10 Babe Ruth Facts Every Baseball Fan Should Know

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April 26th, 2011 in Entertainment, Feature

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On April 27, 1947, Babe Ruth, a few short months after being diagnosed with malignant throat cancer, stood before the New York faithful in the house that he built and received the highest honor a true Yankee can receive — the retirement of his number. At the time, he and former teammate Lou Gehrig were the only Yankees to hold that distinction. Babe Ruth Day was not just a Yankees celebration, however — it was a league-wide celebration to commemorate the most beloved athlete in American history. If you spoke to any young boy at the time, whether he was from the Bronx or Omaha, he would invariably name the Sultan of Swat has his hero and could recite dozens of Ruth facts on command. But as time has passed, memories have faded and new heroes have been made, and newer generations of baseball fans haven't seemed to maintain the same appreciation for the most dominant player in the game's 142-year history. The following facts are reminders of his proficiency as an all-around player and transcendence as a star. These are just a few of the indelible marks he left on America's pastime.

  1. Ruth was bestowed the nickname "Babe" once he joined the Orioles: Nineteen years old and fresh out of St. Mary's Industrial School for Boys, George Herman Ruth, Jr. signed with the then-minor league Baltimore Orioles, his hometown team, for $250 in 1914. In order for the contract to be valid, Jack Dunn, owner and manager of the team, became Ruth's legal guardian — 25 was the age of majority at the time. When Orioles players first encountered Ruth, they referred to him as "Jack's newest babe," which thereafter stuck as "Babe" publicly. Interestingly, as his career progressed, his teammates refused to call him by "Babe," instead calling him "Bam," "Jidge" and "The Big Fellow."
  2. Ruth could've been a Philadelphia Athletic: Before the Red Sox jumped at the opportunity to acquire Ruth for cash, Dunn dangled him in front of Connie Mack, then the Athletics manager and part owner, who elected not to send $10,000 in exchange for Ruth, Ernie Shore and Ben Egan. Although the Athletics were the defending World Series champs and were in the process of winning their second consecutive AL championship, the organization was undergoing financial problems, and the team was dispersed after the season, resulting in eight straight last-place finishes starting in 1915. New York Giants manager John McGraw was angered that he wasn't offered Ruth, and chose to never do business with the Orioles again. That decision eventually cost him Lefty Grove.
  3. As a starting pitcher for the Red Sox, Ruth led the league in ERA: Most people know that Ruth played for the Red Sox before joining the Yankees and he initially made an impact as a starting pitcher. But it's often forgotten that the he became among the best pitchers in baseball once he reached his peak, leading the league in ERA (1.75), shutouts (nine) and complete games (23) in 1916. 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, once saying "I'd be the laughingstock of baseball if I took the best lefthander in the league and put him in the outfield." He eventually reconsidered.
  4. Ruth helped lead the Red Sox to the 1918 World Series title: 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, which was played in September because of the "Work or Fight" order of World War I, he pitched a shutout in Game 1 and won Game 4 while batting fourth — he's the only pitcher in World Series history to bat anywhere but ninth in the order. His hitting wasn't quite as effective, though, as he hit just .200 and only managed one extra-base hit, a triple.
  5. Ruth tossed 29 and 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings in the World Series, once a record: The streak started in Game 2 of the 1917 World Series after Ruth surrendered a first-inning solo homerun to Hi Myers of the Brooklyn Dodgers. He scattered just six hits in the next 13 innings en route to a 14-inning complete game victory. Sherry Smith was the losing pitcher, merely lasting 13 and 1/3 innings — both pitched two-game workloads by today's standards. The Sox won the Series in five games. Ruth's streak ended in the eighth inning of Game 4 of the 1918 World Series, when he gave up an RBI on a Charlie Hollocher groundout. The record stood for 43 years until Whitey Ford pitched 33 and 1/3 scoreless frames ending in the 1961 World Series.
  6. Ruth punched an ump and facilitated a perfect game — sort of: As with many other elite athletes through history, Ruth possessed an enormous ego and a temper to match. During a game he started versus the Senators in 1917, he allowed his temper to get the best of him, and ironically, it happened to be for the better. Incensed by the calls of umpire Brick Owens after walking the first batter he faced, Ruth was promptly ejected, causing him to strike Owens behind his left ear — he was later fined $100 for his actions. Policemen dragged Ruth off the field and Ernie Shore, whom was sold to the Red Sox by the Orioles with Ruth in 1914, replaced him on the mound. The runner was thrown out and Shore subsequently retired the next 26 batters, defeating the Senators 4-0. Originally recognized as a perfect game, it's technically considered a shared no-hitter today but referred to by many as an "unofficial" perfect game, a feat also accomplished by Harvey Haddix and Pedro Martinez.
  7. Ruth's sale to the Yankees made the team's owners the Red Sox's landlords: Of course, the famous — or infamous if you're a Red Sox fan — trade of Ruth to the Yankees for cash began the unfortunate Curse of the Bambino and Boston's 86-year World Series title drought. Ruth forced matters after the 1919 season when he threatened not to play without a salary increase, demanding the doubling of his salary to $20,000, which Red Sox owner Harry Frazee refused. The Sox floated several trade offers that were rejected, and ultimately had to decide on the White Sox's offer of Shoeless Joe Jackson and $60,000 or the Yankees' offer of $100,000. Franzee's official deal with the Yankees included a $300,000 loan backed by a mortgage on Fenway Park, which made the Yankee's owners the landlords of the Red Sox. In hindsight, it adds insult to injury. But Franzee was happy with the swap, justifying it by telling the The Boston Globe that "no club could have given me the equivalent in men without wrecking itself."
  8. Ruth didn't only break power records, he shattered them: In 1918, Ruth was finally given the opportunity to hit more regularly, tallying 11 homeruns, as previously mentioned, in 317 at-bats. The next year, he hit 29 in 432 at-bats, far surpassing Socks Seybold's American League record of 16, Gavvy Cravath's modern major league record of 24 and Buck Freeman's 19th century record of 25. 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. His record .847 slugging percentage stood until Barry Bonds broke it 2001. Currently, Ruth still boasts four of the 10 best single-season slugging percentages in baseball history. In 1921, he hit 59 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. Fourteen years later after his best season, he retired with 714 homeruns, more than twice as many as his nearest competitor. Hank Aaron broke the record in 1974.
  9. Ruth won only one MVP award: It may seem like a major injustice that he didn't win several MVP awards — Dale Murphy, for example, who isn't in the Hall of Fame, has two — but for a portion of Ruth's career, it either simply wasn't given or he wasn't eligible, as repeat winners weren't allowed. Considering that Barry Bonds currently holds the record with seven, it's interesting to speculate just how many Ruth could've won by today's standards. One metric that could be used to determine where he ranked statistically in each season during his career is Wins Above Replacement (WAR), which indicates how many more wins a player is worth than a replacement player. According to Baseball-Reference, he led the league in WAR 12 times. Accounting for the unique narratives provided by other successful players each season and the repetitiveness that would've come with winning 12 MVP awards, one could reasonably conclude that Ruth would have a total close to Bonds' seven.
  10. Ruth was the first high-dollar baseball player, setting the precedent for modern players: Upon joining the Yankees, Ruth received the $20,000 contract he requested from the Red Sox, and by 1930, his salary had risen to $80,000, by far the highest in baseball. He earned more than President Herbert Hoover, who made $75,000, which he rightly defended by saying "I know, but I had a better year than Hoover." When he retired, Gehrig became the highest-paid player in the league, earning $30,000 — much less than Ruth, but much more than baseball players earned before Ruth emerged as a star. Over the course of his career, Ruth made about a million dollars in salaries and bonuses and even more money from endorsements, writings and other ventures.

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