The Greatness of Babe Ruth
The Greatness of Babe Ruth
by Ed Botti
(Originally Published December 26, 2019)
It’s been more than 100 years now since The Red Sox sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees. Where does the time go?
It’s hard for people that didn’t see Babe Ruth play, like all of us, to understand just how great he actually was. I think a part of that is because it was so long ago and there are no really good video clips for us to see.
I also believe it’s because many tend to diminish the accomplishments from long ago; believing our world and our time is so different and so much more difficult than it was “back in the day”.
For most of us our view of Babe Ruth is based off of grainy 8mm film footage played to us at what seems like faster than normal speed. We know the stories of hot dogs and beers, the excessive lifestyle, etc. However, when you look at his stats and accomplishments, it’s like he accrued his stats playing a video game or it’s all just some fictional Hollywood movie.
But no, it actually happened.
For example, try and imagine if, just after the 2019 season, Luis Severino, after dominating the American League for five seasons (I wish) decides to become a full time position player. I’d like to be a fly on the wall when he tells Brian Cashman!!
Babe Ruth was 80-41 as a left handed starting pitcher after 5 full seasons. To put that into perspective, Luis Severino is 42-26, Max Scherzer was 52-42, Justin Verlander was 65-43, Greg Maddox was 60- 53, and Randy Johnson was 56-61 in their first 5 seasons.
Not only were Babe Ruth’s stats incredible as a starting pitcher, but he then decided to become a full time position player in 1919 and he went on to hit .343 with 714 Home Runs and 2,214 RBI over the next 22 seasons.
To match what Ruth did, you’d basically have to double Severino’s first 5 year’s stats, and then make him a combination of Aaron Judge and D.J. LeMahieu in 2020. Impossible right?
That is what Babe Ruth did.
As a pitcher, between 1916 and 1918 he set a then record with 29 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings in World Series play. That record stood until Whitey Ford went 33 2/3 scoreless World Series innings and set the new record in 1961.
Oh yeah, throw in a 14-inning World Series game in 1916 in which he pitched all 14 innings and won the game 2-1 while giving up only 6 hits.
We have never seen anything like Babe Ruth before or since. I challenge anyone out there to prove me wrong.
George Herman “Babe” Ruth was born in Baltimore on February 6, 1895. His father was a saloon keeper in Baltimore’s tough waterfront district. Early on George, as he was still known as, built up a bad reputation as a rabble-rouser and menace. By the time he was seven, his truancy from grade school was so terrible, his parents proclaimed him “incorrigible”, and he was shipped off to an orphanage known as St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys.
He would stay there until 1914, when he was 19 years old. That year he was signed to a professional baseball contract as a pitcher by the Baltimore Orioles. Then, during that summer, his contract was sold by the Orioles to the Boston Red Sox, and his nickname was born out of what his teammates considered a baby like “naivete”.
Ruth quickly however, also became known as the finest pitcher on one of the best teams of the 1910’s.
At that time, the owner of the Red Sox was man named Harry Frazee, a theatrical agent, producer and director who needed cash for his business ventures. It was said for many years that Frazee sold Babe to finance a Broadway show called, “No, No, Nanette”, but in reality the cash was actually used for debt service, notably it paid off the Fenway Park mortgage that Frazee was having trouble keeping current.
No one knew it yet, but the Curse of the Bambino was born.
The Babe’s contract was sold by the Red Sox to the Yankees before the 1920 season on December 26, 1919 for $125,000. Converted to the 2019 dollar value, $125,000 would be equal to $1,814,355.73. Babe eagerly moved to the outfield with the Yankees in the spring of 1920.
The Red Sox would suffer through years of mediocrity. To throw more salt into their wounds, Babe would hit more home runs than the entire Red Sox team in 10 of the next 12 seasons.
Babe Ruth quickly became the most popular player and highest gate attraction in baseball throughout the 1920s until his retirement as a player in 1935. In a town dominated by Dodger and Giant fans, he put the Yankees on the map, and made them relevant.
Considered to this day to be arguably the greatest team ever, the 1927 Yankees had an awesome lineup of power hitters known as “Murderer’s Row”. Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri, and Bob Meusel.
Babe Ruth led the American League in home runs in 1927, but was off the pace of his record setting 59 home runs, set in 1921. However in typical Babe fashion, he hit 16 home runs in the month of September, and tied his record on September 29. The following day, on September 30 1927, in the season’s penultimate game at Yankee Stadium, Babe’s turn in the batting order came around in the 8th inning against a lefty named Tom Zachary of the Washington Senators, with Lou Gehrig on deck. The count went to 2-0, Babe stepped out of the box, spit in his hands, picked up some dirt and rubbed it into his hands, and got back in the box…
They say it was a high and tight fastball, Babe swung and crushed it high and far, just barely fair, into the right-field bleachers at the old Yankee Stadium for number 60.
He rounded the bases very deliberately on that one, as the crowd reveled in his accomplishment by shredding paper into confetti and throwing it and their hats into the air.
When the inning ended and Babe went back to right field, in the shadowy afternoon Yankee Stadium outfield for the ninth inning, the fans in the right field bleachers (the Bleacher Creature’s grandparents!) chanted his name and waved handkerchiefs at Babe; he answered them with multiple military salutes. He knew how to play the crowd, and did so as well as anyone ever has.
He had just set a record that would last for another 47 years, and the “27” Yankees just won their 109th game of the season.
The Yankees and Babe would go on to sweep the Pittsburgh Pirates in the World Series, and Babe contributed by hitting .400 with 2 home runs and 7 RBI in the 4 games and 15 at bats.
Looking back on his career, it is very clear to me that he dramatically changed the way the game was played. When you compare the league stats between 1918 (the end of the “Dead-Ball Era”) and 1921, the game of baseball was transforming:
In 1918 there were 7,382 runs scored and 235 Homeruns.
In 1921 there were 11,928 runs scored and 937 Homeruns.
That was the Babe Ruth effect on the game. The whole league was trying to keep up, and changing their approach, while Babe led the way.
Some may even say he saved the game after the 1919 Black Sox Scandal. As one reporter wrote at that time, “This new fan didn’t know where first base was, but he had heard of Babe Ruth and wanted to see him hit a home run. When the Babe hit one, the fan went back the next day and knew not only where first base was, but second base as well.”
Babe Ruth passed away on August 16, 1948 the victim of throat cancer. His career home run record was not broken until the great Hank Aaron hit his 715th home run on April 8, 1974, 47 years later, a record that would stand for another 33 years, until Barry Bonds hit his 756th home run in 2007.
Not to diminish the accomplishments of Bonds and Aaron, two phenomenal players in their own right, but to keep Babe’s excellence in perspective, Aaron finished his career with 41 more home runs then Ruth, needing 3,965 more at bats to do so, and Bonds finished his career with 48 more home runs then Ruth, needing 1,448 more at bats to do so.
Whether you call him the Babe, the Sultan of Swat or the Bambino, the record books show that as a pitcher he was 94-46 with a 2.28 era and as a position player he batted .342 with 714 home runs and 2,214 RBI. These are incredible to say the least, but what the record books do not show is the incredible impact he would have on the game for the next 100 plus years.
I do not believe we will ever see anyone like him again.