With the first official day of summer this past Tuesday, baseball finally takes over the sports page. Hockey and basketball seasons, nine months long, have finally finished with the Bruins duck boat tour of Fenway Park, a celebration for the ages.
When you start concentrating on baseball, it is hard, if not impossible, to consider that First Superstar, one George Herman Ruth, also known as “Babe.”
World class braggart LeBron James was not the first star to “take his talents” elsewhere. Babe Ruth took his from the Baltimore Orioles to our Red Sox to (boooo) the New York Yankees and cost the Sox a few World Series championships. If you are a Red Sox fan, you hate him almost as much as you love him.
He was absurdly talented and dominated his sport, like no other. He became so huge that when Japanese troops attacked in World War II, they shouted to American troops “To Hell with Babe Ruth.” Not Douglas McArthur. Not Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Babe Ruth.
Ruth was born in Baltimore and his father ran a bar on a spot now occupied by center field in Camden Yards. Ruth was a certified wild man, so wild that the family put him in a home at age 8. 8. Imagine that.
But his baseball talent was staggering. As a teenager, he signed for $250 with a minor league team of the Baltimore Orioles. For reasons lost in space, the Orioles couldn’t wait to get rid of him. But both the Philadelphia Athletics (yes, Philadelphia) and Cincinnati Reds balked at the extravagant $10,000 asking price. Instead, Cincinnati chose those baseball immortals George Twombly and Claude Derrick. On July 7, 1914, Ruth was sold instead to the Boston Red Sox.
I submit that Ruth is the greatest baseball player ever because he first gained fame as one of the best pitchers in the game before becoming a famous slugger. No one else has done that.
Amazingly, in 1916 Ruth lead the league in ERA (1.75), shutouts (nine) and complete games (23). From 1915 to 1917, he led all lefties in the majors in wins with 65. Because of his effectiveness on the mound, Red Sox manager Ed Barrow was reluctant to insert Ruth into the lineup. He said “I’d be the laughingstock of baseball if I took the best left-hander in the league and put him in the outfield.” He eventually reconsidered.
Ruth was the opening day starter yet ended the season leading the league in home runs (11) and slugging percentage (.555), and finishing second in on-base percentage (.411) and third in runs batted in (66). During the World Series against the Chicago Cubs (honest to God), he pitched a shutout in Game 1 and won Game 4 while batting fourth. He set a scoreless inning record that lasted until 1961.
The wild man also punched an umpire in the first inning of a game in 1917, was ejected and fined all of $100.
Everybody blames Broadway producer Harry Frazee for selling Ruth to the Yankees. But Ruth demanded a major pay increase from $10,000 all the way to $20,000.
Instead, Frazee sold Ruth, and all those World Series victories, for $100,000 plus a $300,000 loan. In effect the Yankees were the landlord of the Boston team and Frazee went on the Red Sox Hate Hall of Fame.
The baseball gods were so angry that they didn’t let the Red Sox win the World Series again for 86 years.
In 1920, his first year with the Yankees, he hit 54 in 457 at-bats, more than any other major league team aside from the Phillies. In 1921, he hit 59 home runs in 540 at-bats, breaking Roger Connor’s career homerun record of 136 and establishing his own that lasted until Roger Maris hit 61 in 1961. He retired with 714 home runs, more than twice as many as his nearest competitor. No steroids.
Hank Aaron broke the record in 1974.
In 1936, Ruth became the second player to be elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Ty Cobb was the first. But Ty Cobb never pitched.
Ruth also set numerous indoor records for drinking and partying which, some say, will never be matched. He was a national phenomenon and by 1930 was criticized for his salary of $80,000, topping that of President Herbert Hoover at $75,000.
Ruth famously said “I had a better year.”
Take that, LeBron.
He also said, “If I’d tried for them dinky singles I could’ve batted around 600.”
Imagine how much money Babe Ruth would make today. More than LeBron.
Have a nice summer.