Happy Birthday, Babe

On this day in 1895 George Herman “Babe” Ruth was born in Baltimore, Maryland. I have been out of major league baseball for almost a decade and have not followed it at all during most of that time, but when I was a baseball fanatic Ruth was one of my heroes.

I don’t know if this is still true, but I know that at one point Ruth was the only player in major league history to pitch in at least ten seasons and have a winning record in every season he pitched. Of course, in some of those seasons his record was 1-0 or 2-0 as the Yankees would have him pitch late in the season as an event to promote. Ruth’s lifetime major league record as a pitcher was 94-46. In that number of decisions a pitcher’s record has meaning. I suspect that very few pitchers with 100+ decisions have a W-L percentage better than Ruth’s (.671).

To me, he is still the greatest player in major league history. As another all-time great, Stan Musial, remarked, “Ruth has to be the greatest player because he could pitch and bat cleanup in the majors like the star of a high school team.”

The two most important “traditional” statistics for a hitter are on-base percentage (OBP) and slugging percentage (SLG). Ruth led his league in OBP ten times and in SLG twelve times. Barry Bonds also had ten seasons in which he led in OBP, but only seven in which he led in SLG and no one has ever accused Ruth of using steroids. I don’t think alcohol and tobacco are performance-enhancing drugs.

Below is a chart (of course) showing Ruth’s homerun total compared to the other teams in his league for 1919—his last year with the Red Sox—and 1920—his first year with the Yankees. The teams are listed in the order in which they finished in the standings and NOT in homeruns.


1919 HR
Ruth 29
Chicago 25
Cleveland 25
New York 45
Detroit 23
St. Louis 31
Boston, exc. Ruth 4
Washington 24
Philadelphia 35
1920  HR
Ruth 54
Cleveland 35
Chicago 37
New York, exc. Ruth 61
St. Louis 50
Boston 22
Washington 36
Detroit 30
Philadelphia 44


Yes, in 1919 Ruth hit 29 homeruns and the rest of his team hit 4. Yes, in 1920 Ruth out-homered every team in the American League except his own.

In a very real way, baseball is being played in the idiom of Babe Ruth and has been for most of the time since his debut. Think about this: Ruth’s last game in the major leagues is closer in time to the end of the Civil War than it is to today and yet the majors are still, in essence, playing Babe Ruth Baseball.

From The Hollywood Reporter (!) a picture of the Babe:


See the source image




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