Simply Baseball Notebook's Legends

Babe Ruth

Josh Gibson
Hack Wilson
Roger Maris
Cool Papa Bell
'Home Run' Baker
Satchel Paige
Cy Young
Eddie Mathews
Henry Aaron
Mickey Mantle
Ted Williams
Frank Robinson
Willie Mays
Lou Gehrig
Babe Ruth
Dan Brouthers
Joe Jackson
Walter Johnson
Honus Wagner
Ty Cobb
Wee Willie Keeler
John M. Ward
Grover C. Alexander
'Old Hoss' Radbourn
Warren Spahn
Hank Greenberg
Tris Speaker
Napoleon Lajoie
Jimmie Foxx
Christy Mathewson
Mel Ott
Harry Heilmann
Stan Musial
George Sisler
Roy Campanella
Rogers Hornsby

by David Zingler

Boston Red Sox 1914-19
New York Yankees 1920-34
Boston Braves 1935

The discussion about the greatest baseball player of all-time begins and ends with George Herman Ruth. In a game filled with legend and legends, Ruth reigns supreme. The "Sultan of Swat" put baseball on the map, becoming sports' first superstar and captivating the imagination of this nation unlike anyone before or since.

While there have been several great hitters and pitchers in the games' history, Ruth was Hall of Fame caliber at both. The games' top left-hander during the late 1910s, Ruth posted an 80-46 record with a 2.23 ERA from 1914-19, while going 3-0 with a microscopic 0.87 ERA (three earned runs in 31 innings) in two World Series victories. All told, the Red Sox southpaw won 94 games in the big leagues.

In 1918 Ruth had possibly the most amazing season in history, hitting .300 (8th in the AL), tying for the league lead with 11 home runs, topping the league in slugging percentage with a .555 mark, and finishing third in RBI with 66; all while posting a 13-7 record and 2.22 ERA (9th in the AL). In the Boston's World Series victory of the Chicago Cubs, Ruth won 2 games on the mound and his two run triple won the pivotal Game 4.

While Ruth's accomplishments on the mound are impressive, his prowess with the bat is mind boggling. From 1918-31, he led the AL in slugging percentage every year except 1925. From 1920-32, the slugger hit 603 home runs - an average of just over 46 per season. From 1918-31, a 14 year span, he led the league in home runs 12 times, finishing second and third the other two seasons respectively. In 1924, Ruth won the batting title with a .378 mark, and finished in the top five in hitting seven other times during his career.

Born in 1895, Ruth spent his early childhood on the streets of Baltimore unsupervised - he was drinking and chewing tobacco before age 10. His parents placed him at St. Mary's boys home after he was declared "incorrigible." At St. Mary's this crude youngsters' amazing baseball ability was discovered. Ruth played every position on the diamond and quickly became a local legend. Once the youngster reached the professional ranks, he continued his all out approach to life - the food, the liquor, the women - Babe Ruth never could have too much of a good thing.

While many all time greats were still active during that era, including Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, and Walter Johnson, Ruth quickly became baseball's feature attraction after going the Boston Red Sox in 1914. He hit so well during his limited at bats while pitching, that fans everywhere speculated about what the "Colossus" may accomplish if he played everyday. Ruth injected life into the dead ball era, as his home runs became the games' premier attraction. Ruth was the first athlete to possess the "crossover appeal" that is needed to transcend sports - he was loved by people of races, income levels, and ages.

While the Red Sox stubbornly believed that he was more valuable on the mound, the ever increasing noise made by Ruth's bat was hard to ignore. By 1918, his pitching duties had dwindled and Ruth had begun his transition into the lineup, playing first base as well as right field. In fact Ruth himself, wanted to play in the field rather than pitch. The man-child got bored sitting in the dugout between starts, and sometimes developed mysterious arm injuries that weren't serious enough to keep him out of the lineup, but were just enough to keep him off the mound. At times the stubborn Ruth even refused manager Ed Barrow's orders to pitch.

Even as extraordinary offers rolled in, Red Sox owner Harry Frazee maintained he would never sell his star attraction. Two years before he became a Yankee, however, Ruth was already a favorite of New York fans. His sense of showmanship and style, not too mention his prodigious long ball, seemed tailor made for the Big Apple. The New York faithful frequently gave the visiting slugger standing ovations after he hit one of his trademark long balls.

When Ruth was sold to the Yankees prior to the 1920 season, the Red Sox had won three of the past five World Series, while the Yankees had never brought home a pennant. By 1921 the Yankees were in the World Series, and in 1923 they captured their first title. Boston has not won a World Series since.

During Ruth's career in New York, the Yankees won seven pennants, including four world titles. Due to a bizarre rule that didn't allow a player to win multiple MVPs (it was repealed in 1931), Ruth won just one MVP (1923), but his status as baseball's best player was indisputable. When the Bambino retired in 1935, he owned 56 major league records.

Following his playing days Ruth focused his energy on becoming a manager, but it never materialized. Because of his reputation for partying, often stubborn and immature attitude, and numerous run-ins with Yankees' skipper Miller Huggins, Ruth was never seriously considered for the position. He lived out his days acting as good will ambassador for baseball before succumbing to throat cancer in 1948.

Today Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods are regarded as the world's foremost sports icons, but they are merely following the trail that Babe Ruth blazed during the 1920s. When ESPN named Jordan the top athlete of the 20th Century, it was a travesty. Without Babe Ruth, there would be no Michael Jordan, no Tiger Woods - professional sports as we know them today may not exist.

-David Zingler, February 2003

Simply Baseball Notebook