When Waite Hoyt matched Mathewsonby Frank Jackson
April 25, 2013
The Oscar for Best World Series performance by a pitcher goes to Christy Mathewson, who pitched three shutouts in 1905. To be sure, a number of pitchers have won three games in one World Series and some (Lew Burdette in 1957, Whitey Ford in 1960, and Sandy Koufax in 1965) have pitched two shutouts in one World Series. And while we’re at it, extra credit to Ford, as he pitched 32 scoreless innings spanning the 1960 and 1961 Series
But for sheer invincibility in one World Series, Mathewson’s achievement is still the gold standard. Given the way starting pitchers are used today, it would astounding if a contemporary pitcher came away with three complete games in a Series, much less three shutouts.
So Mathewson’s record, set in the second World Series ever, is one of those records that will never be broken. Of course, to break it, one would have to pitch four shutouts, and to do that, a pitcher would have to get four starts in a World Series—highly unlikely. So let’s be more specific and say it is a record that will never be matched.
Turning to World Series ERA records, it is no surprise to see Mathewson at the top of the heap with an ERA of 0.00 based on his 27 scoreless innings pitched in 1905. The big surprise is that Mathewson has company. In the 1921 Series, Waite Hoyt, like Mathewson, pitched three complete games without giving up an earned run. So why isn’t his feat celebrated like Mathewson’s?
For one thing, Hoyt’s performance might have gotten lost in the shuffle. Even before it began, the 1921 World Series was guaranteed to make a big mark in baseball history. For one thing, it was the first Series to be broadcast on radio. For another, it was the last Series with a best-of-nine format. Also, it was the first (of 14) all-New York Series, and the first-ever appearance of the Yankees. Babe Ruth was no stranger to the postseason, but this was his first Series as a Yankee.
Finally, it was the first Series to be played at one stadium, namely the Polo Grounds, owned by the Giants and rented by the Yankees. Predictably, John McGraw balked at his Giants having to wear their road uniforms for half the Series contests, but Commissioner Landis had the final say-so.
Actually, McGraw was probably more upset about the very presence of the Yankees in the Series. The two teams were not only competing for baseball fans in Gotham, they also represented two distinctive baseball philosophies.
McGraw’s team represented the last gasp of the deadball era. His was a world of sacrifice bunts, stolen bases, and hitting behind the runner. The Yankees exemplified the future. They played power ball and Babe Ruth was the ringleader. But he had a lot of help. Aside from Ruth, the Yankees hit 75 home runs. That was more than any other team in the league other than the A’s, who had 82.
There is no question that the 258-foot distance down the right field line at the Polo Grounds helped Ruth’s home run stats. The Polo Grounds had been the long-time home of the Giants, but they had allowed the Yankees to play there since 1913. From that point through 1919, the Yankees were undeniably in the shadow of the Giants. That turned around after the 1919 season when the Yankees acquired Babe Ruth from the Red Sox.
In 1920, for the first time ever, the Yankees drew more than a million fans (more than double their 1919 total), largely due to the fact that Babe Ruth hit 58 home runs—more any other team in the American League. The Indians won the American League pennant, but the Yankees finished strong at 95-59, just three games behind. Their landlords, the Giants, drew 929,609.
The following year, the Yankees and Giants both finished on top, but Babe Ruth hit 59 home runs, and the Yankees again outdrew the Giants by 1,230,696 to 933,477. The Giants were turning a handsome profit, but the Yankees were outpacing them.
McGraw, upset about being upstaged by the upstart Yankees, told them they would have to find a new home after 1922. Not that it mattered, attendance-wise. Whether they played in Yankee Stadium or the Polo Grounds, the Yankees continued to outdraw the Giants. In fact, the Giants did not pass the 1,000,000 mark till 1945.
After that 1920 season, the Yankees acquired another in a series of players from the Red Sox. This one was hardly the stuff of headlines. Waite Hoyt had pitched for the Red Sox in 1919 and 1920 with mediocre results (10-12 in 226.2 innings total). At the time, he probably looked like just another arm in the bullpen. As it turned out, he paid short term-dividends (19 victories in 1921), as well as long-term dividends (157 victories in ten seasons).
Hoyt’s breakout season was only good enough for second on the team in wins, as Carl Mays won 27 games. Accordingly, in 1921, the Yankees’ World Series rotation had Mays leading off with Hoyt in the second slot. Actually, manager Miller Huggins could hardly go wrong with his rotation, as the Yankees led the American League in ERA in 1921.
It was all Yanks at the beginning of the Series, as Mays shut out the Giants 3-0. The next day Hoyt out-dueled Art Nehf, again shutting out the Giants by a 3-0 score. The shutout was especially gratifying to Hoyt, as the Giants’ notorious bench jockeys had been working him over big time.
To that point in World Series history, no team had ever come back from a two-game deficit, so the Yankees may have felt they had it in the bag. Not only were the Giants down two games, they had not even scored a run! So when the Yanks jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the top of the third inning of the third game, Giant fans were likely looking ahead to 1922. Then it all turned around.
The Giants came storming back with four runs of their own in the bottom of the third and tacked on eight more in the seventh inning. The largest crowd of the Series (36,509) witnessed a 13-5 Giants victory, the only blowout of the Series. The next day the Giants won 4-2 behind Phil Douglas, and just like that, they had pulled even.
Then in Game Five, it was again Hoyt’s turn in the rotation. He was equal to the task, and again he bested Nehf. This time the score was 3-1, thanks to an unearned run the Giants scored in the first inning. Hoyt’s outing was something of a juggling act, as Giant base runners were abundant, thanks to ten hits and two walks.
Thanks to Hoyt, the Yanks took a 3-2 lead in the Series, but the betting odds might not have favored them, thanks to the fact that Ruth, who had wrenched his knee in Game Five and later collapsed in the dugout (he had also injured his elbow while stealing third base in Game Two), was through for the Series, save for a pinch-hitting appearance in Game Eight. During the regular season, Ruth had 59 homers, drove home 181 runs, and scored 177, so it is hardly a stretch to say he was irreplaceable.
Game Six went to the Giants (8-5), so again the series was knotted. Then the Giants won Game Seven to take a 4-3 lead in the Series. So in Game Eight it was up to Hoyt to save the Yankees from elimination.
On Oct. 13, Hoyt and Nehf locked horns for the third time. This was the smallest crowd (25,410) of the Series but they were privy to a classic pitcher’s duel. As in Game Five, Dave Bancroft scored on a first inning error (in this case, a grounder through the legs of shortstop Roger Peckinpaugh), and the Giants took a 1-0 lead. Unlike Game Five, there was no more scoring that day. Nehf pitched a complete game shutout, Hoyt took the loss, and the Giants took the series. It was the Giants’ first title since 1905... the year of Christy Mathewson’s shutout trifecta.
So Hoyt pitched three complete games without giving up an earned run. But he wasn’t the only outstanding pitcher. Nehf, whom he had bested two out of three games, wasn’t far behind, pitching 26 innings with a 1.38 ERA. Mays, despite a 1-2 record, had a 1.73 ERA in his three starts. His 26 innings pitched without giving up a base on balls is a World Series record that still stands. The Giants’ Phil Douglas had a 2-1 record with a 2.08 ERA in 26 innings.
Relying for the most part on Douglas, Nehf and Jesse Barnes (1.65 ERA in 16.1 innings), McGraw used only four pitchers during the eight games. The only ineffective hurler was Fred Toney, who was treated rudely in his two starts (Games 3 and 6) and ended up with a 23.63 ERA in 2.2 innings pitched.
And so the battle of New York came to a close. Rather, it was the close of chapter one, as the Giants and the Yankees met again in the 1922 and 1923 Series. So Hoyt had plenty of opportunities to improve on those 27 innings without an earned run. The odds were against him. In 1922, another Giants’ triumph (this time in just five games), Hoyt gave up one earned run in two appearances, resulting in a 1.13 ERA. 1923 was another story, as he gave up four earned runs in one appearance, good for a 15.43 ERA, but the Yankees, in Yankee Stadium’s inaugural season, finally overcame the Giants in a six-game series.
During those three consecutive showdowns, John McGraw had plenty of opportunity to see Hoyt in action. He surely held Hoyt in high esteem, and why not? After all, he had discovered Hoyt pitching high school ball (he threw three no-hitters) for Erasmus Hall High in Brooklyn. For whatever reason, the Dodgers showed no interest, so McGraw stepped in.
Hoyt’s major league debut was on July 24, 1918 when he pitched one inning (striking out two) for the Giants. That was the extent of his career in a Giants uniform. On Jan. 2, 1919 he was traded to Rochester of the International League. McGraw must have regretted that move many times over, but in truth Hoyt’s career minor league record had been a curious one. How do you reconcile a 21-44 log with a 2.18 ERA? Who could have predicted that he would be a polished professional by 1921?
Hoyt was less than a month past his 22nd birthday when the 1921 Series began. In his three starts, Hoyt gave up a total of 18 hits and struck out 18. In 1905, Mathewson (who was then 25 years old) gave up 14 hits and struck out 13. The one glaring difference in stats is that Hoyt walked 11 while Mathewson issued just one free pass.
But those stats don’t begin to explain why Mathewson’s achievement resounds throughout baseball history while Hoyt’s is little more than a footnote. In short, Hoyt’s teammates were the culprits, as their fielding lapses led to unearned runs in Game Five and Game Eight, and their much-vaunted offense left something to be desired, as they scored just 22 runs in eight games (and only one run in the last two games).
Although both pitchers authored three complete games without giving up an earned run:
1. Mathewson pitched three shutouts, Hoyt only one;
2. Mathewson won three games, while Hoyt won two and lost one; and perhaps most important of all,
3. Mathewson’s team won the World Series, while Hoyt’s team lost.
Actually, both pitchers had outstanding career World Series records. Hoyt pitched in seven World Series (six with the Yankees, one with the A’s). He went 6-4 with a 1.83 ERA in 83.2 innings. Mathewson, of course, never matched his 1905 World Series, but he could have used a few more shutouts after 1905, thanks to the Giants’ lack of support in his subsequent post-seasons (1911, 1912, and 1913). Mathewson’s composite record in four World Series was only 5-5, despite an ERA of 0.97 in 101.2 innings.
Mathewson surely noticed Hoyt’s achievement in 1921, even though he was not in good health. Mathewson's lungs had been severely damaged by poison gas during a World War I training accident and he had never really recovered. He would linger for four more years, passing away during the 1925 World Series, when both the Pirates and the Senators donned black armbands.
Hoyt may not have captured the nation’s fancy with his 1921 World Series, but he won plenty of fans during his 21-year career. When his playing days were over, he embarked on a 24-year career as a broadcaster for the Cincinnati Reds. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1969.
Hoyt’s glory years with the Yankees ended with the decade of the 1920s, but he managed to earn his keep through 1938 playing for five teams and retired with 237 victories. In fact, he even got another tour of duty with the Giants in 1932, signing with the club three weeks after McGraw retired. The results were no big deal (a 4-5 record, 3.42 ERA in 97.1 innings), but John McGraw, even while watching the proceedings from his Polo Grounds office, must have seen him in that Giants uniform and thought about what might have been had he just held on to him.
The retirement of McGraw in 1932 was the end of an era—the deadball era, to be exact. The home run totals of the 1920s showed that the Yankees were pointing the way to the future and even McGraw knew he had to change with the times if he wanted to win ball games.
No matter what kind of offense a manager espouses, one truism reigns supreme: Good pitching stops good hitting. In 1921, Waite Hoyt and the other Yankee pitchers were very good (3.09 ERA); but the Giants pitchers were just a little bit better (2.54 ERA).
Frank Jackson has published previous baseball articles in National Pastime and Elysian Fields Quarterly. He was weaned on baseball at Connie Mack Stadium.