Note: Leverage Index is an average of the leverage of situations, with 1 being average, below 1 being low-pressure, and above 1 being high-pressure.
The widest gap between any two Series on this list are between #110 and #109. I hate to keep stressing it, but the ’89 Series was just such an outlier in a bad way. From this point on, every Series is comparable to the ones around it. The 109th most competitive World Series of all time featured great performances from some future Hall of Famers, but like many this low on the list, was a relatively uncompetitive rout.
The St. Louis Cardinals (95-59) were two years removed from the franchise’s first World Championship, having beaten the Yankees in the 1926 Series. While the ’26 team kind of came out of nowhere, by this point the Cardinals were a dominant force in the NL on equal footing with the Pirates and Giants. Between 1926 and 1934, they’d win the National League 5 times. The ’28 squad was arguably their best ever at that point, with their .617 winning percentage dwarfing the .578 of the title team. St. Louis was led by manager Bill McKechnie, in his first season as St. Louis’ first non-playing manager since 1925. Superstar 2B Rogers Hornsby had managed the 1926 team, but departed for the Giants in ’27. Backup C Bob O’Farrell had managed the ’27 Cardinals to a solid 2nd place finish, but the team opted to bring in McKechnie for ’28. McKechnie had guided the Pirates to a championship in 1925. So pious and mild-mannered he earned the nickname “Deacon”, McKechnie would win nearly 1900 games in the major leagues and would eventually be inducted into the Hall of Fame. The team itself was pretty stacked with talent. Leading the way was NL MVP 1B Jim Bottomley (.325/.402/.628), who had a season for the ages – 123 runs, 42 doubles, 20 triples, 31 homers, 136 rbi, 10 SB, 71 BB, and only 54 K. Bottomley’s 1928 season remains the only 40 2B / 20 3B / 30 HR season in MLB history. OF Chick Hafey (.337/.386/.604) was equally feared, thanks to 46 doubles and 27 homers on his own. Veteran OF George Harper (.305/.418/.537) gave the Cardinals a third slugger to hammer home runners. Setting the table was 2B Frankie Frisch (.300/.374/.441 / 29 SB), who formed a HOF middle infield combo with defensive stalwart SS Rabbit Maranville. The lineup was strong. You can’t win 62% of your games with offense alone, however. The rotation was excellent, led by Bill Sherdel (21-10, 2.86), 41-year old Grover Cleveland Alexander (16-9, 3.36), and Jesse Haines (20-8, 3.18). The 1928 Cardinals were undeniably a great team.
Of course, the New York Yankees (101-53) need little introduction. Baseball’s best team of 1928 was led by its best players. OF Babe Ruth (.323/.463/.709) was vintage Babe, hitting 54 HR, scoring 163, driving in 146, and walking 137 times. 1B Lou Gehrig (.374/.467/.648) was vintage Lou, hitting 47 doubles, 13 triples, 27 HR, scoring 139 and driving in 147 (but strangely going 4-15 in SB attempts). 2B Tony Lazzeri (.332/.397/.535) had 30 doubles, 11 triples, and 10 HR, and finished 3rd in the MVP race (previous winners were ineligible until 1930, which is why Ruth and Gehrig got no MVP attention). The Kentucky Colonel, OF Earle Combs (.310/.387/.463) hit 21 triples and scored 118 times, Bob Meusel (.297/.349/.467) had 45 doubles, and SS Mark Koenig (.319/.360/.415) was a solid hitter as well. The Yankees scored nearly 6 runs a game, and it’s not hard to see why. Everyone was great. Their pitching wasn’t quite on par with St. Louis’, but it was easily good enough to win games with 5.8 runs of offense every day. Herb Pennock was stellar (17-6, 2.56), and George Pipgras (24-13, 3.38) and Waite Hoyt (23-7, 3.36) were solid. For the most part, they just held their own while the offense did its thing. Given that only one team managed to stay within 18 games of New York, it was a sound strategy.
Back to back first inning doubles by Ruth and Gehrig gave New York an early lead they wouldn’t surrender. Meusel hit a 2-run HR in the 4th to move it to 3-0. Bottomley homered in the 7th, but a RBI single from Gehrig in the 8th gave the Yankees back their 3 run lead, which held for a 4-1 final.
Average leverage: 0.67
Game 2 proved to be the worst of the Series, though the first few innings suggested otherwise. Alexander gave up a 3-run HR to Gehrig in the bottom of the first, but St. Louis answered in the 2nd. C Jimmie Wilson drove home Harper with a double and came around to score on a Lazzeri error. A GIDP with no outs and the bases loaded allowed the Cards to tie at 3-3. A Cedric Durst RBI single in the bottom of the 2nd quickly untied the game, and that’d be it for St. Louis. In the 3rd, Meusel hit a RBI double, C Benny Bengough chased Alexander from the game with a RBI single, reliever Clarence Mitchell hit the first batter he saw with the bases loaded, and PH Ben Paschal added a RBI single for a 8-3 dagger that the Cardinals couldn’t recover from. The Yanks would add another late and win going away, 9-3.
Average leverage: 0.635
In the bottom of the 1st, a 2 run triple by Bottomley gave St. Louis their first lead of the entire Series. Gehrig cut it in half with a HR to lead off the 2nd, and then Gehrig would flip the lead in the 4th with a 2-run inside the park HR, giving the Yankees a 3-2 lead. Cardinals 3B Andy High doubled home a runner in the bottom of the 5th to tie things back up at 3, giving Game 3 the most intrigue of any game in the Series yet. The intrigue wouldn’t last long, unfortunately. A Haines error in the top of the 6th allowed the Yankees a 4-3 lead, Meusel stole home to make it 5-3, and Yankees 3B Gene Robertson singled home Lazzeri to give the Yankees a 6-3 advantage. One inning later Ruth drove in a run, and the 7-3 score would be the final.
Average leverage: 0.895
After two and a half scoreless innings, the Cardinals took a 1-0 lead in the 3rd thanks to a Frisch sac fly. Sherdel couldn’t hold the lead, as Ruth homered to lead off the 4th. In the bottom of the inning, however, Hoyt tried to pick Maranville off 2nd, but threw wildly, and the Rabbit came around to give St. Louis a 2-1 lead. The 7th offered the only real drama of the series. With one out and Babe Ruth at an 0-2 count, Ruth turned to speak to the umpire, presumably to complain about one of the strike calls. Sherdel saw Ruth in the box not paying attention, and fired off a quick pitch, a slide step with no windup, and the ball found the strike zone. Strangely, however, quick pitches were legal only in the NL. Despite being played in a NL park, the umpire declared the pitch void. 3 pitches later, a pissed off Ruth homered to tie the game at 2. That brought up Gehrig, and a frustrated Sherdel surrendered a tie-breaking HR to the Iron Horse. A RBI groundout made it 4-2, and a Combs sac fly pushed the lead to 5-2. In the 8th, a HR from Durst made it 6-2, and Ruth finished off the Cards with his second HR. The Cards would add one in the 9th, cutting the lead to 7-3, but Frisch flied out to end the Series in a sweep. Babe Ruth caught the final putout up against the stands, and reportedly nearby St. Louis fans smacked him with newspapers and game programs. In classing Ruth a-hole fashion, he smiled and held the ball in the air for his entire run back into the infield.
Average leverage: 1.13
Average Leverage: 0.8325
The games weren’t particularly close, with New York winning all by at least 3 runs, and only game 4 registered as above average by leverage. The Yankees outscored the Cardinals 27-10, a drubbing that was anti-climactic to the buildup of the previous two years, wherein both teams won titles.
No MVP was awarded, but it could easily have been split between #3 and #4. Ruth went 10-16, scoring 9 times, with 3 doubles and 3 HR. Gehrig was 6-11, but with 4 HR, 6 walks, and 9 RBI. Waite Hoyt went the distance in both starts, giving up 20 baserunners, 3 runs, and striking out 14 over 18 innings. It was a disappointing final World Series performance for Pete Alexander, giving up 11 runs in 5 innings.
For a World Series with two great rosters filled with great players, it just wasn’t much of a contest. The Yankees cemented their place as a dynasty, dominating the best Cardinals team that had yet been assembled. It wasn’t close. Two of baseball’s greatest players took over, almost single-handedly winning a championship. Sometimes legends grow and grow as time goes on, to the point that the truth is a mere shadow of the legend. In the case of the 1928 World Series, the legend is the truth – Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig beat the St. Louis Cardinals.