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It was exactly one hundred years ago today that one George Herman Ruth - you've heard of him, right? - made his major league debut.

That's a pretty cool anniversary, no?

Nonetheless, I am totally spooked by it. Here's why. I was sitting around last night watching the season premiere of The Bridge and simultaneously amusing myself by messing around on the incomparable I was actually looking at career splits for great and famous players when it dawned on me that the game logs now go all the way back to 1914. And I thought - hey! You know what would be cool? This Day in Babe Ruth! Because I'll bet Babe Ruth did something nifty every day  that they play baseball. Being Babe Ruth and all.

Thus inspired, I checked the calendar (I'm on vacation, I don't know what day it is!) and confirmed that tomorrow (today!) was July 11. What, I wondered, had the Bambino done on July 11 through the course of his career. I started with the pitching logs, and worked my way backward, and when I got to 1914- there it was. His first appearance of the season. The first appearance of his career. Exactly one hundred years ago today. I had no idea. I got up and walked around, muttering "holy crap" over and over...

Anyway. July 11, 1914. He was 19 years old, although Ruth himself didn't know that. (He spent most of his career believing he was a year older than he actually was.) The Red Sox had purchased his contract from the Baltimore Orioles of the International League and started him against the last place Cleveland Naps (named after their great second baseman, Napoleon Lajoie - they don't do that sort of thing anymore). It was a Saturday afternoon at Fenway Park. The Red Sox quickly staked the big rookie to a 1-0 lead. Joe Jackson drove in a run to tie the game in the fourth, but the Red Sox scored two in their half to go up 3-1. In the top of the seventh, Jay Kirke and Ray Chapman each reached Ruth for a single; they were bunted into scoring position by Nemo Leibold, and Steve O'Neill drove in both runners with a base hit to tie the game at 3-3. Ruth finished the inning, and was replaced by pinch-hitter Duffy Lewis in the bottom half. Lewis contributed a base hit, and the Red Sox scored the go-ahead run. Dutch Leonard pitched the final two innings to close it out, and Ruth had his first Win in the major leagues: 7 IP, 8 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 1 K, 0 W. At the plate, he went 0-2, striking out once. Manager Rough Bill Carrigan was his catcher, Hall of Famer Tris Speaker was in centre field. Besides Jackson and Chapman, the Cleveland lineup featured Nap Lajoie himself (naturally) at second base.

Ruth started again five days later, but was touched for a couple of runs in the fourth inning and was given a Quick Hook (very quick indeed for 1914, but he was a 19 year old busher!). The Tigers added three more runs against the bullpen, and Ruth had his first major league Loss. He sat around for a few weeks after that without getting into a game; the Red Sox then sent him down to Providence, where he helped the Greys win the IL pennant (Ruth went 22-9, 2.39 and threw 244.2 IP for Baltimore and Providence). The Sox brought him back at the end of the season and he would never play another game in the minors. He beat the Yankees 11-5 on October 2 for his first major league Complete Game - on that day, he also rapped his first hit, a double. In the season finale five days later, Ruth pitched three innings of relief of Hugh Bedient.

Anyway, the whole idea was to discover what Ruth did on July 11  during his career. He made his debut, he got his first W. Was there more? Of course. On July 11 1916, Ruth started both games of a double-header against the White Sox at Fenway. In the first game, he only faced leadoff hitter Happy Felsch before being replaced by Rube Foster. (Apparently Foster wasn't ready to start the game, and needed more time to warm up.) Ruth pitched a CG 3-1 victory in the second game.

One year later, on July 11 1917, Ruth hooked up with Detroit's Hooks Dauss in a pitching duel at Navin Field. The game was scoreless through eight innings. In the ninth, Boston pinch-hitter Chick Shorten hit a triple to score Tillie Walker, who was on third with a triple of his own.  (Ruth hit a triple himself that afternoon.)  That would be  the game's only run, as Ruth struck out the side (Bobby Veach, Sam Crawford, and Ty Cobb) to close it out. Ruth had taken a no-hitter into the eighth inning when it was broken up by Detroit shortstop Donie Bush - Bush hit a comebacker that Ruth deflected into the infield, and Bush beat out the throw from the shortstop. It was the 14th of Ruth 17 career shutouts (he'd led the AL, pitching 9 shutouts in 1916), and it was the closest Ruth would ever come to pitching a no-hitter.

Anyway, he won all 3 of his July 11 starts (ignoring his one-batter outing in the first game of the 1916 double-header), and those games include his ML debut and his only career one-hitter. Not bad.

Ruth played 14 games on July 11 during his tenure with the Yankees, and reached base in every one of them - he went 13-38 (.342) with 4 HR, 8 RBI, 12 R and 11 BB. Which is impressive, I suppose - but really, that's just Babe Ruth's normal production. It's nothing special - that's what he always did. The best days were either 1923 (4-4, 2 runs scored) or 1924 (2-4, a homer, 2 RBI, 3 runs scored.)
This Day in Babe Ruth | 12 comments | Create New Account
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wdc - Friday, July 11 2014 @ 08:03 AM EDT (#289761) #
Fascinating, Magpie.  Could you remind me when Ruth stopped pitching? On balance, how great a pitcher was he?
Mike Green - Friday, July 11 2014 @ 08:50 AM EDT (#289762) #
That was fun, Magpie.

Ruth only pitched until he was 22, split time between the mound and the outfield at ages 23 and 24, and then moved to the outfield pretty much full-time after that.  Here are his age 22 pitching comps according to BBRef, On the list were: Smokey Joe Wood, Christy Mathewson, Dwight Gooden, Chief Bender.  He was on a Hall of Fame path as a pitcher. 

Magpie - Friday, July 11 2014 @ 09:44 AM EDT (#289763) #
Here's a ridiculously lengthy description of how Ruth moved from the mound to the outfield!

Ruth spent just three seasons as a full time pitcher, beginning with his rookie year of 1915. He was really, really good. He went 18-8, 2.44 as a 20 year old rookie in 1915; he was quite likely the best pitcher in the American League in his second season, 1916. He went 23-12, 1.75, leading the league in ERA and shutouts. He started and won the second game of the World Series with a 14 inning complete game. He wasn't quite as sharp in 1917, but he still went 24-13, 2.01 in 1917.

But as everyone knows, he could hit a little. Bill Carrigan had used as a pinch-hitter 10 times in 1915 and 23 times in 1916. Jack Barry took over in 1917, and Ruth made just 11 pinch hit appearances. Between the pinch-hitting and his ABs as a pitcher, Ruth hit .302/.359/.479 with 9 HR and 50 RBI in 351 ABs over those three seasons.

The year of the transition was 1918. Ed Barrow (one of the two greatest General Managers in baseball history, by the way), had taken over as the manager. Ruth started the season in the rotation, but he didn't really want to be a pitcher anymore. It was the sitting around for two or three days waiting for his next start that he didn't like. He couldn't help his team on the bench, and besides - it made him bored and crazy. A bored and crazy Babe Ruth was not a healthy situation - Ruth, of course, was a guy who would do any damn thing that popped into his head if he felt like it. Three weeks into the season, a badly hungover Ruth lost his fifth start when the Yankees dropped down a dozen bunts against him - in that same game, Boston first baseman Dick Hoblitzel was injured. Two days later, May 6, Barrow put Ruth into the starting lineup at first base, hitting sixth. It was his first time ever at another position, his first time not hitting ninth in the order. He went 2-4 with a HR, and was hitting cleanup the next day. Ruth really enjoyed playing first base, but Barrow soon moved him to the outfield (where he was less likely to slug an umpire - it's Babe Ruth, remember). Over those next two weeks, he started 4 games at 1b, 4 in LF and 2 as P. He played every day in June and July, and hardly pitched at all (4 starts and 1 relief appearance) - then in August he returned to the rotation full time, while playing LF on his days off from pitching. They were playing a shortened season in 1918 because of the War, and August was the final month - Ruth started 8 games on the mound (6-2, 1.73) and another 17 games in the outfield. In the World Series, Ruth pitched a shutout to beat the Cubs in the first game; he started and won Game 4, extending his WS streak of shutout innings to 29.2 to break Christy Mathewson's 1905 record (That feat has been surpassed just once - Whitey Ford broke Ruth's record in 1961.) Ruth finished that game in LF, and he came off the bench to finish the sixth game in LF as well. Over the course of the 1918 season, Ruth had started 46 games in LF, 19 as a P, 13 at 1B, and 11 in CF. His 11 HRs had led the league, by the way.

By 1919, Ruth was established as an everday outfielder, who also pitched from time to time. He started 106 games in LF, just 15 on the mound, and he hardly pitched at all over the second half of the season. He was busy astonishing the world by hitting 29 HRs, a record some thought might last forever. He did this in the teeth of a very differently configured Fenway Park (those bullpens in right-centre field? That was part of the outfield back then. Ruth hit 9 HRs at home, and 20 on the road.) That winter, the Red Sox sold his contract to the Yankees and his pitching days were over (he would make 5 starts on the mound in his 15 years in New York, and somehow managed to win them all.)

While it's clear that he was an outstanding pitcher, it's a little difficult at this remove to get a good handle on what kind of pitcher he was. As best as I can tell, he was a LH power pitcher, a hard thrower who occasionally fought his control from time to time but was consistently very hard to hit. He didn't strike out very many, but batters simply didn't strike out in the 1910s
Mike Green - Friday, July 11 2014 @ 10:10 AM EDT (#289764) #
I didn't know about Ruth being bored as a starting pitcher.  That would make sense.  In today's game, a manager like Joe Maddon might have used him as an outfielder/relief ace.  You can just see it- the Rays lead the Jays 4-3 after a run in the bottom of the 8th, Sean Rodriguez pinch-hitting for Molina drives in right-fielder Ruth (who walked).  For the top of the ninth, Hanigan comes into catch, Rodriguez plays second, Zobrist moves from second to right field and the Babe takes the hill.  The only thing that he would certainly not love about that would be playing in the Trop, with all those empty seats yet. 

Ruth did make 1 relief appearance in his career in 1921 and was roughed up, but he hadn't pitched in almost 4 months...
Magpie - Friday, July 11 2014 @ 10:36 AM EDT (#289765) #
I've written about this before, in my epic piece on the 1920 season - but the very fact that Ruth arrived in the majors as a pitcher was crucial to his development as a hitter. Ruth had a completely different approach to hitting - he was trying to hit the ball as far as he could every time he swung the bat - and it was an approach that was universally believed to be wrong. But he was a pitcher, so no one bothered to fix him.

Not that it would have been easy to teach Ruth the "correct" way to hit. He was a man who did what he wanted.
Mike Green - Friday, July 11 2014 @ 10:36 AM EDT (#289766) #
Speaking of honouring hell-raisers, I loved this.  As far as I know, there is no street named after Babe Ruth in New York City.  I guess the monument will have to do.  One other tidbit, if you put in "Babe Ruth bar" into Google, you get this. So, so wrong. 
TangledUpInBlue - Friday, July 11 2014 @ 12:25 PM EDT (#289769) #
In today's game, a manager like Joe Maddon might have used him as an outfielder/relief ace.

Hmm… I kind of had the opposite reaction to what Magpie wrote. Then, as now, I thought, managers were so slow to change. You've got a pitcher who hits like, well, Babe Ruth, and you bat him 9th. Only when they put him in the field did they move him out of the 9th spot. Because pitchers bat 9th. Just like your closer only pitches in a save situation. Maddon hasn't taken that on, has he? Sure, baseball changes -- defensive shifts being a recent example -- but it can be pretty stubborn, too.
Dewey - Friday, July 11 2014 @ 12:40 PM EDT (#289770) #
Ah, a Magpie historical piece!  Da Box is still alive.  Thoroughly enjoyed it, Magpie. 

I don’t suppose they kept pitch-counts in those days, but I wonder what Ruth’s would have been in that 14-inning WS complete game?  An amazing man.
Magpie - Friday, July 11 2014 @ 01:04 PM EDT (#289772) #
Remarkably, I came across the info in the course of writing the
piece - a newspaper reported that he'd thrown 148 pitches. Not all that
big a deal.
dan gordon - Friday, July 11 2014 @ 03:47 PM EDT (#289776) #
Ruth's career OPS was 1.164 and his career ERA was 2.28. The game, of course, was very different in many ways back then. It would be interesting to see how a man with his talents would fare in today's game, particularly if he had the chance to pitch and play the outfield. He was one of those extremely rare cases where a single player changes the way a game is played.

Before Ruth, the home run wasn't a big part of the game. League home run leaders were often around 10-12 home runs, with the exception of a few Phillies, particularly Gavvy Cravath, who took advantage of the 272 foot distance(!) to the right field fence. Cravath was a right handed batter, but he regularly hit the opposite way to reach the very short fence at the Baker Bowl. Cravath hit 72 career HR's at home, only 15 on the road.

After Ruth had his first monster home run year, with 54 in 1920, the game was never the same, and within a few years, there were many players hitting 30+ home runs. The banning of the spitball in 1921, the directive to umpires to regularly get a fresh, clean ball into the game, particularly after Roy Chapman was killed by a pitch in 1920, and the new "cushioned cork centre" ball in 1925 also probably played a role in the development of the home run as an offensive weapon.
Dewey - Friday, July 11 2014 @ 04:04 PM EDT (#289777) #
A propos of changes in the game . . . if any of you have access to it,
there’s a very interesting article titled “The Mystery of the Vanishing
Screwball” by Bruce Schoenfeld, on the screwball and its apparent
disappearance, in the July 10 edition of  the NYT.  It’s also in the NYT
Sunday (July 13) Magazine (pg. 18ff.)   Hubbell, Spahn, Fernando
Valenzuela, Luis Arroyo -- among others -- all threw it very
successfully for a long time.  Schoenfeld is concerned to debunk the
notion that the pitch is any more damaging to arms (or shoulders and
elbows) than any other pitch.  It’s the fastball that’s the primary
arm-killer, he argues.  A very good read.
Mike Green - Friday, July 11 2014 @ 04:14 PM EDT (#289778) #
The Black Sox scandal and the aftermath of the death of Ray Chapman both played some part in the changing of the game, but it is very useful to reiterate again what Babe Ruth did in 1919 as a left-handed hitter in Fenway.  He hit 29 of the club's 33 homers as a part-time outfielder (he also started 15 games).  Those 29 home runs were more than 4 other clubs, in an 8 team league, had.  The next three players on the home run list had 10 each. One of those players was Tillie Walker. You can see how Ruth's presence might have changed the game in Walker's career described here.
This Day in Babe Ruth | 12 comments | Create New Account
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