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  • Writer's pictureJoe Pace

New England Sports 366, #92: George Herman Ruth

On July 4, 1914, the Boston Red Sox purchased the contract of minor league Orioles pitcher George Herman Ruth. One of the earliest Boston sports heroes and one of the greats of Red Sox lore reported to the team on July 11. Already nicknamed "Babe", Ruth was nineteen years old and had been in the minors all of four months. The lefty hurler was used sparingly that first summer in Boston, pitching in four games as management was dissatisfied with the rookie's brash demeanor and off-field antics.

In 1915, the legend of Babe Ruth began to take hold. He joined the regular pitching rotation and posted a record of 18-8 with a 2.44 ERA while hitting .315 and launching his first four career home runs. The Red Sox would win the World Series that fall, their third in franchise history. The following season, 1916, Ruth fully arrived as a pitching star in the league. He went 23-12 with a 1.75 ERA, and won four of five matchups with the great Walter Johnson, two by 1-0 scores. His nine shutouts would be a major league record for 62 years. The season ended with another World Series victory by the Sox, including a 14-inning win pitched entirely by Ruth, still the longest postseason complete-game victory in MLB history.

The team was sold that off-season to a group including theater impresario Harry Frazee, but Ruth kept rolling. His 1917 pitching record was 24-13 with a 2.01 ERA, and he hit .325, though the team finished in second place. In 1918, Ruth began to play in the outfield and bat regularly when he wasn't pitching, to help supplement a lineup depleted by World War I. Ruth responded with a .300 average and 11 homers, good for the league lead. He still started 20 games on the mound, going 13-7 with a 2.22 ERA. The Sox won their third Series in four years, Ruth winning two games with a 1.06 ERA in the Fall Classic.

1919 would be the final year of Ruth's amazing run in Boston. His pitching value had begun to decline, and he only started 17 games, winning nine while his ERA swelled to 2.97. He did manage to hit .322 with 29 home runs and 113 RBI, but at the age of 24 his best pitching days were clearly behind him. During his six Boston seasons he had a pitching record of 89-46 with a 2.19 ERA, and helped lead the team to three championships. But his behavior was becoming a distraction, and his demands for ever-higher compensation were beginning to concern management. When the Red Sox finished sixth in 1919, it was clearly time to part ways with the beefy lefthander. Frazee extracted a princely sum from the Yankees for Ruth, including $100,000 and a $350,000 loan, all huge amounts in 1919.

Sometimes a player sticks around too long, and you pay for the tail end of a once-great career. For all the attention paid to his home run circus act, Ruth would never again be the pitcher he was in Boston. In fact, he'd only win five games for the Yankees in fifteen years. Seems like Frazee got the better part of that deal.

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