Near the end of the 1919 season, Harry Frazee, then owner of the Boston
Red Sox, decided to sell a group of his star players to the New York
Yankees. Among them was George Herman Ruth, also known affectionately as
"Babe". Ruth's career reflects the change in strategy and the shift in
dominance from pitching to hitting at this time.
Babe Ruth had a reputation for being one of the fiercest “leftys” to
ever take the mound. It was soon discovered that he wasn’t too bad with
a bat either, and Ruth became the most celebrated and successful player
in Boston. He was practically an institution. When many Bostonians awoke
on January 6, 1920, and opened their morning newspapers, they mourned
the fact that an icon had been sold to New York. The Babe was gone.
Boston did not
seem to be able to recover from this catastrophe until the 2004
World Series, when the “Curse of the Bambino” was finally put to
rest after 86 years. From 1903, when the Red Sox were established,
until 1920, the club had appeared in five World Series, and won
every one of them.
In the 1916 and 1918 World Series, Babe Ruth set a record, not for
hitting home runs, but for pitching when he notched a 0.87 ERA while
pitching 29 and 2/3rds scoreless innings. This record for shutout
innings would stand for 43 years. In 1919, Ruth hit 29 home runs, the
most ever by any player at the time. Unfortunately, the Red Sox finished
in sixth place that season. For a club accustomed to tremendous success,
this was a disaster.
by selling players, Ruth included, that started a rebuilding period
in Boston. The strategy did not work and Boston finished in last
place nine out of the next eighteen seasons. They wouldn’t win
another pennant until 1948.
When Ruth arrived in New York, the Yankees had never won the American
League pennant, let alone been to a World Series. They won their first
pennant in 1921, and then won their first World Series in 1923. In 1920,
the Babe hit 54 home runs, a mind-boggling number given that baseball
was just coming out of its Dead Ball Era. Yes, this was a new era, an
exciting one with tremendous offense and tremendous flamboyance on and
off the diamond.
Ruth hammered 59
homers the following year (1921), and was showcased in the World
Series. Babe Ruth’s 1921 season was arguably the best batting year
of any player ever. He played in 152 games and hit .378, collecting
204 hits, 44 doubles, 16 triples, 59 home runs, 177 runs scored, 171
RBIs, 144 walks, 119 extra base hits (a record that still stands),
an .846 slugging average, and 457 total bases (another standing
From 1923- 1931, Ruth led the league in homers each season, except for
one. In 1927, he had his best year for round trippers, knocking 60, a
record that would stand for 34 years. Some still say to this day that
the 1927 Yankees’ “Murderers Row” was the best offensive team to ever
play the game of baseball.
The sheer numbers for the Yankees in 1927 make their own argument. The
Curse of the Bambino may have been a nightmare for Boston Red Sox fans,
but for the rest of the baseball world, Ruth was the messiah of a very
worried and downtrodden sport. The 1919 White Sox (eight of them) had
just thrown the World Series, causing the integrity of the game to be
questioned by a disenchanted public.
Ruth lived with great enthusiasm, and he seemed to immediately become a
living legend after arriving at the media capital of the world. When he
started producing monstrous offensive firepower, baseball was suddenly
exciting again, and the fans that had turned away in light of the White
Sox gambling scandal started returning to the ballparks. He was “bigger
than life,” and he was the drum major that marched America into “the
He was a media magnet and hype machine. Some sports reporters surmised
that in one season with the Yankees the Sultan of Swat “might” slug more
than his single season record of 29 homers. When Ruth destroyed the home
run records year after year, Yankee fans were overjoyed. When he
continued to raise the expectations of fans everywhere, baseball had
been resurrected from the depths of despair and corruption to a bright
and shining era of hope and enthusiasm.