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Babe Ruth in 1916: A Legendary Season Long Forgotten

 Babe Ruth changed the history of baseball in 1920 when he slugged 54 home runs for the New York Yankees. That was nearly double the record Ruth set in 1919 when he hit 29 home runs.  In 1921, Babe Ruth once again broke his own record by hitting 59 home runs. And of course no baseball fan can forget Babe Ruth’s 1927 season when he hit 60 home runs.

Babe Ruth (Courtesy of SABR.org)

Babe Ruth (Courtesy of SABR.org)

 

The legacy of Babe Ruth is associated with his swing and mammoth home runs. His 714 career home runs stood as baseball’s all time record until Hank Aaron broke it in 1974. Babe Ruth still holds the Major League records for career slugging percentage (.690) and OPS (1.190). His feats with a bat will never be forgotten.

 

However many fans forget Babe Ruth came up with the Red Sox as a pitcher. From 1914-1918, Babe Ruth was a full time pitcher for the Red Sox; and a great one at that. From 1914-1918, Babe Ruth went 80-41 with a 2.09 ERA. He started 128 games for the Red Sox and completed 93 of those games. Babe Ruth was considered one of baseball emerging stars on the mound at the time. Many historians believed Babe Ruth could’ve won 300 games as a pitcher had he not become an outfielder.

 

Many fans forget Babe Ruth’s pitching career because he was so gifted at the plate. There was one season in particular that faded into history because of Babe Ruth’s hitting career; 1916.

 

Many historians will argue Babe Ruth was the best pitcher in the American League in 1916. He went 23-12 with a league leading 1.75 ERA. Ruth started 40 games in 1916. 23 of those games were complete games. However there were key moments in the 1916 season that were truly remarkable.

 

Babe Ruth pitched three complete game shutouts against the Detroit Tigers in the 1916 season. Ty Cobb was in the prime of his career at the time for the Tigers. In fact 1916 was the only year from 1907-1919 when Ty Cobb did not win the American League batting title. He finished second to Tris Speaker and Babe Ruth was one of the reasons why.

 

Babe Ruth held Ty Cobb to two hits during his three complete game shutouts.  It was one of the few times in his career when Ty Cobb could say he was frustrated by an opposing pitcher. It’s funny to point out, but Babe Ruth out hit Ty Cobb when he threw his complete game shutouts. Ruth had five hits in nine at bats during the three games. It was considered the first time Babe Ruth was able to out hit Ty Cobb.

 

Another amazing part of Babe Ruth”s 1916 season was his home run total. However this home run total came from the mound; not the plate. Babe Ruth pitched 323.2 innings in 1916 and did not surrender a home run. In fact from 1914-1918, Babe Ruth only allowed seven home runs in 1057 innings of work. That means he allowed a home run every 211 innings.

 

Let’s put those numbers in perspective. Walter Johnson, one of Baseball’s greatest pitchers allowed a home run every 173 innings from 1914-1918. Most numbers are amazing, even considering home runs were not common place in that era of baseball history.

 

However Babe Ruth’s greatest feat from 1916 may have come during the 1916 World Series. Long before hitting three home runs in a World Series game or calling his shot; Ruth was pitching for the Red Sox in the World Series. The Red Sox were facing off against the National League Champion Brooklyn Robins. (Later named the Dodgers) Ruth was called upon to start Game 2 for the Red Sox. Boston was up one game to none in the series and Ruth was looking to extend the Red Sox winning ways.

 

Babe Ruth pitching for the Red Sox.  (Courtesy of rsvlts.com)

Babe Ruth pitching for the Red Sox. (Courtesy of rsvlts.com)

Ruth quickly got the first two outs of the first inning when Robins’ center fielder Hi Myers stepped to the plate. Myers had hit .262 in the regular season and had only three home runs in 412 at bats in 1916. However regular season statistics often mean nothing when the World Series is at stake. Hi Myers hit a Babe Ruth pitch “high and far” into right center field for a home run. Just like that the Red Sox were down 1-0.

 

Yet Babe Ruth was not known to lose in his career. More often than not, the Babe was a legend among champions in the baseball world. The 1916 World Series would be no different. He got back in rhythm and got the final out of the first inning.

 

In the bottom of the third, Ruth showed a small glimpse of things to come with his bat. He hit an RBI ground out to second base to tie the game at one. With the game tied, Babe could now focus on the Brooklyn batters. It was Babe’s focus that allowed him perform one of baseball’s greatest feats.

 

Babe Ruth did not allowed a run in the second inning. He did not allow a run in the third inning. Nor the fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth or ninth inning. (Do you see a pattern?) Babe Ruth went toe to toe with opposing pitcher Sherry Smith. The Red Sox and Robins were tied at one through nine innings of play. There was no doubt in the Babe’s mind he would keep pitching in the ball game. But how long could Ruth keep pitching?

 

The answer was the 14th inning. The Babe kept throwing up zeros and the Red Sox won on a walk off single by pinch hitter Del Gainer. Babe Ruth and the Red Sox won 2-1 in 14 innings. And Babe Ruth pitched in each of the 14 innings. In fact he pitched 13.2 consecutive shutout innings for the complete game victory. It is one of the greatest feats in Major League history and many often forget its existence.

 

There is no deny that Babe Ruth is one of baseball greatest hitters. However it’s sad to say baseball fans forget how great a pitcher Babe Ruth was. His 1916 season has faded through history as nothing more than a footnote. Babe Ruth’s bat often outweighed his arm through out the course of his career. Yet there should be no denying 1916 was one of Babe Ruth’s greatest seasons; if not his greatest season ever!  

7 Responses to Babe Ruth in 1916: A Legendary Season Long Forgotten

  • Joe says:

    Does anyone know if Babe Ruth ever lived on Long Island
    in a town called East Atlantic Beach? Several long time neighbors
    have reported he lived there in the late 1920′s.

  • Pat Frenc says:

    If it wasn’t for #3, there would be no baseball as we know it. And if there wasn’t any baseball, there would be no # 42. Number 3 should be retired by the American League, the National League, and the Minor Leagues.

  • Very nice article. As a baseball memorabilia specialist and also a published poet these are two of my passions, baseball history and writing. It was a pleasure to read such an informative article. I’m sure there are many Yankee fans that have never been introduced to The Babe’s pitching career. Reading this article will give them a nice look into it, I’m sure.

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