He had nicknames that seemed to come out of Robin Hood—“The Squire” and “The Knight of Kennett Square.” Herb Pennock was one of the first, if not the first, of the great lefty mound artists in Yankee history.
Pennock preceded Lefty Gomez, Ed Lopat, Whitey Ford, Ron Guidry, Andy Pettitte and CC Sabathia. He was a teammate of both Hoyt and Babe Ruth, and he, like the other two, was a steal for the Yankees after a deal with Boston.
Pennock was born in Kennett Square, PA, about 35 miles SSW of Philadelphia, in 1894. Pennock broke in with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1912 at the age of 18, and would pitch in the majors for 22 seasons. He was 1-2, 4.50 for the 1912 A’s, ERA 4.50, ERA+ 70. He was a member of the 1913 World Series Champion A’s, going 2-1, 5.13, ERA+ 55. In 1914 he improved to 11-4, 2.79, ERA+ 94 for the AL Champs. That year he pitched three innings of scoreless relief in a World Series game.
Pennock started 1915 with the A’s, then was selected off waivers by the Boston Red Sox in mid-season, teaming up with Ruth and Tris Speaker. For the A’s he was 3-6, 5.32; for Boston, 0-0, 9.64 in five games. Overall, 3-6, 6.36, ERA+ 46. In 1916 he didn’t get much mound time for the 1916 World Series Champion Red Sox, going 0-2, 3.04 in nine games, ERA+ 93. He was mostly a reliever in 1917, going 5-5, 3.31 for Boston, ERA+ 79. He missed all of 1918 due to military service during World War I.
Pennock came back in 1919, and here is where his story really starts. Despite being on three World Series Champions and one pennant winner from 1913-1916 (1913-1914 A’s, 1915-1916 Red Sox), he didn’t contribute much in those years, putting up a total record of 16-13, 3.87. ERA+ 70. In that time frame, he only pitched in one Series game.
In 1919, Pennock went 16-8, 2.71, ERA+ 112. In 1920 he was 16-13, 3.68, ERA+ 99. 1921 saw 13-14, 4.04, ERA+ 105. Then he had a bad 1922 for a mostly depleted (by this point) Red Sox team. He went 10-17, 4.32, ERA+ 94 and led the AL in WP. In yet another bad Boston to NY deal of that time, Pennock, like Ruth and Hoyt, went to the Yankees and thereafter blossomed further.
Pennock helped the Yanks to their first World Series title in 1923 by going 19-6, 3.13, ERA+ 127. He led the AL in winning pct., and went 2-0, 3.63 in the WS with a save.
Pennock was a 20-game winner in 1924, going 21-9, 2.83 and finishing 4th in MVP balloting. ERA+ 148. In 1925, he was 16-17, 2.96, ERA+ 144 and led the AL in IP and WHIP. He finished 21st in MVP voting despite the Yanks’ poor year (7th place finish).
Pennock bounced back in 1926 by going 23-11, 3.62, ERA+ 107 and finishing 3rd in the MVP voting. He led the AL in WHIP and bb/9. In the WS, he was 2-0 with a 1.23 ERA. In that great year of 1927, Pennock was 19-8, 3.00, ERA+ 130. He tossed a complete game victory in game three of the World Series, giving up just one run on three hits. He retired the first 22 men he faced before giving up a single to Hall of Famer Pie Traynor.
He went 17-6, 2.56 in 1928, ERA+ 149. He led the majors in shutouts with five, and gave up just 2 HR in 211 IP.
After 1928, Pennock slipped. He had an off-year in 1929, going 9-11, 4.92, ERA+ 79. In 1930, Pennock was 11-7, 4.32, ERA+ 100. He led the majors in BB/9. 1931 saw Pennock lead the AL in BB/9 and go 11-6, 4.28, ERA+ 93.
In 1932, Pennock played on his last pennant-winner and world champion. He went 9-5, 4.60 with an ERA+ of 90. He pitched in two games in the World Series and got the save in both games.
In 10 World Series games, his record was 5-0 with 3 saves and an ERA of 1.95. Although he played in five WS (winning three), he played for nine pennant winning teams, seven of which won the WS. (1913-1914 Phila. A’s, 1915-1916 Red Sox, 1923, 1926-1928 and 1932 Yankees).
In 1933, Pennock slipped to 7-4, 5.54, ERA+ 71. He finished his career back in Boston in 1934, going 2-0, 3.05, ERA+ 156. He retired at the age of 40.
Pennock didn’t pitch long for Joe McCarthy, 1931-1933, but elicited this quote (from the National Baseball Hall of Fame website): I am going to pitch Pennock in spots this season—the tough ones.
Miller Huggins, who died in 1929, called Pennock the greatest left-hander in the history of baseball. (Remember the date. Huggins never saw Grove in his prime, nor Spahn, Koufax, Randy Johnson, etc.). Still, high praise for the time.
Pennock finished his career 241-162, ERA 3.60, ERA+ 106. That is very similar to his Yankee partner during the 1920’s, Waite Hoyt, who went 237-182, ERA 3.59, ERA+ 112. Pennock was 162-90 for the Yankees in eleven seasons (1923-1933).
From Wikipedia: After retiring, Pennock became a coach and farm system director of the Red Sox, then, from 1944–48, the general manager of the Philadelphia Phillies. He died in 1948 at the age of 53 after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage, just weeks before he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
He wore #11 in 1929, #16 (retired in 1974 for Whitey Ford) in 1930 and 1931, and #12 in 1932 and 1933.
In 1950, the Phils’ team he was assembling reached the WS (the Whiz Kids) and were swept by the Yankees. It would be the Phils’ only WS appearance between 1915 and 1980.