Today marks one of the most significant anniversaries in Major League baseball history. One hundred years ago on 11 July 1914 the Boston Red Sox gave the ball for the first time to a rookie pitcher nicknamed “Babe” Ruth. It was the start of the most legendary of all baseball careers.
For the day, Ruth pitched seven innings against the Cleveland Naps giving up three runs (two earned). Joe Jackson (“Shoeless Joe”) knocked in a run early and catcher Steve O’Neill knocked in two in the seventh for the Cleveland runs. Ruth struck out one and walked none to pick up the win. At bat he went 0-2 with a strikeout. Better hitting days were to come for the Babe.
Most everyone knows the name Babe Ruth, many without knowing what it was he did. If you do know what he did, odds are you know about the home runs and the hitting feats. But Ruth was also a heck of a pitcher. If you look at the left-handed hurlers of the decade between 1910 and 1920 you could make a pretty fair argument that Ruth was the best left-hander of the decade. You might look at Eddie Plank or Rube Marquard early in the decade, or at Hippo Vaughn later in the decade (and he and Ruth faced each other in the 1918 World Series with the Babe picking up a 1-0 win), but Ruth is equally in the argument.
Ruth’s conversion from pitcher to outfielder is key to his career. But if you look around, you’ll find that while it wasn’t common, it wasn’t unheard of in baseball. George Sisler did the same thing and went to the Hall of Fame. So did Lefty O’Doul (without the Hall of Fame being attached). A lot of years later Stan Musial hurt his arm in the minors and switched from the mound to the outfield and ended up in Cooperstown. Bob Lemon went the other way, from third base to pitcher and made the Hall. Bucky Walters also went from third to pitching and won an MVP. Darren Dreifort, while at Wichita State, served as the DH when he wasn’t pitching, but didn’t play in the field (although he did pinch hit) in the Majors. I’m sure that’s nowhere near a complete list.
For his Boston career, Ruth was 89-46, a .659 winning percentage, with a 1.142 WHIP, a 2.19 ERA, and a 122 ERA+. He had 17 shutouts, 483 strikeouts, and 425 walks for his Red Sox years (there were also a handful of games with the Yanks). Ruth’s pitching WAR (Baseball Reference.com version) is 20.6. His World Series record is equally good. He was 3-0 with a shutout and eight strikeouts. He did, however, walk 10. His consecutive scoreless streak in the Series was a record until Whitey Ford finally passed him in the 1960s.
I know over the years that a lot of people have tried to tell us that someone else (Barry Bonds, Ted Williams, Henry Aaron, etc.) was better than Ruth. And maybe as a hitter they were (although I wouldn’t bet on that in Vegas), but ultimately you have to decide that Ruth was the overall superior player because he could also pitch very well. Aaron was Aaron, Williams was Williams, and Bonds was Bonds, but Ruth was a combination of any of them and Walter Johnson. Top that crew.
Tags: Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds, Bucky Walters, Eddie Plank, George Sisler, Henry Aaron, Hippo Vaughn, Joe Jackson, Lefty O'Doul, Rube Marquard, Stan Musial Bob Lemon, Ted Williams, Walter Johnson, Whitey Ford