Lovable Ruth was everyone's Babe
Ruth changed the game forever
By Nick Acocella
Special to ESPN.com
"He wasn't a baseball player. He was a worldwide celebrity, an international star, the likes of which baseball has never seen since," says broadcaster Ernie Harwell about Babe Ruth on ESPN's SportsCentury show.
Sept. 30, 1927 -- When Ruth hit his 50th homer on September 11 he talked of breaking his 1921 record of 59, even though there were just 17 games left in the season. With nine contests remaining, Babe still needed seven. With four games left, he needed four, but then he belted three homers in two games, including two grand slams.
In the eighth inning of the next-to-last game of the season, Babe crushed a pitch from Washington left-hander Tom Zachary down the right-field line at Yankee Stadium, just fair, for No. 60. While Zachary yelled, "Foul ball! Foul ball!" and argued with the umpire, Babe made a regal tour of the bases, slowly jogging around them to the joy of some 10,000 fans.
In the clubhouse after his two-run homer gave the Yankees a 4-2 victory, Babe whooped it up over his breaking the record.
Babe, who walked a major-league leading 138 times, hit his 60 homers in 540 at-bats, a rate of one homer every nine at-bats. His 60 homers were more than any of the other seven American League teams hit that season. He drove in 164 runs, second in the majors to teammate Lou Gehrig, who had 175 RBI and 47 homers.
Odds and ends Before owner Jack Dunn of the minor league Baltimore Orioles sold Ruth to the Boston Red Sox in 1914, he offered the left-hander to Connie Mack, but the Philadelphia Athletics owner-manager was already contemplating the breakup of his first great team and passed.
New York Giants manager John McGraw was so furious with Dunn over not being offered the promising and colorful youngster that he refused ever again to do business with the Orioles. McGraw's pique caused him to refuse Dunn's offer of Lefty Grove a decade later.
From 1915-17, Ruth won 65 games, more than any other southpaw in the majors.
On June 23, 1917, Ruth walked Ray Morgan, the first Washington batter, and was ejected after protesting the call and assaulting umpire Brick Owens. (Ruth had to be led off the field by a policeman.) Ernie Shore relieved and after Morgan was thrown out stealing, Shore retired the next 26 batters and made Ruth a footnote to an all-but-perfect game.
It was Red Sox captain Harry Hooper's idea that Ruth should be an everyday player. During spring training of 1918, he suggested the change to manager Ed Barrow, but the skipper responded that he'd be "investigated if he moved the best left-handed pitcher in the game into the outfield." However, by early May, Ruth was playing first base and finished the season as a fulltime outfielder when he wasn't pitching.
When Ruth hit 29 homers in 1919, the newspapers followed his exploits in great detail as he passed Socks Seybold's American League record 16 (with the Athletics in 1902), Gavvy Cravath's modern major league record 24 (with the Phillies in 1915), and Buck Freeman's 25, believed to be the 19th-century record (with the old National League Washington Senators in 1899). Then, someone rummaging in old newspapers rediscovered that Ned Williamson of the N.L. Chicago franchise had hit 27 in 1884, but that mark, too, fell to the new home-run king.
When the Red Sox sold Ruth to the Yankees in January 1920, the $100,000 price was twice the amount of any previous player transaction. The deal also included a $300,000 loan secured by a mortgage on Fenway Park, a contractual clause that made the Yankees owners the Red Sox's landlords.
In 1920, Ruth established a still-standing mark with his .847 slugging average. He followed that with the second-highest mark ever (.846) in 1921. Overall, he owns five of the 10 highest season slugging averages, and his career mark of .690 remains No. 1.
Although Ruth's two most famous records - 60 in 1927 and 714 overall - have been erased, his home-run totals become staggeringly impressive in the context of his era. His 29 in 1919 were 17 better than the next highest total (Cravath's National League-leading 12), while the team high was the Yankees' 45. In 1920, when Ruth popped 54, higher than any major-league team total other than the Phillies' 64, the runner-up was George Sisler (19).
In 1921, Ruth broke Roger Connor's career record of 136 round-trippers - in only his third full season as an outfielder. When he reached 700 homers in 1934, only two other players had as many as 300. When he retired in 1935 with 714, he had more than twice as many as anybody.
Ruth's slugging changed the sport in substantive ways. Eager to cash in on the popularity of his power hitting, the owners created the lively ball and outlawed the spitball and other trick pitches in 1921. As a result, league batting averages jumped 35 points, and runs scored increased from about 9,000 a year in the 1910s to almost 12,000 in the 1920s.
Adoring fans turned out in huge numbers to enjoy the new power game, with the 1920 Yankees becoming the first club to reach one million in home attendance.
Perhaps most impressive, Ruth altered the salary structure of the game - via a trickle-down effect. His highest salary was $80,000 annually in 1930 and 1931. He suffered a $5,000 pay cut in 1932 despite hitting .373, leading the majors with a .700 slugging percentage, tying for the lead in homers with 46 and knocking in 163 runs in 1931.
When Babe stopped playing, the new king of paychecks was Gehrig, who was making $30,000. Nevertheless, Ruth's salaries, as gargantuan as his home runs, helped jack up major-league wages across the board, so much so that teammate Waite Hoyt said years later, "Every big leaguer and his wife should teach their children to pray, 'God bless Mommy, God bless Daddy, and God bless Babe Ruth.' "