Some time ago I ran across an article from a an old Wilmington News Journal that asked the question, “Did Babe Ruth play a baseball game in Wilmington?”
Supposedly he played under an assumed name around 1919-1920. It was not uncommon for major league players to barn storm after their season to earn more money since salaries in those early days were small. He may have played here but still not sure it happened. Let’s just pretend it did.
I believe most everyone, baseball fan or not, can tell you who Babe Ruth was. He may be the best known athlete in his day in the United States, maybe the world. And he is most famous for his ability to hit home runs. Recently I stumbled on some facts about George Herman Ruth that I did not know.
One of eight children born to a couple who owned a bar in Baltimore, he was one of only two that survived. Ruth was actually born where Camden Yard, home of today’s Baltimore Orioles, now stands. He was always a big kid and somewhat unruly and at age 7, his father took him to a Catholic home for children where he spent the next 12 years. Ruth loved this place and especially Brother Matthias who became a father figure and was also his baseball coach.
From day one, George Ruth was a natural, playing on teams at the children’s home that were much older than he was. He could play all positions but he was an outstanding left-handed pitcher. In 1914, a scout for the Baltimore Orioles, then a minor league team for the Boston Red Sox, saw him pitch and signed him to a contract. He was 19 years old and had never been out side of St. Mary’s home.
The Red Sox were a struggling team and at age 19, they brought him up to the big leagues. He was an immediate success. The first game he pitched, almost the day he arrived, he won, 4-3. In 1915, he pitched and won 18 games. In 1916, he won 23 games, and in 1917, 24 games. Known for his home run hitting later in his career, he pitched 9 shutouts in one season. He also pitched 29 scoreless World Series innings, a record that lasted 43 years. His win-loss record as a major league pitcher is 94 wins, 36 losses.
During his 5 seasons with the Red Sox he also played other positions due to his ability to hit. He became addicted to food, whiskey and women. At this time he was 6-2 and weighed 210 pounds. In 1918, he hit 11 home runs, more than most of the other teams in the league. In 1919, he hit 29 home runs.
However his pitching days as well as his days with the Red Sox were numbered. The Red Sox were in financial trouble and Ruth was sold to the New York Yankees for $100,000, a major figure in those days.
This change must have agreed with him. In 1920, no longer a pitcher, Ruth hit 54 home run and in 1921, he hit 59. The Yankees did not even have a home field, playing at the Polo Grounds which was home to the New York Giants, but in 1923, they started on Yankee Stadium. Thus it was called by many, “The House That Ruth Built.”
The “Babe” led the league in home runs 12 straight years. He had the most total bases in a season, 457, highest slugging percentage, .847, and even at his size, stole a large number of bases. His record of 714 career home runs was topped in 1974 by Hank Aaron of the Atlanta Braves.
Babe Ruth retired in 1935. He had been traded to the then Boston Braves. A week before he retired, in a game in Pittsburgh, he hit 3 home runs in a game. Babe Ruth, called Babe by his teammates because he was a favorite of the team owner, died of cancer in the spring of 1948. As a kid of 12 years, I still remember my grandfather telling me that the greatest baseball player of all time had died. That is one of those days I will always remember.
Tony Lamke is a former coach. He has researched the history of Clinton County sports and writes a periodic column for the News Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.