Chasing Babe Ruth
In a thunderstorm of controversy, Barry Bonds is closing in on the
all-time home run record of perhaps the greatest player in baseball
history. Steroids, uppers, different lifestyles and personalities are
not the only things that make for the difference between the Giant
slugger and the Yankee immortal. The Babe was in a class by himself.
"No one hit home runs the way Babe did," his teammate Lefty Gomez
said. "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."
"I've seen them,"Waite Hoyt, his friend and Yankee teammate said,
"kids, men, women, worshippers all, hoping to get his name on a torn,
dirty piece of paper, or hoping for a grunt of recognition when they
said, 'Hi-ya, Babe.' He never let them down; not once. He was the
greatest crowd pleaser of them all."
He homered once every 11.8 at bats. His home run to hit ratio was 1 to
4:02. He won 12 home run titles in a 14 year span, 12 slugging titles
in 13 seasons, .847 in 1920, .846 in 1921.
Born George Herman Ruth on February 6, 1895 in Baltimore,legend claims
he was an orphan; the truth is his mother died when he was 16, his
father when he was in the major leagues. His parents had placed him in
St. Mary's Industrial School for Boys for his "incorrigible" behavior:
stealing, truancy, chewing tobacco and drinking whiskey. Ruth's entire
youth was spent at St. Mary's where his awesome baseball talent was
In 1914, he began his storied major league career with Boston where he
won 89 games over six seasons before his sale to the Yankees for
$125,000 in 1920. His 54 home runs that year were more than any other
team total except the Phillies. His .847 slugging percentage stood as
the all-time best until Barry Bonds and 2001 came along.
Big, large, gigantic everything about him was excessive: his bat -
44 ounces, his frame - top playing weight of 254 pounds, his appetites
- food and drink consumed in abundance, salary $75,000 in 1932 -
highest in the majors.
Just from a statistical point of view, the man players called "Jidge"
accomplished is staggering stuff. Thirteen times he led the American
League in home run percentage. Twelve times he had more than 100 RBIs.
Eleven times he was the league leader in walks. Six times he led the
league in runs batted in.
Babe Ruth amassed 16 seasons of more than 20 home runs, 13 seasons of
more than 30, 11 times he had more than 40 or more home runs, four
times he hammered 50 or more home runs. During his 15 seasons in New
York, the "Sultan of Swat" powered the yanks to four world
championships. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Ruth revolutionized the game,
changing it from a pitcher-dominated, scratch-out-a-run contest to a
home run hitting, power pays.
"The Babe" was the first to reach 30 homers, 40, 50, 60. From
1920-33, he slugged 637 homers, an average of 45.5 per season. From
1926-31, when his age ranged from 31 to 36 and when he was supposed to
be past his prime, he averaged 50 homers, 155 RBI, 47 runs and a .354
The Yankees, who had never even won any title, captured seven pennants
and four Series with Ruth en- route to his 714 career home runs. He
added 15 home runs in World Series competition.
Ruth has the ninth-best average (.342) ever, the second-most runs
scored (2,174), second-most RBI (2,213), highest slugging percentage
(.690) and second-highest on-base percentage (.483). He ranks first in
career walks - 2,056, one every fourth at bat.
When the 1923 season opened, the Sultan of Swat
already had 197 home runs. The 1924 season was probably Ruth's career
year with these incredible numbers .378, 46 home runs, 142 RBIs).
The most celebrated sports figure of his time, perhaps of all time,
the Babe hit the first home run ever in Yankee Stadium. Number 3 said:
"I could have had a lifetime .600 average, but I would have had to hit
them singles. The people were paying to see me hit home runs."
# # #
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About the Author:
Harvey Frommer is in his 38th year of writing books.
A noted oral historian and sports journalist, the author of 42 sports
books including the classics: "New York City Baseball,1947-1957" and
"Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," his acclaimed REMEMBERING YANKEE
STADIUM was published in 2008 and his REMEMBERING FENWAY PARK: AN ORAL
AND NARRATIVE HISTORY OF THE HOME OF RED SOX NATION was published to
acclaim in 2011. The prolific Frommer is at work on When It Was
Just a Game, An Oral History on Super Bowel One.
His work has appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times,
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