George Herman “Babe” Ruth (February 6, 1895 - August 16, 1948) is arguably the greatest player of all-time. The boy labeled as “incorrigible” by the St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys, abandoned his trade as a shirt maker to play baseball. (Boys in the reformatory were encouraged to learn a trade.) Though it is uncertain what caused the burly Ruth to gravitate to the game, he excelled as a catcher, but also played around the infield until he found his place on the pitcher’s mound. Though George fancied himself a hitter, after seeing St. Mary’s disciplinarian and his mentor Brother Matthias at the plate, it was the good brother who encouraged Ruth to pitch. He soon became the best pitcher at St. Mary’s and was widely used around the Baltimore area until Baltimore Orioles owner and manager Jack Dunn signed him to his first professional contract in 1914. It was with the Orioles where veterans dubbed George “Dunnie’s Babe” and thus the name stuck throughout his career. Unfortunately, in 1914 with the emergence of the Federal League and the Baltimore Terrapins, Dunn’s Orioles struggled to survive and he was forced to unload his best players in order to keep the franchise afloat. Babe Ruth was sold to the Boston Red Sox for a reported $25,000. He was used sparingly in 1914 as the Red Sox already boasted a rotation that included Dutch Leonard and Smoky Joe Wood, but he went 18-8 in 1915 as the third starter and helped lead Boston to the American League pennant. He was did not pitch in the World Series and grounded out in his only plate appearance.
As Ruth improved on the mound, going 23-12 in 1916 and 24-13 in 1917, he also continued to develop at the plate and improved offensively each year. In 1916, he led the AL in ERA (1.75) and shutouts (9), but in 1917 he batted .325 to begin an eight year streak of .300 or better and in 1918, he led the AL in home runs for the first time with 11. Babe pitched a 1-0 shutout in Game 1 of the 1918 World Series, won Game 4 and set a consecutive scoreless inning streak of 29-1/3 that would not be broken until Yankees pitcher Whitey Ford eclipsed it in 1961. The Red Sox topped the Chicago Cubs four games to two. It was the last time Ruth would pitch in World Series action. In postseason, Ruth was 3-0 with Boston as he led them to the 1916 and 1918 World Series titles and set a postseason record that stood for 42 years of 29 consecutive scoreless innings in World Series play. In 1919, for a second time in his career, Ruth was sold to the New York Yankees as the Red Sox faced financial hardships, for a reported $100,000 and the Curse of the Bambino was born. (The curse represented the 86-year World Series drought suffered by the Boston Red Sox following the sale of Babe Ruth to the Yankees.) Though Ruth had been used more frequently in right field with the BoSox, it was in New York the conversion to the outfield was virtually completed. In his final season in Boston, 1919, Ruth led the Al in runs (103), home runs (29), RBI (114), on-base percentage (.456), slugging percentage (657) and total bases (284), beginning a trend that would become commonplace for the slugger.
The Babe hit 54 home runs in his first season (1920) as a Yankee, setting a new MLB record that he seemed to top each year thereafter. From 1920-1931, the aptly named Sultan of Swat led the American League in home runs ten out of 12 years, culminating in 1927 when he smashed an astounding 60 round-trippers. His slugging numbers were outlandish, averaging .736 over that 12-year span. He led the AL in slugging percentage 13 times, 12 times in home runs, 11 times in walks, 10 times in on-base percentage, eight times in runs scored and six times in RBI and total bases. In 1923, the Yankees moved into Yankee Stadium, departing the Polo Grounds where they had been subletting, and Ruth christened “The House That Ruth Built” with a three-run shot in the bottom of the third of the first game at Yankee Stadium. Despite his yearly MVP-like numbers, Ruth won the American League Most Valuable Player award only once in 1923 as he hit .393 with 151 runs, 41 home runs, 131 RBI and 399 total bases. The .393-average remains a New York Yankees record. Babe was a member of the 1927 Yankees team, widely considered the greatest of all-time, which included Hall of Famers Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri, Earle Combs, Waite Hoyt and Herb Pennock. Murderer’s Row, as they were known, won 110 games, losing only 44, and swept the Pittsburgh Pirates four games in the World Series. Ruth hit .400 with two HRs and seven RBI in the series. Extraordinarily, Ruth was used, sporadically, as a pitcher five times with the Yankees from 1920-1933, to which he posted a 5-0 record with two complete games.
Babe’s overindulgences and excessive lifestyle off the field was overshadowed by his exploits on the field. A formidable figure to be sure at 6’2” and 215 lbs., the bombastic and gregarious Babe Ruth is one of the most endearing figures in the history of any sport. Noted Ruth biographer Robert W. Creamer wrote, “Babe Ruth transcended sport, moved far beyond the artificial limits of baselines and outfield fences and sports pages.” Despite the fame and notoriety that Ruth enjoyed, he continued to alter his own shirts, harkening back to his days at St. Mary’s. The Bambino transformed the game of “inside baseball” to more of a power and live-ball game as he walloped 714 home runs during his illustrious career. Not only was he a home run threat, but Ruth hit for average posting a career .342 with 17 seasons of .300 or better over his 22-year career with Boston (1914-1919), New York (1920-1934) and the Boston Braves (1935). The Sultan of Swat was a member of 10 American League championship teams and 7 World Series winners, three in Boston and four as a Yankee. Babe also went 94-46 with 488 strikeouts, 17 shutouts and a 2.28 ERA in 147 starts and 163 games pitched. George Herman “Babe” Ruth was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and was a member of the famed “First Five” in the inaugural year of 1936. He ranks #1 all-time in career slugging percentage (.690), second in on-base percentage (.474) and RBI (2,213) and third in home runs (714) and walks (2,062). In 1998, The Sporting News voted him the Number One on “Baseball’s 100 Greatest Players” list. The World Series MVP Award is the Babe Ruth Award and Major League Baseball annually presents the Babe Ruth Home Run Award to MLB’s top home run hitter.
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