Feb
06

To Babe on his 115th birthday

By

For George Herman Ruth’s legend, the last few years have been trying ones. He lost his curse in 2004, and then he lost his home after the 2008 season. Even though few baseball fans alive today can remember watching Ruth play, he still looms large over baseball history, and his larger-than-life persona looms large over the game today.

Sitting here in 2010 when players routinely smack 40 or 50 home runs a year, it’s hard to appreciate what Ruth meant and did for the game in the 1920s. His stats, even today, are incredible. He hit .342/.474/.690. Only one player has trumped his career on-base percentage, and his career slugging record outpaces the field by nearly .060 points. Albert Pujols, the top of hitter of the modern day, has slugged .628 so far, and the Babe is far, far away.

What makes Ruth stand out, though, aren’t the impressive career numbers; it’s just how far above his peers he towered. His career adjusted OPS+ was 207. When he hit 54 home runs in 1920, no other team as a whole had more than 50. The list of accomplishments just goes on and on and on. Ruth redefined baseball. He became a superstar and an icon of the game in an era of small ball.

Ruth’s 1920 season — his .376/.533/.849 year with 54 home runs — couldn’t have come at a better time for the game. As the year unfolded, the 1919 White Sox were investigated for fixing the World Series, and the fallout rocked the baseball world. The following year’s trial was just as damaging but along came Ruth. For those two years, he single-handed wowed the baseball world, and few have approached what he’s done. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa may have helped drive fans back to baseball after the 1994 strike, but Ruth invented that game while driving a scandal from the headlines. A quick glance at The Times’ archives highlights the Ruthian love, and it’s clear how he acquired his sultanship over the land of Swat.

Beyond the hitting, though, was Ruth’s pitching. Today, we forget about Babe Ruth the left-handed pitcher, but he was a top pitcher too. From 1915-1918, he served the Red Sox primarily as a starter and went 78-40 with a 2.05 ERA. His strike out and walk rates were not impressive, but he served up 0.1 home runs per 9 innings pitched. That’s an inconceivably low number today. Even the great Mariano, the active leader in that category, has allowed 0.495 home runs per 9 IP.

And so today, we salute the Babe. One hundred fifteen years ago, George was born in Baltimore, Maryland. He was the best, the Great Bambino, the Sultan of Swat.

Categories : Days of Yore
  • JM

    Best baseball player ever. I wish I could have watched him play.

    • Zack

      Apparently 11 BBWAA members disagree with you. I guess stupidity was around in 1936.

      • Andy in Sunny Daytona

        He was a crazy dude. Missed a good protion of one year, because he was rumored to be suffering from syphillis.

        • Andy in Sunny Daytona

          portion

        • Tom Swift

          You mean, “Missed a good portion of one year, it was rumored because he was suffering from syphilis.”

          • Andy in Sunny Daytona

            OK. Im a graduate of “Derek Zoolander Center For Children Who Can’t Read Good And Wanna Learn To Do Other Stuff Good Too”. BTW, I wasn’t exactly the valedictorian of my class either.

  • Andy in Sunny Daytona

    My favorite Babe Ruth pitching fact, is that in 1916 he pitched over 320 innings with allowing a home run, then the third batter he faced in the World Series that year, knocked one out.

    Who was that hitter you ask? Hy Myers. Hy Myers great-great-grandson is…..Melvin Croussett.

  • Zack

    “but he served up 0.1 home runs per 9 innings pitched. That’s an inconceivably low number today.”

    To be fair:
    In 1915 teams average 20 HR total per team.
    In 1916 teams average 18 HR total per team.
    In 1917 teams average 17 HR total per team.
    In 1917 teams average 12 HR total per team.

    • http://www.secondavenuesagas.com Benjamin Kabak

      Oh, I’m not saying Ruth’s mark was anything special. Look at the career list. Jim Devlin allowed 0.04 HR/9 IP. But today, it’s hard to imagine anyone giving up so few home runs.

      • Zack

        Yeah, just ridiculous numbers, completely different eras (non-meme).

        Thinking back, I think the first memory I have of Babe Ruth was during the Sandlot when they lost the ball “signed by some lady named Babe Ruth”

  • countryclub

    Great write up.

  • RalphieD

    “Ruth’s 1920 season — his .533/.849/1.382 year with 54 home runs — couldn’t have come at a better time for the game.”

    haha that confused me for a few seconds…not used to seeing THAT kind of triple slash instead of the normal Avg/Obp/Slg

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

      Yeah same here. I was saying to myself “I just looked at his B-Ref page yesterday, and I don’t remember seeing that season.”

    • http://www.secondavenuesagas.com Benjamin Kabak

      Yeah yeah. It was a typo. I fixed it.

  • Slugger27

    i think there was a book written a couple years ago detailing that ruth actually got screwed out of a lot of home runs too

    i think a lot of it was there was a rule that if a ball hooked foul after being a home run than it didnt count…. that and the polo grounds CF cost him like 50-100 homers over the course of his career

  • dc1874

    Forget the other stuff…Babe is pissed about David Wells buying and wearing his hat in a game..

    • Slugger27

      nah, david wells is a fat guy who loves beer

      babe ruth would probably pick david wells to wear his hat if given his choice of any yankee in history

  • Slugger27

    ill always remember after the boone homer, fox spent like another 30 minutes covering the celebration and stuff

    then as they were cutting away from coverage of the game and going to late night news, they showed the image of babe ruth looking into the camera and winking

  • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster)

    Argue whoever you want, but the Babe was far and away the best. His domination was god-like.

    • Slugger27

      maybe, but hes still no johnny damon

      • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster)

        The only other player I’ve ever heard argued is Bonds. Bonds was incredibly dominant and an awesome player. Ruth was even more dominant than that. He outhomered TEAMS. Just unreal.

        • Slugger27
          • http://www.secondavenuesagas.com Benjamin Kabak

            I never realized that “class” was a code word for “amphetamines”

            • Slugger27

              once u get labeled with “ambassador of the game”, everything u touch turns to gold

              amphetamines = class
              beer = fine spring water
              abortions = abstinence

              etc, etc….

              • http://www.secondavenuesagas.com Benjamin Kabak

                That’s not to say that what Aaron didn’t isn’t a feat worth celebrating, but I’d hardly say he was clean. Meanwhile, Babe played against only white players. Baseball has some tortured history in many respects.

                • http://theyankeeu.com Matt Imbrogno

                  +1 to Ben

                • Slugger27

                  no i agree… i think all 3′s accomplishments should be admired and all 3 should be celebrated in their own, unique ways

                  but bonds was a dickhead prior to the steroid stuff, and he lied for years pete rose-style when he was outted…. so i dont think the fact that he is respected less than the other 2 is unfair

                  however this is all besides the point… babe ruth was awesome, and he was a yankee, and as we all know: awesome yankees are the most important people in the history of civilization and the homosapian species

                • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster)

                  My point: Ruth is still the best.

                  Point over.

                • Andy in Sunny Daytona

                  Josh Gibson and Martin Dihigo would have challenged that claim.

                • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster)

                  …But they didn’t. Ruth is still the best.

                  Sucks for them, that’s life.

                • http://theyankeeu.com Matt Imbrogno

                  It’s a little more complicated than “that’s life” for those two guys.

                • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster)

                  Of course, but when talking about the greatest baseball players of all time sadly it’s almost impossible to judge how good they would’ve been in the major leagues, and while that sucks there’s nothing we could do about it. The Babe’s the best.

              • JMK the Overshare’s Mystique and Aura

                There’s a Tebow joke in there somewhere…

                • http://theyankeeu.com Matt Imbrogno

                  Tim Tebow’s gonna suck in the NFL. Joke’s on him!

          • Jack
    • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster)

      Correction:

      His domination was god Melvin-like.

  • http://steves steven shapiro

    The Yanks did not cover themselves with glory by the way they handled the Babe at the end of his career but, of course, baseball was still relatively in its infancy back then. On the other hand would have loved to see how blogs and 24/7 sports coverage today would have dealt with Babe ending the 26 WS by getting thrown out trying to steal 2nd. Perhaps if he was hounded the way players get hounded today (and remember that in his first seven seasons with the Yanks there was only 1 WS win) he would have been gone before the start of the 27 season.

    • Slugger27

      interesting take… i didnt know that fact

      while scrutinization is obviously much more robust in 2010, i think the same “ya but hes still a badass… even a badass makes mistakes” still applies both now and back then

      derek jeter struck out by bunting a ball foul when he arguably shouldnt have been bunting in the first place… most of us were pretty irritated/angry at the time but it was short-lived because hes derek jeter… most had forgotten it happened by the next day

      i think had that happened to cano, someone that (if unfairly) doesnt have the “smart” reputation that jeter has, it would have been worse… but something tells me ruth’s reputation was too good to be criticized for anything longer than a moment

    • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster)

      If Ruth had made the final out of game 7 of the WS at home down by one with only about a fifty percent caught stealing success rate and as good a hitter as Bob Meusel up at the plate today, he would have been assasinated. The media would have torn him to shreds.

      • Zack

        Babe Ruth is a HR hittah not a base steallah!!1!

        /francesa’d

        • Andy in Sunny Daytona

          Hell, in 1920, Francesa would have been screaming, “He’s a starting pitchahh. Someone get me Ruth’s last 5 starts for me!”

      • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster)

        BTW-How was this not on the list of top nine blunders of all time? It really should’ve been number one.

        • Andy in Sunny Daytona

          That show isn’t designed to settle arguments, it’s designed to start them.

          /MLB Network’d

          • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster)

            Well it’s working.

            It wasn’t even an honorable mention. I mean, come on!

            • bexarama

              what were the bloopers again? I remember Buckner, Bartman, Knoblauch during the 1998 ALCS, that one guy’s passed ball in a World Series in the 1940s against the Yankees…

              Was that awful call from the 1985 World Series on there? Should have been, if it wasn’t.

              • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster)

                Yes, it was.

    • Andy in Sunny Daytona

      He would have taken ARod-like criticism. Pete Abraham would have had advocated the Yankees dumping him for a guy who could do the broad jump real well.

      • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster)

        I L’edOL.

      • bexarama

        Cody Ransom > Babe Ruth

    • http://www.secondavenuesagas.com Benjamin Kabak

      Amazing to see though how The Times barely made note of that caught stealing. Coverage of that today would be far, far different.

      • larryf

        Ruth would have probably killed the writer at some seedy late night hangout of his. Teammates lure the writer there-Ruth beats the crap out of him. No cell phones/youtube etc…

        Do we think he could outrun Molina??? His HR trot looked pretty fast..

  • KDB

    Comment A: The Yankees never cover themselves with glory, if they no longer want a player.

    Comment B: For good or ill, homerun stats, both hitting,and pitching are all in the so called deadball era.

    Comment C: Best baseball player ever. George Sisler, Lou Gehrig.
    Sisler, ahead of Gehrig only because he pitched as well.

  • billbybob

    Ben, when you cite the New York Times, is it appropriate to call it The Times or should you write out the full title? I don’t know why I care about this, but for some reason I do.

    • Tom Swift

      Eh, this is a New York -centric blog. Therefore, “The Times” refers to the Gray Old Lady, not the LA Times or the London Times. For the same reason, references to “Harlem” are not to the city in Holland.

  • nyyankeefanforever

    Ruth was an amazing amazing athlete and player with ALL the tools. Take a look at his physique in pictures from his pitching days with the Sux and his early pix in pinstripes. He was one ripped stud who would’ve probably been accused of juicing in another era, and his biggest impact on the game — changing it from one of almost exclusively small ball to setting up for the crowd-pleasing big knock — was revolutionary. However, for best all-around player ever, even those who saw him play at the time gave the nod to Ty Cobb, who was conspicuously the very first player writers chose to induct into the Hall of Fame. The choice of Cobb as the inaugural inductee was a testament not just to his extraordinary multi-faceted talents, but also to the writers themselves as Cobb was likely the most hated and reviled player — by the press, fans, fellow players and even sponsors — to ever play any professional sport at any level. Even though he was a total a–hole, they overwhelmingly chose him as most deserving of the honor to be first in the HOF based on pure skills alone. Doubt we’ll ever see that happen again.

    For more chucks and giggles, check out the musical comedy vid [Deleted by RAB] at

    URL Deleted by RAB: Please review the commenting guidelines for more about self-promotion in the comments.

    It’s a must-see for Yankee and Boston fans alike. :-)

  • adeelmd

    one thing I never understood about babe, was he really just pure talent? Every movie I have seen of him shows him showing up like 5 minutes after the game is started, possible drunk/hungover; while others like Lou Gherig are putting in a hard days work.

    That’s a great narrative, but I just can’t believe it. My question is what was Ruth’s work ethic like? Was he someone who came early to practice, worked on his swing, etc….

    Even Jeter, A-rod, as good as they are, put in a lot of effort to play at there level; and every image of Ruth is this guy who was good despite his lack of effort. I can’t think of another example of someone being so good without effort in any other sport.