Babe Ruth: Just How Great Was He? A Look Back at the Sultan of Swat.
Posted by RichieZ23 on March 10, 2010
Babe Ruth. The Great Bambino. The Sultan of Swat. Whatever you want to call him, George Herman Ruth is one of the best baseball players to ever step foot on a baseball diamond, and by far the most influential. Quite simply, no one has ever revolutionized the game of baseball like Ruth has.
Ruth signed his first professional contract with a minor league club on Valentine’s Day 1914 that was that start of one of the most game-changing careers in sports history.
A Man and Decade Never Seen Before
The decade of the twenties saw something that had not been seen before in America — an economic boom, which in turn helped catapult Ruth to a level of fame and prominence that few athletes had seen. The Roaring Twenties epitomized by Ruth. With the end of World War I, a post-war economy was upon America. With leisure time being focused for the first time in American history, more people were coming to the ballpark to try and get a glimpse of something that had never been seen before in baseball.
Ruth hit the long ball like no other player had ever done before. Not only did he hit home-runs, but he crushed them, sending balls over outfield fences further than anyone had ever seen. This is part of what made Ruth so remarkable. Before Ruth stepped onto the batting scene (he was a pitcher for the first few years of his career) there were very few home runs. This time in major league history is known as the dead-ball era, since there were so few runs, and pitching largely dominated the game.
Ruth changed that, and forever changed the game of baseball. Below is an excerpt from the New York Times dated June 18, 1920:
“A gale was blowing down through the center field. It was a cold, blustering wind, coming off the lake on a big blow from the Straits of Mackinaw. The raw, biting gale blew right into Ruth’s face as he stood at the bat. He crushed the ball right into the teeth of the wind. This same wind had stopped the flight of every other fly ball during the game, but it couldn’t stop this one. The ball rose higher and higher and bored its way through the northeaster, sailing high over the heads of the hysterical fans in the right field bleachers. The ball looked as if it were going right out of Cook County. When it disappeared, it was well on its way to Michigan Boulevard. Ruth had put the ball over these bleachers once before, but it was not such a gigantic jolt as this one.”
A New Age of Baseball
The Ruth era in New York began on just the third day of 1920. On January 3, 1920, Boston Red Sox owner Harry Frazee sold Ruth to the Yankees for $125,000, and a $300,000 loan which was secured on Fenway Park. The $125,000 sale was the highest sale for any player in the history of baseball at that time, according to a New York times article published just days after the sale.
As a result, the New York Yankees became the first team to draw more than one million fans to a ballpark, as in 1920 the Yankees drew nearly 1.3 million people to home games, more than double the attendance of any other team.
Ruth’s career exploded when he put on a Yankees jersey. In the offseason he trained vigorously, showed up to training camp in 1920 in the best shape of his young career, and the results were phenomenal. That season he annihilated his previous record of 29 homers in a season he set the year before when he crushed a whopping 54 home runs. Back in 1920 barely removed from the “dead-ball” era this feat is just unheard of. To put it in perspective, Ruth hit more home runs by himself than every other TEAM in the majors except one. Ruth also set the record in slugging percentage (.847) a record that was just recently broken by Barry Bonds in 2001. Besides these records he also led the league in batting average (.376), runs (158), runs batted in (137), and bases on balls (148).
An article published by the New York Times just after Ruth was sold to New York had this to say about the potential for Ruth’s 1920 season:
“The short right field wall at the Polo Grounds should prove an easy target for Ruth next season and, playing 77 games at home, it would not be surprising if Ruth surpassed his own home-run record of 29 circuit clouts next summer.”
As impressive of a season Ruth played in 1920, he was just getting started.
His 1921 season is unparalleled to any other individual performance in all of sports history. In one season, Ruth managed to break four batting records. He again broke his former single season home run mark, this time smashing 59 home runs.(Babe Ruth) His 457 total bases, 171 runs batted in, and 177 runs scored also were all records at the time.(Babe Ruth Stats) What is astounding is that at this point in his career, Ruth had already hit more home runs than anyone in baseball history, yet Ruth was only 26!
No One is Perfect
Babe Ruth was human though. Surprisingly, Ruth had one of his worst statistic seasons in 1922, a year after having one of the most remarkable individual seasons in all of sports history. It was mainly due to the fact that he didn’t play a large portion of the season. He was suspended for the first six weeks of the ’22 season due to traveling with a barnstorming team in the off-season. He was suspended again later in the season for throwing dirt in an umpires eyes and going after a fan. Another altercation with a fan brought him another suspension. All in all, Ruth was suspended for nearly 1/3 of the entire 1922 season, but still managed to hit 35 home runs.
Success Breeds Success
With the success that Babe was achieving, it is no coincidence that the Yankees lead the league in attendance and their revenue grew rapidly. A new stadium named Yankee Stadium was built in the Bronx for 2.5 million dollars and opened in the spring of 1923. Fittingly, it was nicknamed “The House that Ruth Built” due in large part that he alone basically sold the tickets and packed the house night in and night out.
The 1925 season is by far Ruth’s worst season of his career as a starter, and the Yankees worst season in the Ruth era. A stomach illness forced Ruth to undergo surgery during the season. He returned in late May of ’25, but obviously he wasn’t the same Babe. He had lost 30 pounds, his strength had diminished, and he didn’t have his home run swing. With the loss of Ruth and other factors, the Yankees struggled to a mere 69-85 record.
The 1927 Yankees are quite possibly the best team baseball has ever seen. The team had so much talent they were dubbed “Murderer’s Row”. During this dream season for the Yanks, they posted a remarkable record of 110-44, while outscoring their opponents by an unheard of 376 runs.
Babe looked rejuvenated and his play reflected that. Ruth reached the pinnacle of his popularity during this season. Babe and teammate Gehrig battled all season long for the home run lead. During the last month of the season Ruth went on a tear and ended up breaking his own record again with 60 home runs. This was equivalent to 14% of the ENTIRE league’s home runs. For a player nowadays to accomplish that feat, he would have to hit over 300 home runs.
The Yankees swept through the postseason eventually winning their second World Series. The 1928 season wasn’t as glamorous, yet the results were the same. Ruth dominated, while hitting over 50 homers for the 4th time in his career.(Babe Ruth Stats) While Ruth started off the season on a streak, he cooled off during the latter part as did the Yankees. They almost blew their chance at getting into the playoffs, but came though when it mattered. They won the World Series for the 2nd consecutive year.
While Ruth continued to have success, his play would start to decline, as age would start to catch up with him as it does with any athlete. He eventually signed with Boston again in 1935, although he would only play in a handful of games before retiring shortly into the ’35 season.
The Roaring Twenties and the emergence and presence of Ruth go hand in hand. In a way they are one in the same. No one had ever seen anything quite like them, and their presence drastically altered the shape of sport and global history.
When it comes to baseball, no one has revolutionized the game quite like Ruth has.