A Tribute To...Babe Ruth
Barney Corkhill's A Tribute To... series moves to look at baseball. In this series I look at the greatest talents to grace various sports.
In the first baseball tribute I look at perhaps the biggest legend in baseball history. He was the most dominant players of his generation, and a genuine all-rounder, able to pitch, hit and field to great effect.
I speak, of course, of the late, great Babe Ruth.
On February 6th, 1895, George Herman Ruth Jr was born in Baltimore, Maryland. He was born to Germany/American parents, who parented eight children. Tragically, however, only two of these, Babe Ruth and sister Mamie Ruth, survived past infancy.
With a family who had to work full-time to earn a living, Babe Ruth had to find his own way in the early years of his life. He had a fairly troublesome childhood, stealing, drinking and swearing when just five years old.
In 1902, Ruth's parents lost patience with him, and carted the troublesome child off to St Mary's Industrial School for Boys. It was a school for boys who were deemed "incurably bad." Even so, Ruth's behaviour even at the school was so bad that he was often sent home, only to be repeatedly returned by his parents.
It was at this school that Ruth discovered baseball. A man called Brother Matthias took the young Ruth under his wing and taught him the basics of batting and fielding. He showed his potential from an early age. It was Brother Matthias who later taught Ruth to pitch as well.
In 1914, a man named Jack Dunn was alerted of Ruth's talents. He watched Ruth in action and immediately drew up a contract, which Ruth signed. The contract meant that Ruth had signed for the minor league Baltimore Orioles, and that Dunn was now Ruth's legal guardian.
It was here that Ruth gained the nickname "Babe," due to his youthfulness compared with the rest of the squad. It was a nickname that stuck for the rest of his life, and beyond.
After making his name quickly at Baltimore Orioles, Babe Ruth was involved in trading talk. After being offered to three clubs, on July 9, 1914, Ruth moved to Boston Red Sox.
The young Babe Ruth appeared in five Major League games for Red Sox in his first year, used as a pitcher in four of those. The Red Sox already had a talented and star-studded squad, however, so Babe Ruth soon found himself optioned back to the minor leagues, this time with Providence Grays.
He helped the Grays to the International League pennant, and finished the season with a 2-1 record. He was soon back in the Red Sox set-up and was fighting for a spot in the starting rotation. It wasn't long before he joined a big-name pitching staff.
Ruth lost just eight games that season, winning 18 and hit a very respectable .315, including his first four home runs. The Red Sox went on to win the World Series that year.
The next year he went 23-12, despite having a few periods when he wasn't on his best form. He also recorded nine shutouts, which was an AL record at the time (and remained so for another 60 years) and had a 1.75 Earned Run Average (ERA).
On June 27, he struck out 10 opponents, giving him his best career statistics, and just two weeks later he started both games of a double-header. Again the Red Sox got to the World Series, where they beat the Brooklyn Robins, with Babe Ruth making a huge contribution pitching a 14-inning complete game victory in one of the five games.
1917 was an eventful year for Ruth. On a high note he went 24-13 with a 2.01 ERA and six shutouts. He helped the Red Sox to second in the league, also weighing in by hitting .325.
Despite these high points, this season will be remembered more for the controversy that surrounded Babe Ruth. On June 23, Ruth showed a glimpse of the anger and violence which plagued him in his childhood by aiming a punch at the umpire. He was banned for ten games. If he had made contact, perhaps we would have never seen the Babe Ruth that has gone into legend.
During 1918, Ruth started being used more in the outfield. He was getting the chance to become a hitter as well as a pitcher, a move which Ruth was very much in favour of. He proved it was the right decision after he hit 11 home runs, a number which topped the league's home run charts for that season, and batted .300.
He still pitched in 20 games that year, with a 13-7 record and a 2.22 ERA. Once again he was clouded in controversy during this year after he walked off the team after an argument with his manager.
During the 1919 season, Ruth's last with the Red Sox, he was used mostly as a hitter. He only pitched in 17 games that season, out of the 130 he played. With the bat he had his best year yet as he hit 29 home runs, a record at the time.
At the end of 1919, however, Ruth was transferred to the struggling New York Yankees for a fee thought to be $500,000 overall. The reasons why Ruth was transferred remain unclear, with reasons ranging from Ruth wanted a pay rise and being disruptive to the manager needed money to fund a Broadway play.
The move to the New York Yankees seemed to galvanize Babe Ruth. In his first year he hit 54 home runs, smashing the old record he himself had set. He batted .376 and had a slugging average of .847, a record which lasted for more than 80 years. Such was his dominance that, other than the Yankees, only one team, the Philadelphia Phillies, managed to hit more home runs than Babe Ruth on his own.
His transition from effective pitcher to world class batter was complete.
It seemed impossible to improve on his 1920 season. Yet, somehow, he did. In 1921, Ruth hit perhaps the pinnacle of his career. He beat his 1920 statistics by hitting 59 home runs, again beating his own record, and batting .378. One of the few statistics he failed to better on was the slugging average, which was this time .846.
This slugging average was the highest with 500+ at-bats in a season. It was this season that Ruth broke another record as well—the home run record. He hit his 139th home run, overtaking Roger Connor as the man with the most home runs in history.
He also hit what is thought to be the biggest home run in baseball history, a mammoth 575 feet, in 1921. He also set records in total bases, with 457, extra base hits, with 119 and times on base, with 379. All these records still stand today.
Along with all this individual success, Ruth guided the Yankees to their first league championship, but they just missed out on winning the World Series, the reason largely being attributed to Ruth gaining an injury.
More controversy surrounded Ruth that summer, as he played in an exhibition game during the off-season,which members of the World Series weren't allowed to do, ending in a six week suspension. Despite this, Ruth was named as captain of the Yankees.
His captaincy was short-lived, however, as just five days after being named captain, he threw dirt at an umpire, and even climbed into the crowd to confront a heckler. Once more Babe Ruth was making headlines for the wrong reasons. He was stripped of the captaincy.
Despite a season interrupted by bans and other factors, Ruth still managed to hit 35 home runs, and the Yankees managed to make the World Series, which they lost for the second successive year.
In 1923, the Yankees moved to the Yankee Stadium, where they stayed until the recent move in 2008. It was quickly dubbed "The House That Ruth Built." That season he recorded a career high .393 batting average and hit another 41 home runs, again leading the league's charts.
For the third year in a row, Babe Ruth and the Yankees made it to the World Series and, for the third year in a row, they faced the Giants. After losing the first two, the Yankees had a point to prove. Some fantastic performances from Babe Ruth, including a slugging average of 1.000, helped the Yankees to their first ever World Series.
In 1924, only failure to score more runs than Goose Goslin prevented Ruth from winning the triple crown. 1925, however, was not such a good year. Illness ravaged Ruth, and his statistics were a lot less impressive than his usual standard. The Yankees suffered from this, finishing second bottom in the league.
In 1926, however, he was back to his big-hitting best. He hit another 47 home runs, helping the Yankees to another AL title and a place in the World Series, which they eventually lost.
In 1927, Ruth was again captain of the New York Yankees. The 1927 Yankees team is one of the greatest ever assembled. With a batting line-up full of huge hitters, the Yankees won a record 110 AL matches, and went on to easily win the 1927 World Series.
It was this season which Ruth dramatically beat his own home run record. After a fantastic finish to the season, he ended with a phenomenal 60 home runs, beating his previous record by just one.
He looked like threatening that record in the very next season, after making a great start to it. But injury slowed him down and he finished the season with a still highly respectable 54 home runs, the fourth time he had passed 50 home runs in a season.
Another dominant performance from Babe Ruth and the Yankees in the 1928 World Series secured their third Series title.
Ruth continued to hit more home runs than anyone else in the league even when the Yankees began a decline over the next three season. In 1932, however, they enjoyed a resurgence, reaching and winning the World Series. In this Series Ruth made what is now known as Babe Ruth's Called Shot, in which he pointed to where he was planning to hit the ball, indicating a home run, and then did exactly that.
As Ruth's figures declined, he knew his career was coming to an end, despite his statistics still being impressive for any other player.
In 1935, Ruth was transferred to Boston Braves, and such was his importance, even at his age, that he was made vice-president, assistant manager and co-owner of the team. Despite all this, he retired later that year.
He ended his record-breaking career with a batting average of .342, and hit a total of 714 home runs. He was the first player to hit 30, 40, 50 and 60 home runs in one season, won the AL MVP once.
He was a seven times World Series Champion and will be forever remembered as one of the, if not the, greatest baseball player to have ever lived, this has been a tribute to Babe Ruth.
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