New York Yankees: Countdown to Opening Day #3
New York Yankees baseball is now three days away. As my countdown to Opening Day series winds down, I had to dig deep to find people to write about in the last three articles. For number three, I stumbled upon some lady named “Baby Ruth” who wore the number three in pinstripes. Sandlot quotes aside, I am of course referring to the great Babe Ruth.
The Great Bambino, The Sultan of Swat, the greatest baseball player that ever lived. These are just a few names that George Herman “Babe” Ruth has been referred to over the years. Ruth played 22 seasons in Major League Baseball. After six seasons with the Boston Red Sox, Ruth was sold to the New York Yankees in 1919.[Milkins]
Before his days as a Yankee, Ruth was one of the best pitchers the game had seen. In five full seasons as a pitcher, he went 87-45 with a 2.16 ERA and 1.140 WHIP. He amassed 1167.1 innings, averaging 233 a season. Many believe that Ruth could have been an all-time great pitcher, but his hitting abilities were far too great to not be utilized full-time. The Red Sox started to use Ruth as a hitter in 1917 and became a primarily offensive player in 1918.
Ruth experienced his first full season as an offensive player in 1919. He would go on to lead the league in runs, 103, homers, 29, and RBI, 113. In 1920, Ruth was officially a Yankee, and his days as a pitcher were over. He quickly broke the record for home runs in a season, which he set the year before, with an unfathomable 54 bombs. He did it again the following year with 59, and again in 1927 with 60.
In 1923, the Yankees played their first home game outside of the Polo Grounds, in their brand new stadium located in the Bronx. Yankee Stadium, which was opened in April of 1923, was designed with Ruth in mind. The right-field fence was built closer to home plate, to help make home runs easier for left-handed hitters like Ruth. Obviously, the iconic short porch at Yankee Stadium still exists today.
In the first game at the Stadium on April 18, 1923, the Babe hit the first home run in the park. This would quickly dub the new stadium “the House that Ruth Built.” Ruth finished the 1923 season batting .393 with a league-leading 41 homers and 130 RBI en route to an MVP award. They christened their new ballpark with a third straight World Series appearance and the first title in Yankees franchise history.
Four years later, Ruth would be the centerpiece of the greatest baseball team the game has ever seen. In 1927, Ruth sat at the heart of a lineup consisting of Hall of Famers Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri, and Earle Combs among others. The team was known as “Murderer’s Row” and went on to win a then-record 110 games.
They won the AL pennant by 19 games and won their second franchise World Series title with ease. With the pennant race locked up early, the main focus was on Ruth’s pursuit of his own single-season home run record. He accomplished the feat, hitting 60 homers, a record that stood for over thirty years.
Ruth’s productivity never slowed, as he helped the Yankees win two more World Series titles in 1928 and 1932. In 1933, Athletics manager Connie Mack selected the Babe to play right field in the first ever major league Baseball All-Star Game. In typical Babe Ruth fashion, he would hit the first ever home run in the All-Star Game’s history, which helped the American League win the game 4-2.
After breaking the home run record the first time in 1919, Ruth would never let up. The home runs just kept coming. It was no surprise that he was the clear Home Run King at the end of his career. He led the league in homers 12 times, RBI five times, runs eight times, and walks 11 times.
Pitchers never wanted to pitch to him, and the few times they did he would send the ball flying out of the park. His 714 career homers didn’t signify that he was an all-or-nothing hitter, as his .342 lifetime average ranks among the best.
Years after his career ended, and even to this day, Babe Ruth’s legacy lives on. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame as one of its “first five” inaugural members in 1936. In 1948, the New York Yankees retired Ruth’s number three. A year later, the Yankees erected a granite monument in center field of Yankee Stadium. Babe Ruth’s number three in pinstripes will forever be one of the most recognizable numbers in sports history.