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setter of many Major League batting records
George Herman Ruth, Jr. was born on February 6, 1895 in Baltimore, Maryland. His parents worked long hours, and he often took advantage of their absence to get into trouble. By the time he was seven it was obvious that George needed a stricter environment, so he was sent to the St. Mary's Industrial School for Boys.
It was at St. Mary's that Ruth first showed a real talent for baseball. By 1914 he had become so good that the monks who ran the school onvinced Jack Dunn, owner of the Baltimore Orioles (then a minor league team), to come watch him play. Dunn was so impressed that he offered Ruth a contract on the spot. Because Ruth was only 19, Dunn had to become his legal guardian in order to complete the contract. The Orioles players almost immediately began calling Ruth "Jack's newest babe," and George was from that time on known as Babe Ruth.
Ruth performed so well as an Oriole that he was bought by the Boston Red Sox during his first season. He made his Major League debut on July 11, 1914, as the winning pitcher. He played in a total of five games (pitching in four of thm) before a full roster forced the Red Sox to send him to the minor league Providence Grays.
In his first season as a regular in the Red Sox pitching rotation, Ruth amassed an 18-8 record with an ERA of 2.44. He followed that season with a 23-12 record and league-leading 1.75 ERA in 1916, and a 24-13 record with 2.01 ERA in 1917. By then he was also showing great power as a batter, and in 1918 the Red Sox began using him as an outfielder instead of a pitcher. He tied for the Major League lead in home runs with 11 that year, and followed that by setting a single season record of 29 homers in 1919. Despite his impressive numbers as a Red Sox, Ruth was sold to the New York Yankees on December 26, 1919.
Ruth's first season as a Yankee began slowly due to an injury, but improved dramatically when the Yankees hosted the Red Sox on May 1. Ruth hit a ball completely out of the Polo Grounds that day to help the Yankees to a 6-0 victory. He hit another home run the next day, and by the end of the month had set a Major League record for home runs in a month, with 11. He broke his own record in June, slamming 13. By the time the season ended Ruth had belted a total of 54 homre runs. No other player in the Major League hit more than 19 home runs that year, and only one team hit more than Ruth did individually. Not surprisingly, he also set records for runs scored, 158, and runs batted in, 135.
Ruth followed his 1920 season by breaking every one of his own records in 1921, slamming 59 home runs, scoring 177 runs, driving in 171, and amassing a slugging percentage of .846. The Yankees won the American League pennant, but lost the World Series to the New York Giants, 5-3.
After the Series, Ruth and two teammates participated in a barnstorming tour in the Northeast. A rule then in force prohibited World Series participants from playing in exhibition games during the offseason, however, and all three were suspended.
Despite his suspension, Ruth signed a new contract in 1922, for three years at $52,000 a year. The largest sum ever paid a ballplayer to that point, it represented 40% of the team's player payroll. His suspension ended on May 20, but Ruth ended up going 0-for-4 in front of a sell-out crowd. In his shortened season, Ruth appeared in 110 games, batted .315, with 35 home runs, and drove in 99 runs. The Yankees ended up facing the Giants in the World Series again, this time losing 4-0 (with 1 tie game).
On April 18, 1923, Ruth hit the very first homerun in the newly completed Yankee Stadium. He ended the regular season with a career-high .393 batting average and 45 doubles, as well as 41 home runs (tying with Cy Williams). For the third straight year, the Yankees faced the Giants in the World Series. Ruth batted .368, walked eight times, scord eight runs, hit three home runs, and slugged 1.000 during the Series, and the Yankees ended up winning their very first championship, four games to two.
Although Ruth hit .378, winning his only AL batting title, and led the league with 46 home runs, the Yankees ended the 1924 season behind the Washington Senators.
Never one of the most physically fit players in baseball, Ruth weighed almost 260 pounds when spring training began. Plagued by illness most of the season, he played in just 98 games and finished with a .290 average and 25 home runs. His absence was felt by the Yankees, who finished next to last in the AL with a 6985 record.
Ruth spent the offseason getting back into shape, and returned to his normal production during the season, batting .372 with 47 home runs and 146 RBIs. He hit three home runs in Game 4 of the World Series and another in Game 7, but the Yankees ended up losing the championship to the St. Louis Cardinals 4-3.
Known as Murderer's Row because of the power of its lineup, the 1927 Yankees won a then-AL-record 110 games, clinching first place on Labor Day. While the team was busy "skunking the field," Ruth was busy trying to break his single-season home run record of 59. His biggest challenger was Lou Gehrig, and the two went into July with 24 each. Gehrig took the lead, 4544, in the first game of a doubleheader at Fenway Park early in September, but Ruth responded with two of his own in the second game to retake the lead. Gehrig's streak ended at 47, but Ruth kept on slugging. He broke his record on September 30, and ended the season with a .356 average and 164 RBIs. The Yankees went on to sweep the Pittsburgh Pirates in the World Series. His 60-home run season would not be topped until Roger Maris hit 61 in 1961, in a season that was eight games longer.
Ruth began the 1928 season with an unprecedented $80,000-a-year contract. By August he had hit 42 home runs, putting him ahead of his previous year's pace. He ended up in a slump, however, and ended the season with "only" 54. Despite an up-and-down season, the Yankees ended up winning the pennant and then sweeping the Cardinals in the World Series.
The Yankees debuted their now famous pinstripe uniforms in 1929, and also became the first team to use player numbers on both home and away uniforms. Because he batted third in the lineup, Ruth wore #3 for the rest of his Yankee career. He hit .345 during the season, with 46 home runs and 154 RBIs.
In 1930, Ruth hit .359 with 49 home runs and 153 RBIs. He also pitched his first game in nine years, a complete game victory against the Boston Red Sox on September 28.
Ruth finished 1931 with a .373 average, 46 home runs, and 163 RBIs.
Although he was twice sidelined by injury, Ruth finished the 1932 season with a .341 average, 41 home runs, and 137 RBIs. He went on to hit two home runs in Game Three of the World Series, the second of which has become one of the most talked about in baseball history. In the top of the fifth, Chicago Cubs pitcher Charlie Root had taken him to a count of two strikes and two balls when Ruth appeared to point in the direction of center field. He then slammed the fifth pitch about 500 feet into the stands behind center field, the longest home run ever hit at Wrigley Field.
Babe Ruth gesturing toward center field
A .301 average, with 34 home runs, 103 RBIs, and a league-leading 114 walks, led Connie Mack to select Ruth as the American League's right fielder for the first ever All-Star Game, which was played at Comiskey Park on July 6, 1933. He hit the first home run in the All-Star Game's history, a two-run blast against Bill Hallahan during the third inning, which helped the AL win the game 42. During the final game of the 1933 season, as a publicity stunt organized by his team, Ruth was called upon and pitched a complete game victory against the Red Sox.
By 1934, years of high living were starting to catch up with Ruth and his conditioning had deteriorated to the point that he could no longer field or run. Although he accepted a pay cut to $35,000, he was still the highest-paid player in the major leagues. He could also still handle a bat, recording a .288 batting average with 22 home runs. Selected to the AL All-Star team for the second consecutive year, he and four other future Hall-of-Famers were struck out by New York Giants pitcher Carl Hubbell.
On February 26, 1935, the Yankees traded Ruth to the Boston Braves. In his first home game in Boston in over 16 years, Ruth accounted for all of the Braves' runs in a 42 defeat of the New York Giants, hitting a two-run home run, singling to drive in a third run and later in the inning scoring the fourth. Although age and weight had slowed him considerably, he also made a running catch in left field which sportswriters deemed the defensive highlight of the game. His only other notable game as a Brave was played on May 25, when Ruth went 4-for-4, including three home runs, against the Pittsburgh Pirates. The final home run, both of the game and of Ruth's career, sailed over the upper deck in right field and out of the ballpark, the first time anyone had hit a fair ball completely out of Forbes Field. Despite that feat, Ruth knew his time as a productive player was over, and he officially retired on June 2, 1935.
At the time of his retirement Babe Ruth held 56 Major League records. His regular season record of 714 home runs would not be exceeded until Hank Aaron hit his 715th in 1974, and his lifetime slugging average of .690 has never been approached.
In 1936, the Baseball Hall of Fame was inaugurated and Babe Ruth was elected as one of its first five inductees. He spent most of the rest of his life making personal appearances, always drawing huge crowds.
During the fall of 1946, it was discovered that Ruth had a malignant tumor on his neck, and his health began to deteriorate quickly. On June 13, 1948, his jersey number "3" was retired by the Yankees during his last appearance at Yankee Stadium. George Herman "Babe" Ruth Jr. lost his battle with cancer on August 16, 1948.
Ruth met Helen Woodford while playing for the Red Sox. The two were married on October 17, 1914, and adopted a daughter, Dorothy, in 1921. Although they never divorced, Babe and Helen were living separate lives when she died in a house fire in 1929.
On April 17, 1929, Ruth married Claire Merritt Hodgson and adopted her daughter, Julia. They remained together until his death.
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This page was last updated on December 26, 2018.