Babe Ruth’s Autobiography, as Written in 1920; Section III
Part 7: 500 Feet Babe Ruth’s Longest Home Run Hit
Caught One of Al Mammaux’s [sic] Fast Ones and Lost It Over Center Field Fence—Boston Park Is Tough One.
Babe has hit a home run out of every ball park in the American League.
In this, the seventh article of the series telling the story of his life, the Home Run King today tells of some of the longest hits he has made.
NEW YORK, Monday, Aug. 16.—There is no telling the exact length of the longest hit made in baseball. Out in St. Louis they still tell of a drive Cap Anson made with his Chicago White Stockings about 20 years ago which not only cleared the outer fence of the park, but sailed across the street and through the window of a German saloon where the ball was kept back of the bar for years as a curio.
I don’t know whether any of my drives have beaten this one or not, because, as I say, you can’t put a foot rule on the flight of a ball. But they gave me a silver cup on the day of the benefit for Tim Murnane’s family, September 27, 1917, at Fenway Park, Boston. The Red Sox, with whom I was then playing, went up against a team of American League stars, supposed to have been the greatest ball club ever assembled. We had a fungo contest as a side attraction, and Carl Mays, Duffy Lewis and I went in to see how far we could knock the ball.
When my turn came I tossed up a nice new ball and took a long swinging smack at it. Oh, the feel of that club as it met the horsehide square on the nose! I tell you. the ball sang on its way. The distance was measured as accurately as those things can be measured, at 435 feet. Remember, I didn’t have a pitcher against me to help with the speed of the ball. The ball was practically motionless in the air when I swung into it. It was a dead ball, starting from scratch with no bounce except what I gave it.
This was quite some ball game, by the way. Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker and Joe Jackson were the outfield, and each one played all the positions in the big outer pasture. In the five innings I pitched, the All-Stars got only three hits, but they had their eye on it, all right, for I got only one strike-out. Anyway, the Red Sox won 2 to 0, scoring those two runs by bundling some hits in the eighth inning.
He Fooled ’em.
They used to say that my home runs in Boston were freak blows. Some of the experts had it doped out that I had measured the right field wall with my eye and had developed a knack of putting the ball away on the same line every time. It is true that the right field wall is the home of my homers. Being a left-handed batter, I naturally pull them around on my right side by meeting the ball squarely as it comes to me. If I were to play for left field, or center, I’d have to wait till the ball came nearer to me before plugging it. This would be an unnatural system of hatting for any left-hander.
But I fooled them, Last year I proved that all right field walls look alike to me by pasting homers over every one throughout the American League circuit. Then I banged a few over the center field screens, and let them have a few in left field. At first, when my home run total over ten or 12, some of the fans thought I was a flash and called me a lucky stiff. They were sure that I’d hit a slump before the season ended. Anyhow they didn’t expect 29 home runs and a busted record from a pitcher playing his first year in the outfield. So, apparently there’s no constitutional amendment against a pitcher batting ’em out.
One day last summer I caught one squarely at the Polo Grounds and the feel of the blow was so nice and solid I knew I didn’t really have to run to get around. At that time the baseball writers agreed that this was the longest hit ever made in the Brush Stadium, as the ball went high over the right field stand, traveling fast. Old-timers recalled a hit by Joe Jackson over just about the same spot, but they said his ball wasn’t traveling so high or so fast when it disappeared behind the stand. Incidentally, because most of my hits have gone to right and close to the foul line, the American League officials decided this year to continue the white foul line clear up to the roof of the right stand at the Polo Grounds. In some of the parks on the circuit where the sloping roofs of the stands can be seen by the umpires, the foul lines have been striped across them. I know that two or three home runs made at the Polo Grounds this year really were fouls because they were going foul as they crossed the roof. In fact, one of my own hits which went for four bases would have been nothing but a strike if the umpire could have seen where it landed.
At Navin Field, Detroit, in the summer of 1919, I caught a ball on the hefty part of my bat and slammed it beyond the street wall, and at Sportsman’s Park, the home of the Browns in St. Louis, one of my hits which disappeared beyond the Grand Avenue bleachers, very close to center field, was said to be longer than the famed hit of Pop Anson, which had become baseball history many years before.
500 Feet in Florida.
There is one hit of mine which will not stay in the official records, but which I believe to be the longest clout ever made off a major league pitcher. At least, some of the veteran sport writers told me they never saw such a wallop. The Yanks were playing an exhibition game with the Brooklyn Nationals at Jacksonville, Fla., in April 1920. AI Mammaux [sic] was pitching for Brooklyn. In the first inning, the first ball he sent me was a nice fast one, a little lower than my waist, straight across the heart of the plate. It was the kind I murder, and I swung to kill it. The last time we saw the ball it was swinging its way over the ten-foot outfield fence of South-side park and going like a shot. That ball cleared the fence by at least 75 feet. Let’s say the total distance traveled was 500 feet: the fence was 429 feet from the plate. If such a hit had been made at the Polo Grounds I guess the ball would have come pretty close to the top of the green screen in the center field bleachers.
There was another blow this year, and the blow almost killed the White Sox. I think Dick Kerr was on the mound for Kid Gleason’s olio. Anyway. the pitcher served me one with a home-run ticket on it, and I punched the ticket for a round trip.
I knew by the ballyhoo that I had put it over the fence somewhere, but I was pretty close to second base before I got my eye on the ball again in time to see it drop over the wall close to the dividing line between center field and right. They say it landed on a soccer field and broke up a run or something:- ,
The 1919 season was a short one, you know. The schedule called for 140 games, of which I played only 130. Normally, the schedule reads 154 games, so you see I got my 29 official runs and my 31 actual ones on short rations. I felt sure I’d be able to beat that record this season, and now I have proved it, with a long time to go. I don’t make any promises, but at the rate I’m going now I think I see something: hanging up that looks mighty like a 45—if the pitchers behave.
And now, while we’re buzzing about records, I don’t remember that any other player has ever made a home run on every park in the circuit in one season. Fenway Park is said to be the most difficult in the league in which to make a home run, and some of the heaviest hitters in the game have always fallen short of the right and center field bleachers. I got nine home runs at Boston in 1919 and two or more on every other lot in the league except Washington, where I tallied only one. There were five in Detroit, four in New York, three in Chicago. three in St. Louis, two in Cleveland and two in Philadelphia. \
Part 8:Babe Gets Back Into Charmed .300 Circle
Hitting Fungoes in Winter Taught Him to Keep His Eye on the Ball and Started Him to Real Stardom.
In this, the eighth chapter of Babe Ruth’s personal history, the home-run champion takes you back to the time when he was one of the leading pitchers in the big leagues. This was the period in Ruth’s career that he decided a good batting eye had better staying powers in baseball than a good pitching arm and he made ready to get out of the box and become a slugging outfielder.
One of the things he learned and passes on to young players in the form of counsel that “punches” belong in the ball game and “not on the umpire’s nose.”
NEW YORK. Tuesday, Aug. 17.—The season of 1916 was my best as a pitcher. It was really only my second session in the big league and my third out of the old school lot, but when the averages were cat up at the end of the year, my name, like Abou Ben Adhem’s, led all the rest. You remember Abou—pitched for the Cloud-hoppers in the days when the second bounce was out.
This was the season of that rare World’s Series game in which Sherrod Smith of the Brooklyn Dodgers and I battled for 13 innings before a shuffle in the hailing order by Bill Carrigan shoved across a run for the Red Sox, winning the game. Smith pitched 12 scoreless innings that day. including ten consecutive runless sessions. Myers, the Dodgers’ center fielder, smacked one of my fast ones for a home run in the very first inning. He was the last man to circle the bases for Brooklyn that memorable day. I went 13 innings without being scored on, and we won the ball game, two to one. Smith gave six bases on balls, and I gave only half that number. He struck out two and I doubled his mark, with four to my credit. The Dodgers collected six hits and we had only one more than that.
In the league season, Carrigan pitched me in 44 games and I won 23 of them, being charged with the loss of 12. For the entire league schedule, I gave an average of 1.75 earned runs per game, topping Eddie Cicotte of the White Sox, the second man on the list, who gave 1.78. All told, during the year, 1,146 halters faced me, and of these I struck out 170. Myers of Philadelphia was the only pitcher who .struck out more than I did. He whiffed 182 batters, but he stood near the end of the list in pitching effectiveness, because he had allowed an average of 3.66 earned runs per game.
At bat, however, tho season of 1916 was the poorest of my major league career. My average was only .272. I had the swing, the position and the beef—everything but the batting eye, so all I could gather in were three home runs. As a pitcher I had reason to feel satisfied, but my poor showing at tho bat gave me a whole lot to worry about, because I knew I was just missing balls and bouquets by the width of a gnat’s eyelash. The pitchers were fooling me. and I guess the secret of it is I wasn’t keeping my eye on the ball. The power was in my swing all right, because when I hit them they sure did go, and I had three three-baggers and five doubles to prove it. But there was something wrong. Here I was. a young fellow with a minor league record as a fence-buster, up in the big time with about 210 pounds of physique, a big bunch of muscle and all the confidence of a cocksure kid—and I was either missing them altogether or sending up sky-rockets for easy outs. I had secured only 18 runs, and I had only 37 hits to show for a season’s work at the plate.
I had to find out about this, because l knew that the life of a pitcher in the big leagues was much shorter than that of a slugging outfielder. If I could get my eye on the ball again and hold it there, I was sure I could kiss the mound good-bye and turn myself out to pasture in one of the out-meadows and stay there for years. But my bat was the only thing that could win this for me. A batter’s eye ordinarily lasts longer than a pitcher’s arm unless he gets eye strain looking through the bottom of a glass. As I wasn’t hoisting ’em, or even using a straw, there was danger to either my eye or my elbow.
Spent Winter Practicing.
That winter I took my bat off in the corner and talked to it like a Dutch uncle. Whenever I got a chance during the winter I would go out in the lot and slam fungoes. It wasn’t the best sort of practice, because I wasn’t up against anything on the ball, but I learned to keep my eye on the darn thing. And, of course, I speeded up my wallop.
It must have done me some good, as I finished fifth in the individual batting list next year with an average of .325. I had pounded my way up again from 28th place in l1916. That 1916 record was certainly a bad slump, because in 1915 I had hit .315 for eighth place in the season’s batting honors. So they do come back sometimes, don’t they?
Altogether, 1917 was an encouraging year. As a pitcher I finished ninth, with an average of 2.02 earned runs per game. but I fielded .984 with only two errors, while the Red Sox finished the season with a club fielding average of .972. leading the league, safely ahead of the White Sox, who won the pennant and then beat McGraw’s Giants for the World’s championship.
That average of .325 with the bat, of which I have just written, included only two homers, three three-baggers and half a dozen two-sackers. I was hi bat 123 times for 40 hits and 11 runs in 52 games. You see, I still was unable to put. over the four-base clout as I wanted to, although I felt sure I had it in my eye and my bat. They weren’t knocking many homers that year. Ty Cobb, who led the league in batting with .383, got only seven, and George Sisler, who took an average of .353 in 135 games, had only two. Tris Speaker himself corralled only a pair. Bobby Veach, of Detroit, hung up eight and Wally Pipp of the Yanks, my present team-mate, had nine, the highest of all.
He Gets Revenge.
Here’s a funny thing: Eddie Cicotte and I were tied for second honors in the number of straight wins in 1917. We each had a winning streak of eight games. Now Reb Russell. a colleague of Cicotte’s on the White Sox, turned me back on May 18, when I was trying for a ninth straight win, and I didn’t get back at him till September 24, when the Rebel came along with a winning streak of seven straight behind him. I remembered how the Rebel had spotted my nice row of wins and up and threw him back when he was fighting for his eighth straight victory. It was a good-natured battle, and we’ve often talked it over. Of course, the White Sox pitchers had some wonderful winning fits in the 1917 season, and they had in have them in order to win the pennant. Cicotte had a second successful run of seven straight and he came back later with six in a ow. My eight wins were my first eight outs of the season, and it looked as though I was going to gallop down the line for a record of some kind. No such luck. Walter Johnson, the best of them all, won nine in a string. Some boy, that Walter, and I think he’s as good today as he ever was.
After this season had been hung out to cure in the record hooks, I discovered one thing which had been overlooked by most of the figurers. It i wasn’t so very important on the ball field, but it gave me a couple of laughs to learn that my average of games won during all my career in professional baseball was the highest in the league. It totaled 98 games pitched, of which I lost 32, for a mark of .673. Joe Wood, formerly of the Red Sox but then with Cleveland, was just a shade behind me with 57 games lost out of a total of 170 starts. His average was .672.
Of course, this sounds fine, but, as some other author has observed before me, “it don’t mean anything.”
I’ve always been sorry about a little trouble I had in our own park in 1917 with “Brick” Owens, the umpire. He had ordered me off the field in the first inning after a little argument and I forgot all about Brother Matthias and took a smash at him. it looked pretty bad for me, and I was afraid that Ban Johnson might ride me out of the league, because that sort of thing is all wrong. I knew it as well as anyone else. You bet I was relieved when Ban considered my youth and let me off with a fine of $100, which I paid in time to return to the game a week later.
There’s one moral I’d like to draw from this for the benefit of young players coming up, and that is. the punch belongs in the ball game, not on the umpire’s nose.
Part 9: 29 Scoreless Innings For Babe in Big Series
In this chapter, number nine of Babe Ruth’s life in the baseball world, he portrays some of the biggest games of his career as a pitcher and closes with him leaving the box to begin in earnest his climb toward the home run championship. This was two years ago. Even then Ruth was a .300 hitter and sharing the home run leadership of the league with Walker. Ruth pitched only 17 games the following year, but even then it had become “Babe Ruth, the outfielder” instead of “‘Pitcher Ruth.”
Ruth’s next story tells of how he overcame a tendency to try to be a “scientific hitter” and relied on his natural hitting ability alone.
NEW YORK. Wednesday, Aug. 18.— As far as we have gone I am still, strictly speaking, a pitcher. I have done some outfielding and am taking a turn on first, but I have not yet achieved my ambition to play every day and bat every day. And, as the life of a pitcher is measured on tables of figures, we can’t escape a few more fast and dizzy rounds of arithmetic.
Now, in 1916, I had pitched eight shut-out games, two two-hit games and three of three hits, in winning my leading position over the American League twirlers. In the preceding year, out of 32 games pitched, I turned in only one shut-out, one two-hit game and a three-hit contest in accumulating an average of 2.41 earned runs per game. This placed me far down in the pitching roster. But in 1917 I was getting more work in the outfield and consequently more exercise with the stick. So I didn’t mind finishing the season as No. 3 among the hurlers, because I stood fifth in the batting list and was reckoning on becoming a heavy hitter. This season I split a no-hit game against Washington with Ernie Shore, held Detroit to a one-hit session and let Washington down with only two bingles. There were seven shut-outs to my credit for the year including the one split with Shore, and there were two three-hit games. This was done in 41 starts.
The next season was the one in which I began to figure as a real first baseman and outfielder with 13 games at number one corner and 58 in the meadow. I pitched only 20 games, turning in a five-inning affair in which I got credit for a shut-out and also a three-hit game. My average of earned runs allowed per game was 2.22. At first base t made five errors and my fielding average was .955. In the outfield I was pretty bad, with seven errors chalked up against me and I stood about half way down the column with a percentage of .949. It made me pretty low in my mind to be way down there.
But the batting eye was getting on the ball at last. The home runs were beginning to rattle off the old ash and the newspapers started in taking notice of me as a slugger. I not only hit 11 that year, dividing honors with Walker of the Athletics, but I had 11 three-baggers too, and 26 two-base hits, scoring 50 of the 474 runs made by the Red Sox in winning their second pennant in three years.
We went out to Chicago to open the World’s Series on September 4, 1918, before the smallest crowd that ever saw a world championship game. The game had been postponed for a day on account of bad weather and the season having been shortened, the series somehow was not exciting the same enthusiasm as in normal years. But what a ball game that first one turned out to be! Vaughn was picked to work in the box for the Cubs and he was “right” that day. Both teams played absolutely flawless baseball. There wasn’t a single error on either side, but we forced over a run in the fourth inning which saved me from having to go into extra sessions and perhaps from taking a beating. We scored our run when Shean, the first man up in the fourth inning, took a walk. Whiteman. the only player in the whole game to get more than one hit, came along with his second and last single, sending Shean to second. Then came McInnis and he cracked a nice clean single to left field, bringing Shean across the pan.
Recalls Whiteman’s Catch.
We all won that ball game. but I think that Whiteman deserves most of the credit, for he might have been excused had he lost it on either of two tense occasions in left field. In the first inning Whiteman saved the game by a long run with the ball for a great catch, preventing a homer by Pick with the bases loaded. This made the third out and my string of scoreless World’s Series innings was saved. Again, in the sixth inning this time, this same Whiteman was forced to run with a long drive in order to track it down. But he did the trick and the two runners who were ready to score died on base. They gave me credit for nine scoreless innings in that great one to nothing shutout, but this fellow Whiteman, by his timely hit and two great catches, won the ball game three times over.
It was a hard game for Vaughn to lose—like betting your whole stack on four kings and losing to four aces. He would have won anything but a shut-out ball game, going as he was that day. For he gave us only five hits, struck out six men and passed only three. My record for that day was only four strikeouts, with six hits tallied against me and one base on balls. I have to thank a mighty fine ball club for my victory.
In the fourth game of the series I was feeling “right”‘ again, so they sent me in to see if I couldn’t turn the same trick once more. And this trip I breezed along for seven full innings without allowing a man to cross the plate, making a total of 29 consecutive sessions of shut-out ball that I had hurled in World Series games. They yanked me off the mound in the ninth inning. The eighth had been a woozy session for mo, with a pass to Killifer, a single toHendrix and a wild pilch which moved both boys along one peg. The Cubs put in McCabe on second to run for Ifendrix and Hollocher was out at first on a close play which allowed Killifer to score. As we were leading at the time with only two runs I was up against it for fair. And they tied the score on us when Mann slapped out a clean single to left, scoring McCahe. In our half of the eighth we regained the lead with one run, and I couldn’t find the plate for Zeider, who walked, making two on, nobody out and Wortman up.
Well, I might have gone aviating but for the fact that they took away my balloon and sent me out to left field, while Joe Bush went in to pitch. He held tho Bruins and we won the ball game.
Comes Through in Pinch.
I had on my socking clothes this day. After Whiteman’s merry performance with the pick handle in the first three games, Tyler wasn’t j taking any chances with him, so he passed him in the fourth. Shean had already been walked and was on second. McInnis slapped out a sharp blow, forcing Shean at third. And then I came up. I didn’t know whether Tyler was going to pitch to me or not. Remember, I had made 11 home runs and 11 three-baggers in the regular season and was reckoned rather vigorous with the stick. I’ll say this for Tyler, that his curves were a lot swifter than my batting eye. for he slipped over two strikes that I was all set to murder. Then he tried to coax me on three sour offerings, but I stood pat, willing to walk if he wouldn’t let me hit. It was a great situation. There were two on, I had two and three, and he had to pitch or fill the bases. He pitched. Right across the center of the pan it came. Bingo! The ball rattled off the outfield wall, scoring Whiteman and McInnis while I had plenty of time to stagger up to third. I died there. I
I was about to say good-bye to the mound, for this was tho last time I regarded myself as a regular pitcher. It is true that I hurled 17 games in the following season, 1919, but it was to be Babe Ruth, outfielder, after this. In 1919 I worked 133 innings, allowing 148 hits to 510 batters, and permitted 59 runs, of which 44 were earned, an average of 2.97 per game. I gave 58 passes and struck out 30 men, while my fielding mark as a pitcher last season had only one blemish. This gave me a fielding average as pitcher of .970.
In four whole seasons and two small fractions of seasons I pitched a total of 133 games for a grand hurling average of. .662. Once I had led the league as a moundsman and although I left the hill for good and all I did so in good standing and with a record of which I felt a little proud.
Tomorrow at Our Game:
Part 10: Ruth Winning Out by Using Natural Swing
Part 11: Living Up to His Price Cost Ruth Anxious Time
Part 12: 8 to 7 Cleveland Win Gave Babe His Thrill