Babe Ruth: 100 Years Later
Back in December, we focused our 12/26 posts on Babe Ruth in honor of his joining the Yankees on that date 100 years ago. The Babe of course is a Yankee and baseball legend who changed the course of the game, basically introducing the world to the home run and making it a crucial part of the game.
Ruth first made his mark as a left-handed pitcher with the Boston Red Sox, with an 89-46, 2.19 career mark. His best season was 1916, when he spun a 23-12 record while leading the American League with a 1.75 ERA, 158 ERA+ and nine shutouts. He capped the campaign by hurling a fourteen inning (!) masterpiece in game two of the World Series as the Red Sox took the series in five games.
He not only could pitch, but was an accomplished hitter as well. A frequent pinch hitter early in his career, he later started to split his time between the mound and the outfield. In 1919 he played 110 games in the outfield, slashing .322/.456/.657, setting a Major League Baseball record with 29 home runs, while still finding time to win nine games on the hill.
Babe’s increasing salary demands (he had held out for a $15,000 salary in spring 1919, later settling for $10,000) and Boston owner Harry Frazee’s cash flow woes had him considering parting with his star for the right price. Of course we know that the Yankees offered the right price during the 1919-1920 offseason, purchasing Ruth for $100,000 and the promise of a $300,000 loan to Frazee. They made him a full-time outfielder, granting Ruth’s wish.
The 1920 season started off ominously enough (.229 in April with no home runs), but then Ruth started to warm up with the weather and batted .329 with twelve home runs in May. In June and July, he hit .445(!) with 25 home runs (remember, he had set the season record in 1919 with 29 homers). In August and September Babe came down to earth and hit a humble .340 with seventeen homers.
His final stats: .376/.532/.847 with 54 home runs and 135 RBI while walking 150 times. He set league records in homers and walks. In fact, Ruth outhomered every other AL team in 1920. One hundred years later, it’s still considered one of the greatest offensive seasons of all time.
The Yankees meanwhile had their best season in franchise history, winning 95 games and holding first place as late as September 16th, ultimately falling just short of the AL pennant winner Cleveland. Over 1.2 million spectators watched the Babe feast on AL pitching at the Polo Grounds in 1920, doubling the team’s previous best and smashing the league record.
This was the start of something big. For an encore, Ruth basically repeated the monster season (.378/.512/.846) in 1921. The Yankees again drew 1.2 million fans, and they finally took their elusive first AL title, this time coming out on top of the Indians. They would go on to win five more AL flags (three World Series titles) during the decade while moving into the baseball icon known as Yankee Stadium,.
We know that Yankee Stadium is known as “The House That Ruth Built”. An examination of Ruth’s career and how he permanently influenced the sport may warrant baseball to be called “The Game that Ruth Built”.
It’s interesting to note the context of Ruth’s emergence in 1920. The country had emerged from World War I and the Spanish Flu epidemic in 1918-1919 and the subsequent economic challenge. In 1919-1920, the Black Sox scandal rocked the sport.
Today once again baseball looks to be under assault from similar forces. Does the game need another Ruth? Is there one on the way?