There’s no argument about Babe Ruth
by Joe Guzzardi
Baseball and I go back a long way — nearly seven decades, to be exact.
I predate the wildcard play-in game, the divisional and championship series, instant replay, names on the back of uniforms, the fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth inning pitching specialists, the five-man rotation, gyrating mascots, batters dressed in full body armor, pitch counts, exploding electronic scoreboards, deafening piped-in stadium music, PEDs, designated hitters, late lineup scratches for players with mysterious, unidentified limb discomfort or tenderness, batting helmets and gloves, sliding mitts, four-hour games and Sabermetrics.
Before readers might wrongly conclude that I must be America’s oldest living fan, let me quickly add that I wasn’t around for the first World Series, 1903 Boston Americans triumphing over the Pittsburgh Pirates in the best of nine, five games to three. The deciding eighth game was completed in a tidy one hour and 35 minutes.
Pirates’ pitcher Deacon Phillippe started and completed five of the eight games. In his 44 innings, Phillippe walked a measly three batters, none in the finale. Throwing strikes really moves things along. Phillippe is in the history books as the greatest control pitcher ever, an average of 1.25 walks per game. Note to struggling starting pitchers who can’t get out of the fifth inning but earn $30 million a year: emulate Phillippe.
Also before my time came the debut of the Fall Classic’s most dominant player, George Herman “Babe” Ruth who excelled first as a pitcher, and then as a slugger. In 1916, the Boston Red Sox’s Ruth took the mound in Game Two against the Brooklyn Dodgers, and pitched his team to a 14-inning 2-1 win. Ruth’s performance surprised no one. During the regular season, Ruth won 23 games and posted a league-leading 1.75 ERA. Ruth also threw nine shutouts — an American League record for left-handed pitchers that still stands.
The Red Sox next World Series appearance came in 1918. By then, Ruth was alternating between pitching and playing in the field regularly. From mid-July to early September, Ruth pitched every fourth day, and played either left field, center field, or first base, his preferred position. That year, when the Red Sox met the Chicago Cubs in the Series, he completed and won both his starts. The Colossus, as Bostonians called Ruth, racked up a two-year Red Sox autumn pitching record of 3-0 with a 0.87 ERA.
By 1921, the New York Yankees had acquired Ruth and put him to work in right field. In Ruth’s seven Series as a Yankee, he hit .326 that included single year averages of .368, .400, and .625. Babe’s other mind-boggling series stats: on base percentage, .470; slugging, .744; on base plus slugging, 1.2, and 13 titanic home runs. Ruth’s feats are even more remarkable when viewed in light of his infamous late night carousing that featured bottomless whiskey drinking and non-stop skirt chasing.
In the 1932 Series against the Cubs, Ruth played the starring role in a baseball legend that lives on 85 years later. Against Charlie Root, one of the era’s best, hardest throwing and meanest hurlers, Ruth either did or didn’t call his home run shot. Ask Ruth and the Yankees, and he did. Ask Root, and Ruth didn’t. As Charlie said years later, if Ruth had upstaged him, the next time he came to the plate, Root would have “put one in his ear.” Instead, Ruth harmlessly walked.
Fans love a good debate, and Ruth-Root, Willie or Mickey, and Pete Rose’s lifetime ban rank among their favorite. But about who’s the greatest all-time World Series performer, there’s no argument. The winner is Ruth, the pitcher, Ruth, the slugger, and Ruth, the personality — case closed.
JOE GUZZARDI is a member of the Society for American Baseball Research and the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.