Tag Archives: Babe Ruth & baseball history

“Gehrig vs. Ruth, 1927”
Home Run Race

In 1927 Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig were teammates on the New York Yankees professional baseball team. Ruth by then was the larger-than-life “roaring twenties” sports figure and holder of baseball’s home run record, then at 59, which he had set six years earlier in 1921. Ruth had come to the Yankees from the Boston Red Sox in 1919, where he had starred as a pitcher and hitter from 1914 to 1919, setting the home run record for the first time there in 1919 at 29. No professional player before that time had hit more than 16 home runs in one season – a time known as the “dead ball era,” given the quality of the ball used and rarely replaced; a time when play was focused more on singles hitting and base stealing, nicknamed later as “small ball.” But Babe Ruth would change that.

September 15, 1927. Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth of the New York Yankees, during a season in which the Yankees won the pennant and the World Series, with Ruth setting the home run record at 60 and the pair accounting for more than 100 home runs between them that year, as well as 338 RBIs and 307 runs scored.     World Wide Photos.
September 15, 1927. Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth of the New York Yankees, during a season in which the Yankees won the pennant and the World Series, with Ruth setting the home run record at 60 and the pair accounting for more than 100 home runs between them that year, as well as 338 RBIs and 307 runs scored. World Wide Photos.

When Ruth began play with the Yankees in 1920, the team then shared the Polo Grounds stadium with the New York Giants of the National League. On May 1st that year, Ruth hit his first Yankee home run, a ball that left the Polo Grounds. By year’s end, Ruth had hit a prodigious 54 home runs, nearly doubling the existing record – his own, set the year before. No other player was even a close second to Ruth in 1920, with George Sisler of the St. Louis Browns next highest at 19. The following year, Ruth set the record again, hitting 59, with the two next-best hitters far behind at 24. In a few short years, Babe Ruth had changed baseball, bringing more excitement and drama to the game, making it both more popular and more lucrative, as fans flocked to major league ball parks to see Ruth and “home run baseball.” Through the 1920s Babe Ruth was the Home Run King and the biggest celebrity in sport — and quite an incorrigible, fun-loving, and sometimes controversial character to boot. By 1923 he was holding court and hitting home runs in the new Yankee Stadium, later dubbed “The House That Ruth Built.”

Yankee greats, Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth, on the steps of their dugout, 1920s.
Yankee greats, Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth, on the steps of their dugout, 1920s.

Lou Gehrig, by comparison, was a Yankee newcomer, and a more reserved character all around, though loaded with baseball talent. Born to German immigrant parents, Gehrig grew up in New York city, where he played high school baseball. At age 17, in a high school game at Wrigley Field in Chicago, he hit a grand slam home run that left the ball park, an unheard-of feat for a high school athlete. He attended Columbia University for two years, played baseball there, continued to hit some notably long home runs, and signed with the New York Yankees in 1923, starting with their minor league club in Hartford, CT. He joined the Yankee team in 1925 and saw limited play. The following year, 1926, was his breakout season with the Yankees, batting .313 with 47 doubles, an American League-leading 20 triples, 16 home runs, and 112 RBIs.

In 1926, Ruth, for the fifth time, had led the majors in home runs with 47. But in 1927, he vowed to set a new home run record with the goal of eclipsing his earlier record of 59 home runs. The 1927 New York Yankees, meanwhile, were one of the best teams in baseball history, not only benefitting from the services of Ruth and Gehrig, but also a lineup of other superb hitters and pitchers. In fact, the first portion of the Yankee lineup that year came to be known and feared by opposing pitchers as “Murderers’ Row” – Earle Combs, Mark Koenig, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Bob Meusel, and Tony Lazzeri.

But Ruth, for his part, started slow in the 1927 season, hitting only one homer in his first 10 games. By the end of June he picked up the pace, ending the month with 25, only to find the 24-year-old Gehrig right there with him. Through July and August 1927, in fact, Gehrig and Ruth were never separated by more than two home runs. By the end of July, Gehrig was one up on Ruth, 35 to 34. Ruth then took the lead by the end of August, besting Gehrig by a count of 43 to 41. Both men homered on September 2, with Gehrig going deep twice, leaving the standings at Ruth 44, Gehrig 43.

Babe Ruth, completing a swing after contact, 1920s.
Babe Ruth, completing a swing after contact, 1920s.
Lou Gehrig on the move after hitting the ball, 1938.
Lou Gehrig on the move after hitting the ball, 1938.

In early September, however Gehrig began a bit of a home run drought, not hitting one for a stretch of 19 games. Ruth then moved ahead, hitting 12 more, bring his total to 56. He soon matched his previous record of 59, reaching that mark on September 29, 1927 after hitting two homers against the Washington Senators. At that point, two games remained in the regular season. The very next day, on September 30, 1927, Ruth went deep with a homer, setting a new record at 60. It was the seventh time since 1919 that he had set the single-season home run record. On October 1st, the last day of the 1927 season, he had a chance to hit No. 61, but he went 0-for-3 that day. In any case, most people thought Ruth’s home run mark of 60 would stand for the ages and never be broken. But 34 years later, another New York Yankee, Roger Maris – then also in a home run race with teammate Mickey Mantle – would break Ruth’s record hitting 61 home runs.

What follows below in the left-hand column is a look at some of the newspaper and magazine headlines Ruth and/or Gehrig generated during 1927, a share of which tracks their “home run race” in the context of Yankee games from April-though-September 1927. In the right-hand column is a selection of books on Ruth and Gehrig and the 1927 Yankees, along with a few related films.

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Ruth-Gehrig History
1927 Baseball Season & Beyond


Alan D. Gaff’s 2020 book, “Lou Gehrig: The Lost Memoir,” Simon & Schuster, 240pp.  Click for copy.
Alan D. Gaff’s 2020 book, “Lou Gehrig: The Lost Memoir,” Simon & Schuster, 240pp. Click for copy.
Leigh Montville’s 2006 book, “The Big Bam: The Life and Times of Babe Ruth,” Doubleday, 400pp. Click for copy.
Leigh Montville’s 2006 book, “The Big Bam: The Life and Times of Babe Ruth,” Doubleday, 400pp. Click for copy.
Harry Frommer’s 2015 paperback, “Five O’Clock Lightning: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and the Greatest Baseball Team in History...,” 292pp.  Click for copy.
Harry Frommer’s 2015 paperback, “Five O’Clock Lightning: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and the Greatest Baseball Team in History...,” 292pp. Click for copy.
Jane Leavy’s 2018 book, “The Big Fella: Babe Ruth and the World He Created,” Harper, 656pp. Click for copy.
Jane Leavy’s 2018 book, “The Big Fella: Babe Ruth and the World He Created,” Harper, 656pp. Click for copy.
Paul Gallico’s 1942 classic, “Lou Gehrig: Pride of the Yankees,” basis for Hollywood film. Kindle edition shown. Click for copy.
Paul Gallico’s 1942 classic, “Lou Gehrig: Pride of the Yankees,” basis for Hollywood film. Kindle edition shown. Click for copy.
Bill Jenkinson’s 2014 book, “Babe Ruth: Against All Odds, World's Mightiest Slugger,” Kindle edition, 269 equivalent pp. Click for copy.
Bill Jenkinson’s 2014 book, “Babe Ruth: Against All Odds, World's Mightiest Slugger,” Kindle edition, 269 equivalent pp. Click for copy.
John Eisenberg’s 2017 book, “The Streak: Lou Gehrig, Cal Ripken Jr., and Baseball's Most Historic Record,” Houghton Mifflin, 320 pp. Click for copy.
John Eisenberg’s 2017 book, “The Streak: Lou Gehrig, Cal Ripken Jr., and Baseball's Most Historic Record,” Houghton Mifflin, 320 pp. Click for copy.
Dan Joseph’s 2019 book, “Last Ride of the Iron Horse: How Lou Gehrig Fought ALS to Play One Final Championship Season,” Sunbury, 218pp. Click for copy.
Dan Joseph’s 2019 book, “Last Ride of the Iron Horse: How Lou Gehrig Fought ALS to Play One Final Championship Season,” Sunbury, 218pp. Click for copy.
Edmund F. Wehrle’s 2018 book, “Breaking Babe Ruth: Baseball's Campaign Against Its Biggest Star,” University of Missouri Press, 302 pp. Click for copy.
Edmund F. Wehrle’s 2018 book, “Breaking Babe Ruth: Baseball's Campaign Against Its Biggest Star,” University of Missouri Press, 302 pp. Click for copy.
Thomas Barthel’s 2018 book, “Babe Ruth and the Creation of the Celebrity Athlete,” McFarland, 286 pp. Click for copy.
Thomas Barthel’s 2018 book, “Babe Ruth and the Creation of the Celebrity Athlete,” McFarland, 286 pp. Click for copy.
Jonathan Eig’s 2006 book, “Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig,” Simon & Schuster, 432 pp. Click for copy.
Jonathan Eig’s 2006 book, “Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig,” Simon & Schuster, 432 pp. Click for copy.
Jerry Amernic’s 2018 book “Babe Ruth - A Superstar's Legacy,” Worldcraft, 240pp. Click for copy.
Jerry Amernic’s 2018 book “Babe Ruth - A Superstar's Legacy,” Worldcraft, 240pp. Click for copy.
Richard Sandomir’s 2017 book, “The Pride of the Yankees: Lou Gehrig, Gary Cooper, and the Making of a Classic,” about the famous baseball player and the Hollywood film made about his life and death. Hachette Books,  304 pp. Click for copy.
Richard Sandomir’s 2017 book, “The Pride of the Yankees: Lou Gehrig, Gary Cooper, and the Making of a Classic,” about the famous baseball player and the Hollywood film made about his life and death. Hachette Books, 304 pp. Click for copy.
“The Pride of the Yankees” (collector's edition) Hollywood film, starring Gary Cooper and Teresa Wright as Lou and Eleanor Gehrig.  Click for DVD or video.
“The Pride of the Yankees” (collector's edition) Hollywood film, starring Gary Cooper and Teresa Wright as Lou and Eleanor Gehrig. Click for DVD or video.
Ronald A Mayer’s 2018 book, “The 1932 New York Yankees: The Story of a Legendary Team, a Remarkable Season, and a Wild World Series,” 240pp.  Click for copy.
Ronald A Mayer’s 2018 book, “The 1932 New York Yankees: The Story of a Legendary Team, a Remarkable Season, and a Wild World Series,” 240pp. Click for copy.
Robert Creamer’s 1992 biography, “Babe: The Legend Comes to Life,” Simon & Schuster, 448 pp. Time magazine called it “one of the best, and least sentimental, books about a great sports figure ever written.” Click for copy.
Robert Creamer’s 1992 biography, “Babe: The Legend Comes to Life,” Simon & Schuster, 448 pp. Time magazine called it “one of the best, and least sentimental, books about a great sports figure ever written.” Click for copy.
Stanley Cohen’s 2018 book, “Yankees 1936–39, Baseball's Greatest Dynasty: Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and the Birth of a New Era,” Skyhorse, 316 pp.  Click for copy.
Stanley Cohen’s 2018 book, “Yankees 1936–39, Baseball's Greatest Dynasty: Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and the Birth of a New Era,” Skyhorse, 316 pp. Click for copy.

“Mighty Bambino, Full of Vim and Vigor, Arrives in Salt Lake for Week’s Stay; Great Crowd Greets Home-Run King Upon Arrival From Coast,” Salt Lake Tribune (Salt Lake City, UT), January 26, 1927, Sports, p.1.

“Trainer for Ruth Named; Arthur McGovern to Help Condition the Babe on the Coast,” New York Times, January 27, 1927, Sports, p.14.

“Babe Ruth Takes to Road; Runs Five Miles at Hollywood in Preparation for 1927 Campaign,” New York Times, February 5, 1927, Sports, p. 10.

“Ruth, 33, Deposits $33,000, Part of Off-Season Earnings,” New York Times, February 9, 1927, Sports, p. 14.

“Ruth Returns $52,000 Contract, Ready to Quit; Ruppert, Unconcerned, Just Says ‘All Right’,” New York Times, February 10, 1927, Sports, p.18.

“Babe Serious About Quitting; Talks of Opening a String of Gymnasiums,” New York Times, February 11, 1927, Sports, p. 25.

“Ruth Gets $210,000 for 3 Years As Yank,” New York Times, March 3, 1927.

Associated Press, “Ruth’s Annual Income Exceeds All Athlete’s Profits, Except Tunney’s,” Bangor Daily Commercial (Bangor, ME), March 3, 1927, p. 1.

“Tennessee House Adjourns To See Babe Ruth Perform,” New York Times, April 8, 1927, Sports, p. 27.

Richards Vidmer, “Yanks Beat Cards by Rally in Tenth; Bunch Three Singles, One by Ruth, Then Win on Gehrig’s Sacrifice, 5 to 4,” New York Times, April 7, 1927, Sports, p. 17.

“$1,000 for Homer Today; If Ruth Hits Circuit Clout Ball Will Be Sold for Charity,” New York Times, April 12, 1927, Sports, p. 30.

James R. Harrison, “Ruth’s Homer Aids in Yankee Victory; His First of Season Opens Attack That Beats Athletics, 6-3… Babe’s Toss Stops Run at the Plate,” New York Times, April 16, 1927, Sports, p.18.

James R. Harrison, “Lazzeri and Gehrig Pummel Athletics; Each Hits Homer with Two on in Accounting for Net Total of Ten Runs; Yankees Triumph, 13 to 6…,” New York Times, April 22, 1927, Sports, P. 14.

Ford C. Frick, “Babe Ruth Checks up on Low Batting Average,” New York Evening Journal, April 23, 1927.

James R. Harrison, “Ruth Hits Homer as Yanks Win, 6-2; His Third Circuit Blow and Second in Two Days Travels 400 Feet Before Disappearing. Durst Routs Senators Triples with Bases Filled Following Babe’s Drive in Sixth — Meusel Also Gets Four-Bagger,” New York Times, April 25, 1927, Sports, p. 28.

Arthur Mann, “Lou Gehrig MVP So Far,” The Evening World (New York), April 29, 1927.

Richards Vidmer, “3 Yank Homers Win as 70,000 Look On; Ruth Gets Two, Pushing Total to Six…,” New York Times, May 2, 1927, Sports, p. 16.

“Younger Set Aids Yanks to Victory; Youthful Zest of Lou Gehrig and Deacon Moore Helps Beat Senators, 6 to 4,” New York Times, May 4, 1927, Sports, p. 21.

“Pennock and Gehrig Raid White Sox, 8-0; Herb Finishes Well, the Five Hits off Him Coming in as Many Innings. Lou’s Homer Clears Bases Delivered in Ninth, it More than Clinches Yanks’ Opener in Western Invasion,” New York Times, May 8, 1927, Sport, P. 1.

“Lou Gehrig’s Drive Yanks’ Life-Saver; His Single in Ninth with Paths Loaded Brings Downfall of Browns, 8-7. Ruth Gets Homer No. 7 Babe’s Only Hit Comes with Two On …,” New York Times, May 11, 1927, Sports, p. 20.

James R. Harrison, “Yankee Siege Guns Subdue Tigers, 6-2; Homer by Gehrig and Timely Single by Ruth Help Win Icy Game,” New York Times, May 17, 1927, Sports, p. 33.

Harold Heffernan, “‘Babe Comes Home’ Babe Ruth, Good Ball Player,” The Detroit News, May 16, 1927 [Ruth in film].

Charles M. Segar, “Errors Costly; Boots by Babe, Koenig Give Senators 3-2 Win,” Daily Mirror (New York), May 24, 1927.

James R. Harrison, “Ruth Hits a Homer but Yanks Lose, 3-2; His Eleventh of Season and Gehrig’s Tenth Wasted as Senators Win,” New York Times, May 24, 1927, Sports, p. 28.

James R. Harrison, “Ruth’s Fourteenth Helps Yanks Divide; Propelled in Eleventh Frame, it Beats Athletics, 6-5…,” New York Times, May 31, 1927, Sports, p. 27.

Charles M. Segar, “Babe’s 14th Homer Earns Yanks Split With A’s; Wins Evening Battle in Eleventh,” Daily Mirror, May 31, 1927.

Monitor, “Ruth’s 17th Homer Wins It In Rain-Soaked Game,” The World (New York), June 6, 1927.

James R. Harrison, “Ruth’s Two Blows Upset Tigers, 5-3; His 17th Homer Gives Yanks Temporary Lead, While His Hit in Eighth Wins Game,” New York Times, June 6, 1927, Sports, p.17.

W.O. McGeehan, “Babe Ruth’s Drawing Power,“ Herald Tribune (New York), June 6, 1927.

James R. Harrison, “Yanks Rise in 7th and Beat White Sox;… Babe Ruth Steals Home; He Also Triples…,” New York Times, June 10, 1927.

“Ruth’s Pen Kept Busy.; Autographs 53 Baseballs for Citizen Training Camps,” New York Times, June 10, 1927, Sports, p. 26.

James R. Harrison, “Babe Hits 2 More as Yanks Win, 6-4; Lifts His Second Longest Homer into Centre Field Bleachers as 30,000 Gasp. Then Drives out No. 20 Dismays Visiting Indians by Getting Two in Row off Garland Buckeye. Luke Sewell Suspicious Inspects Ruth’s Bat after No. 19…,” New York Times, June 12, 1927, Sports, P. 1

Ford C. Frick, “Lindbergh’s Arrival Upstages Game,” New York Evening Journal, June 17, 1927.

James R. Harrison, “Lindbergh Misses Ruth’s 22d Homer; Reaches Stadium After Game Is Over and Yanks Have Beaten Browns, 8-1. Gehrig Helps Hoyt Win Also Gets 4-Bagger in First Frame — Game’s Start Delayed 25 Minutes to Await Air Hero,” New York Times, June 17, 1927, Sports, p. 17.

James R. Harrison, “Yanks Score Twice; Ruth Hits 2 Homers; Circuit Drives in the Fifth and Seventh Upset First Game, 7 to 4, for Red Sox.., Have Won Eight in Row, New York Times, June 23, 1927, Sports, p. 19.

Associated Press, “Gehrig’s Three Homeruns Puts Him Back in Race For Crown; Yanks Hit Hard Pace For League,” The Fargo Forum (Fargo, ND), June 24??, 1927, p. 15.

“Supreme Court Decides Against Sunday Baseball,” The Evening Bulletin (Philadelphia, PA), June 25, 1927.

“Baseball By Electric Lights Proves Success,” The World (New York), June 25, 1927.

“Ruth Wants Tax Cut for Playing Host; Files Appeal Stating He Spent $9,000 Entertaining Writers During 1924,” New York Times, June 26, 1927, Sports, p. 2.

Arthur Mann, “Lou Gehrig, Kid From the Bronx, Presses Ruth for Home Run Honors,” The Evening World (New York), June 28, 1927.

James R. Harrison, “Gehrig Hits Homer, Ties Ruth With 24; His Safety in Fifth Is One of 15 That Yanks Get to Beat Red Sex, 8-2. Babe Back, Gets 4 Hits Makes 3 Singles and Double, Starts 2 Rallies, Drives in a Run Despite Sore Knee…,” New York Times, June 30, 1927, Sports, p. 19.

Associated Press, “Ruth’s Homer Reign Is Menaced by Gehrig,” Baltimore News, July 1, 1927, Sports, p. 1.

James R. Harrison, “Gehrig Gets No. 25, Then Ruth Ties Him; Lou’s Homer Comes in First, Babe’s in Fourth and They Help Beat Red Sox, 13-6….,” New York Times, July 1, 1927, Sports, p. 17.

Ford C. Frick, “Big Stick Is Only Link Between Home-Run Stars” [i.e., Ruth and Gehrig], New York Evening World, July 2, 1927.

Daniel, “Odds Favor Gehrig to Beat Out Ruth in Home Run Derby,” New York World Telegram, July 5, 1927.

David J. Walsh, “Lou Gehrig Jumps Field in Race for Home Run Crown,” Baltimore News, July 6, 1927, Sports, p. 1.

“Gehrig, Rival of Babe Ruth, His Powerful Shoulders and How He Grips His Bat”[w/4 Photos], Baltimore News, July 6, 1927, Sports, p. 1.

Richards Vidmer, “Yanks Break Even as Ruth Hits No. 27…; Lose First Game of Western Tour to Tigers, 11-8, Then Win Final of Twin Bill, 10-8. Babe’s’ Drive a Big Aid Comes in Closing Battle with Two on Base…,” New York Times, July 9, 1927, Sports, p. 8.

Richards Vidmer, “2 Homers for Ruth; Yanks Divide Day; Babe Regains Home Run Lead with 28th and 29th as Tigers Lose, 19-7, Then Win, 14-4…,” New York Times, July 10, 1927, Sports, p. 1.

Richards Vidmer, “Buster [Gehrig nickname] Ties Babe in Home-Run Dash; Gehrig Bats Out 29th Circuit Blow While Yankees Tame Tigers at Detroit, 8-5….,” New York Times, July 12, 1927, Sports, p. 19.

Richards Vidmer, “Babe Lifts No. 30 as Yanks Win, 7-0; Breaks Tie with Gehrig in Home-Run Race at the Indians’ Park. Clout Comes in the Ninth Bambino Awakes after 14 Hitless Trips…,” New York Times, July 13, 1927, Sports, p. 17.

Richards Vidmer, “Yank Rally Beats the Indians, 5 to 3; … Ruth Has a Perfect Day Gets 3 Singles and a Double in Four Tries…,” New York Times, July 14, 1927, Sports, p. 16.

Richards Vidmer, “Gehrig’s Three Hits Win for Yanks,5-2; Scores One Run and Bats in Three Others as Browns Are Downed in Opener. Clinches Victory in 7th; Buster Cracks Double with Bases Filled, Two Men Scoring…,” New York Times, July 17, 1927, Sports, p. 1.

Richards Vidmer, “Gehrig Hits No. 30, Tying Ruth Again; Homer in Eighth Evens Game at Four-all, While Meusel’s Blow Beats Browns, 5-4…,” New York Times, July 18, 1927, Sports, p. 10.

Ford C. Frick, “Lou Regains Batting Form on Diet of Pickled Eels,” New York Evening Journal, July 19, 1927.

Richards Vidmer, “Gehrig Clouts One as Yanks Prevail; Lou Leaves Babe Behind When He Hits Homer No. 31 in Clash with Browns. Hugmen Win by 10 to 6 Beat St. Louis Tenth Time in Row — Sisler Gets Circuit Blow with Bases Full,” New York Times, July 19, 1927, Sports, p. 18.

Richards Vidmer, “Fans Worship Ruth but Forget Gehrig; Though Babe Trails Lou in Home Runs, He Leads Him in Popular Appeal to Crowds…,” New York Times, July 21, 1927, Sports, p. 16.

W. B. Hanna, “Theories of Ruth, Gehrig, Huggins Why More Home Runs Are Being Hit Than Ever Before; Babe Says it’s Because Players Have New Style; Declares ‘Swingin` From Hips’ Produces Results; Gehrig Says Pitching,” New York Herald Tribune, July 24, 1927.

Richards Vidmer, “Ruth Clouts No. 31 to Help Yanks Win; Babe Again Draws Even with Gehrig in Homer Race as Chicago Is Beaten, 3-2,” New York Times, July 25, 1927, Sports, p. 13.

Monitor, “Ruth Ties Gehrig as Yankees Beat White Sox, 3-to-2; Record Crowd Sees Babe Hit Longest In and Out of Park,” The World (New York), July 25, 1927.

Richards Vidmer, “Ruth Hits 2, Gehrig 1 as Yanks Win Two; Hugmen’s Cyclonic Slugging Floors Browns Twice, 15-1 and 12-3. Babe Sets Homer Pace, Boosts Total to 33, Against 32 for Buster, All Three Soaring into Bleachers. Ruth Collects 7 Blows…,” New York Times, July 27, 1927, Sports, p. 18.

Richards Vidmer, “Gehrig and Lazzeri Win for Yankees; Lou Hits His 33d Homer and Ties Ruth…,” New York Times, July 28, 1927, Sports, p. 12.

Joe Williams, “A Close-up of Christy Walsh. The Man Behind Mr. Babe Ruth. About These Literary Athletes,” New York World Telegram, July 29, 1927.

Richards Vidmer, “Ruth Hits His 34th as Yanks Triumph; Babe Passes Gehrig When the Browns Lose 15th Straight to Hugmen — Score, 9-4….,” New York Times, July 29, 1927, Sports, p. 11.

Richards Vidmer, “Gehrig’s 2 Homers Pass Babe for Lead; He Ties Ruth with His 34th at Stadium, Goes Ahead When 35th Hops into Stands…,” New York Times, July 31, 1927, Sports, p. 1.

“Babe’s $50,000 Trust Fund,” New York American, August 9, 1927.

“Cub Fans Scout Yankees as They Trim Sox, 8 to 1,” Chicago Daily Tribune, August 17, 1927 (game at Comiskey Park with photo of Ruth crossing home plate after home run; reportedly, first time any player had ever hit a ball out of Comiskey Park).

Richards Vidmer, “Ruth’s 38th Trims White Sox in 11th…Hit Ties Him with Gehrig …Yanks Get One in Fifth and Eighth, Then Win by 3-2,” New York Times, August 18, 1927, Sports, p. 15.

Richards Vidmer, “Gehrig Slams 39th but Yanks Trail, 3-2; Lou Passes Ruth in Home-run Race, Drives in Other Tally, but White Sox Win,” New York Times, August 20, 1927, Sports, p. 11.

Richards Vidmer, “Ruth Crashes 39th as Yanks Fail Again; Babe Evens Homer Count with Gehrig While Indians Trounce Hugmen by 14 to 8… Tribe Amasses 19 Hits …Grant Stills Mighty Yankee Bats…,” New York Times, August 21, 1927, Sports, p. 1.

Sam Greene, “Hit Costs The Babe $300 And Tiger’s A Ball Game…,” The Detroit News, August 27, 1927.

Richards Vidmer, “Ruth Crashes 41st as Yanks Win, 14-4; Babe Also Get a Triple While Browns Lose 16th in Row to the Hugmen,” New York Times, August 28, 1927, Sports, p. 1.

Richards Vidmer, “Gehrig, Hits No. 41 as Yanks Win, 8-3; Drive with Two on Helps Down the Browns for the 18th Straight Time. Ruth Stars in Field Makes Six Brilliant Catches in Left Field — Babe Leads Lou by Only One Homer,” New York Times, August 30, 1927, Sports, p. 16.

Cover Story, Lou Gehrig on cover, “Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth’s Most Sensational Rival,” Baseball Magazine, September 1927.

Paul Gallico, “A Great Moral Lesson” (Ruth-Gehrig race), Daily News (New York), September 3, 1927.

“Yesterday’s Crowd At Fenway Park Another Tribute to Babe Ruth; New England Fans Jam Ball Field To Capacity With Many Turned Down,” Boston Evening Transcript, September 6, 1927.

John Drebinger, “Yanks Bow in 18th, but Split 2 Games; Lose to Red Sox, 12-11, Before 36,000… Gehrig’s 44th Ties Ruth Gets Blow in 1st Game…,” New York Times, September 6, 1927, Sports, p. 28.

John Drebinger, “Yanks Break Even; Ruth Hits 3, Gehrig 1; Hugmen Rout Red Sox, 14 to 2; Then Boston Takes Second Contest, 5 to 2. Babe Equals 1926 Mark His 45th, 46th and 47th Overshadow Buster’s [Gehrig nickname] 45th, Which Put Lou Ahead for Inning. Ruth 7 Behind Record Had 54 at this Stage of Season in 1921…,” New York Times, September 7, 1927.

James R. Harrison, “Does Paul Waner Top Gehrig in Value to His Team? A Fan Asks; Expert Contends That Pittsburgh Star, Who Is Backbone of Team, Has the Edge, as Gehrig Is Only One among a Galaxy of Dangerous Hitters,” New York Times, September 8, 1927, Sports, p. 30.

John Drebinger, “Ruth Hits 48th, 49th as Yanks Sweep On; Babe Increases Margin over Gehrig to Four Homers as Hugmen Win, 12-10,” New York Times, September 8, 1927, Sports, p. 30.

Burt Whitman, “Ruth Hits Two More Homers; Yanks Beat Red Sox, 12-10; Has 49, With 21 games Left in Which to Equal Record of 59,” The Boston Herald, September 8, 1927.

John Drebinger, “Jinx Gets Lazzeri but Yankees Win… Ruth Saves the Game His Fine Sprint and Daring Slide Home after Lazzeri’s Sacrifice Decide… the Browns Again Victims…,” New York Times, September 9, 1927, Sports, p. 20.

“Ruth, in Court, Denies Attack on Artist, 49; Offers Alibi for Night of July 4th, But Decorator is Sure it Was Home Run King…,” New York Herald Tribune, September 13, 1927.

“Babe Ruth Insured for Only $300,000; ‘Talk of $5,000,000 Is Bunk,’ Says Yankees’ Secretary, ‘No Player Worth It’,” New York Times, September 14, 1927, p. 9.

“Ruth is Cleared of Beating Man in Insult Case; Baseball Star’s Alibi Holds Against Artists’ Assault Charge; Leaves The Court on Shoulders of Admirers…,” New York Herald Tribune, September 17, 1927.

“Yanks Annex 100th as Ruth Hits No. 53; Hugmen Trim White Sox, 7 to 2… Babe Three From Record; Had 56 at This Stage of Season in 1921…,” New York Times, September 17, 1927, Sports, p. 9.

W.B. Hanna, “Ruth Hits 55th But Yankees Lose to Tigers… Babe Also Gets Two Singles Off Gibson,” New York Herald Tribune, September 22, 1927.

William J. Slocum, “Yankees Tie Record With 105th Victory; Bambino’s Clout in Final Frame Overcomes Detroit’s Lead…,” New York American, September 23, 1927.

“Ruth’s 56th Homer Wins Game in Ninth; Scores Koenig, Overcomes One-Run Lead and Downs the Tigers by 8 to 7… Gehrig Clips a Mark,” New York Times, September 23, 1927.

“Ruth to Make Tour with Gehrig to Coast; Pair Will Start [Exhibition] Series of Fifteen Games as Soon as World’s Series Is Over,” New York Times, September 27, 1927, Sports, p. 20.

John Drebinger, “Ruth Hits His 57th with Bases Filled; His Smash off Grove in Sixth Proves Winning Margin in Victory over Athletics by 7-4. Still Behind the Record; Three down and Three Games to Play in Drive for Record Sixty — Gehrig Gets 46th,” New York Times, September 28, 1927, Sports, p. 19.

Thomas Holmes, “Ruth On The Verge of a New Record and His Eighth World Series,” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, September 30, 1927.

“Babe Ruth Clouts Two Homers, Tying His Own Record at 59…. Yankees’ Slugger Has 2 More Tilts To Set New Mark; Babe’s Circuit Clouts Aid in New York’s 15-4 Win Over Washington; Second Blow Comes With 3 Men on Base in The 5th,” Public Ledger (Philadelphia, PA), September 30, 1927.

John Drebinger, “Ruth Hits 2, Equals 1921 Homer Record; Slams 58th in First Frame, Then Gets 59th in Fifth With 3 Men on Bases [i.e. grand slam]; Barley Misses Two More; Each a Trifle Short and One Goes For Triple as Fans Shriek With Joy… Win by 15-4 as Babe and His Mates Run Wild and Make 19 Safeties,” New York Times, September 30, 1927.

“Ruth Equals Record; Wham! Wham! The Bam’s A Wow; Babe Spanks Two to Knot Mark of 59,” Los Angles Examiner, September 30, 1927.

“Babe Ruth Hits 60th Home Run; Swat King Sets New World’s Record,” Los Angeles Evening Herald, September 30, 1927, front page.

Cover of Sport magazine, September 1927. Artist’s rendition of Babe Ruth swinging a bat appears on the cover with story inside the magazine titled: “Babe Ruth’s Dramatic History Costs Yanks $132.000.” This edition also includes a photo of Lou Gehrig.

“Home Run Record Falls as Ruth Hits 60th…; 1921 Mark of 59 Beaten; Fans Go Wild as Ruth Pounds Ball into Stands With One On…,” New York Times, October 1, 1927, p. 12.

Fred Lieb, “ Babe Ruth Thrills Nation’s Sports Lovers With His Sixtieth Home Run of Season… Eighth Inning Crash Breaks Deadlock, Giving Yanks 109th Victory; Mighty Slugger Scored Sixteen Homers in Sept.,” New York Evening Post, October 1, 1927.

Paul Gallico, “Babe Carpenters No. 60! Ruth Cracks 1921 Circuit Mark As Senators Are Beaten, 4 to 2. And He Did It!,” Daily News (New York), October 1, 1927.

Associated Press, “Ruth’s Homers Have Totaled 50 Miles; Has Poled 416 Out of Park,” Baltimore News, October 1, 1927, Sports, p. 1.

“Babe Ruth’s Home Run Secrets Solved by Science,” Popular Science Monthly, October 1921.

John Drebinger, “Ruth Is Homerless, but Yanks Win Last; 20,000 Fail to See Babe Do it Again as Senators Lose, 4 to 3. Gehrig Comes Through, Gets No. 47… Southpaws Baffle Ruth; He Strikes Out as Last Act of Regular Season…Yankees Win Pennant,” New York Times, October 2, 1927, Sports, p. 8.

“Out to Get Babe and Lou; Pirate Strategy [in World Series] Will Be to Stop These Two to Whip Yanks,” New York Times, October 4, 1927, Sports, p. 24.

“N.Y. Wins World Series By Beating Pirates 4-3; Wild Pitch in 9thg Inning Gives Yanks 4th Straight Game, Los Angeles Evening Herald, October 8, 1927, p. 1.

“Yanks Win; Take Championship; Babe Ruth Drives Out Home Run In Fifth, Scoring Combs Ahead Of Him; Yankees’ Slugger Comes Through With Second Circuit Clout of the Series,” Scranton Times (Scranton, PA), October 8, 1927, p. 1.

John Drebinger, “Yankees Disperse; Four to Barnstorm; Ruth, Gehrig, Lazzeri and Dugan Will Appear in Post-season Games. Each Yank to Get $5,702…,” New York Times, October 10, 1927, Sports, p. 18.

Associated Press, “Best-Player Award Goes to Lou Gehrig; Yankee First Baseman Is Voted Most Valuable Performer in American League… For 1927,” New York Times, October 12, 1927, Sports, p. 32.

“Ruth, Gehrig Back; Played in 9 States; Barnstorming Records Fall as Yankee Stars Play Before 220,000 Persons. Babe Crashed 20 Homers Lou Slammed 13, 21 Games Being Started and 13 Finished — 30,000 Gathering in Los Angeles,” New York Times, November 9, 1927, Sports, p. 30.

Associated Press, “Babe Ruth, Weight 222 1/2, Begins Training For New Record Drive; ‘Might Do It,’ He Says,” New York Times, December 28, 1927, Sports, p. 19.


Ruth-Gehrig Careers

Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig were the talk of baseball all through the 1927 season, each turning in stellar performances beyond their home runs. Ruth, in addition to his record-setting 60 home runs, finished with a .356 batting average and 164 RBIs, while Gehrig complied a .373 average with 47 home runs and a league-leading 175 RBIs.

Some of Ruth’s home run blasts during 1927 were notable for their distance. One at Griffith Park in Washington, D.C. on July 3rd, 1927, soared deep into the centerfield stands and would be the longest ever hit there until surpassed by a Mickey Mantle homer in April 1953. Another Ruth homer on August 16, 1927 – a towering drive to right field at Chicago’s Comiskey Park – was described by New York Times Richards Vidmer as follows: “Upward and onward it soared in the general direction of the stockyards… And the last seen of it, it was sailing serenely over the roof of the double-decked stands with never a hint of slowing up.” During Ruth’s career there would be other famous home-run moments, such as the much-disputed “called shot” homer against the Chicago Cubs during the 1932 World Series. Sportswriter Red Smith would observe of Ruth: “It wasn’t that he hit more home runs than anybody else, he hit them better, higher, farther, with more theatrical timing and a more flamboyant flourish.”

August 11, 1929.  Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig inspecting retrieved home run ball hit by Ruth that day over the right field fence at Cleveland’s League Park (formerly Dunn Field). It was Ruth’s 500th career home run making him the first ever to reach that mark.
August 11, 1929. Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig inspecting retrieved home run ball hit by Ruth that day over the right field fence at Cleveland’s League Park (formerly Dunn Field). It was Ruth’s 500th career home run making him the first ever to reach that mark.

But for Ruth, outside of his record 60 home runs in 1927, that year wasn’t his best statistically. In fact, earlier in his career, in 1921, Ruth put up some very formidable numbers. That year he hit 59 homers, batted .378, and led the league in several other categories, including: runs scored (177), RBIs (171) and walks (144). His slugging percentage that year was .846, just a hair off the .847 posted the prior year, a record that stood until 2001. However, he still holds the career slugging record at .690. Yet it would be his home run performance in 1927 that would become his enduring legacy, as well as his 714 career home run total – until those records were broken decades later, respectively, by Roger Maris in 1961 and Hank Aaron in 1974.

Throughout the 1920s, however, it’s fair to say that Babe Ruth owned the home run category. From 1920-1932, he averaged more than 46 home runs a season. His lifetime statistics also include 2,873 hits, 506 doubles, 2,174 runs, 2,214 RBI, a .342 batting average, a .474 on-base percentage and a .690 slugging percentage. Ruth led the American League in home runs 12 times, in slugging percentage 13 times, base on balls 11 times, on-base percentage 10 times, runs scored eight times, and RBIs five times. Ruth retired in 1935 after a partial season with the Boston Braves, ending his 22-year big league career, disappointed that he never got the call to manage a major league team. Ruth passed away on August 16, 1948 after a battle with cancer. He was 53.

June 15, 1932 Chicago Tribune photo taken at Comiskey Park prior to Yankees’ first at-bat against the White Sox that day, with Ruth and Gehrig both holding bats at Yankees’ dugout. Gehrig and Ruth both had good years in 1932:  Ruth hit .341 with 41 homers and 137 RBIs;  Gehrig hit .349 with 34 homers and 151 RBIs.
June 15, 1932 Chicago Tribune photo taken at Comiskey Park prior to Yankees’ first at-bat against the White Sox that day, with Ruth and Gehrig both holding bats at Yankees’ dugout. Gehrig and Ruth both had good years in 1932: Ruth hit .341 with 41 homers and 137 RBIs; Gehrig hit .349 with 34 homers and 151 RBIs.

Though Lou Gehrig had begun his prolific career in the shadow of Babe Ruth, by the early 1930s, as Ruth’s career wound down, Gehrig would become the dominant Yankee player, setting his own distinguished records. Gehrig, in fact, had a remarkable career. In 13 consecutive seasons he scored more than 100 runs and tallied at least 100 RBIs in every one of those years. He led the American League in runs scored four times, home runs three times, RBIs five times, and on-base percentage five times. He finished among the league’s top three hitters in batting average seven times, compiling eight seasons of 200 or more hits, and winning the MVP award in 1927 and 1936. He set the American League single-season RBI record in 1931 with 185.

July 4, 1939.  Lou Gehrig during farewell ceremony honoring him at Yankee Stadium on his departure from baseball due to the neuromuscular disease, ALS (later named Lou Gehrig’s disease). In his speech, Gehrig noted to fans that they may have read about his bad break, then adding: “...Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for. Thank you”. Gehrig died from ALS in June 1941.
July 4, 1939. Lou Gehrig during farewell ceremony honoring him at Yankee Stadium on his departure from baseball due to the neuromuscular disease, ALS (later named Lou Gehrig’s disease). In his speech, Gehrig noted to fans that they may have read about his bad break, then adding: “...Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for. Thank you”. Gehrig died from ALS in June 1941.

On June 3, 1932, Gehrig hit four home runs in succession during a game against the Philadelphia Athletics at Shibe Park (and nearly a fifth caught at the wall), a one-game feat not then seen in the post-1900 baseball era. In 1934 he took the Triple Crown batting title with a .363 average, 49 home runs, and 166 RBIs. Called the “iron horse” for his durable and consistent play, he set the “consecutive-games-played” record in 1939 after appearing in 2,130 games with the Yankees, a record that stood for 56 years. Were it not for the disease that took him out of baseball at age 36 in April 1939 – the neuromuscular disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, later named “Lou Gehrig’s Disease” – he would undoubtedly have set a few more records. At his death in June 1941, he was just short of his 38th birthday.

For additional stories on baseball history and profiles of players such as: Hank Aaron, Sandy Koufax, Mickey Mantle, Jackie Robinson, and others, see the “Baseball Stories” topics page.

Thanks for visiting – and if you like what you find here, please make a donation to help support the research, writing and continued publication of this website. Thank you. – Jack Doyle

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Date Posted: 4 June 2021
Last Update: 4 June 2021
Comments to: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Gehrig vs. Ruth, 1927: Home Run Race,”
PopHistoryDig.com, June 4, 2021.

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Sources, Links & Additional Information

“Baseball: A Film by Ken Burns ,” Special Box Set, 2012. Click for video, DVD or VHS.
“Baseball: A Film by Ken Burns ,” Special Box Set, 2012. Click for video, DVD or VHS.
Roberta J. Newman’s 2019 book, “Here's the Pitch: The Amazing, True, New, and Improved Story of Baseball and Advertising,” University of Nebraska Press, 352 pp.  Click for copy.
Roberta J. Newman’s 2019 book, “Here's the Pitch: The Amazing, True, New, and Improved Story of Baseball and Advertising,” University of Nebraska Press, 352 pp. Click for copy.

“Lou Gehrig,” Wikepedia.org.

“Babe Ruth,” Wikipedia.org.

Babe Ruth with Bob Considine, The Babe Ruth Story, 1948, E P Dutton. Click for copy.

Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns, Baseball: An Illustrated History, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2010, (updated edition, including 10th inning), 564 pp. Click for copy.

“Babe Ruth,” Baseball Hall of Fame / Baseball Hall.org.

“Lou Gehrig,” Baseball Hall of Fame / Baseball Hall.org.

“1927 New York Yankees Season,” Wikipedia .org.

Eleanor Gehrig and Joseph Durso, My Luke and I. Mrs Lou Gehrig’s Joyous and Tragic Love for the ‘Iron Man of Baseball’, 1976, New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 229 pp. Click for copy.

Ray Robinson, “Ruth and Gehrig: Friction Between Gods,” New York Times, June 2, 1991, Sports, p. 7.

Ray Robinson, Iron Horse: Lou Gehrig in His Time, 1990, W. W. Norton, 300 pp. Click for copy.

Marshall Smelser, The Life That Ruth Built: A Biography (paperback edition), 1993, Bison Books, 592 pp. Click for copy.

William Nack, “The Colossus,” Sports Illustrated / SI.com, August 24, 1998.

“1927 Newspapers,” 1927: The Diary of Myles Thomas, ESPN.com.

1927: The Diary of Myles Thomas. In 2016, ESPN announced this project as part a new genre of storytelling known as “real-time historical fiction.” The project includes a historical novel in the form of a ballplayer’s diary, complemented by fact-based content from the 1927 season. Through diary entries and additional material, a “re-living” of the famous Yankees season takes place, along with the broader context of that era, exploring the nexus of baseball, jazz and Prohibition.

Steven Goldman, “75 Years Later, Babe Ruth’s Hug Means Almost as Much as Lou Gehrig’s Speech Comments,” SBNation.com, July 8, 2014.

Wayne Coffey, “Luckiest Man of All; 75 Years Ago, Lou Gehrig Gave Us a Glimpse of Courage in the Face of Death,” Daily News (NY), June 29, 2014.

Glenn Frankel, Book Review, “The Truth Behind the Legend of Lou Gehrig,” Washington Post, September 15, 2017.

Gary Waleik, “Tales From Lou Gehrig’s Long-Forgotten Newspaper Columns,” WBUR.org, July 10, 2020.

____________________________



“Babe Ruth Days”
1947 & 1948

Front page story, New York Times, April 28th, 1947.
Front page story, New York Times, April 28th, 1947.
     It was April 1947.  America was about to begin its post-World War II economic boom.  A few months earlier, Edwin Land had demonstrated his “instant camera”, the Polaroid Land Camera.  Radio was still the principal communications medium, with more than 40 million strong.  Television, at a scant 44,000 sets nationwide, was just starting. As a new baseball season began, a special day was set aside to honor former New York Yankee baseball star, Babe Ruth. More than 58,000 fans packed Yankee stadium on April 27th to honor Ruth, along with American and National League baseball officials, Catholic Archbishop Francis Cardinal Spellman, and other VIPs who were also in attendance. The ceremony and speeches were piped into all Major League and many Minor League baseball parks that day. Babe Ruth was then 12 years retired from active play; a new generation of players had taken the field such as Joe DiMaggio. Still, Ruth had set baseball’s most revered record 20 years earlier — hitting an unheard of 60 home runs in one season. In the intervening years a few players had hit as many as 58 home runs in one season, but no one had broken Ruth’s record. And his career total of 714 home runs appeared to be invincible.

    Yankee Stadium, Babe Ruth Day, April 27th, 1947.
Yankee Stadium, Babe Ruth Day, April 27th, 1947.
In June 1948, at a second celebration commemorating the 25th anniversary of Yankee Stadium — known as “the House that Ruth Built” — the slugger was again honored (see photo below).  His Yankee uniform playing numeral, No. 3 was formally retired that day.

 

“Saved” Baseball

     Babe Ruth, throughout his career, had made important contributions to the Yankees, New York city, and all of professional baseball. In the 1920s, his hitting prowess not only made millions of dollars for the New York Yankee franchise, but also “saved” baseball from national disgrace.  The 1919 Chicago Black Sox scandal — when players took bribes to throw the World Series — had badly tainted all of baseball. But Babe Ruth, with his home runs and out-sized personality, came along at just the right time. He wasn’t the only factor in the revival, certainly, but his power and celebrity helped energize the game, reclaim its respectability, and renew and expand the fan base. In so doing, he helped to elevate baseball’s place in American culture and to make it a much bigger business. 

In the go-go 1920s, before the Stock Market crash, Ruth had been something of a symbol of American optimism; the sports hero with the big smile and big appetite who seemed to make anything possible. By 1947 and 1948, of course, a lot had changed. WWII and the Great Depression were then in the past. But the fans who came out to give their final cheers for Ruth at Yankee Stadium in 1947 and 1948, were also cheering for the 1920s American optimism and derring-do that Ruth stood for, as well as his awesome accomplishments.

June 13, 1948: Babe Ruth in his last appearance at Yankee Stadium, captured in Nat Fein's Pulitzer Prize winning photo.
June 13, 1948: Babe Ruth in his last appearance at Yankee Stadium, captured in Nat Fein's Pulitzer Prize winning photo.

       George Herman Ruth, born in 1895, had come to baseball via the school of hard knocks.  A Baltimore saloonkeeper’s son, Ruth had been something of a problem child, and at the age of 7, his parents placed him in St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys for his “incorrigible” behavior. The school was run by Catholic Xaverian brothers, and Ruth spent almost his entire youth there. The school became the place where Ruth — with the help and encouragement of Brother Matthias Boutlier — developed into a promising baseball player.  By 1914, he was signed briefly to a minor league team before being sold with others to the Boston Red Sox.

 

Babe Ruth with the Boston Red Sox, circa 1917-1918.
Babe Ruth with the Boston Red Sox, circa 1917-1918.
Boston Phenom

     In Boston, the left-handed Ruth became a formidable pitcher as well as a promising hitter. His pitching, in fact, helped Boston win two World Series in 1916 and 1918. He was later converted to an outfielder in Boston so he could play more often, making use of his hitting power. He did not disappoint.

In 1919, his last year with Boston before coming to the Yankees, he hit 29 home runs, breaking the existing record. Before that, no one had ever hit more than 25 home runs in one season. News of Ruth’s batting feats in Boston spread. Wherever he played, large crowds filled the stands.

In the winter of 1919, however, Boston’s owner Harry Frazee, in need of money to finance his business interests on Broadway, sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees for about $100,000 and a $300,000 loan. With the Yankees, Ruth would soon become the dominant player in all of professional baseball.

 

“Small Ball” No More 

     In the decade preceding the 1920s, baseball was not a game of home runs and high drama. Rather, it was a game of singles, bunts and stolen bases; what might be called “small ball” in today’s lingo – a game of hustle with batters hitting for direction, not distance.  Few players ever hit more than a dozen or so home runs per season prior to 1919.  Pitchers dominated, then using the spitball, often aided by tobacco-juice. In those days, only one ball was used for the entire game – a time known as “the dead ball” era.  By 1920, some rule changes had come to the game.  The spitball was outlawed along with unorthodox pitching deliveries and the ball began to be replaced regularly during a game.  One player, in fact, had been killed after being hit in the head with a dirty, darkened ball.

Ruth in his early days with the NY Yankees.
Ruth in his early days with the NY Yankees.

     When Ruth began play with the Yankees in 1920, the team then shared the Polo Grounds stadium with the neighboring New York Giants of the National League. On May 1st that year, Ruth hit his first Yankee home run, a ball that left the Polo Grounds. By year’s end, Ruth had hit a prodigious 54 home runs, nearly doubling the existing record. No other player that year had hit more than 19 home runs. Ruth also batted for a .376 average with a slugging average of .847 – the latter a record that would stand for 80 years. The Yankees that year also shattered the league’s annual attendance mark, drawing 1.3 million fans, breaking the old mark of 900,000 set in 1908. In the following year, 1921, Ruth hit 59 home runs. Only the Philadelphia Phillies – as an entire team – hit more at 64. The “small ball” era was long gone.

 

A Good Investment

     In the Yankee front office, meanwhile, Ruth was proving to be a very good investment. Home receipts more than doubled in each of the years 1920-1922, and the Yankees also appeared in the 1921 and 1922 World Series, producing an additional $150,000 in revenues. The Yankee share of road receipts more than doubled in each of those years as well. In 1923, Ruth continued to excel. He set a career-high batting average of .393 that year and led the major leagues with 41 home runs. The 1923 season also saw the opening of Yankee Stadium, with Ruth hitting the stadium’s first home run in the opening game, prompting sportswriter Fred Lieb to nickname the place, “The House That Ruth Built.” In 1923, for the third straight time, the Yankees faced the Giants in the World Series.  Ruth hit .368 for the series, scored eight runs, and hit three home runs.  The Yankees won the series 4 games to 2.

1924: Babe Ruth with George Sisler of the St. Louis Browns, one of the game’s all-time greats, who in 1922 had hit safely in 41 consecutive games and complied a .420 batting average.
1924: Babe Ruth with George Sisler of the St. Louis Browns, one of the game’s all-time greats, who in 1922 had hit safely in 41 consecutive games and complied a .420 batting average.

     In New York, and on the road, fans were turning out see Ruth in droves.  One reporter wrote, “This new fan didn’t know where first base was, but he had heard of Babe Ruth and wanted to see him hit a home run. . .” Ruth was also generating a lot of attention with his outsized personality and off-the-field carousing.  He had larger-than-life appetites and eventually became one of the enduring personalities of the roaring ’20s.  The large New York Italian immigrant community gave him the nickname “bambino.”  To many people, Ruth was more than a baseball player, he was a national icon.  Yet some say Ruth never quite grew up as person; at times he could be down right crude.  He drank, gambled, scoffed at training rules, and would argue with umpires and abusive fans.  Still, New York City proved the perfect place for Ruth — the big star on a big stage, with big crowds and big media coverage.  He lived large and earned over $2 million, most of which he spent. Yet Ruth could be very generous and caring, and would go out of his way for some people, and especially for sick children and orphans.

     By December 1925, however, Ruth’s high living was beginning to show; he was overweight at 254 pounds, had a high pulse,  fat stomach, and was generally out of shape. With the help of fitness coach Artie McGovern, Ruth changed his diet and got back into shape. He also kept McGovern as his trainer.  In 1926, Ruth compiled an impressive .372 batting average with 47 home runs and 146 RBIs, leading the Yankees back to the World Series. Though they lost the Series to the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games, Ruth hit three home runs in game 4.

In 1927, Lou Gehrig & Babe Ruth combined for 107 home runs and 339 RBIs, helping compile a team win-loss record of 110-44.
In 1927, Lou Gehrig & Babe Ruth combined for 107 home runs and 339 RBIs, helping compile a team win-loss record of 110-44.
Yankee Power

     By 1927, the New York Yankees had built one of the greatest teams of all time, compiling a 110-44 record, sweeping the Pittsburgh Pirates in the World Series.  That was the year Ruth hit his record-setting 60 home runs, a time when teammate Lou Gehrig was also becoming a powerhouse.  In addition to Ruth’s record 60 home runs that year, he also batted .356, drove in 164 runs, and complied a slugging avg of .772 – all phenomenally impressive baseball feats. 

In the following year Ruth had 54 home runs. In fact, from 1928 through 1934, Ruth continued to produce at that level, with very good numbers: batting averages of .300 or more every year except 1934, and hitting 40 or more home runs in each of those years except 1933 and 1934 when he hit respectively, 34 and 22 home runs.

     In 1930, during spring training in Florida, when Ruth was negotiating for a higher salary — he wanted $100,000 a year, but signed for $80,000 — a reporter pointed out that he was now making a higher salary than President Herbert Hoover.  Ruth replied, “I had a better year.” 

 

Celebrity Ruth 

Although not a person active in politics, Babe Ruth supported NY Governor Al Smith (D) for President in 1928, shown here with Smith in an undated photo.
Although not a person active in politics, Babe Ruth supported NY Governor Al Smith (D) for President in 1928, shown here with Smith in an undated photo.
During the prime of his career, Babe Ruth was one of the most sought-after celebrities of his day. Sportswriters and newsmen, of course, wanted Babe Ruth in their stories. But advertisers and politicians also wanted Ruth to back their products or endorse their political campaigns. He appeared in numerous print ads for products ranging from breakfast cereals and shaving cream to sporting goods and tobacco products.

Although he rarely if ever voted, he supported the 1928 presidential candidacy of New York Governor Al Smith (D), speaking on radio a few times on Smith’s behalf, and also attending at least one political convention where he introduced fellow Yankee ballplayers Lou Gehrig and Tony Lazzeri, who supported Smith as well. Ruth, in fact, refused to appear with then sitting U.S. President Herbert Hoover at a baseball game in Washington, DC in September, saying he was “an Al Smith man,” although he later apologized for the slight. In later years, Ruth did appear in a photograph with then former President Herbert Hoover, taken on November 11th, 1933 at a Stanford-USC football game. Ruth also had roles in a number of short films during the late 1920s and early 1930s, and would often appear in promotional photos with various movie and entertainment stars.

By 1935, as Ruth’s career was coming to an end, the New York Yankees traded him to the National League’s Boston Braves.  But Babe Ruth still had one last hurrah left.

 

The Last Hurrah

     On May 25,1935, against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Forbes Field,  the 41-year old Ruth had four hits in the game, a rare feat on its own.  But three of Ruth’s hits that day were home runs:  one in the first inning that went over the right-center field wall; a second in the third inning to deep right field; and a third, monster drive in the ninth inning that the Associated Press then described as “a prodigious clout that carried clear over the right field grandstand, bounded into the street, and rolled into Schenley Park.” It was the first baseball ever hit out of Forbes Field. That homer brought a standing ovation for Ruth from the sparse crowd of 10,000 that day as he rounded the bases for his 714th career home run. It would be Ruth’s final home run.

Ruth at career end with the Boston Braves in 1935, the year he hit 3 home runs in one game at Pittsburgh at age 41.
Ruth at career end with the Boston Braves in 1935, the year he hit 3 home runs in one game at Pittsburgh at age 41.
     In early June 1935, Babe Ruth voluntarily retired from baseball and was released by the Braves.  In the years that followed, Ruth did some coaching but never became a manager, which he had always wanted to do. In 1936, when the Baseball Hall of Fame was instituted, Babe Ruth was among the first five players elected, along with Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson and Honus Wagner. 

In retirement, Ruth made special appearances, played in occasional exhibition games in the U.S. and abroad, and endorsed a variety of products.  He also gave talks on the radio, at orphanages and hospitals, and served as a spokesperson for U.S. War Bonds during World War II. 

By 1946, however, he had been diagnosed with throat cancer and although treated, doctors could do little to help him.  His treatment had ended just a few months before his appearance at Yankee Stadium for the April 1947 Babe Ruth Day celebration.  It was apparent to most who saw him that day that Ruth was a sick man.  Having lost weight, he was not the robust player most remembered.  Still, he was greeted with a great roar of the crowd after the initial convocation by Cardinal Spellman and the introductions by Major League baseball officials.

     “Just before he spoke,” explained a New York Times reporter at the ceremony, “Ruth started to cough and it appeared that he might break down because of the thunderous cheers that came his way. But once he started to talk, he was all right, still the champion. It was the many men who surrounded him on the field, players, newspaper and radio persons, who choked up.” Ruth’s Hall of Fame plaque says he was the “greatest drawing card in history of baseball.”Ruth began his speech from the microphone on the field at home plate in a very raspy, painful sounding voice. “Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. You know how bad my voice sounds,” he said. “Well, it feels just as bad.” He proceeded to talk briefly about the game of baseball and how important it was to keep the youth of the country involved in the game. He then thanked the fans and the earlier speakers for their words of praise, and with a wave to the fans, walked from the field down into the Yankee dugout. Beneath the stands he had a few trying minutes, coughing again, before he was able to join his wife, daughter, and other friends in a boxed seat to watch the game.

Actor William Bendix as Ruth in scene from 1948 film, 'The Babe Ruth Story.' Click for film.
Actor William Bendix as Ruth in scene from 1948 film, 'The Babe Ruth Story.' Click for film.
     Ruth made his final Yankee Stadium appearance less than a year later on June 13, 1948, at the 25th anniversary of Yankee Stadium. Dressed in his old Yankee uniform that day (see earlier photo, above), Ruth again was honored and his Yankee No. 3 jersey retired from service. 

The next time he appeared in public, his last, was on July 26th that year for the New York premier of a Hollywood movie, The Babe Ruth Story, with actor William Bendix playing Ruth. Shortly thereafter he was back in the hospital.

On August 16th, 1948, Babe Ruth died of throat cancer. He was 53. For two days Ruth’s body lay in state at the entrance to Yankee Stadium where tens of thousands came to pay their last respects. A Requiem Mass was held for Ruth at St. Patrick’s Cathedral with Francis Cardinal Spellman presiding. About 6,000 people attended the service, with New York Governor Thomas Dewey, New York Mayor William O’Dwyer, and Boston Mayor James Michael Curley serving as pallbearers.

 

Impressive Legacy

     Babe Ruth left behind a professional baseball legacy that few other players would ever equal. His Hall of Fame plaque says, among other things, that he was the “greatest drawing card in history of baseball.” At the time of his death in 1948, Ruth is said to have set or tied 76 baseball records, a number of which have since been overtaken. Yet some of Ruth’s achievements stood for decades.

     Ruth had set the single-season home run mark at 60 in 1927, a time when most entire teams wouldn’t reach that mark. Ruth’s record stood for 34 years until Yankee Roger Maris broke it in September 1961 (Maris and Mickey Mantle had engaged in a home run race that summer to topple the record). Ruth was also the first player to hit respectively more that 30, 40, and 50 home runs in one season. His career home run record of 714 wasn’t broken until Hank Aaron of the Atlanta Braves surpassed it in 1974. And Ruth was surprisingly durable too, considering his living-large habits. He played more than 20 years in the big leagues.

Babe Ruth in action, 1931, at Oriole Park, Baltimore, Maryland. Photo from Robert F. Kniesche / Kniesche Collection / Maryland Historical Society.
Babe Ruth in action, 1931, at Oriole Park, Baltimore, Maryland. Photo from Robert F. Kniesche / Kniesche Collection / Maryland Historical Society.

Along with his home runs, Babe Ruth put in more seasons, had more hits, more extra-base hits, more runs scored, and more runs batted-in than many of the other Yankee greats, including Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, and Mickey Mantle.  Ruth led the Yankees to seven American League pennants and four World Series titles, hitting a total of 15 home runs in World Series play.  He is the only player ever to hit three home runs in a World Series game on two separate occasions — game 4 of the 1926 World Series and game 4 of the 1928 World Series. Unlike many home run hitters, Ruth had a very good batting average. Wrote the Sporting News in 1999, naming him to its 100 Greatest Players list: “Lost in the fog of Ruth’s 12 American League home run titles, four 50-homer seasons, and six RBI titles was a career .342 average that ties for eighth all-time in baseball’s modern era.”Ruth’s “Louisville slugger” baseball bat — used to hit the first home run at Yankee Stadium in 1923 — was sold at Sotheby’s in 2004 for $1.26 million. Ruth’s career .690 slugging percentage (calculated by dividing total bases by at-bats) is the highest total in the history of Major League Baseball. As a pitcher in his early years with the Red Sox, Ruth won 89 games in six years and set a World Series record for consecutive scoreless innings pitched. From 1915-17, Ruth won 65 games, the most by any left-handed pitcher in the majors during that time.

Ruth’s name and legend have been enshrined in baseball history and active baseball play.  In 1953, an organized baseball league for boys aged 13-to-15 was named Babe Ruth League Baseball. In 1969, Ruth was named baseball’s Greatest Player Ever in a ballot commemorating the 100th anniversary of the game. And in 1999, voting by baseball fans put Ruth on the Major League Baseball All-Century Team.  Ruth’s popularity, and indeed his continuing commercial value, is seen in the recent prices paid at auction for Ruth memorabilia. Ruth’s 1923 solid ash, Louisville Slugger baseball bat used to hit the first home run at Yankee Stadium in April 1923 was sold at a Sotheby’s in December 2004 for $1.26 million. The 1919 contract that sent Ruth from the Boston Red Sox to the New York Yankees was sold by Sotheby’s on June 10, 2005 for $996,000. Ruth’s name and image — used variously in advertising and other commercial uses — continues to be under management by a public relations firm. His life has also been the subject of numerous books and web sites, including the 2006 book, The Big Bam, the cover of which is shown below in “Sources”.

Ruth plugged Wheaties cereal in radio spots & print ads in the 1930s. Sixty years later, in 1992, he appeared on a 'sports heritage' Wheaties box.
Ruth plugged Wheaties cereal in radio spots & print ads in the 1930s. Sixty years later, in 1992, he appeared on a 'sports heritage' Wheaties box.


Others Cash In

     Sports marketing firms have also cashed in on Ruth’s legacy, one of which is the Indianapolis firm, Curtis Management Group, now called CMG Worldwide. CMG represents the families and estates of Ruth and more than 50 other late great sports stars. Sports celebrities account for about 40 percent of CMG’s business, which also includes late movie stars and other celebrities — from Norman Rockwell to Humphrey Bogart.

In 1995, CMG made a special push with Ruth memorabilia on the anniversary of the slugger’s 100th birthday. The firm offered for sale nearly 100 “official” Ruth products – plates, beer steins, trading cards, t-shirts, telephone debit cards, computer mouse pads, and more. CMG estimated at the time that the Ruth products would bring in more than $25 million in retail sales.

Ruth’s image has also appeared in a variety of corporate advertising and marketing campaigns — Chevrolet, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Hallmark, Zenith, Sears, and others. In the mid-1990s, royalties and licensing fees from Ruth advertising and other ventures were expected to run “well into seven figures,” according to CMG’s Mark Roesler.

Jerry Amernic's 2018 book, "Babe Ruth, A Superstar's Legacy", Wordcraft Com., 240pp. Click for copy.
Jerry Amernic's 2018 book, "Babe Ruth, A Superstar's Legacy", Wordcraft Com., 240pp. Click for copy.
In the 1980s, Roesler and CMG had located Ruth’s surviving relatives and struck a deal with them, with CMG keeping 60 percent of sales and the Ruth family and Babe Ruth League Baseball getting the remainder.  By 1985, modest checks began arriving for the family in the $5,000 range, and by the early 1990s the family was receiving amounts of up to six figures annually. CMG at that time was still taking its 60 percent cut. Since the mid-2000s, however, the Luminary Group of Shelbyville, Indiana, appears to have acquired the Babe Ruth account.

See also at this website: “Baseball Stories,” a topics page with links to 12 other baseball stories, including three other stories on Ruth – “Ruth at Oriole Park”(about a statue of Ruth at Baltimore’s Camden Yards, his early baseball youth, and years in Baltimore); “Babe Ruth & Tobacco” (Ruth’s endorsements of various cigar, cigarette, and chewing tobacco products, as well as appearances at a tobacco shop in Boston); and, “The Babe Ruth Story,” about a famous book by that title written by Ruth and sportswriter Bob Considine and the Hollywood film based on the book, both of which came out shortly before Ruth’s death in 1948. Additional sports stories can be found at the “Annals of Sport” category page.

Thanks for visiting – and if you like what you find here, please make a donation to help support the research and writing at this website Thank you. – Jack Doyle

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Date Posted:  17 April 2008
Last Update:  29 October 2018
Comments to:  jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Babe Ruth Days, 1947 & 1948,”
PopHistoryDig.com, April 17, 2008.

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Sources, Links & Additional Information

 

Leigh Montville's Ruth biography by Doubleday. Click for copy.
Leigh Montville's Ruth biography by Doubleday. Click for copy.

Louis Effrat,“58,339 Acclaim Babe Ruth in Rare Tribute at Stadium,” New York Times, April 28, 1947, p. 1.

“Hello, Kid,” Time, Monday, August 23, 1948.

“The Babe Ruth Story,” Time, Monday, August 30, 1948.

Larry Schwartz, “Lovable Ruth Was Everyone’s Babe,” Special to ESPN.com.

“Babe Ruth,” Wikipedia.org.

Jeff Marx, “It’s a Babe-O-Nanza!,”Sports Illustrated, February 6, 1995.

The Official Web Site of The Sultan of Swat” (Family of Babe Ruth and Babe Ruth League, Inc. by CMG Worldwide).

Cliff Aliperti, “The Final Days of Babe Ruth as Covered in The Sporting News,” Inherited-Values.com, February 11, 2010.

Leigh Montville, The Big Bam: The Life and Times of Babe Ruth, New York: Doubleday, 2006, 390pp.