Sports fans are well aware of the prodigious output of Babe Ruth as a hitter – 714 homeruns, over 2200 runs batted in, a lifetime .342 batting average and leading the league in home runs 11 times. However, did you know that he was also an Hall of Fame caliber pitcher?
George Herman Ruth was born in 1895 to hard-working parents George Sr. and Kate. George was one of eight children and by age 7 was considered incorrigible, running around in the streets and constantly getting himself in trouble. It was at this point that his parents made a life-changing decision for their young son. Feeling he needed more direction than they could provide, they sent him to St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys. It was part trade school, part reform school. The rules were strictly enforced, but it was also a place that encouraged participation in sports.
It was at this school that George encountered the two biggest influences in his life – baseball and his mentor Brother Mathias. Although quite stern, Mathias was also kind and it was he who took a special interest in the young George. Mathias spent hours honing George’s baseball skills. It was also Mathias that turned George into a pitcher. In one game, George was giving the business to the team’s pitcher. So, Mathias told George “If you think you can do better, you go pitch”. Ruth did so well, he quickly became a regular pitcher for the team.
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As Ruth gained more experience and success as a pitcher, he caught the eye of Baltimore Orioles scout Jack Dunn. Impressed with the young pitcher, Dunn quickly signed Ruth to a minor league contract. Removed from the environment Ruth had known since he was seven, George tended to tag-along with Dunn. When Ruth, accompanied by Dunn, walked to the mound for his first spring training game, one of his new teammates shouted out, “Hey look. That’s Dunn’s new babe”. After that he was known as “Dunn’s babe” and eventually, just Babe.
Within five months, the Boston Red Sox signed him to a major league contract at $3500, nearly six times what he was paid by the Orioles. Suddenly making more money than he had ever dreamed possible, he was like a little kid in a candy store, becoming a well-known partier. However, on the mound, he was all business. From 1915 through 1918, he won more games than any other left-handed pitcher. In those years, he compiled a 2.28 earned run average, had a won-loss of 65 percent (twelfth all-time best), and in 1916, hurled nine shutout games, a record that would stand until tied by Ron Guidry in 1978. In the 1918 World Series, Ruth pitched 29 ⅔ scoreless innings, a mark that would not be broken until Whitey Ford recorded 33 ⅔ innings in 1961.
For all of his stellar pitching statistics, one game would stand out. On June 23, 1917, Ruth started a game against Washington. After umpire Brick Owens called the first four pitches balls, Ruth charged after Owens and threw a punch that landed on the left side of Owen’s. Ruth was ejected from the game. Ernie Shore was summoned to come in as the new pitcher. After he took the mound, the previously walked batter was thrown out attempting to steal second base. What happened next was truly remarkable. Shore retired the next 26 batters. At the time, it was considered a perfect game – only 27 batters had come to the plate for Washington. This was later changed to a combined no-hitter by Major League Baseball.