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Baseball Flashback: Babe Ruth's First Home Run, May 6, 1915

by Harvey Frommer

In the third inning at the Polo Grounds, 20-year-old pitcher Babe Ruth slammed the first pitch off Yankee right-hander Jack Warhop into the second tier of the right field grandstand for a home run. It was the first home run for the youngster in his 18th time at bat in the major leagues.

As Ruth trotted around the bases running out the home run he had blasted, the 8,000 in attendance, including Red Sox owner Joseph Lannin, American League president Ban Johnson and sportswriters Damon Runyan and Heywood Broun, cheered him on.

Runyan wrote in his account of the game: "Fanning this Ruth is not as easy as the name and the occupation might indicate. In the third inning, Ruth knocked the slant out of one of Jack Warhop's underhanded subterfuges, and put the baseball in the right field stands for a home run. Ruth was discovered by Jack Dunn in a Baltimore school a year ago where he had not attained his left-handed majority, and was adopted and adapted by Jack for use of the Orioles. He is now quite a demon pitcher and demon hitter when he connects."

Ironically, the momentous first of the Babe's 714 career home runs came against the team he would come to symbolize - -the New York Yankees. The homer was his fifth major league hit. In ten times at bat in 1914 and eight times at the plate in 1915, he had notched three doubles and a single.

"Mr. Warhop of the Yankees," wrote Wilmot Giffin in the New York Evening Journal, "looked reproachfully at the opposing pitcher who was so unclubby as to do a thing like that to one of his own trade. But Ruthless Ruth seemed to think that all was fair in the matter of fattening a batting average."

Ruth's singular shot and two other hits notwithstanding, the Yankees were able to eke out a 4-3 triumph in 13 innings over the Red Sox who committed four errors. The Babe was saddled with the loss.

The 90th Anniversary of Babe Ruth's Major League Debut

The date was July 11, 1914. A very young southpaw named George Herman Ruth made his major league debut for the Boston Red Sox. He was the victor in a 4-3 nipping of the lowly Cleveland Naps. That was how the Babe began as a pitcher and he just kept getting better.

Born George Herman Ruth on February 6, 1895 in Baltimore, legend claims he was an orphan; the truth is his mother died when he was 16, his father when he was in the major leagues. His parents had placed him in St. Mary's Industrial School for Boys for his "incorrigible" behavior: stealing, truancy, chewing tobacco and drinking whiskey. Ruth's entire youth was spent at St. Mary's where his awesome baseball talent was developed.

In 1914, he began his storied major league career with Boston where he won 89 games over six seasons before his sale to the Yankees for $125,000 in 1920. His 54 home runs that year were more than any other team total except the Phillies. His .847 slugging percentage stood as the all-time best until Barry Bonds and 2001 came along.

"No one hit home runs the way Babe did," his teammate Lefty Gomez said. "They were something special. They were like homing pigeons. The ball would leave the bat, pause briefly, suddenly gain its bearings, then take off for the stands."

" I've seen them," Waite Hoyt, his friend and Yankee teammate said, "kids, men, women, worshippers all, hoping to get his name on a torn, dirty piece of paper, or hoping for a grunt of recognition when they said, 'Hi-ya, Babe.' He never let them down; not once. He was the greatest crowd pleaser of them all."

He homered once every 11.8 at bats. His home run to hit ratio was 1 to 4:02. He won 12 home run titles in a 14 year span, 12 slugging titles in 13 seasons, .847 in 1920, .846 in 1921.

Everything about the Babe was excessive: his bat - 44 ounces, his frame - top playing weight of 254 pounds, his appetites - food and drink consumed in abundance, salary $75,000 in 1932 - highest in the majors.

Just from a statistical point of view, what the man players called "Jidge" accomplished is staggering stuff. Thirteen times he led the American League in home run percentage and thirteen times he notched more than 100 RBIs. Eleven times he was the league leader in walks. Six times he led the league in runs batted in.

Babe Ruth amassed 16 seasons of more than 20 home runs, 13 seasons of more than 30, 11 times he had more than 40 or more home runs, four times he hammered 50 or more home runs. During his 15 seasons in New York, the "Sultan of Swat" powered the Yanks to four world championships. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Ruth revolutionized the game, changing it from a pitcher-dominated, scratch-out-a-run contest to a home run hitting, power pays.

"The Babe" was the first to reach 30 homers, 40, 50, 60. From 1920-33, he slugged 637 homers, an average of 45.5 per season. From 1926-31, when his age ranged from 31 to 36 and when he was supposed to be past his prime, he averaged 50 homers, 154 RBI, 147 runs and a .354 batting average.

The Yankees captured seven pennants and four Series with Ruth en- route to his 714 career home runs. He added 15 home runs in World Series competition. Ruth had a lifetime batting average of (.342), uns scored 2,174 runs, drove in 2,213 runs, had a lifetime slugging percentage of .690. He walked every fourth at bat.

When the 1923 season opened, the Sultan of Swat already had 197 career home runs - 25% of what would be his lifetime total of 714. The 1924 season was probably Ruth's career year: incredible numbers .378, 46 home runs, 121 RBIs.

The most celebrated sports figure of his time, perhaps of all time, the Babe hammered the first home run ever in Yankee Stadium. Number 3 said: "I could have had a lifetime .600 average, but I would have had to hit them singles. The people were paying to see me hit home runs."

Babe Ruth's Final Appearance: June 13, 1948

Babe Ruth developed throat cancer in 1946. Surgery and radiation treatments did very little to help he was released from the hospital February 15, 1947. His wife and doctors kept the horrific diagnosis from him, but he knew the end was near. "The termites have got me," he told Connie Mack and others. The surgery damaged his larynx, transforming the sound of his exuberant voice into a smoky rasp.

On June 13th, 1948, the immortal made his final appearance in Yankee Stadium It was a time for commemorating the 25th Anniversary of Yankee Stadium, a time for Babe Ruth's uniform number 3 to be retired.

Friends had to help him into his old uniform which now fit him like a sack. The Yankee clubhouse was lined with his teammates from the 1923 team who played a two inning exhibition game against veterans from other years. The Babe could only watch.

It was raining that day and someone put a camel's hair coat over his shoulders. One by one to booming cheers his old teammates were introduced. Finally, announcer Mel Allen called him to home plate. Shuddered out of the topcoat and using a bat as a cane, Ruth walked out slowly to home plate. The ovation was thunderous.

"Thank you very much ladies and gentlemen," the Babe struggled to talk into the microphones. "You know how bad my voice sounds. Well, it feels just as bad. You know this baseball game of ours comes up from the youth. That means the boys. And after you've been a boy, and grow up to know how to play ball, then you come to the boys you see representing themselves today in our national pastime."

When the ceremonies finally ended and the media and old-timers gathered in the locker room, Joe Dugan poured a beer for the Babe.

"So” Joe asked, "How are you?"

"Joe, I'm gone," the Babe said and then began to cry.

Back in the hospital after that marker day, the man who was baseball, signed autographs, watched baseball on television, listened to his wife read him some of the hundreds of letters sent to him every day. Visitors came and went. The Babe tried to look upbeat.

At 8:01 P.M., on August 16, 1948, the Babe passed away. He was fifty-three years old. He lay in state in "the House That Ruth Built" for 2 days as more than 200,000 paid last respects. Grieving fathers held up their sons and daughters for one final look.

Three days later the funeral was held at St. Patrick's Cathedral. There were tens of thousands in the streets outside and tens of thousands more lined the funeral cortege route. At the funeral, Ruth's old teammates were pallbearer. Claire Ruth, Babe's widow, lived on at their apartment at 100 Riverside Drive for another 28 years until her death.

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