Babe Ruth’s Autobiography, as Written in 1920; Section II
Part 4: Babe’s Home Run-less Year Disappointed Him
Babe Ruth spent only part of his first year in professional baseball as a minor leaguer. Five months after leaving St. Mary’s Industrial School to join the Baltimore Internationals, he went to the Boston Red Sox. Miss Helen Woodford, a Texas girl, was attending school in Boston. Ruth met her and in October, 1914, they were married in Baltimore.
Babe did not find entirely clear sailing with the Boston team at first. After a month on the bench he was sent out to the Providence team, thus going back to the International League again. But in September of the same year he was recalled to Boston, and finished the season there.
In 1915 he pitched 25 games for the Boston Red Sox and won 18 of them.
This is the fourth article by Babe himself on his life history.
NEW YORK, Thursday. Aug. 12.— Although I had been quite a home run hitter on the old school lot, and could now and then poke out a long one against a league pitcher, still Jack Dunn saw me as a pitcher rather than a heavy slugger when the Orioles went out on the International circuit. I liked pitching well enough, but as a pitcher I could not bat in every game, and my whole idea was to play ball every day and bat every day to earn my $1,800. Bat, especially.
Somehow or other I never saw myself as a big pitcher, although the speed and the jumps were there in the old left arm. My idea of a wonderful time was knocking the ball where some one would have to climb the fence to get it. Jack Dunn saw something that I couldn’t see, because if you will look back on the Red Sox games in the World Series of 1916 against Brooklyn, and 1918 against the Cubs, you will find a total of 29 scoreless innings credited to me. And this was one inning more than any other pitcher had ever gone hitless [i.e., scoreless-ED.] in World Series work.
Some ball players may know when there is an ivory hunter in the grandstand, but I had no idea that anybody was watching me with the Orioles. If you had told me that some Class D league scout had his eye on me I might have believed it. But the surprise I got with the second boost, to $1,800, was nothing at all to the sensation Jack Dunn gave me a few days after that speech-making trip to St. Mary’s, when he told me that I was going to Boston. Perhaps he didn’t think I was such a good pitcher after all.
I could hardly believe that I made a big league club in my first year out. Only five months since I had been a school boy, sliding on a pond in a Baltimore industrial school. And the salary was less believable—$2,500 a year.
I was having much better luck in the game than Tom Padgett, a fine fellow and a good pitcher, who broke into baseball at school and was pitching for a small club in the Virginia League. Poor Tom would have made good, I am sure, if he hadn’t been killed in an accident. He was the only other St. Mary’s boy to get into professional baseball, but every year I look for some good ones to come along from the old school lot back in Baltimore.
Along about this time I began playing to the grandstand. Oh, there might have been from 15,000 to 20,000 others, but she’d have been the whole crowd among 20,000,000.
She Arrives on Scene
Did I say she? I believe I did—and I was writing about Miss Helen Woodford, a Texas girl so pretty that any time she failed to show up I was useless. She was attending a girls’ college in Boston and taking a special course in baseball at the open air school in Fenway Park. She evidently fell for Professor Ruth of the baseball faculty, because one day in October, in 1914, when Professor Ruth had a class in Baltimore, he up and married her. And he has been happy ever since.
Although this story is supposed to be about myself, I wouldn’t be fair to myself if I didn’t present my better 90 per cent. She knows baseball and can handle a temperamental batter as easily as she handles her own car. Whenever I am playing at home she is at the ball park and she has learned so much about the fine points of the game that she can anticipate a manager’s instructions and frequently calls a play before it is made.
During the season our home is in a New York apartment, but we have another place with trees and grass around it up in Sudbury, Mass. We spend most of our winters in Boston because I have a cigar factory up there which takes some management.
Off the field we drop baseball. We motor together in the evenings or go to the Broadway musical comedies, but when the weather is bad I sometimes sit at home and play the organ. No kidding. I do. She doesn’t call me Babe, she calls me Hon, and what I call her is—between us.
His First Stay Short.
But my story is back in the baseball season of 1914 and I must return to it. When I arrived in Boston it seemed to me that there was nothing more for me to win in the way of honors, and because I felt that way, the blow was all the harder when the Red Sox refused to take fire from my spirit and casually farmed me out to the Providence club of my old league, the International, after a month on the bench. It was pretty disappointing to a young fellow who thought he was coming along fine, but I remembered the advice of Brother Matthias to “play the game,” so I said nothing much and went to work for Providence.
On September 2 I was back in Boston and they gave me a chance to work. Altogether, I broke into the box score four times before the season ended. Two games I won, one I lost, and one I did not finish.
Boston did not have occasion to farm me out after that. It is true that I pitched only 22 innings and got no homers that year, but I had taken part in only four games and had done fairly well in one month of experience in the big game. I was waiting for 1915 to come around. Then I was sure I’d get my chance.
They started me 25 times in 1915.
I won 18 games and turned in seven defeats. This gave me a pitching average of .720. The home runs did not come so easily against the expert pitching of the old heads and cunning arms of the big league moundsmen as they had against the kids on the lot or the men who went up against the Orioles. I was able to collect only four homers, and they did not attract much attention, as a record of four home clouts in a season was nothing to print on 24-sheet posters. However, my batting average for the year put me In the so-called charmed circle of .300 hitters. The end of the season found me with an average of .315 and only once since then have I dropped below .300. This was in 1918, when my average fell to .272. Remember I was a pitcher and pitchers are supposed to be rotten hitters. They thought around the Boston club that I would have to blow up in one department or the other before the 1916 season got far under way, because it just isn’t done for a pitcher to win ball games and hit .300.
The season of 1916 was the least successful from a batting viewpoint that I have ever played In the big league. At pitching, however, I managed to pull through with a good showing. Altogether, there were 36 starts and 23 of them were entered in the “won” column. Thirteen games—unlucky number— I lost. My batting eye didn’t seem to be working that year, because I got only three homers throughout the season.
My pitching average for the season was .638. You will remember that we went into the World Series that fall, beating Brooklyn for the championship. People were saying at the time that the Dodgers were not really a championship club and did not deserve to represent the National League against us. I didn’t think so, though, and every ball I pitched in that series was sent over with all the respect due to the winner of a pennant and fighter for the highest honor. Everything in my head and arm I put on the ball to win. At that time I was too young to take chances in a World Series—and I am just that young today. Any man who becomes so cocksure of himself as to let himself grow careless any moment in a World Series or in any other game, is either too big or too small for his chosen profession, and I’ll say right here I’ve never met one too big.
In my first World Series game against Brooklyn in 1916 the old soup bone was working like a piece of steel machinery. I had everything on the ball that any pitcher could want—and that any hitter didn’t want. The result of it was that I pitched 13 scoreless innings in the series. They did hit me once or twice, but it did them no good, because not a man-Jack got around.
And that was the beginning of a record in scoreless innings that stands to my credit in the annals of baseball.
Part 5: You Want to Hit Homers, Here’s Recipe
Babe Ruth Describes [for Times’ Readers] Just How He Manufactures His Yell-Inspiring Blows.
The “batting eye” is the big thing in home run hitting.
Babe Ruth tells of the importance of keeping your eye on the ball, and how he stands at the plate, how he swings and all about how he knocks home runs, in this chapter of his life story.
In the next chapter Ruth discusses the intentional pass.
This is the fifth article on Babe’s life history.
NEW YORK, Friday, Aug. 13.—How do I hit home runs? I have been asked this question thousands of times since the close of the season of 1919, when I broke the world’s record with an official total of 29 home runs. Really, I got 31, but the other two went down in the score books as two-baggers. This is how it happened in each case: There was a man on second in the ninth inning who brought in a winning run, officially ending the game by the time I had reached second base. Both of these blows were made on our own preserve, Fenway Park, Boston. Both times my hits were long enough for me to have scored without getting out of breath. But I’m not crabbing about the loss of those two homers. They won ball games, and I was playing for the Red Sox and not for Babe Ruth.
I suppose, when you get down to it, there are several things that enable a man to hit home runs—batting eye, how he stands at the plate, how he swings, his strength and weight and his confidence. Let’s take them up in order.
No Use Guessing.
You stand there at the plate watching the pitcher wind up. You haven’t a way in the world of knowing what he is going to serve you, and it is not much use trying to guess, because a good hurler can disguise his windup so that you get a fast one when you think a curve hall is coming. The thing to do is keep your eye on the ball. And 1 never do go up to the plate that something inside me doesn’t whisper, “Keep your eye on the ball, Babe—keep your eye on it. Watch it come up.”
1 don’t mean to say that anybody can hit the ball all the time, even if he keeps his eye glued on it, but the fellow who has his lamp trimmed and keeps it on will make a whole lot more hits than the fellow who doesn’t. It’s easy enough to follow the ball half way from the box to the plate. After that is when the pitcher fools the hitter. That’s when most batters begin to lose the ball. They are not prepared to watch the break which comes just before the apple reaches them. I believe that one of the secrets of my hitting is that ability to keep my eye on the ball longer than any other batter, even until it starts to break. We all know that a real curve holds its course and does not jump until it is almost at the plate, and that is why a batter must watch so that he doesn’t swing where the ball ought to be but ain’t.
Just Like Golf. ‘
It is in this business of keeping your eye on the ball that golf and baseball run side by side for a little way. They also resemble each other in the feel of the home run and the feel of the long drive, but I will speak of that later.
In standing at the plate I again put myself in the position of the golfer; I address the pitcher. First of all, I get my feet in the position, the right one a little in advance of the left. My right leg is bent just a little at the knee, and as I stand this way the pitcher gets more view of my hack and my right hip than of my chest or side. The weight of my body is, at the beginning, on my left leg. When the ball comes up I shift my weight to my right foot, which steps out directly toward the pitcher as my bat, my arms and my whole body swing forward for the blow.
At the start of my swing I reach back with my bat as far as I can, almost turning my back on the pitcher. As my bat comes forward the movement with which I throw my weight against the ball often carries my right foot beyond the chalk line of the hatter’s box. The greatest power in the stroke comes when the bat is half way through the swing. I mean directly in front of my body, and that is where it meets the ball. There is something to be said for the bat, too, because it is the heaviest one used in either of the leagues. I have them made especially for me: they are of ash with a slender handle. They are 40 inches long and weigh about 54 ounces—some wagon tongue. Most bats weigh 38 or 40 ounces. The heavier the bat the longer the drive, that’s what I think. The wallop comes just at the balance point of the bat, and if you want to find out where that is take a bat in your hand and balance it. That is where every hatter should catch the ball, for there is the greatest leverage and the heaviest weight of the blow.
Free Swing Best.
A free and easy swing is the one I think connects most often with the ball. When I say free and easy don’t think l mean slow. I mean fast, with a great big F, and with every ounce of weight and strength that can be put into the swing. My elbows are always well away from my body when I poke at the ball: they are not stuck out, of course, but far enough out to give complete freedom.
We now come to the matters of strength and weight. The big boys have a natural advantage in this respect, but would you think that there was such a thing as being too muscular? There is. I know a batter in the American League who is not much better than an ordinary hitter, although he has a good eye, weight, stance and fine development. His trouble is that he is “muscle bound”—too strong to get a good easy swing at the ball.
Strength is absolutely necessary to hit home runs consistently. And as I am out for a home run every time I get up to bat, I always swing at the ball with all my might. I hit big or miss big. And when I miss I know it long before the umpire calls a strike on me, for every muscle in my back, shoulders and arms is groaning, “you missed it.” And believe me, it is no fun to miss a ball that hard. Once I put myself out of the game for a few days by a miss like that. We were playing the Athletics at the Polo Grounds on the 22nd of last April. During batting practice before the game I swung at a low curve ball with the hope of hoisting it over the elevated tracks, and all 1 punched my bat into was the air: result, a strained muscle in my right side. The pain of that wrench almost put me down, but I hobbled up to the bench like a fellow with a limp leg. Some of the boys rubbed me and gave me first aid and I went out to the plate again. There were more than 25,000 persons in the stands that day and I don’t believe very many of them knew I had hurt myself. But the pain was so great that I couldn’t swing my bat again, so I had to go to the clubhouse, where Doc Woods, the trainer, could get a good look at me. He got out his work basket and wound tape around me till I looked like an army rookie’s leg the first day he puts on spiral puttees. And I felt like a corset model, if that’s how they feel. The game started with yours truly in center field, but I wasn’t called on because the gentlemen from Philadelphia went out in 1-2-3 order. I tried to take my turn at bat with a man on second, but although the crowd was yelling “over the fence,” I only fouled the first two arid whiffed at the third. That whiff finished me, and I could hardly reach the bench. They x-rayed my side and found a sprained muscle along the eleventh rib so that I was out of the park for a day or two.
That’s how hard I hit ’em. My wrong swings as well as my hits have left their record. I never knew, it until one day I found a tangle of fine lines like tracery on a blue print on my chest and hack, showing where the muscles had been stretched to their limit under my hide when I had gone after the hall. I suppose that is bound to happen when n fellow of six feet two, weighing 210 pounds, puts it all into a swing.
What about confidence? Next to the batting eye, it’s the most important asset of a home run seeker. Let the pitchers think you are not afraid of them and they haven’t got so much on the ball as they think. And they haven’t anything on you. I am not afraid of any pitcher in baseball, and I am not ball shy. I got over my shyness when I was a kid in Saint Mary’s because I used to catch behind the bat there without any mask or body protector and not much of a glove on my hand. Foul tips meant nothing to catchers at Saint Mary’s. If you got beaned by one it was your own fault and you got no sympathy.
So, just to impress it on you, the batting eye’s the best thing to have. If you are a little fellow you’ll get lots of hits and if you’re big enough, you will get lots of home runs.
Part 6: Drawing Passes All Bunk, Says Babe Ruth
Fans Don’t Like It and Furthermore It’s Poor Sportsmanship, Declares Baseball’s Great Slugger.
Fans pay for action and Babe Ruth believes they should have it. To insure this he believes there should be baseball legislation that would eliminate the ”intentional pass.”
In this, the sixth article of the story of his life, Ruth discusses this question and tells of some of his own experiences in being given a base on balls when he might have won the ball game had he been given a chance to hit.
NEW YORK, Saturday. Aug. 14—There’s one thing in baseball that always gets my goat, and that’s the intentional pass.
It isn’t fair to the batter, it isn’t fair to his club. It’s a raw deal for the fans and it isn’t baseball. By “baseball” I mean good, square American sportsmanship, because baseball represents America in sport If we get down to unfair advantages in our national game we are putting out a mighty bad advertisement.
This year the rule makers gave us a new law which was intended to prevent pitchers from intentionally passing heavy hitters in order to get to the next batter for an out or, perhaps, a double play. But the rule hasn’t worked because the umpires, being human, cannot tell beyond a doubt whether the pitcher is merely wild or is heaving the ball wide with the clear intention of passing the slugger.
During this season, when it was seen that pitchers were continuing to pass the heavy hitters when there were men on bases, many other rules were suggested. Some of them will be considered, I suppose, when the big guns of the game meet next winter to make another try at cleaning up the game. But I don’t know—it seems to me that the whole thing will depend on the umpire’s ability to tell what’s in the pitcher’s bean. The best suggestion that I’ve heard is this: that all passes be for two bases instead of one. Get this situation: there are men on second and third and a heavy hitter is up. Under this season’s rule the pitcher is in an easy position, because all he’s got to do is to make a disgusted face as he sends each wide one up the lane to give the umpire the impression that he’s trying to cut a corner off the pan. The batter walks and the next man up, who may not be so strong with the old pick handle, pops to the infield. He may hit into a double play, perhaps retiring the side without a run. And there you are.
The heavy swatter has been about as useful as a pair of calked shoes to a dancer. If he’d had a chance to clout the ball he might have won the game. And that’s what the fans came there to see him try. Do you wonder they razz the twirlers every now and then?
Every time a batter faces a pitcher the natural odds are about seven to three against him. You can prove this by taking a look at the batting averages, which show that the hitter with a percentage of .300 for more than ten games is an exceptional man with the stick. Scouts go wild over .500 hitters. A team of .300 sluggers would be a good bet to win a pennant fielding with one arm tied. However you look at it the pitcher has it on the.batter by more than two to one. Why should he look for a bigger cinch than that: what more does he want?
Two Bases Different
The victim of the intentional pass hasn’t a Chinaman’s chance to hit. But if you give him two bases or if you advance all runners two bases instead of one, you’ve got your pitcher in a box; he’s got to pitch.
Just to show you how this pass business works. I was walked 101 times in the season of 1919. And this season, they’re doing even worse. Do you think the intentional pass rule is working overtime this year? Neither do I. In our recent series in St. Louis I came up with two men on bases, and the ball game was in my bat. I always feel like a home run, so I felt as though I could knock in three runs and the ball out into Grand Avenue. What happened? I walked. Three razzing sneers for the intentional pass rule! We lost the ball game.
Another incident: It was the ninth inning of a came with Washington at the Polo Grounds. We had two men out, two men on bases and a string of ten straight victories behind us. We were going so strong with the stick that the fans had begun to call us Murderers’ Row and Assassins Alley. I was full of home runs that day. In the.morning game I had put two over the right field wall and in this one I already had a home run to my credit. I felt like four for the day. Did I get another lick at the ball? I did not. If anything had come within reach I’d have taken a gambling swing at it. But all I got was four balls, so wide that I couldn’t have reached them with a telegraph pole. We lost the ball game and we broke our winning streak, which, by all rights, should have marched right on. Encore sneers.
A ball club goes into the open market and buys a heavy hitter, and they’re not cheap these days, with the idea of having him win ball games in pinches just like those I’ve described. You know the fans hold their breath when a slugger comes up to bat with the game on the bags. The fans want to see an honest test between the pitcher and the hitter. Even if the slugger belongs to the visiting team, the rooters would prefer to have him go down the line to a square conclusion with their pitcher. I have noticed this in every park on the circuit. The St. Louis fans themselves booed their pitcher for not pitching baseball, and one of the city’s newspapers came out with n headline which said “Pay a Dollar to See Babe Ruth Walk,” or something like that. When you’re playing the passing game you’re not playing the fans’ game.
Fans Show Their Feelings.
When Murderers’ Row started murdering the ball at the Polo Grounds this season, all the glorious old attendance records went blooey. Time after time the Yankees have drawn record-breaking crowds, both at home and on the road, because they were hitting home runs. In the ten games we played between July 17 and July 25 with Chicago. Boston and Cleveland, 264,000 fans paid to get into the ball park. This means an average of 26,400 at each game. Of course some of the crowds were larger than this last figure, because we had two Saturdays and two Sundays in that period. On Saturday, July 24. when we played Cleveland, there were 40,000 people packed in the stands and nearly half that many were turned away from the gates by the police. There wasn’t a seat left anywhere on the lot. A sport writer told me that he’d never been able to set within a block of the ball grounds that day if he hadn’t had a police card. The Giants never drew such crowds even in their World Series games, which had established the previous record under the Bluff. Do you think these mobs came out there to see Babe Ruth walk?
You know, I started out as a pitcher, so I have a pretty good idea of what is going on in the twirler’s mind when he finds himself up against a hefty slugger with a record back of him and the winning runs on the bases. Of course there’s a great temptation to walk the man, but after all, winning isn’t all there is to sport. Believing this, I never gave an intentional pass in all my life, even though the manager signaled for one from the bench. Any batter who thought he had more in his club than I had on the ball, was welcome to step right up and take a fair swing at fair pitching. He had a chance to win his ball game. And if he walked he knew it was because I could not find the plate. I was doing my best.
Of course, on every ball team there are men whose playing skill lies in the field, and who are carried along on that account, although their managers know them to be weak at the bat. With some of these fellows “waiting out a walk” is good business and has become a science. Little fellows particularly are hard for some pitchers to serve and they are likely to draw passes. As a rule they lead off with the idea of getting to first, no matter how. This is good, fair baseball, because if a pitcher cannot find the plate and puts a fast one over it, the batter deserves something for his judgment.
But have you ever noticed how often these weak hitters get in the hole with two strikes and one ball and have to swing at the next? The pitcher doesn’t seem to have so much trouble finding the plate against the boys who usually pop to the infield as he does against the home run getters.
Next year I hope, and I know you hope with me, that we will have an effective way to compel the moundsmen to play the game. I leave it to the fans whether the intentional pass was meant to be a part of the grand old ball game. Those loud boos whenever a slugger is passed are answer enough.
Tomorrow at Our Game:
Part 7: 500 Feet Babe Ruth’s Longest Home Run Hit
Part 8: Babe Gets Back into Charmed .300 Circle
Part 9: 29 Scoreless Innings for Babe in Big Series