, but the first one ever is the one in the middle.

Miller Huggins may have been small in stature, but at 5’6” (some say 5’4”), he was more than big enough to stand up to Ruth and other incorrigible Yankees of his era.

Huggins, known as “Hug” or the “Mighty Mite”, was a scrappy second baseman who played for the Reds and Cardinals from 1904 to 1916. He never played in any postseasons. Four times he led the NL in walks. He finished 6th for the MVP award (then known as the Chalmers Award) in its inaugural season of 1911. He was 16th the following year. Huggins stole 324 bases in his career, and hit .265 with an OPS+ of 107. The little Huggins had 9 HR in his whole career. He had one season where he hit over .300—.304 in 1912.

Huggins had gone to the University of Cincinnati, where he got a law degree. One of his professors was future President William Howard Taft.

Huggins was the player-manager of the Cardinals from 1913-1916. He managed St. Louis from 1913-1917. He finished last in 1913, but turned the Cardinals into a contender in a hurry. He finished 3rd in 1914, but after years of 6th, 7th and 3rd from 1915-1917, he was available.

Looking for a new manager, Jake Ruppert hired Huggins for the 1918 season. Ruppert’s co-owner, Tillinghast L’Hommedieu Huston, was overseas fighting in WWI and did not approve of the move. Huston preferred Wilbert Robinson of Brooklyn.

From 1918-1920, Huggins managed the Yankees to 4th, 3rd, and 3rd place finishes. That last 3rd, in 1920, was the first year with Babe Ruth.

Huggins then won three consecutive pennants from 1921-1923. After the Yanks were swept in the 1922 WS, Huston wanted Huggins out. Instead, it was Huston who left, as Ruppert bought him out.

Huggins rewarded Ruppert by winning the 1923 World Championship. In 1924 the Yanks finished 2nd, and they then collapsed in 1925. That year, and also in 1926, Huggins made changes. In 1925, Huggins dumped Wally Pipp, and started a youngster at 1B—Lou Gehrig. That same year, Huggins eased in Earle Combs in CF, and started using Mark Koenig at SS. In 1926, Huggins went with Tony Lazzeri at 2B.

In 1925, Huggins, fed up with Ruth’s attitude and insubordination, went to Ruppert, and secured a $5000 fine against Ruth. This was a lot for the time.

Once, Ruth took Huggins by the heels and dangled him from a moving train. Huggins didn’t care for Carl Mays or Joe Bush. He said, “Any ballplayer that played for me could come to me if he were in need and I would give him a helping hand. I made only two exceptions, Carl Mays and Joe Bush. If they were in a gutter, I’d kick them.”

Huggins won three consecutive pennants from 1926-1928, winning the WS in 1927 and 1928. In eight years, Huggins had won six pennants and three WS titles, the last two in back-to-back sweeps.

In their book Baseball Dynasties, Rob Neyer and Eddie Epstein have an interesting quote from Huggins from May, 1929, when the Yanks were lagging behind the eventual World Champion Philadelphia Athletics. When asked if he thought the Yanks would snap out of it, Huggins replied:

No, […] I don‘t think the Yanks are going to catch the Athletics. I don’t think these Yanks are going to win any more pennants, or at least, not this one. They’re getting older and they’re becoming glutted with success. They’ve been in three World Series in a row, remember, and they’ve won the last two Series in four straight.

They’ve been getting fairly high salaries and they’ve taken a lot of money out of baseball, a whole lot of money. They have stock market investments and these investments are giving them excellent returns at the moment. When they pick up a newspaper now, they turn to the financial page first and the sports page later. Those things aren’t good for a club, not a club which is trying to beat a club like the one Mr. Mack has.

In 1929, the Yanks finished 2nd, but Huggins would not see the end of the season. Huggins was getting more and more sickly, tired and thin (he only weighed about 140 when healthy) as the year went on. Near the end of the season, Huggins checked himself into the hospital on September 20th with a form of blood poisoning, which at first seemed like just a boil under his eye, which was noticeable. It was erysipelas, which evolved into sepsis (Not being a doctor, I won’t go into the medical details). Five days later, Huggins was dead at the age of just 51. The league canceled games on September 26th out of respect for Huggins. The viewing of his casket at Yankee Stadium drew thousands. While Huggins winning pct. was just .455 with the Cardinals, it was .597 with the Yankees. Overall, he went 1413-1134, .555. He won six pennants and three World Series.

A few days later, the stock market crashed. But even at that, Huggins premonition proved correct, for between 1929 and 1935, the Yanks only won one pennant.

Ruth, it was said, bawled like a baby upon Huggins’ passing.

In A Yankee Century, Harvey Frommer has a Waite Hoyt comment on Huggins, “[He] was almost like a schoolmaster in the dugout. There was no goofing off. You watched the game and you kept track not only of the score and the number of outs, but of the count on the batter. At any moment Hug may ask you what the situation was.”

In 1964, the Veterans’ Committee elected Huggins to the Hall of Fame. Huggins’ last year of his life, 1929, was the first year that the Yankees wore numbers. Huggins never wore a number.

In 1932, the Yanks dedicated a monument to Huggins, the first of what would be many. I remember talk once about a ball DiMaggio caught behind the monuments off of Hank Greenberg. The way the talk evolved, you would have thought Joe D. caught the ball behind three monuments, for people remember the three that were out there for so many years. I e-mailed WFAN in NY, explaining that there was only one season in which DiMaggio could have caught that ball behind TWO monuments, and NEVER three of them. DiMaggio came up in 1936. From 1936 to 1941, there was just the one monument—Huggins. In the summer of 1941, after Gehrig passed on, the Gehrig monument joined Huggins. But Greenberg was not there at the time. Before Gehrig died, Greenberg went into the service—months BEFORE Pearl Harbor. Therefore, he was not there in the time of the 1941 season when Gehrig’s monument was there. Greenberg was discharged in time to play half of the 1945 season, but DiMaggio was in the service at that time. The only season Greenberg played in the A.L. when the Yankees had two monuments was the 1946 season. Greenberg played with the Pirates in 1947, then retired. The third monument, for Ruth, wasn’t placed until 1949.

He may have been small in stature (think Freddie “the Flea” Patek), but Miller Huggins will forever loom large in Yankees history.

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One Response to Classic Yankees: Miller Huggins

  1. Franco Kotos says:

    this is what they should be teaching in American History…