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The Legend of Babe Ruth

Updated: Jul 22, 2020

1922, The Sporting News Archive, CC Public Domain


Babe Ruth is a legendary figure, not just in American sports, but in popular culture as well. Ruth’s larger than life figure cast its shadow over sports, advertising, movies and virtually every corner of American society. He was a symbol of prosperity in the roaring 20s and a symbol of hope in the Depression-era 30s.


Aside from the myth and legend of the Babe, there is one thing that is undeniable. Babe Ruth is the most dominant player in Major League Baseball history.


As a pitcher in his early career, Ruth was one of the American League’s best hurlers. Between 1914 and 1919, Ruth had an 89-46 record and a 2.19 ERA with the Boston Red Sox. He was even better in the postseason, going 3-0 with a miniscule 0.87 ERA in helping the Red Sox to World Series titles in 1916 and 1918.


As good as Ruth’s pitching numbers were, they would not make him a legend in this era of the pitcher. Before the designated hitter, all pitchers hit. In his first few seasons, Ruth had about the same amount of at bats as other pitchers, but with far more success.


The Red Sox decided to take advantage of the Babe’s plate prowess by giving him more at bats in 1918. He would go on to lead the AL in home runs with 11 in 95 games. The next season he led the league in homers again with 29 in 130 games. He also led the AL in runs, RBIs, total bases, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. This was only a taste of the domination that was soon to come.


 

On December 26, 1919, baseball and American sport would change forever, as the 25-year-old Ruth became a New York Yankee. Fans may not have known it at the time, but the greatest player in the game’s history and the team that would soon become the game’s greatest dynasty were united.


With the Yankees, Ruth would devote all of his energy to hitting, and it would usher in a new era in baseball. In 1920, the Babe shattered his own single season home run record by slugging 54. George Sisler finished a distant second with 19.

In 1921, Ruth raised the bar even higher with 59 home runs. His value was not confined to the long ball, though, as he hit .378 and led the AL with 168 RBIs, 177 runs, 457 total bases, a .512 on-base, an .846 slugging, and a gaudy 1.359 OPS. Baseball had never seen offensive numbers like these before.


Ruth’s assault on American League pitching would continue unabated through the 1920s and into the 30s. His 1927 season was one of the landmark years in baseball history, as he became the first player to hit 60 home runs. It would be 34 years before anyone would eclipse the 60 homer mark again, when Roger Maris hit 61 in a 162 game season in 1961. The season was 154 games in 1927.


 

When the cigar smoke finally cleared on Ruth’s career, the numbers were staggering. He hit .342 with 714 home runs, 2,214 RBIs, 2,174 runs, 2,062 walks, 506 doubles, 136 triples and 5,793 total bases in 22 seasons. He had an on-base of .474, a slugging of .690 and an OPS of 1.164.


To give you a further idea of Ruth’s domination, he led the AL in home runs 12 of 14 seasons from 1918-1931, and never finished lower than third from 1918-1933. He also led the league in on-base 10 times, slugging 13 times, OPS 13 times, walks 11 times, runs eight times, total bases six times and RBIs five times. No player in history can claim this level of domination.


The Babe’s greatness on the game’s biggest stage was even more legendary. In 10 World Series with the Yankees, totaling 41 games, Ruth hit .326 with 15 home runs, 33 RBIs, 37 runs, a .470 on-base, a .744 slugging and a 1.214 OPS. Ruth’s gargantuan postseason success helped the Yankees win 10 AL pennants and seven World Series titles. Yankee Stadium would become known as “the house that Ruth built” for good reason.


The game has seen many great offensive stars since Ruth retired in 1934, but it is unlikely that another player will ever dominate the game like the Babe did in his illustrious career.

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