A rare assemblage of baseball talent called "Murderer's Row" belongs to the New York Yankees of the mid-'20s. Many historians called that group of sluggers the best ever. They may have been, but the choice is not a simple one. There were many great Yankee lineups.
A new video, "New York Yankees, The Movie" ($29.95 by Forum Home Video), is a 100-minute collection of highlights from baseball's premier fanchise, with ample footage from the years of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig on through the years of Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and Casey Stengel to Dave Wingfield and Don Mattingly. It's bursting with success and interesting reflections by players of their glory years.
For the old baseball fan, this video brings back those great moments when success was spelled "Y-a-n-k-e-e-s". For the young it's an opportunity see and learn about the dynasty that hoisted 13 pennants in 15 years over the stadium that Ruth built. The contributions of many other great players who played in the shadows of the Hall of Famers are also duly recorded. The video craze will bring about other team histories, but all will be vying for second best.
There's ample footage of Ruth and Gehrig, more than just taking a swat, looking up and circling the bases. The limitations of 60-year-old film are apparent, but background music from the appropriate years and the astounding numbers are forgiving.
Take 1927 when second-baseman Tony Lazzeri batted .309 and drove in 102 runs. His feats were lost behind Gehrig's .373, 47 homers and 175 runs batted in. Ruth hit 60 homers, had 164 RBI's and batted .356. That tied him with center-fielder Earle Combs. Left-fielder Bob Meusel hit .337 and added 103 RBI's. Also in the murderous lineup, which lost but 44 games all year, were third-baseman Joe Dugan, shortstop Mark Koenig -- a mere .285 hitter -- and catcher Pat Collins.
There is a lot of Joe DiMaggio in this video (a sin if there weren't) and his 56-game hitting streak of 1941, and some enlightening comments about his pride and leadership. Huge Johnny Mize tells of lending his big bat to tiny Phil ("Holy Cow") Rizzuto after the shortstop opened the season 0-for-11. Rizzuto got a hit and used the bat the rest of the season, collecting 200 hits, and winning the league's Most Valuable Player award.
Mantle talks about his years and teammates -- Roger Maris, Billy Martin, Hank Bauer, Yogi Berra and others. Bobby Richardson notes that the team had great defense (most players agree that shortstop Kubek was the best at playing the hitters properly) and super hitting, but that they won all those pennants because they always had four top-drawer starting pitchers when other teams had one or two. One group was made up of Allie Reynolds, Vic Raschi, Ed Lopat and Whitey Ford, but others moved in, such as Johnny Sain, Bob Turley, Tom Sturdivant, Ralph Terry and Don Larsen.
Berra played for 17 years and was in 14 World Series, and we're told that he was the greatest bad-ball hitter who ever lived. He once blasted a homer on a knock-down pitch. Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 World Series includes all of his pitches to Dale Mitchell for his game-ending strikeout.
Mantle calls the 1961 team, which included Clete Boyer, Moose Skowron and Elston Howard, "the best ever." That's the year Maris hit 61 homers, Mantle had 54 and the catchers hit more than 60 (Berra, 22; Howard, 21; Johnny Blanchard, 21). The tape includes Maris' 59th, 60th and record-smashing 61st home runs.
Mantle notes that although leg-problems forced him to the sidelines and his retirement, he was fortunate to play in even more games than Gehrig -- 2,401 to Gehrig's 2,164. And there's a lot of lovable Casey Stengel, whose teams won 10 pennants in 12 years.
Then comes Billy Martin, the young manager who in 1976 brought the Yankees their first pennant in 12 years, followed by Reggie Jackson, Thurman Munson and the latter-day heroes who need no introductions.
Most of what comes out of this video is the Yankee mystique. The magic of those pin stripes. The belief that "if you can make it with the Yankees, you can make it anywhere." In 1953, after the Yankees became the only team ever to win five consecutive World Series, they said: "In baseball, the best way is the Yankee way."