By Glen Sparks
About 50 ballplayers, along with a handful of coaches, writers and 5,000 or so fans, were there at the start. They gathered at the Polo Grounds in upper Manhattan on May 6, 1915, the day that a husky, hard-throwing pitcher named George “Babe” Ruth hit his first home run in the major leagues.
Surely no one then could have imagined then that this 20-year-old, former “incorrigible” kid from the tough waterfront streets of Baltimore, would wallop 713 more homers before retiring 20 years later as baseball’s fabled Sultan of Swat, the greatest home-run hitter of them all.
He didn’t even play every day. The minor-league Baltimore Orioles had signed Ruth as a pitcher in 1913. Young Ruth learned the game while living at the St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys. George Sr. had told the local courts that his son was “incorrigible.” The boy was drinking too much beer at the family’s tavern, chewing too much tobacco and stealing money from the till.
Brother Matthias served as athletic director and head disciplinarian at St. Mary’s. He stood 6-feet-7-inches and was powerfully built, sort of the Frank Howard of his day. He hit flyballs that amazed Ruth and the other boys. Ruth duplicated Brother Matthias’ uppercut swing.
But, as mentioned, the Orioles liked Ruth as a pitcher. The left-hander even wowed some major-league squads during several exhibition games in South Carolina. Jack Dunn, the Orioles’ owner and manager, was short of cash. He sold Ruth to the Red Sox.
The skinny-legged, barrel-chested Ruth—one writer decided that the young player was “built like a bale of cotton”—made his major-league debut in late 1914. He went 2-for-10 with a single and a double at the plate. On the mound, he pitched 23 innings, compiled a 2-1 won-loss record and posted a 3.91 ERA. He walked seven and struck out three.
Ruth entered the action May 6 with a 1-0 record and a 5.02 ERA in two starts and three appearances. The Red Sox were playing the New York Yankees, Ruth’s future team and the franchise that he would establish as the game’s greatest. The New York Times already liked him. One reporter there had decided that “the big left-handed pitcher, Babe Ruth, was all that a pitcher is supposed to be, and some more.” At the plate, Ruth was 2-for-7, batting .286.
The Red Sox came into the game with a 7-6 record, good for fourth place in the American League, four games behind the first-place Detroit Tigers (15-6). The Yankees (10-5) were in second place, two games behind Detroit. The Red Sox had finished 91-62 in 1914, in second place. The Philadelphia A’s won the American League pennant with a record of 99-53. The Yanks muddled though a 70-84 season, good for seventh place.
New York still had not won a pennant. Boston was trying to win its fourth, and its first since 1912. Ruth batted ninth in the order, the customary spot for pitchers. On the mound this historic day, he was matched against right-hander Jack Warhop. An eight-year veteran, Warhop came into the game with an 0-2 mark and a 6.19 ERA.
After two scoreless innings, Ruth led off the third inning for Boston. The pitcher slammed a Warhop pitch far into the right-field stands. The hit surely drew some “oohs” and “ah’s” from anyone who saw it. Players did not hit many home runs in the Deadball Era, and they didn’t crush them like Ruth just did. (Frank “Home Run” Baker of the A’s led the A.L. in home runs in 1914 with nine. A.L. teams hit just 160 total homers, or an average of just 20 per team.)
This was a tape-measure job slammed before that term was ever coined. Fans, players, coaches, and reporters just did not see this type of round-tripper. According to one reporter, Ruth lifted Warhop’s offering “with no apparent effort.” Ruth, for the record, said he connected on a “rise ball.”
The Red Sox and Ruth ended up losing 4-3 in 13 innings. The Babe went the whole way for Boston and pitched a solid game before tiring at the end. Luther “Doc” Cook knocked in the winning run. The magnificently named Edwin “Cy” Pieh of Waunakee, Wisconsin, got credit for the win.
Ruth hit three more home runs in 1915 in 92 at-bats and led the team. Dick Hobitzell (399 at-bats), Harry Hooper (566 at-bats) and Duffy Lewis (557 at-bats) tied for second with two apiece. Boston ended up winning the pennant with a 101-50 record. The Yankees finished 69-83, 32 ½ games out of first. The Red Sox beat the N.L. champion Philadelphia Phillies in five games to win the World Series.
Ruth’s power display did not knock him off the pitching mound for another couple of seasons. He did not begin playing every day until 1918. He topped with 11 homers in just 317 at-bats that year and led the circuit again in 1919 with 29. Boston sold Ruth to the Yankees before the 1920 campaign. Ten more home-run titles followed, including four seasons of more than 50.
Dizzy Dean, the Hall of Fame pitcher and Hall of Fame raconteur, said this about Ruth: “No one hit home runs the way Babe (Ruth) did. They were something special. They were like homing pigeons. The ball would leave the bat, pause briefly, suddenly gain its bearings, then take off for the stands.”
The Babe Ruth story did not begin on May 6, 1915, of course. There were far too many interesting twists and turns in his oversized life before that one day at the Polo Grounds. What the game’s future Big Bam did in the top of the third inning, though, was to offer the audience an introduction to the long-ball heroics to come.
By Glen Sparks
Boston Red Sox pitcher Babe Ruth walked Washington Senators lead-off batter Ray Morgan on four pitches in the first game of a doubleheader on June 23, 1917, at Fenway Park. That’s how the brouhaha, and a spectacular pitching effort, began.
The fiery Ruth started barking at home plate umpire “Brick” Owens, a short-tempered guy just like the Babe. Ruth charged off the mound, still yelling, getting more and more steamed. Then what happened probably surprised everyone. The pitcher belted Owens in the neck.
Ruth, the future home-run king, didn’t get arrested for his assault and battery. He did get tossed out of the game (and later fined $100 and suspended nine games). Boston player-manager Jack Barry brought in Ernie Shore, who was granted five warm-up pitches.
Shore, a 26-year-old right-hander, went on to enjoy the game of his life. He tossed a perfect game. Or, did he? The game remains muddled with some baseball-style controversy.
First off, Morgan tried to steal on Shore’s opening pitch. Red Sox catcher Sam Agnew, though, fired the pitch to second and nailed him for out No. 1. The next two Washington batters also made outs.
Shore, born March 24, 1891, in East Bend, N.C., retired the final 24 Senators in order. The Red Sox won the game 4-0.
Boston hailed Shore’s effort. The 6-foot-4 inch hurler (Some people called him “Long” Shore.) had enjoyed some success in the big league but nothing like this. He broke in with the New York Giants in 1912, got into one game, had a miserable time of it (one inning, eight hits, 10 runs, three earned, 27.00 ERA) and never made it into another one for impatient manager John McGraw.
The skipper sent the kid down to the minors. Shore told McGraw that it was a bad move, his own crummy performance notwithstanding. McGraw suspended Shore and let him go.
Shore pitched in 1913 for Greensboro of the North Carolina State League. He hoped for a second change at the majors. The Baltimore Orioles, a minor-league team then, acquired him for the 1914 season. The O’s quickly sold him, along with Ruth (yes, that Ruth) and Ben Egan to the Red Sox.
Boston sent Ruth to the minors and kept Shore. The big guy (220 pounds on that 6-4 frame) enjoyed a solid first season with the Red Sox. He went 10-5 with a 2.00 ERA (135 ERA+) in 139.2 innings. Naps Manager Joe Birmingham came away impressed. He said, “Shore’s fastball is just as fast as was (Walter) Johnson’s.” Whew. That was quite a compliment. As fast as the Big Train?
Well, it never worked out that way. But, Shore did put together a few solid seasons. He finished 19-8 and posted a 1.64 ERA (170 ERA+) in 1915. Shore went a combined 29-10 in 1916 and 1917 with ERAs of 2.63 (105 ERA+) and 2.22 (116 ERA+), respectively.
The Great War, a.k.a., World War I, ended Shore’s 1918 campaign. As a member of the Naval Reserves, he pitched for a team based at the Charleston, S.C., Naval Yard. The Yankees traded for him for 1919. A bad case of the mumps ruined his first season in pinstripes. He posted a 5-8 mark and didn’t get any better in 1920. He went 2-2 and quit with a lifetime mark of 65-43 and 2.47 ERA (114 ERA+ in the Deadball era).
Shore retired to his North Carolina home. He worked in various businesses and later served as sheriff of Forsyth County. He was a popular guy.
But the arguments kept going. Did Shore, in fact, pitch the third perfect game of the 20th century? Opinions were split. (Red Sox legend Cy Young tossed the first perfect game of the 1900s, on May 5, 1904, against the Philadelphia A’s at the Huntington Avenue Grounds in Boston. Cleveland’s Addie Joss hurled the second. He beat the Chicago White Sox 1-0 on Oct. 2, 1908, at the Naps’ League Park.)
In a sense, American League Secretary (basically, the league president) William Harridge had put a quick end to any debate about perfecto/not a perfecto. Soon after the final out, Harridge declared the game to be simply a no-hitter. But, not every baseball person, or even every baseball record book, agreed with this pronouncement.
Was it a perfect game or not? Not surprisingly, Shore voted on the side of perfection. “No other pitcher retired a single batter,” he reasoned, according to an article on the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) web site.
An eight-member committee of baseball experts (Commissioner Fay Vincent and others) voted down Shore in 1991, 11 years after the pitcher’s death on Sept. 24, 1980. The group said Shore had, in fact, tossed a combined no-hitter with Ruth.
Not perfect? Well, maybe not. Just about perfect? Certainly.
By Glen Sparks
The Baseball Hall of Fame did not officially open in lovely Cooperstown, N.Y., until June 12, 1939.
Baseball writers, though, elected the Hall’s first members in 1936. Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Babe Ruth and Honus Wagner were chosen.
Members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America cast 226 votes, according to an article written by Matt Kelly on the HOF’s web site. Nominees needed 170 votes, or 75 percent of the total, for election. Writers sent in their votes by Jan. 25; Hall officials announced its first class Feb 2.
Cobb received the most votes with 98.2 percent, followed by Ruth and Wagner (95.1 percent each), Mathewson (90.7) and Johnson (87.6). The next five, eventual Hall of Famers but not members of that first class, were Nap Lajoie (64.6), Tris Speaker (58.8), Cy Young (49.1), Rogers Hornsby (46.4) and Mickey Cochrane (35.3). Everyone in the top 24 in the voting eventually made it into Cooperstown. Hal Chase, a solid hitter and smooth fielder at first base for the New York Highlanders and other teams, was the lowest finisher who is still on the outside looking in. (I’ll be writing a post on Chase later this week.)
This is a brief overview of that first class. You’re probably already familiar with these guys.
Cobb played 24 seasons (1905-28) and retired with a .366 batting average and 897 stolen bases. The center-fielder hit better than .400 three times and won 12 batting titles, including nine in a row. Cobb mostly toiled during the Deadball era and hit just 117 career home runs. He led the American League in 1909 with nine homers and topped the circuit in RBI four times. The left-handed batter, known as the Georgia Peach, played 22 seasons for the Detroit Tigers and two years for the Philadelphia A’s. Cobb batted .240 over 150 at-bats as a 19-year-old rookie in ’05. His next lowest season-ending batting average? .316.
Quote: “The great American game should be an unrelenting war of nerves.” (Source: baseball-almanac.com)
Born in rural Kansas, Johnson grew up on the plains. His family left for California shortly after young Walter turned 14 years old. Scouts spotted him during his high school days at Fullerton Union High School. Johnson, a.k.a. the Big Train, played his entire career (1907-27) with the Washington Senators. He retired with a lifetime won-loss record of 417-279 and a 2.17 ERA. The two-time A.L. MVP won the pitching Triple Crown (leader in wins, ERA and strikeouts) three times. All told, he led the league in strikeouts 12 times, wins six times and ERA five times. He retired with 3,508 strikeouts.
Quote: “I throw as hard as I can when I think I have to throw as hard as I can.” (Source: baseball-almanac.com
Baseball people called Mathewson “The Christian Gentleman.” He did not smoke, drink or even cuss at a time when practically every other player did. Mathewson employed a fastball, screwball and pinpoint control to take care of batters. He sported a career won-loss record of 373-188, pitching mostly for the New York Giants (1900-16). He topped the National League in wins and ERA five times each and hurled two no-hitters. In four World Series, the right-hander from Factoryville, Pa., went 5-5 but with a 0.97 ERA over 101.2 innings. He won all three of his starts in the 1905 Classic against the Philadelphia A’s. His lungs seriously damaged after exposure to chemical weapons during training in World War I, Mathewson died from the effects of tuberculosis in 1925 at the age of 45.
Quote: “A boy cannot begin playing ball too early. I might almost say that while he is still creeping on all fours, he should have a bouncing rubber ball.” (Source: christymathewson.com)
Like Matthewson, Wagner grew up in Pennsylvania. The son of German immigrants took the American game of baseball to heart. He broke in with the Louisville Colonels in 1897 and was sent to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1900. Wagner hit .329 lifetime and recorded 3,430 hits. He won eight batting crowns and five RBI titles. The shortstop could run, too. Wagner led the league in steals five times. Fans called him “The Flying Dutchman.” Wagner retired following the 1917 season. His 1909-11 T206 baseball card, rare for debatable reasons, fetches north of $2 million at some auctions.
Quote: “There ain’t much to being a ballplayer, if you’re a ballplayer.” (Source: honuswagner.com)
Where do you start? George Herman Ruth Jr., the troubled youth from Baltimore, the kid who ended up at the St. Mary’s Industrial School for boys, the teenager who learned the finer points of baseball from a Roman Catholic brother, the young man who signed with the Boston Red Sox to pitch, who turned into one of the game’s best hurlers, who was sold to the New York Yankees because the Red Sox owner liked Broadway more than baseball, who quit pitching because he wanted to play every day, who slammed 60 homers in 1927, more than any other team hit in the league, who crushed 714 career home runs, twice as many as anyone else when he retired … His story is incredible, unbelievable and 100 percent true in every way that really matters. The Bambino, the Big Bam, the Sultan of Swat, the Colossus of Clout. He remains an American legend.
Quote: “If I’d tried for them dinky singles I could’ve batted around six hundred.” (Source: baberuth.com)
By Glen Sparks
Harry Frazee needed some cash; Babe Ruth was worth a lot of it.
Frazee, a theater owner and theatrical producer, owned the Boston Red Sox. He led a three-man group that bought the team from Joe Lannin on Nov. 1, 1916, for approximately $675,000. Frazee was 36 years old at the time.
The Peoria, Ill., native liked to wheel and deal. Early on in his tenure as the Red Sox’ boss, he tried unsuccessfully to buy the great Walter Johnson from the Washington Senators for $60,000. He also tried, again unsuccessfully, to woo former Red Sox skipper Bill Carrigan out of retirement.
But, Frazee was not entirely without money problems. Lannin still held the new owner’s notes for much of the team’s purchase price. He wanted payment in 1919; Frazee, though, lacked the requested $125,000.
What was Babe Ruth worth?
Ruth broke in with the Red Sox in 1914 as a left-handed pitcher. He fashioned a 23-12 won-loss record in 1916 and led the American League with a 1.75 ERA. He followed that up with a 24-13 record in 1917 and a 2.01 ERA.
Even so, the Babe was restless. He didn’t like sitting on the bench between starts, watching the action. He wanted to play every day. He wanted to hit. (Through 1917, Ruth had smacked nine homers in 361 career at-bats.)
In 1918, the future Sultan of Swat put on quite a show. He pitched in 20 games (19 as a starter) and went 13-7 with 18 complete games and a 2.22 ERA. He also began seeing regular action in the outfield. (The Babe’s first appeared in a game at a position other than pitcher on May 6, 1918, according to Robert Creamer’s book Babe: The Legend Comes to Life.) Ruth went to bat just 317 times that season. He still led the league with 11 home runs.
Ruth put that mark to shame in 1919. He blasted 29 round-trippers, more than anyone in baseball history. Edward Nagle “Ned” Williamson, playing for the Chicago Colts in 1884, held the previous record with 27. (Williamson took advantage of a right-field fence at the Congress Street Grounds that stood a scant 215 feet from home plate.)
Baseball fans loved Ruth. They stared in awe as he belted 500-foot, 550-foot … 600-foot (?!) clouts. Ruth swung big. He also lived life big. Too big, maybe. Ruth already had gained a reputation for his late-night carousing.
He and Manager Ed Barrow clashed more than once, sometimes in the early-morning hours as the Babe tried sneaking back into his hotel room after curfew. Barrow even assigned a coach, Dan Howley, to keep a watch on Ruth. No one, though–not Howley, not anyone–could keep up with Babe Ruth.
To Frazee’s dismay, Ruth also understood his own value to the team, as well as to the box office. He wanted a raise following that big 1919 campaign. A salary of $10,000 a season just wasn’t good enough, the Babe said. He wanted $20,000 in 1920, or he might just sit out. Frazee gulped. The Babe wanted a lot of money. Lannin wanted even more money.
Frazee did what he thought he had to do. He called the perennial also-ran New York Yankees. Owners Jacob Ruppert and the fancily named Tillinghast L’Homedieu Huston were in the market for players. What did they want for Ruth?
The Yankees and Red Sox agreed to a deal that would alter the course of baseball history. Lannin would get $100,000, according to the Creamer book, more than double the amount ever paid for a baseball player. Plus, Rupert agreed to loan Frazee $350,000. The deal was signed Dec. 26, 1919.
Rupert dispatched his manager, Miller Huggins, to inform the Babe. Huggins headed out to southern California and met Ruth on a golf course at Griffith Park in Los Angeles on Jan. 4, 1920. Ruth quickly spotted the fiery 5-foot-2 Huggins.
“Have I been traded?” Ruth asked, according to the Leigh Montville book The Big Bam: The Life and Times of Babe Ruth.
Huggins told Ruth about the sale. Well, I don’t know, the Babe said. “I’m happy with the Red Sox,” Ruth decided, according to the Creamer book.
Ruth signed the deal the next day. He’d get $20,000 a year for the next years, plus a $20,000 bonus. The New York papers loved their new player. Boston newspapers were divided. Yes, Ruth was a great player, but, according to a Boston Post columnist, Ruth’s “faults overshadow his good qualities.”
Ruth, from California, called Frazee a “cheapskate.” Frazee, in turn, called Ruth “the greatest hitter the game has ever seen.” He also called him “selfish and inconsiderate.”
The Bambino proceeded to slam 54 home runs in 1920, 35 more than runner-up George Sisler of the St. Louis Browns. He hit 659 homers in 15 glorious, often controversial, years with the Yankees. He led the team to seven pennants and four World Series titles. And, Red Sox fans never let Harry Frazee forget about it. (Frazee would sell the Red Sox in 1923 for $1.15 million.)
The guy sold the greatest player ever to finance his production of No, No, Nanette, the Boston critics howled. Or, did he? No, No Nanette, the musical version of My Lady Friends, did not premiere until Sept, 16, 1925, nearly five years after the Ruth sale. What did the play have to with anything? But, as Montville points out, Frazee used the money from the Ruth sale to finance his theatrical productions. That included No, No, Nanette.
The Red Sox finished in fifth place in 1920 (72-81), actually somewhat better than in 1919 (66-71, sixth place), Ruth last season with the club. They also finished fifth in 1921 (75-79). Then, the bottom dropped out. From 1922-33, the Sox ended up in last place nine times. Twice, they finished next to last. Once, (in 1931) they ended the year in sixth place. Had the curse of the Bambino been cast?
By Glen Sparks
Babe Ruth, dead at age 53, lay in state at Yankee Stadium, the house he built.
Fans, former teammates, dignitaries and assorted drinking buddies paid their respects to America’s greatest and grandest athlete on Aug. 17-18, 1948. About 77,000 people filed by.
The site of a forever-still Ruth probably struck many of them odd. Did the Babe ever stay still in life? One of his New York Yankee teammates, Ping Bodie, said, “I didn’t room with Babe Ruth. I roomed with his suitcase.” (This quote is attributed to most of Ruth’s roommates over the years.)
Fans knew him as the Babe, the Big Bam, the Wizard of Wham, the Colossus of Clout, the Prince of Pounders, the Rajah of Rap, the Maharajah of Mash and more.
He did things big. “I swing big,” he said. “I like to live as big as I can.” He made headlines. “Babe Hits 60th Home Run of Season.” “Sultan of Swat Slams No. 714.” He did the improbable. In 1920, the Bambino blasted 54 home runs, more than any one team in the American League hit that year. He did the controversial. “He called a shot in the World Series!” some insisted… “No, he didn’t!” many cried.
Ruth suffered in 1925 from a bellyache “heard round the world.” Or, did he battle something more sinister? (“Syphilis,” some whispered.) He ate, drank, and wanted nothing more than to be merry. He punctuated the Roaring ‘20s.
Born in Baltimore, Ruth grew up rough and tumble. He learned baseball at the St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys. The Boston Red Sox signed him as a burly left-handed pitched in 1914. Ruth compiled a 94-46 won-loss mark but complained that he wanted to play every day. Boston sold Ruth’s contract to the Yankees in December 1919. An excellent pitcher was on his way to being a legendary hitter.
The Babe pitched in just five games as a Yankee. He led the American League in home runs 10 times. (Ruth topped the circuit in homers twice while doing double duty with the Red Sox.) He hit 59 in 1921 and topped that by smashing 60 in 1927. He slugged his 714th homer on May 25, 1935, as a member of the Boston Braves. He hit two other homers that day. Ruth also hit 15 World Series homers. Dizzy Dean said, “No one hits home runs the way Babe Ruth did. They were something special.” Ruth said of himself, “If I’d just tried for them dinky singles, I’d have hit .600.” Maybe.
He made his final appearance at Yankee Stadium on June 13, 1948. Now gaunt, he needed a cane to walk. He spoke to the crowd of 58,339 in a low, gravely voice and thanked all the fans for their applause through the years. The photograph that Nat Fein took of Ruth from behind won a Pulitzer Prize.
Cancer did in the Babe. The day before he died on Aug. 16, Ruth said to the great Philadelphia A’s manager Connie Mack, “the termites have got me.”
Family and friends filled St Patrick’s Cathedral for Ruth’s funeral mass on Aug. 19. It was hot that day in New York City. One former Yankee supposedly turned to Ruth’s old teammate Waite Hoyt. “I could sure use a beer,” the ex-ballplayer said. Hoyt: “So could the Babe.”
The funeral procession left St. Patrick’s Cathedral and headed north to the Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne, N.Y., in Westchester County. About 6,000 people met the Babe’s casket.
Ruth’s second wife, Claire, who died in 1976, is buried next to her former husband (His first wife, Helen, died in a fire in 1929.) The grave site is marked by a tall, sandblasted image of Christ with his arm on a young boy. The Ruths share space at Gate of Heaven with, among others, actor Jimmy Cagney, manager Billy Martin, writer Herman Melville, and mobster Dutch Schultz.
Thousands of fans visit the Ruth site every year, according to an article written by Spencer Fordin for mlb.com. (Ruth’s former teammate and co-slugger Lou Gehrig is buried next door at Kensico Cemetery.) Some arrive by tour bus. In death, as in life, Babe Ruth remains an attraction. No one, not Cagney, not Martin, not Schultz, not Melville– the author of Moby Dick–gets as much attention as Ruth.
Some fans drop off a bat, a baseball or a ribbon from a youth baseball tournament, Fordin writes. Others bring a hot dog or a pizza. How many people have dropped off a beer?
Andrew Nagle, an employee of the cemetery, operated by the New York Archidiocese, confirms that the Babe tops ‘em all.“ No graves are visited like Babe Ruth’s grave,” he says.
George Herman Ruth Jr., the kid from the Baltimore waterfront, the “incorrigible” youngster dropped off at St. Mary’s by weary parents, the one-time great pitcher, the long-time preeminent hitter, remains the stuff of legend, of tales fit for the ages.
By Glen Sparks
The great Babe Ruth joined the Brooklyn Dodgers on June 18, 1938.
The Dodgers didn’t sign the Sultan of Swat to slam home runs, though, or to drive in Brooklyn base runners. Baseball’s home-run king had retired after the 1935 season, with 714 home runs in his back pocket.
Brooklyn asked Ruth to coach first base. And to play in exhibition games and take batting practice before games.
“What else could we do?” Brooklyn Manager, and former pitcher, Burleigh Grimes asked, according to Robert Creamer’s splendid biography Babe: The Legend Comes to Life. “That’s what we got him for.”
Ruth suited up as a Dodgers coach for the first time on June 19 at Ebbets Field. Fans applauded, and the Babe smiled. Brooklyn players liked his stories, and young fans liked that he signed their programs, especially when ill-tempered pitcher Van Lingle Mungo would not.
The Babe bashed home run after home run during exhibition games at Elmira, N.Y., and elsewhere. Hmm. Maybe the 43-year-old Ruth could hit No. 715 and more as a Brooklyn Dodger. Could he still play? Yes, Ruth said, he only needed a month or so to get into shape.
Dodgers VP Larry MacPhail liked the idea. Heck, why not? The Dodgers were in sixth place and not going anywhere. Let’s see what Ruth can do, MacPhail reasoned.
Grimes hated the idea. For one thing, he said, Ruth couldn’t see. The slugger had been telling pitchers in BP to keep the ball up so that he could see it. Grimes feared that Ruth might be killed in an actual game.
Babe’s attempted comeback ended there. Shortly thereafter, Ruth’s hopes of managing the Dodgers also ended. The rumor—a pretty public one—was that Grimes would be gone at season’s end. But, would Ruth get the job? The smart money was on Leo Durocher, a Brooklyn infielder, team captain, and, reportedly, one of Ruth’s harshest critics.
Some people said Coach Ruth lacked the smarts to relay signs from the dugout. That allegation seems ridiculous. Ruth didn’t enjoy the greatest career in professional sports history by being a dummy. Remember, he not only made mincemeat out of baseball’s home-run mark, he also went 94-46 as a pitcher. Ruth knew the game as well as anyone.
The Dodgers fired Grimes on Oct. 10. Three days later, they did indeed hire Durocher as skipper. The Babe was out of a job.
By Glen Sparks
Babe Ruth sounded terrible.
The greatest player in baseball history shuffled to the microphone at Yankee Stadium on April 27, 1948. He was a dying man. Doctors told Ruth that he had throat cancer, and there wasn’t anything that the medical community or the Sultan of Swat could do about it.
Following a short introduction, Ruth talked for less than two minutes. The crowd of 58,339 fans at Yankee Stadium—the House that Ruth Built—cheered their weakened hero. Ruth wore a camel’s hair coat and doffed his cap. Reporters, photographers, ballplayers and Cardinal Francis Spellman, a friend of Ruth’s, stood near-by.
Ruth spoke in a rough whisper. “You know how bad my voice sounds,” he said. “Well, it feels just as bad.”
What he said, on Babe Ruth Day throughout the major leagues, was piped into every ballpark scheduled to play that afternoon. He thanked the fans and encouraged every boy to play baseball, “the only real game,” he said. Ruth told the boys to start hitting, pitching and fielding just as soon as they could.
“You’ve got to start from way down at the bottom when you’re six or seven years of age,” Ruth told the crowd. “You can’t wait until 15 or 16.”
Ruth learned the game while spending much of his rambunctious youth at the St. Mary’s Industrial School of Boys in Baltimore. He hit 714 home runs during his incredible big-league career, 659 of them as a Yankee. He was baseball’s first and, in the minds of many, still its greatest slugger. In 1921, Ruth moved ahead of Roger Conner on the all-time home run list with 139. Ruth was just 26 years old, and he hit another 575 round-trippers after that. Oh, and he also compiled a 94-46 won-loss mark as a pitcher.
Finally, the Bambino told the boys that if they worked hard enough, they could make it to the major leagues someday. “You’re bound to come out on top just like these boys (the major leaguers on hand) have come to the top now,” he said.
Babe Ruth died Aug. 16, 1948. He was just 53 years old.
By Glen Sparks
Do pinstripes make the man slimmer?
One baseball story you often hear is that the New York Yankees added pinstripes to their home uniforms as a way to make a rotund Babe Ruth appear trimmer. The story is worth a chuckle. But, it isn’t true.
The Yankees, actually, still the Highlanders, first wore pinstripes in 1912. At the time, Ruth was just 17 years old and ripping baseballs around the yard at the St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys in Baltimore. George Herman Ruth Jr., a truant and trouble-maker, fit the admission qualifications nicely.
Fashion often being fleeting, the Yankees ditched the pinstripes for their 1913 campaign. That season and in 1914, they stitched an interlocking “NY” onto a plain white home uniform. The pinstripes returned for good on the home unis on this date in 1915.
Ruth was 20 years old and playing in his second season for the Boston Red Sox. He went 18-8 with a 2.41 ERA (114 ERA+) in 217.2 innings. The Babe did not become a full-time hitter until 1919, and he did not move over to the Yankees until 1920, or in year No. 6 of the Pinstripe Era.
Further, images of Ruth as a beer-bellied basher tell only the story of an aging superstar. In his heyday, Ruth did not pack nearly as much weight, or girth, onto his 6-foot-2-inch frame. He was barrel-chested, along with being pigeon-toed, but he was certainly not fat. Babe Ruth was an outstanding athlete.
It also should be noted that the Yanks did not introduce pinstripes to major league uniforms. The Chicago Cubs did that with their road uniforms in 1907.
No team does pinstripes quite like the Yankees, though. Fans talk about Dodger blue, Cardinal red and Yankee pinstripes (navy blue in color). The Bronx Bombers have won a record 40 American League pennants and a record 27 World Series, not one them before going to pinstripes.
Recently retired Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter said: “You say pinstripes and the first thing that comes to most people’s mind is the Yankees. There’s just so much history there and tradition, it makes it special for us as players.”
Maybe the pinstripes did make Babe Ruth look slimmer. Maybe the Babe just looked great in a baseball uniform.
(I had originally planned to publish this Babe Ruth quiz on Saturday, following my article about Ruth’s birthday. Unfortunately, some stuff came up. My bad. Anyway, here it is. The answers are in bold at the end of the article. Good luck!)
By Glen Sparks
- We know that most people called George Herman Ruth Jr. “Babe.” Others called him the Bambino or the Sultan of Swat. Can you name some other Babe Ruth nicknames? Hint: Think alliteration.
- Who was the Red Sox owner who sold Ruth to the Yankees before the 1920 season?
- How many times was Ruth suspended during the 1922 season?
- How many home runs did Ruth hit in the World Series?
- What was Ruth’s highest single-season salary?
- What was Ruth’s career ERA as a pitcher?
- What was the count on Ruth when he hit his so-called “called shot”?
- How many times did Ruth lead the A.L. in batting average? On-base percentage?
- What was the lowest total of home runs that Ruth hit to lead the American League?
- Ruth hit a then-career record 714 home runs. Whose record did he break?
- Here are a few of Ruth’s nicknames: The Wizard of Wham, the Maharajah of Mash, the Rajah of Rap, the Behemoth of Bash, the Prince of Pounders …
- Harry Frazee sold the rights to Ruth for $100,000, plus a $350,000 loan from Yankee owner Jacob Ruppert.
- The Yankees suspended five times in 1922.
- Babe hit 15 home runs in the Fall Classic. He clubbed four in 1924.
- The Babe made $80,000 in 1933 and 1934.
- Ruth’s career ERA was 2.28.
- The count was 2-2. Some people say Ruth was pointing one finger to indicate he still had one strike left.
- Ruth led the league in batting in 1924 (.378). He led the league in on-base percentage 10 times.
- 11, with the Boston Red Sox in 1918. Ruth also led the league with a record 29 in 1919 to lead the league. The Sultan of Swat led the A.L. in home runs 12 times, 10 times with the Yankees and twice with the Red Sox.
- Roger Connor’s. Connor hit 138 home runs, a mark that the Bambino broke in 1921. Ruth extended the record 575 times.
(Yesterday, I wrote about Hank Aaron celebrating a birthday. Today, the birthday cake belongs to Babe Ruth. That’s 1,469 home runs all together if you’re counting from home.)
By Glen Sparks
A path from Oriole Park leads you to Babe Ruth’s Birthplace and Museum in Baltimore. Just follow the painted baseballs; it’s a short walk.
You’ll see the Babe Ruth banner and the red, white and blue bunting outside the handsome, brick row house, one of many in the neighborhood. Take a visit, spend an hour or so. Admission is just $6 for adults, $4 for seniors and $3 for the kids. (Check out the museum for more details and for exact hours.) You’ll learn more about one of sport’s greatest, grandest and mightiest heroes. Former Yankee All-Star and current Dodger manager Don Mattingly once said, “Honestly, at one time I thought Babe Ruth was a cartoon character.” Nope, he was real. And bigger than life.
You can go upstairs at 216 Emory St., in a neighborhood called “Pigtown” and sometimes, more respectfully “Washington Village.” You’ll see where the Babe was born on Feb. 6, 1895, the oldest child of George Herman Ruth Sr. and Katherine Ruth. George Sr. was a lightning rod salesman and a streetcar operator. Later, he operated a nearby grocery store and saloon.
You’ll learn about George Herman Ruth Jr. the ballplayer. One of the current exhibits is “The Ruthian Record”, which answers the perfectly legitimate question: “Why is Babe Ruth the greatest player to ever take the field?”
The museum has a souvenir area, naturally. Get your Babe Ruth T-shirts, magnets and caps. You can also rent out the place for receptions, birthdays and bar mitzvahs. On a weekend night, if you want the entire facility, plus use of the courtyard and Emory Street for four hours (300-person capacity), it will cost you $1,250. Take $250 off for weekday rentals. … What better place to enjoy a beer? Drink one for the Babe.
The Babe, in the fog
During your visit, you might not learn many nitty-gritty details about the Babe’s early life. Leigh Montville, in his fine biography, The Big Bam: The Life and Times of Babe Ruth, writes about how “the fog” so often creeps into the Babe Ruth story. We know little about the Babe’s mom, for instance.
Katherine Ruth (formerly “Schaumberger”) gave birth to eight children. Only two, the Babe and daughter Mary, lived into adulthood.” Mary, or Mamie, passed away at age 91 and only went so far as to say, “Mother was not a well person.” (She also said the Babe was a “very big boy for his age.”) Katherine died at age 39, supposedly of “exhaustion.” The Babe didn’t spill any family secrets either. In his ghostwritten autobiography, he wrote “I hardly knew my parents.”
In 1902, George Sr. took Junior to the exhaustively named St. Mary’s Industrial School for Orphans, Delinquent, Incorrigible and Wayward Boys. The Babe was seven years old and already skipping school, breaking neighborhood windows and sneaking off with some of his dad’s beer. According to the Babe’s book, “I had a rotten start (in life).”
The Babe learned how to hit home runs at St. Mary’s. He belted 714 home runs in the major leagues and was the American League home-run champ a record 12 times. In 1920, the Bambino hit 54 home runs, more than 14 of the game’s 15 other teams. He even went 94-46 as a pitcher in his career.
Babe Ruth played on the greatest team in America’s biggest city. He made movies, appeared on Broadway, played on seven World Series teams, toured the world and hammed it up at rodeos and anywhere else with an audience. He drove fast cars, wore fur coats and had the most famous bellyache the world has ever known. He called a shot (or didn’t), befriended stars and starlets and said that he didn’t mind making more money than President Hoover because “I had a better year.”
Babe Ruth would be 120 years old today, an impossible figure. But, Ruth never came close. He succumbed to throat cancer on Aug. 16, 1948, at the age of 53. He crammed plenty of living, and maybe a few too many cigars, into those 53 years. (The Babe’s dad had died on Aug. 25, 1918, in a fight outside his saloon. He was just 45 years old. The bar was located in what is now centerfield at Oriole Park.)
Following his death, Ruth lay in state for two days at Yankee Stadium. More than 77,000 mourners filed past the casket. A funeral mass was held at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It was hot that day in New York City. Supposedly, former Yankee and pallbearer Joe Dugan said, “I’d give a hundred dollars for a beer.” Legend says that Yankee pitching great Waite Hoyt, another pallbearer, said, “So, would the Babe.”
(Tomorrow, I plan to post a quiz about the Babe. Check back.)