Babe Ruth’s Autobiography, as Written in 1920; Section IV

Ruth, March 1920, spring training.

Ruth, March 1920, spring training.

Part 10: Ruth Winning Out by Using Natural Swing

Home Run King Tells How He Became Convinced That “Scientific” Game at the Bat Was Not Suited to His Ability.

“I am a natural hitter,” says Babe Ruth in the tenth chapter of his life story, and having come to this conclusion in the season of 1919 he tells how he dismissed “Scientific” hitting coaching and relied on his batting eye and physical strength to push ’em further than there were men to catch ’em. Interesting facts about his hitting record which brought him the home-run championship arc related here and he tells in an interesting manner of is sale to the Yankees by the Boston Red Sox.                                                

NEW YORK, Thursday, Aug. 19.—I am a natural hitter. I found this out in the season of 1919, when I missed a lot of long blows by trying to play the “scientific” game at the bat. Instead of attempting to drive homers into left or center, I should have used my natural swing, which pushes the ball over toward right four times out of five.

Although l was getting a lot of distance, it never struck me that I could really depend upon soaking the ball clear out of the lot. That seemed such a big order that in my wildest dreams of being a home-run champion I never expected to be putting them over the fence as an almost daily stunt. Realizing that most of my swats were going very deep into right, the opposition right fielders began playing deep for me. What I should have done was to put more drive in my bat and sail the hits over their head, even though they played back against the fences. Instead, however, I tried to hit to center and right.

Of course, this wasn’t my natural way, as it required me to delay my swing until the ball was almost past me. The result was I knocked a lot of long flies and struck out more often than if I had batted in my old way. It seems likely that I would have had, perhaps, half a dozen more homers if I hadn’t been bunked by this new idea.

Becomes Home-Hun Champ.

Anyhow, fall time came along and I found myself the home-run champ. even when they weighed me against the old-time whiskered babies who used to sock at underhand pitching and were considered some bears.

After the close of the 1919 season I began to think over my future in the game. I was tied up to the Red Sox with a contract which certainly did not call for the salary that a man with a home-run record of 29 in a season deserved. I tried to open the deal for a raise, but couldn’t get Harry Frazee to see my side of it. In that case, there was only one thing to do—hold out—because I knew that two such sports as Colonel Ruppert and Colonel Huston of the Yankees would be after me, no mat­ter what they had to pay Frazee to let me go. With Mrs. Ruth I went out to Los Angeles for the winter to keep in condition by mild training. So I wouldn’t lose my batting eye I stuck pretty close to golf and was on the course every day.

Things began to pop in the East, and there were rumors of all sorts. One day Frazee wouldn’t sell me, and the next day I’d hear that he wanted too much money. To an outsider it may have seemed that I was going to be kept out of the game or forced to play with the Red Sox for my old salary.

Sale Reported at Last.

At last the sale was reported at a price which figured more than my weight in gold. Of course, this was a mighty fine compliment to me, but when I try to pay my rent to the landlord in compliments upon his handsome red nose or something, he gives me the razz, not a receipt. I mean to say Frazee was getting this purchase price, not I, and I yearned for a little jack myself.

(L-R) Barrow, Ruth, Frazee, McInnis,

(L-R) Barrow, Ruth, Frazee, McInnis,

The Yanks agreed with me. When Miller Huggins came out to Los Angeles to sign me up, I was out on the golf course. Hug didn’t know me very well and he knew just enough about golf to wait for me at the nineteenth hole instead of butting in on my game, though I’m not any more temperamental at the old Scottish pastime than I am at the bat. We soon settled matters at the extra dry nineteenth over a couple of steins of roof beer, shook hands—and Babe Ruth became a Yank:

We drank to the success of my new club in true prohibition style.

Babe No Prima Donna. 

Harry Frazee had said that I was too full of ego, or something like that, to be an asset any longer to the Red Sox. He may be right, be­cause a stuck-up man is the last one to realize his ailment, but I honestly don’t think that was Frazee’s ob­jection. I’ve never been a prima donna with any ball club. The fel­lows are all my friends and nobody ever feels it necessary to give way to me because I’m upstage, or any­thing like that. The best cure for temperament is a season with a hall club. If they gave a conceited guy the brown derby in front of thousands of fans, he’d never get over it. But I got one in Philly once, and it was about the greatest joke ever put across on me. I’ll tell you all about that later.

Here was the record for 1919 that the Yankees bought along with their 210 pounds of Ruth: 130 games, 432 times at bat, 139 hits, 75 extra-base hits, 29 home runs. 34 two-baggers, 12 three-baggers; scored more runs than any other player in the league, 103; struck out more times than any other batter in the league, 58 times; made 230 putouts, 2 errors and 26 as­sists as an outfielder for a fielding average of .992. My throwing arm had shown up as one of the best on the whole circuit of clubs, enabling me to get more assists than any other outer gardener in the American League.

I don’t write of these things in a bragging spirit, but just to give you a brief catalogue of the goods the Yankees got for their money. In view of this, and my 1920 record of home runs to date, you tell ’em whether Frazee saw the colonels coming.

After we got away for the spring training trip I found myself up against something that puzzled me a lot more than Walter Johnson’s speed or Eddie Cicotte’s snake hall. This was the sport writer. They asked me all kinds of things about my bat, and how I held it, and how I swung it; they wanted to look at my eyes, and one fellow got me to strip off my shirt to give my back muscles the once over. At first I thought they were kidding me. but it didn’t do me any good to find out they weren’t, because I talk the same way some people sing.

Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb, 1920.

Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb, 1920.

A fellow comes up and says: “Can you hit an in-curve farther than an out?” And, honest, I just don’t know what to answer. Usually I think of the reply after the paper’s gone to press, and even then I’m not sure I’m right. I’ll have to make a cellar campaign if I ever run for anything. I’m not even good enough for the front porch.

Pitchers Doing Their Best.

The last year I was with the Red Sox I think you’ll agree that I hit a good, fast stride. But this season the old batting-eye seems to be work­ing better than ever, because that’s the only way I can account for my new record. The pitchers certainly haven’t gone back, and they’re do­ing their best to strike me out or walk me. They put all they’ve got on the ball and I’ve had to beat them with the lamps.

We must recognize that some of the twirlers are under a handicap this year on account of the rule against the use of resin, sand, paraffine or licorice on the hall. I know by long experience that a little pinch of resin is a great aid to a twirler with his curve ball. As to the emery ball, I should think the result is about the same, though accomplished in a different way.

The paraffine ball or “shine ball” as they called it last year, is some­thing I never knew anything about. It certainly never gave me any trou­ble at the bat. So, if anyone can figure out just how much these new handcuffs on the pitcher have helped me this year, and how many of my homers this season are due to them, I’d be glad to know.

Part 10: Living Up to His Price Cost Ruth Anxious Time

Brown Derby Incident at Philadelphia and a Little “Runt of a Fan” in Florida Had Him Worried.

“Could I make good $130,000 worth?” This was the question  facing Ruth when he started out with the Yankees after his sensational sale. In this chapter, No. 11, of his history Ruth tells how he lost the  first game he played by  fumbling a ball, failed to hit anything for several games, was awarded the brown derby at Philadelphia for being a false alarm and subjected to “razzing” from the bleachers.

He touches a bit on the psychology of a successful ball player in this chaptergood material both for fans and aspiring ball players. Incidentally he reveals that his total of home runs thus far this season is greater than the total polled by any entire club in the American League.

Tomorrow Ruth concludes his life story with a discussion of the kind of ball he likes to hit best and why and some further counsel to young ball players.

NEW YORK, Friday, Aug. 20.— Now I am a member of the Yankees.

It had cost Colonel Ruppert and Colonel Huston, owners of the club, $130,000 to release me from the Red Sox after my contract troubles up there and they were gambling with their money because nobody could know how confident I felt of knock­ing out more home runs in 1920 than I did in 1919. The price of ball play­ers of reputation had been coming along like the rent of a New York flat ever since John McGraw paid $11,000 to bring Rube Marquard to the Giants in 1908. The Yankees were paying me a great salary and it was costing them a heavy premium for $150,000 worth of accident and life insurance so it was up to Babe Ruth to deliver in a big way in 1920 or go down in baseball his­tory as the worst crate of lemons in the game.

Shoeless Joe Jackson Batting Grip.

Shoeless Joe Jackson Batting Grip.

The sale was the biggest sensation that baseball has served up in many years. It seemed to me that more columns of statistics and expert spec­ulation were printed about this deal than about the League of Nations. Tris Speaker and Eddie Collins had been sold at $50,000 each when put on the market but my price was more than both of them had cost— enough more to pay off Joe Jackson’s purchase price of 1915.

Could I make good $130,000 worth? It was a big order, but if home runs were what they wanted for their money, I felt certain of delivering the goods because my eye was on the ball and I knew it. If I fell down I was sure I’d get the most classic razzing in this history of the game.

Gets Brown Derby.

About this razzing. I’d like to say that when I do get it, I take it as part of the game. They gave me the “Brown Derby” down In Philadelphia last April—the tan crown of ridicule. I had lost the first ball game of the schedule by muffing an easy fly and I hadn’t done a thing  at the bat. So on the second day the jeering Philly fans dug up a brown derby of the vintage of 1898 with a wide curving brim and a crown about as high as a fried egg, and sent it out to me at the plate wrapped up in many folds of tissue paper inside a fancy gift box. On the level, I was sold 100 per cent on this idea. I really thought. “Babe, some of your old buddies are sending you something pretty nice just to show this crowd of raspberry pickers they still think you’re good.” Well, 1 stood there before that great big crowd with the boys of both hall clubs standing around me and opened that prize package. One of the fel­lows rushed out of the dugout with a knife to cut the string and when I got the lid off the box it seemed to be tilled with tissue paper. There were yards and yards of it, but I un­rolled them like a girl going after a bunch of violets and found—the brown derby!

Those fans were all watching me to see what kind of a bird I really was. If I’d been sore about it, they would have ridden me out of the league. I took the hat and pulled it tight down on my head just as if it had been my cap. and that’s the way’ I went to the plate. I could hear the yell that went up from the stands, but it wasn’t for any goat that I’d lost: it wasn’t the razz.

But every ball player loses his nanny at least once. That happened to me down in Jacksonville during the training trip. There was a fellow in the stand who just wouldn’t let me alone. No mutter what I did I was “a great big stiff,” a “fatso alarm,” and a lot more things that are too hot to put down here. I stood it just as long as I could and then went over to the stand to get that bird. I was ready to knock his block off. And when I got to him, what did I find, a little, sawed-off runt of a man, about 10 cents’ worth of skin and bones. I couldn’t hit him, so there was nothing for me to do but grin at him and go back to the lot. I was told afterward that Ernie Shore was sitting in the bleachers that day and as soon as he saw me start across the field he knew that something was doing, so he climbed over the heads of all the people and got down to me. They said that the little fellow drew a knife, but I didn’t see it. Anyhow, he let up on me after that.

After the brown derby incident I wanted to make a home run in Philly, just to show ’em. But I was out of luck. It was about two weeks later, on May 1, that I got my first homer of the 1920 season off Pennock of the Red Sox at the Polo Grounds. Since then I have socked a homer against every club in the league and in every park on the circuit. So far I have slapped out three on my old home grounds at Fenway Park, Boston, but of course most of my roundtrip clouts this season have been made under Coogan’s Bluff, New York. Up to July 25 I had made 25 on the home lot. When August 7 rolled around I had collected a record of 41 home runs for the season. If you go to the trouble to take a high dive into sta­tistics you’ll find that 41 home runs is more than any entire club, other than my own club, in the American League has knocked out this year.

Honestly, I’m mighty proud of this record. My hitting this year has scored about 116 runs, as I figure it, and we still have a spell to go before we’ll know who’s going to battle for the world’s championship. I think I have about 130 hits to my credit, for about 220 bases—I’m writing this early in August and the figures are going up all the time. A peculiar thing is that for all these homers and other extra base hits, I stand pretty well out of first place in the Ameri­can League batting list. Just now Speaker, Sisler and Jackson top me, with averages above .400. while mine is only .393.

Back in 1911, Ty Cobb’s best year, he hit for an average of .420 with 248 hits and 288 bases. In 1919, when 1 broke the world’s home run record with 29, I hit 139 times for 284 bases and finished the season with an aver­age of .322. But Cobb didn’t lead the league in home runs in 1911. Frank Baker of the Athletics was the homer champ that year with only nine.

Gavvy Cravath

Gavvy Cravath

So I like to think that a hitter to­day takes conditions as he finds them and makes his home runs against the best pitching the other clubs can serve and against a ball that stands as the official ball of the game. In Ned Williamson’s day, in 1884, he hit 27 home runs. But he got 25 of them on the old grounds on the Chicaco Lake Front, where the fence was close in. Thus, he only got two anywhere else. And Buck Freeman, another star walloper, who was knock­ing them over the fences in 1899, his beat year, is down in the records for twenty-five. I can’t find out how many games they played in nor how many times they went to bat, so this will have to be a comparison of home runs for the entire season. Gavvy Cravath came along with a later-day record when he smashed out twenty-five homers in 1915, hut he got most of them over his personal “home run” fence in short right field at the Phillies park. He also had a convenient outfield bleacher where a hit was a round trip.

But give them credit: everyone else had a chance to measure those fences or long drives and that these fellows were able to do it is to their credit. At the Polo Grounds I have got the right field stand measured just about right, but I have to clout the ball a terrible smack to lift it that far. In writing this story of my career I have been looking over a lot of old records and have just discovered that Frank Baker’s total of homers in the four straight years that he led the league was just exactly what I have done this season with more than a month to go—41. In less than two full seasons, 1919 and 1920, my grand slams mount up to seventy. Do you know that the home run leaders of the American league ran up a total of only 72 in eight full seasons, from 1908 to 1915, inclusive?

Part 12: 8 to 7 Cleveland Win Gave Babe His Thrill

All the Great Bambino Did Was Drive in Every One of Those Eight Runs—Don’t Smoke, Get Married, He Advises.

In this, the twelfth and final chapter of Babe Ruth’s striking chronicle of his history in balldom, the Bambino tells of a game at Cleveland last year which he recalls with more pleasure than any other he ever played. In it he poled out two home runs and a third hit, all of which drove in a total of eight runs, four of them in the last inning, enabling Boston to beat Cleveland 8 to 7 with Babe responsible for every winning run. He tells of the kind of ball he likes to hit best, discusses changes that have been made in pitching rules and why they are advantageous and concludes with, advice to young players to keep their eyes on the ball, their minds on the gameand get married. 

NEW YORK. Saturday. Aug. 20 —Writing a story about yourself is very different from pitching a ball, because in writing the “windup” is the last thing of all. But I’ve given you my best delivery and tried to tell you all about myself that I think would interest you. Whether I’ve struck out as a “literary batsman,” or made a hit, is for you to say. But I know more about balls than I do about books. So here goes for the “windup.”

Some time ago a fellow asked me what was the best game of ball I ever played, the one I enjoyed most. Per­haps you’d like to hear about it. It was in Cleveland last year. In the first inning, with Fred Coumbe on the mound, there were two men on bases and I got a home run. That, as you see. brought in three runs. In another inning I got another run. At the end of the eighth inning the score was 7 to 4 against the Red Sox. But in the ninth inning, with three men on the bags and Uhle pitching, I poked out another home run, so the game closed 8 to 7 in favor of Boston. Lack of modesty compels me to say that I made every run for our side in that game, so of course I en­joyed it.                                 .

Since we’re talking about this bird Ruth, I was playing in an exhibition game in Baltimore in April, 1918, and made six home runs in six times at hat. The game was really two games, played on two days, and on the first day I got four homers and the next I whammed out two.

I’m glad that I’ve played every po­sition on the team, because I feel that I know more about the game and what to expect of the other fel­lows. Lots of times I hear men being roasted for not doing this or that, when I know, from my all-around experience, that they couldn’t have been expected to do it. It’s a pity some of our critics hadn’t learned the game from every position.

Infielding Days Over.

I guess my days up on the infield are over, although I have played first base even this year on the Polo Grounds. I’m an outfielder now, and. if you’ll notice it, you’ll always find me in the sunny field, whether it be right or left. The sun doesn’t bother me very much, and often I put on goggles if it gets too glary. But be­ing in the outfield instead of on the mound gives me the chance to play every game.

Speaking again of homers, you haven’t an idea how many suggestions have been made by fans as to the way to get me in a hole so I wouldn’t have a chance to land one out. I heard about a letter that was sent to Wilbert Robinson, manager of the Brooklyn Nationals. It was while the Yanks were playing an exhibition series with the Dodgers last March. The fan wrote:

“Dear Robbie: One way to get the best of Ruth is to tell your pitchers to get him two and one, and then he’s a sucker.”

They tell me that Robbie showed the letter around the training: camp and said: “Yea; that’s all fine and dandy, but somebody’s got to tell mec how to get those first two strikes on him!”

Babe Ruth 1921.

Babe Ruth 1921.

Many times I’ve been asked what sort of a ball I like best. The an­swer ought to be perfectly plain to anyone who has ever stood at the plate—a straight, fast ball and a lit­tle below the waist and right up the groove. When you catch this ball your upward swing is at its greatest power and if you nail it at the bal­ance point of your bat the leverage is there and the blow gets height and distance in the right proportions. If the ball comes shoulder high you will have to lift loo far to reach it and your wallop comes too late to do the best work. No pitcher I’ve ever met has been absolute “poison” to me. After the 1919 season some of the critics rummaged around for my weak spot and decided that I couldn’t hit left-handers. This was a joke to me because I’m a port-sider myself, and a man swinging from the south side of the plate has a better chance against a left than a right-hander, because he doesn’t get that sharp curve toward him which is the same as a big incurve to a right-handed batter. My 1920 home runs are about evenly distributed between right­handers and southpaws. They both throw a nine-ounce, cork-center, horsehide ball, and if it comes any­where near the plate I don’t care whether the pitcher heaves it from the right side or left side or with his ears.

Tho abolition of the pitching tricks this year has been a good thing for baseball even though some pitchers who had lonrned to rely on resin and other stuff to make their curves take have suffered by it. After all are we out there to play the game fairly, relying on our skill and nat­ural abilities and if you didn’t draw the line somewhere on those devices, somebody would be using a square hall or firing the pill out of a young cannon.

You may he sure that the fans ap­prove the changes. They want to see hitting and fielding and if you doubt this, just read over the attendance figures of this, the greatest season in the history of baseball, with home runs and extra-base hits rattling like a hailstorm on a tin roof. If these tricks had gone on you could have taken the bat out of baseball.

I guess that’s about all from yours truly as to his share in baseball. Now I want to talk a minute or two to the youngsters who are coming up. Some of them are playing today on the sandlots. And some of them are going to be stars in the days to come. Take my advice and learn to play every position on the nine. If you think you’re a pretty good pitch­er, see how good a shortstop you are, and then take a whack at the bags.That’s the way to learn the game. Above all, learn to keep your temper. Furget what I said about losing my own, because that never got me anywhere. I was foolish not to have had a better grip on it. If you are bat shy at the plate, I don’t know of any better way to cure it than to put on a mask and pad and catch a few innings every game, be­cause when the batter swings and misses, you’ll get all the practice you need in keeping your eye on the ball. As a rule you needn’t fear getting hit by a ball you can see.

If you haven’t started to smoke don’t begin now. If you have, keep it down, especially during the play­ing season. I smoke a lot of cigars and I wish I didn’t, but I own a cigar factory, which I’ve got to keep busy. There isn’t any need to cau­tion you about crooking your elbow. because the 18th amendment has fixed that for you.

And here’s another thing: get mar­ried. Pick a nice young girl who understands you—she’ll understand you a long time before you under­stand and appreciate her—and make a “home run.” Mrs. Ruth was only 16 when I married her and I was a youngster of 20. I wasn’t any kind of a champion then, except a champ picker, and I certainly was good at that. I had never known any girls while I was at Saint Mary’s and I didn’t think I’d have much use for them. A lot of wise kids think so, too, at the age of 20, but, boy, when it happens and gets you good, all bets are off.

Don’t think that because I played hookey once upon a time and made good in baseball that hookey is a good game for you to play. Go to school as long:as you can. There is plenty of time for baseball after 3 o’clock and during the summer vacations. I wish I had had more books—maybe I’d be a better author than I am.

And now I’m going to stop sure enough. I can’t promise to deliver a home run for you if you come out to see the Yanks play or if you read the box score far from the big league cities. I can only promise that I’ll be out there on the lot, trying all the time, swinging with all my power and “playing the game” with all my heart for the game’s sake with an unfailing remembrance of Old Saint Mary’s and Brother Matthias.

Tomorrow, in conclusion: How Babe Ruth’s 1920 autobiography came into being, and who wrote it with him.

2 Comments

Amazing. I love this. Totally unfamiliar with it, and can’t wait to find out where it comes from. There is a feeling of Ruth’s own voice being in the prose, but obviously there is a ghost hand in it, because I can’t imagine Ruth would have all those stats at his finger-tips or would even have thought in so much detail about stats. He was only 25 years old at that time, also. I can’t imagine him sitting still long enough to even engage in this sort of detailed story-telling to another person. But I can imagine him being about as intelligent as he comes across through this writer.

I love that portrait photo of him also.

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