Though Babe Ruth was a skillful pitcher, the Red Sox--whose
starting rotation in 1914 was already stacked with lefties--made
little use of him. After two mediocre starts, and a 1-1 record,
he was benched for several weeks before being sent back to the
International League with the Providence (RI) Grays, where
pitching in combination with the young Carl Mays, Ruth helped
the Grays win the IL pennant. At the end of the season the Red
Sox recalled him, and he was back in the majors permanently.
Shortly afterwards Ruth proposed to Helen Woodford, a waitress
he met in Boston, and they were married in Baltimore on October
During spring training the next season, Ruth secured a spot as a Boston starter. With such talents as Rube Foster, Dutch Leonard and a rejuvenated Smokey Joe Wood the pitchers carried the Red Sox to the pennant. Ruth won 18 games and lost 8 and helped himself with the bat, hitting .315 and slugging his first four major league home runs. The Red Sox won the World Series by 4 games to 1, but because manager Bill Carrigan preferred right-handers, Ruth did not pitch and grounded out in his only at bat.
In 1916 Babe Ruth returned to the rotation although the teams offense had been weakened by the sale of Tris Speaker to the Cleveland. After a slightly shaky spring, this season gave him a legitimate claim as the best pitcher in the American League. Ruth's 1.75 ERA was best in the AL, and was over a run below the league average. He won 23 games, lost 12 and threw nine shutouts, still the best mark for a left hander as well as a Red Sox record. Pitching again took the light-hitting Sox to the World Series, in which Ruth pitched a 14-inning complete game to beat the Brooklyn Robins as Boston again won by 4 games to 1. He repeated his strong performance in 1917, going 24-13, but the Red Sox, who could not keep pace with the Chicago White Sox 100 wins, missed out on a third straight postseason appearance. More importantly, however, Ruth began to show his true skill as a hitter, compiling a .325 batting average and sending 11 of his 40 hits for extra bases.
It was apparent Babe Ruth was more valuable in the lineup as an everyday player. In 1918, he began playing in the outfield more and pitching less. His contemporaries thought this was ridiculous: former teammate Tris Speaker speculated the move would shorten Ruth's career. By 1919 Ruth was basically a fulltime outfielder, pitching in only 17 of the 130 games in which he appeared. He set his first single-season home run record that year, smacking 29 with the Red Sox, breaking the previous record, while hitting .322 and driving in 114 runs. News of his batting feats spread rapidly, and wherever he played large crowds turned out to see him. As his fame spread, so did his waistline. Since his time as an Oriole, teammates had marveled at Ruth's capacity for food and by 1919 his physique had changed from the tall athletic frame of 1916 to a rotund shape with which he was usually associated. Beneath his barrel shaped body, his powerful muscular legs seemed strangely thin, but he was still a capable base-runner and outfielder. Contemporary Ty Cobb would later remark that Ruth "ran OK for a fat man".
Despite the box office appeal of Babe Ruth, the Red Sox were in a parlous financial position. In his desire to attract the best players, owner Harry Frazee had paid relatively large salaries throughout the war years. However, the team's failure to make the 1919 World Series and Frazee's own failings as a theater promoter meant that by the end of the year, he needed an influx of cash to stay afloat. His only available source of money was his players, and so he offered the best of them to the New York Yankees, until then a perennial second division team. For a sum of $125,000 and a loan of more than $300,000 (secured on Fenway Park itself), Ruth was sold to the Yankees on January 3.
Almost immediately, Babe Ruth began to pay off on his investment. He trained extensively over the winter, which was by no means always the case, and turned up at spring training in fine condition. When the season started, it was clear that the more hitter-friendly Polo Grounds suited him, and that he would soon eclipse his previous mark for home runs. As rumors of the Black Sox slowly leaked out, Ruth was terrorizing opposing pitching, and putting together an offensive season that stands among the finest ever recorded. In addition to hitting 54 home runs, smashing his year-old record, he hit .376 (4th in the league), drove in 137 runs and scored 150 (both best in the league) and his 150 walks contributed to him getting on base in more than half his plate appearances. He stole 14 bases and his slugging percentage (a monumental .847) set a record that would not be beaten for over 80 years.
Babe Ruth followed the unprecedented success of 1920 with more of the same the following year. Hitting .376 in 152 games, he drove in 171 runs and scored 177, and finished just percentage points below his 1920 figures for slugging and reaching base. Most astonishingly, he broke the home run record for the third straight year, clouting 59 round trippers. Along with the pitching of Carl Mays, Waite Hoyt and Bob Shawkey, the bats of Ruth and Bob Meusel would carry the Yankees to their first ever World Series, a 5-3 loss to their NY rival Giants. Game 4 also saw Ruth hit his first post season home run.
The World Series appearance would lead to problems for Babe
Ruth. Seeking to avoid diminishing the meaning of the fall
classic, organized baseball prohibited World Series players from
playing in exhibition games during the off-season. Ruth,
typically, decided this rule did not apply to him and embarked
on his usual lucrative barnstorming tour with two teammates.
Commissioner Landis came down hard on the recalcitrant players,
suspending Ruth for the first six weeks of what was to be a
turbulent 1922 season. On his return the Yankees management
named Ruth their first on-field captain. Five days later, on May
25 he was ejected for arguing an umpire's call at third, and
exacerbated the situation by climbing into the seats to confront
a heckling fan. The captaincy was stripped, and Ruth's
aggressiveness would see him suspended three more times in 1922,
for arguing with umpires.
While Babe Ruth suffered his first professional set back, his personal life was in a worse state. Helen Ruth, who disliked the celebrity lifestyle to which the Babe was drawn, was bought a farm near Boston where she moved back with their newly adopted daughter, Dorothy. Free from the eyes of his wife, Ruth embraced the lifestyle even more fully. His love of fine food, undiminished over the years, was matched by his appetites for liquor, nightlife and casual s--.
His boisterous social life, as well as missed playing time, seemed to affect his on-field play. His batting, on-base and slugging averages all fell dramatically (to a still-impressive .315/.434/.672) and for the first time since he became a full-time outfielder he failed to win the home run title, hitting 35, two fewer than Tilly Walker of the Philadelphia Athletics. His poor form would continue into the World Series, when the Yankees were again defeated by the Giants (4-0, with one tie) in a series in which Ruth hit only one single and one double in 17 at-bats.
In 1929, the Yankees introduced uniform numbers. Since Babe Ruth batted third in the order, he was assigned number 3. Eventually, uniform numbers were associated with players without regard to batting order, but Babe Ruth was associated with number 3 and the Yankees retired the number (on June 13, 1948, the first uniform number to be retired by the Yankees).
For the first 40 years of his life many people, Babe Ruth included, believed his birthdate to have been February 7, 1894. Most contemporary accounts, therefore, will contain inaccurate accounts of Ruth's age.
See also: The Curse of the Bambino
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