Lyle Spatz and Steve Steinberg’s 1921: the Yankees, the Giants, and the Battle for Baseball Supremacy in New York takes readers through the scope of the 1921 baseball season. They argue this particular year marked the change from the Deadball Era to the power game highlighted by Babe Ruth. Spatz and Steinberg claim New York City emphasized this shift between the two eras of baseball by focusing on John McGraw‘s New York Giants and Ruth’s New York Yankees. Each team would be vying for the fan base, while at the same time getting closer to the dream match up in the World Series.
The book is broken up into three sections, taking readers from the pre-season through the post-season. At the same time, it provides important background on those key events and figures that helped shape this era as one of the most important in baseball history. For example, Spatz and Steinberg argue baseball by the 1920s took center stage to all other sports at this time, but with it’s popularity, the game was also marred by gambling and the Black Sox scandal in 1919. It was at this time the league brought in Kennesaw Mountain Landis who was game’s first commissioner. The arrival of Landis, Ruth, and the drama of the game, helped bring it back from its darkest days (xvi-xvii).
By tackling 1921, Spatz and Steinberg add to this new approach in baseball scholarship aimed at covering one year rather than the multiple decades. It gives readers and historians of the game the opportunity to trace those key games and pennant races from the start of the season, to the crowning of the World Series champion. More importantly, this type of historiography revives the careers of those players like Carl Mays and Frankie Frisch, whose play have been overshadowed as the game continues to move away from the early twentieth century.
The book is well-researched and provides a wealth of information for baseball statisticians and historians. Both Spatz and Steinberg do a good job balancing the book between both the Giants’ pennant run and the Yankees’ push to the postseason, but at the same time, they do not forget about the importance of teams such as the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cleveland Indians heading into the dog days.
Some fans might find the depth and information of the book a bit daunting, but it paints an excellent picture to the game’s revival following its darker year after World War I. It sheds new light on the legendary accomplishments of Babe Ruth, without having to re-tell those popular stories told in biographies and films. The incorporation of pictures and the standings throughout, help transport the reader to this period of baseball that helped reshape the game for the next eighty-years.