Babe Ruth

It’s difficult now to imagine just how popular Babe Ruth was in his time, but he was more famous than the President of the United States. He was more well known than any film or radio star. More words were written about him than any other public figure in the 1920s and 1930s. During World War II, the Japanese, in an effort to piss off American soldiers, dropped leaflets that said “To hell with Babe Ruth!”

Babe Ruth became best known for hitting home runs – he won 12 home run titles, set the single-season home run mark four times, and retired with the most ever – 714. That 714 figure became a legendary number that was unmatched for 39 years until Hank Aaron caught The Bambino in 1974. But like Aaron, Ruth was much more than a home run hitter – he was a great hitter and a good ballplayer. Generations of fans have watched Ruth on old newsreels with thos skinny little legs, his tippy-toe running style, and that big gut, and they’ve thought of hims as a one-dimensional softball player-type all or nothing slugger. Nothing could be further from the truth. Ruth hit .342 for his career, one of the highest marks in the history of the game, in fact it trails only six players from the 20th century. Ruth was also an above average outfielder for most of his career, at least until he started to gain some more weight and lost some range in the late-1920s. His arm, of course, was quite good. He had bene the best left-handed pitcher in the American League before he was switched to right field by the Boston Red Sox.

Ruth had four seasons as a starting pitcher, 1915-1918. He was one of the very best pitchers in baseball over that stretch and probably the best left-hander in the entire game. His ERA over that time was lower than two southpaw pitchers who are in the Hall of Fame (Plank and Rixey).

Lowest ERA by Left-Handed Pitcher, 1915-1918
Babe Ruth … 2.05
Eddie Plank … 2.14
Eppa Rixey … 2.14
Hippo Vaughn … 2.19
Carl Weilman … 2.24

Remember, Ruth was just 20 years old in 1915 and 23 in 1918, the last season that he was a starting pitcher. If you want to understand what Ruth was like, imagine if the young, dominant Dwight Gooden had been moved to the outfield by the New York Mets and he proceeded to hit like Barry Bonds for the next decade.

Best Season: From July 27 to August 30, 1923, Ruth was as hot as he ever was in his career. Over that stretch he reached base in every one of the 29 games he and the Yankees played. But even though he was getting pitched around a lot (Lou Gehrig wasn’t behind him in the order yet), the Babe was hitting when he did get a good pitch: he was 50-for-100 (.500) over that stretch. Nearly half of his pitches were for extra-bases: 13 doubles, two triples, nine homers for 24 extra-base hits. He drove in 32 runs and scored 32. His on-base percentage (.624) and slugging percentage (.940) are other-worldly. Amazingly, the Yankees only went 15-14 in those 29 games. But they were already 14 1/2 games in front in the American League pennant race, so it didn’t really matter. Ruth hit a career-high .393 that season with 41 homers, 131 RBI, 151 runs, and 170 walks – all league-leading totals. In October, the Babe led the Yankees to their first World Series title and after the season he won his only MVP Award.