March 17, 1918: A young Babe Ruth, still primarily a pitcher, slugs a pair of home runs during a spring training game at Whittington Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas. The second long ball is thought to be the first 500-plus foot blast in baseball history. The Herculean shot—hit off Brooklyn Robins hurler Norman Plitt—soared far over the fence in deep right-center, coming to rest in the middle of an inhabited pond at the Arkansas Alligator Farm. The Boston Globe reported that “the intrusion” caused quite a “commotion among the Gators.” The epic drive was later measured at 573 feet—the distance from home plate to the pond’s center.
Amazingly, Ruth replicated the feat a week later in another spring exhibition versus Brooklyn. In its coverage of the proceedings, The Boston Post wrote: “Before the echo of the crash had died away the horsehide had dropped somewhere in the vicinity of South Hot Springs. . . . The sphere cleared the fence [400 feet away] by about 200 feet and dropped in the pond beside the Alligator Farm, while the spectators yelled with amazement.” Edward Martin, writing for The Boston Globe, opined: “Every ball player in the park said [it] was the longest drive they had ever seen. . . . Had Ruth made the drive in Boston, it might have cleared the bleachers in right-center.”
“I’ve never in all my time seen a man use the bat as does the slugging Boston hurler,” gushed manager Fielder Jones, who had witnessed several of Babe’s colossal clouts. Former Red Sox catcher Les Nunamaker offered similar praise: “He has no weakness . . . and can hit anything coming in the direction of the plate. If a hurler is foolish enough to give him a high one on the inside, it is all off. He will knock it out of the grounds. It is the general belief of the players in camp that Ruth is the best sticker in the league. . . . He just handles that old bat as if it were a toothpick.”
Babe’s heroics carried over into the regular season. Appearing in 95 games, he hit .300 with 26 doubles and an AL-best 11 home runs—his first of 12 long ball crowns. Though Ruth’s 1918 power output seems paltry by modern standards, consider that the junior circuit’s single-season record holder at the time was Socks Seybold, who hit 16 big flies in 1902. On the mound, the 23-year-old went 13-7 with a 2.27 ERA in 161 ⅓ innings pitched (2-0, 1.06 ERA in the World Series). Despite Ruth’s stellar pitching, it was his mighty war club that captured the public’s imagination.
On November 26, 1918, The Associated Press wrote:
“There were many stars in last year’s baseball firmament, but there was only one Babe Ruth. Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Jim Vaughan, Benny Kauff, and other stars received their usual amount of interest, but the fan always returned to the question: Did Babe Ruth make a home run today?”
✍️ Bobby King II