About Babe Ruth
Although Babe Ruth gained fame as one of the greatest power hitters
in the history of Major League Baseball, he began his
professional career as a pitcher with the Boston Red Sox in 1914. He only played a few games that year, but in 1915 he became a
regular member of the team's staff of starting pitchers. In his best year, 1916, he led the American League in earned run average and
shutouts and finished third in both strikeouts and wins. "Ruth was not only Boston's best, he was the best pitcher in the league that
year, including Walter Johnson." (Creamer, 1974, 123.) Johnson ("The Big Train") was famous for a blistering fastball and is
considered by some experts to be the greatest pitcher of all time.
Ruth's pitching helped the Red Sox to win World Series championships
in 1915, 1916, and 1918. In the 1918 World Series Ruth
extended his string of consecutive scoreless innings pitched to twenty-nine, a record that would stand for over forty years. A
left-handed pitcher, Ruth's record with the Red Sox placed him among the best in baseball, and he certainly was the best on his team.
(See Student Handout # 1) As great as Ruth was as a pitcher, he showed signs during this period that he was also an extraordinary
hitter. Of course, there was no designated hitter in those days so pitchers had to hit for themselves. On days he did not pitch Ruth
was often used as a first baseman or outfielder. Even as a part-time hitter, Babe hit eleven home runs in 1918, good enough to tie for
first in the American League. None of his teammates hit more than one home run. In 1919, Ruth was used less as a pitcher (only
seventeen games) and more as a fielder (115 games). He hit twenty-nine home runs that year, a new league record. The figure is
especially noteworthy because this was the so called "dead ball era" - a period when home runs were hit much less often than in later
As great as Ruth was as a pitcher, he proved that he was by far the
best hitter on the Red Sox in 1918 and 1919. Out of forty-six
home runs hit by the Red Sox in these two years Ruth hit forty, an incredible 87 percent of the total. With only 11 percent of the
team's at bats, he accounted for 24 percent of its runs batted in and batted forty four points higher than the team average (.313 versus
Despite Ruth's performance, his contract was sold prior to the 1920
season to the New York Yankees. The Yankees were more
concerned with Ruth's ability to hit home runs - and to sell tickets to fans who came to see Ruth hit them - than they were in his
ability to pitch. The strategy worked well on both counts. The Yankees broke a league attendance record in 1920 and won American
League pennants seven times between 1920 and 1932. The Yankees won four World Series Championships during these years.
Ruth's hitting record with the Yankees was no less impressive than
it was with the Red Sox. For example, between 1920 and 1924
Ruth accounted for 46 percent of the team's home runs and nearly 20 percent of its runs batted in. He hit over fifty home runs twice.
(See Handout # 2.) His new record of fifty-nine would last until 1927 when he broke it by hitting sixty.
Due in part to the hitting of Ruth and his teammates, the Yankees'
pitchers performed well. Led by future Hall of Famers Herb
Pennock and Waite Hoyt, the staff was among the best in the league. The staff won about 62 percent of its decisions (wins plus
losses) from 1920 to 1924. However, Ruth's record with the Red Sox from 1915 through 1919 exceeded this. He won nearly
two-thirds of his decisions. Although the teams had different personnel, it seems reasonable to assume that for his first five years
with the Yankees Ruth could have been as effective as a pitcher as he had been with Boston.
Ruth's performance was everything that the Yankees' owners could have
wanted. No doubt the Babe's ability to draw fans to the ball
park was maximized by the decision to make him an every day player. But baseball fans are left with an interesting question: would
the Yankees have been a better team with Ruth as a starting pitcher than as an outfielder?