Babe Ruth Biography
As a youngster growing up on the streets of Baltimore, Ruth was completely incorrigible, spending much of his time in St. Mary’s Industrial School for repeatedly running afoul of the law. Raised primarily by his father, a saloon-keeper who frequently took to beating his son as a form of punishment, Ruth finally was admitted to St. Mary’s at an early age after his parents grew weary of trying to keep him out of trouble. It was in the boys’ home that the gangly and awkward-looking young man learned to harness his great energy and play the game of baseball. Ruth was released by Father Gilbert to pitch for the Baltimore Orioles of the International League in 1912 after Gilbert persuaded Baltimore’s owner-manager Jack Dunn to become the 17-year-old’s guardian. The nickname “Babe” soon became affixed to the rambunctious teenager, who spent the next two years pitching for the Orioles before the Boston Red Sox purchased his contract in 1914. The 19-year-old lefthander made his major league debut with the team later that year, appearing in four games and winning two of his three decisions. Ruth became a regular member of Boston’s starting rotation the following year, compiling a record of
18-8 and an outstanding 2.44 earned run average for the eventual world champions.
Ruth developed into arguably the best lefthanded pitcher in baseball in 1916, winning 23 games, completing 23 of his 41 starts, throwing 323 innings, and leading the league with a 1.75 ERA and nine shutouts. The Red Sox won the American League pennant, and Ruth helped them defeat Brooklyn in the World Series, allowing only one run and six hits during a 14-inning, 2-1 complete-game victory in his only start. Ruth had another
sensational season in 1917, winning 24 games, compiling a 2.01 ERA, and leading the league with 35 complete games. However, the Babe began to demonstrate over the course of that 1917 campaign that he also was quite proficient as a hitter, compiling a .325 batting average in his 123 at-bats. Boston subsequently decided to expand Ruth’s role as a hitter the following year, reducing his number of mound appearances and placing him in the outfield on those days he didn’t pitch. Ruth responded by excelling in both areas. In addition to winning 13 of his 20 decisions and compiling an outstanding 2.22 ERA, he batted .300 and led the league with 11 home runs, while totaling only 317 official plate appearances. Ruth then helped the Red Sox capture their third World Series in four seasons, continuing his streak of 29 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings in the Fall Classic, a mark that stood for 43 years. Although Ruth continued to pitch sporadically in 1919, he spent most of his time in the outfield, batting .322 and leading the American League with 29 home runs, 114 runs batted in, 103 runs scored, a .456 on-base percentage, and a .657 slugging percentage.
Fast-becoming baseball’s most popular and recognizable figure, Ruth demanded to be paid as such. However, Red Sox owner Harry Frazee, a theatrical producer who was deep in debt, refused to meet his disgruntled outfielder’s demands. More concerned with financing a Broadway show called No, No, Nanette, Frazee sold Ruth to the New York Yankees for $100,000 in December of 1919, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Ruth compiled astounding numbers his first year in New York, batting .376 and leading the American League with 54 home runs, 137 runs batted in, 158 runs scored, a .530 on-base percentage, and an .847 slugging percentage. The Babe’s level of dominance was so great that his 54 home runs were almost three times as many as the 19 homers league-runnerup George Sisler hit for the St. Louis Browns. In fact, the rest of the American League combined to hit only 315 long balls. Ruth’s .847 slugging percentage was also 215 points higher than the mark of .632 posted by Sisler, who finished second in that category as well. The Yankees improved their win total from 80 the previous season to 95 in 1920, and they finished just three games behind the pennant-winning Cleveland Indians.
Fans of the game began coming out to ballparks in droves to watch Ruth hit a baseball farther than they previously imagined possible. Babe didn’t disappoint them in the least in 1921, batting .378, leading the league with a .512 on-base percentage and an .846 slugging percentage, and establishing new major league records with 59 home runs, 171 runs batted in, and 177 runs scored. Many baseball historians still consider Ruth’s 1921 campaign to be the greatest ever turned in by any player. Babe’s slugging figures once again surpassed those of every other player by an incredibly wide margin. His 59 homers were 35 more than the 24 Ken Williams hit for the Browns, and his .846 slugging percentage was more than 200 points higher than the mark of .639 Rogers Hornsby posted for the Cardinals in the National League. The Yankees captured their first pennant in 1921, compiling a record of 98-55 and finishing 4 ½ games ahead of second-place Cleveland. However, they lost the World Series to the Giants, with whom they shared New York’s Polo Grounds.
Ruth’s raucous ways began to catch up with him in 1922. He ignored Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis’s ban on barnstorming in the off-season and traveled with his own All-Star team. He was suspended for 39 days as a result of his transgression, causing him to miss the start of the regular season. In May, he threw dirt in an umpire’s eyes, took off after a heckler in the stands, and then proceeded to stand on the dugout roof, shaking his fist and yelling at the fans in attendance, “You’re all yellow!” when they booed him. He was suspended again. Ruth was suspended for a third time in September when he had another run-in with a fan. He ended up missing nearly a third of the 1922 campaign, although he still managed to finish among the league leaders with 35 home runs and 99 runs batted in, while topping the circuit with a .672 slugging percentage. The Yankees won the A.L. pennant again, but they were defeated by the Giants in the World Series for the second straight year. Hardly himself during the Fall Classic, Ruth batted just .118 against the cross-town rivals.
Ruth returned to the Yankees a humbled man in 1923, the year in which the team first began playing its home games in Yankee Stadium. Appearing in all of New York’s 152 games, Ruth batted a career-high .393 and led the American League with 41 home runs, 131 runs batted in, 151 runs scored, a .545 on-base percentage, a .764 slugging percentage, and an American League record 170 walks. The Yankees won 98 games to easily win the A.L. pennant, and Babe was named the league’s Most Valuable Player. The team then captured its first world championship, defeating the Giants in six games in the World Series. Ruth batted .368 during the Series and hit three home runs, despite receiving a total of eight walks.
The Yankees failed to repeat as American League champions in 1924, finishing just two games behind the first-place Washington Senators. Yet, Ruth had another great year,
driving in 121 runs and leading the league with 46 home runs, 143 runs scored, a .378 batting average, a .513 on-base percentage, and a .739 slugging percentage.
A serious illness caused Ruth to miss two months of the 1925 campaign, limiting him to only 25 home runs, 66 runs batted in, and 61 runs scored – easily his lowest totals since becoming an everyday player in 1919. With Babe absent from their lineup much of the year, the Yankees fell to seventh place in the American League, 28 ½ games behind the pennant-winning Senators.
Babe rededicated himself to his sport after he was scolded by none other than the President of the United States at the conclusion of the 1925 season for “letting down the nation’s youth.” Returning to the New York lineup with a vengeance, Ruth batted .372 and led the league with 47 home runs, 146 runs batted in, and 139 runs scored. The Yankees won 91 games to capture the American League pennant. However, they were subsequently upset by the Cardinals in seven games in the World Series. Although New York came up short in the Fall Classic, Ruth made baseball history, becoming the first player to hit three home runs in a World Series contest, a 10-5 Yankee victory in Game Four. Babe batted .300, drove in five runs, received 11 walks, and hit New York’s only four home runs during the Series.
Along with teammate Lou Gehrig, the 32-year-old Ruth led the famed 1927 Murderers Row New York Yankees to one of the most dominant single season performances in baseball history. Angered by their World Series loss to the Cardinals the previous season, the Yankees approached the 1927 campaign as if they had something to prove. They proceeded to post an astounding 110-44 record during the regular season, with Ruth and Gehrig forming the greatest one-two punch the game has ever seen. The two sluggers waged an assault on the Babe’s single-season record of 59 home runs, which he established six years earlier. A phenomenal month of September enabled Ruth to pull away from his teammate in the home run race, as he finished the campaign with 60 long balls to break his own record. Babe also knocked in 164 runs, batted .356, and led the league with 158 runs scored, a .487 on-base percentage, and a .772 slugging percentage.
The Yankees then disposed of the Pittsburgh Pirates in four straight games in the World Series, outscoring their overmatched opponents by a total margin of 23-10. Ruth batted an even .400 during the sweep, driving in seven runs and hitting the only two home runs struck by either team during the Series.
Ruth continued his prolific slugging in 1928, hitting a league-leading 54 home runs, to top the 50-homer mark for the fourth and final time in his career. He also led the league with 142 runs batted in, 163 runs scored, and a .709 slugging percentage. The Yankees repeated as American League champions and then gained a measure of revenge against St. Louis in the World Series by vanquishing the Cardinals in four straight games. Ruth batted .635 during the Series, drove in four runs, and duplicated his 1926 feat by hitting three home runs in one World Series game – New York’s championship-clinching Game Four victory.
Although the combination of a superb Philadelphia Athltetics team and an aging and substandard pitching staff in New York prevented the Yankees from winning the American League pennant in either 1929, 1930, or 1931, Ruth continued his assault on American League pitching. He led the league in both home runs and slugging percentageall three years, hitting a total of 141 homers during that three-year period, knocking in a total of 470 runs, and posting batting averages of .345, .359, and .373.
Although Ruth began to show signs of aging for the first time in 1932, the 37-year-old slugger still had an outstanding year, hitting 41 homers, driving in 137 runs, scoring 120 others, batting .341, and leading the league with a .489 on-base percentage. The Yankees returned to the top of the American League standings, finishing 13 games ahead of the second-place Athletics, before sweeping the Chicago Cubs in four straight games in the World Series. Ruth added to his legend in Game Three of the Series when he hit his famous “called shot” against Chicago pitcher Charlie Root during New York’s 7-5 victory. Babe batted .333 in his final World Series appearance, with two home runs and six runs batted in.
Ruth had his last productive season in 1933, hitting 34 home runs, driving in 103 runs, and batting .301. The aging slugger became merely a member of teammate Lou Gehrig’s supporting cast the following year, as the Yankee first baseman won the American League triple crown by topping the circuit with 49 homers, 165 runs batted in, and a .363 batting average. Ruth hit only 22 home runs, knocked in just 84 runs, and batted only .288. He was subsequently released by the Yankees at the end of the year, and he finished his career with the lowly Boston Braves in 1935, appearing in only 28 games and batting just .181 in his 72 official plate appearances. Babe experienced one final moment of glory with the Braves on May 25th of that year when he hit three home runs against the Pirates at Forbes Field, the last of which was the first ball ever hit completely out of that ballpark. The blast ended up being the last of Ruth’s 714 round-trippers. He announced his retirement from baseball one week later and spent the remainder of his life waiting in vain for some major league team to offer him a managerial job. Ruth died 13 years later from throat cancer, disappointed that he never got an opportunity to manage in the sport that he had helped to revitalize.
Although most of Ruth’s records have since been broken, his list of accomplishments is truly amazing. Upon his retirement, Ruth was the major leagues’ all-time leader in home runs (714) and runs batted in (2,213). He scored 2,174 runs, batted .342, amassed 2,873 hits, and compiled a .474 on-base percentage. Ruth’s .690 career slugging percentage is the highest in baseball history. He surpassed 50 homers four times, leading the league in that category on 12 separate occasions. He also topped the circuit in slugging percentage 12 times, on-base percentage 10 times, runs scored eight times, runs batted in six times, and batting average once, surpassing the .370-mark on six separate occasions.
Long after Ruth retired from the game, his legendary feats continued to be recounted by those who witnessed them. Hall of Fame pitcher Dizzy Dean stated, “No one hit home runs the way Babe did. They were something special. They were like homing pigeons. The ball would leave the bat, pause briefly, suddenly gain its bearings, then take off for the stands.”
Longtime manager Leo Durocher was a backup infielder on the Yankees in 1928 and 1929. Durocher later said, “There’s no question about it, Babe Ruth was the greatest instinctive baseball player who ever lived. He was a great hitter, and he would have been a great pitcher.”
Sportswriter Tommy Holmes said on the day of Ruth’s funeral, “Some 20 years ago I stopped talking about the Babe for the simple reason that I realized that those who had never seen him didn’t believe me.”
Hall of Fame pitcher Lefty Gomez joined Ruth on the Yankees during the latter stages of Babe’s career. Gomez later said of his former teammate, “He was a circus, a play and a movie, all rolled into one. Kids adored him. Men idolized him. Women loved him. There was something about him that made him great.”
Babe Ruth was more than just a great baseball player. He was an American hero who became a legend and a larger-than-life figure. Long after his last home run, his name remains synonymous with the game of baseball.