Modern fans who like the casual playing styles of Manny Machado and Robby Cano—that laid-back ho-hum approach to the game of baseball—would have loved Bob Meusel.
Meusel played eleven seasons in the big leagues between the First World War and the Great Depression, ten of them for the New York Yankees.
But Meusel’s lackadaisical play occasionally infuriated his manager, teammates, and the fans, even as the “Murderers’ Row” Yankees were winning world championships.
“His attitude is just plain indifference,” Yankee manager Miller Huggins once said of his left fielder. This despite Meusel driving in 100 runs five times for the Bombers.
One sportswriter, Fred Lieb, who witnessed more than half a century of baseball, called Meusel “the most undemonstrative player I ever saw.” One teammate called Bob, “the coldest Yankee of them all.”
A Baseball Family: The Slugging Meusel Bros. of New York
For several years, Bob and his brother, Emil “Irish” Muesel, who played across town for the Giants, lived with their families in the same apartment building in New York City.
Bob and Emil, who was three years older, hailed from southern California, in a suburb of Los Angeles.
The brothers squared off three times in the Fall Classic. “We’d go home after each Series game in 1921, ’22 and ’23 and we’d sit down and re-hash the games,” Irish said. “The guy whose team had won that day would have himself a good time bragging and the loser would have to stand for some ribbing. Bob and I had some good times.”
Both Bob and his brother Irish moved to Hollywood in retirement and ended up earning several credits in films, including Pride of the Yankees (1942, about Lou Gehrig) and The Babe Ruth Story (1948).
Drinking Pal to Babe Ruth
While “Long Bob” didn’t like to show emotion on a baseball field, he had no problem letting loose in a saloon. He was the hardest-drinking Yank in the 1920s, next to his pal Babe Ruth.
“I had a lot of late nights and early mornings with the Big Fella,” Meusel said years later at the Babe’s funeral.
Unlike Ruth, who was usually rather tame on the diamond, Meusel could let his temper get away on a rare occasion. One year he nearly tore Ty Cobb apart in Detroit.
In a game between the Tigers and the Yankees in 1924, Cobb (who was the center fielder and manager) ordered his pitcher to throw at Meusel for some reason. During the at-bat, Bob jumped out of the way of two pitches, one aimed at his head, before finally getting one in his back. The pitch prompted Meusel to stomp to the mound to wrestle the Detroit pitcher. Shortly after, Cobb arrived from center, and Muesel, with two Detroit players already draped over him, used one free arm to swing Ty to the ground. The resulting melee was for years considered one of the most lively baseball fights ever seen.
Suspended by the Commissioner
In the winter following the 1921 season, Meusel and his buddy Babe went on a barnstorming trip across the south and west, entertaining fans in many towns and cities that didn’t normally get to see big league stars. The tour put lots of cash in Bob’s pocket, but it also cost him: MLB commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis suspended Ruth and Meusel for the first six weeks of the 1922 season. The suspension caused Meusel’s RBI total to drop from 138 to 88.
Tough year in Cincinnati
Finally in 1929, with his skills slowly fading, the Yankees sold Muesel to the Cincinnati Reds. He was still just 33 years old, but Muesel wasn’t prepared for the hell season he would endure in Cincy.
Almost immediately, fans in the Queen City realized how lazy Meusel was. After one incident in June, when Bob failed to run out a groundball, his manager benched him for a few days. When he entered as a defensive replacement in a game later that season, the Reds fans booed him. For most of the summer, Meusel was jeered by fans in Cincinnati, and without a friend on his new team, he was an outcast. He retired following that year and played a few more seasons as a player/manager in the minors.
Meusel died in 1977 at the age of 81.
Thanks for this one. There’s a mythology to this period of history, indeed a mythology to baseball for me at least, so it’s a great read.