Year Inducted: 1936 (BBWAA, ballot #1, 215/226)
In 1947, much as they did to honor Lou Gehrig, the Yankees held a tribute day to honor one of their greats. Thirteen years after he had worn a Yankee uniform, the Bronx Bombers were honoring Babe Ruth one more time before his inevitable end due to throat cancer. Thousands of people packed Yankee Stadium, with millions more listening via radio and speakers lining the streets of New York, as former opponents, managers, teammates and friends saluted a man who reinvented the game of baseball and was truly the game’s greatest player. The sight of this once great man, this giant who always was larger than the game itself as now a frail, suffering man pulled at everyone’s heartstrings. Ruth would give a small speech as his voice was practically gone that, while not on Gehrig’s level in terms of grandness, was still as emotional and impactful as ever as Ruth, one final time, walked off the field as the greatest player who ever lived.
The story of Babe Ruth the player, who began his career as one of the top lefty starters in Boston and evolved into the single greatest hitter of all-time, is interesting and unique as few experience the highs of being both a hitter and a pitcher at the Major League level. In the time that Ruth pitched (6 years with the Red Sox and then 5 games spread out over the course of his career with the Yankees), Ruth threw just over 1200 innings winning 94 games and owning an ERA of 2.28 (which was 20% better than league average). However, after hitting 11 homers in 95 games in 1918, the Red Sox decided to play him more regularly in the field. Ruth responded in 1919 by setting the single season record with 29 homers in 130 games. Ruth was then sold to the Yankees and, beginning in the 1920 season would become an icon of baseball, America, and everything right with the world.
Ruth ended his career with staggering totals. Including his time as a pitcher with the Red Sox, Ruth hit .342/.474/.690 with a wRC+ of 197. That wRC+ indicates that, over the course of his career, Ruth was nearly twice as good offensively as the average major league player. In 1920, Ruth broke his single season record of homers (29 in 1919) by belting 54, and becoming the first player ever to top 30 (and 40) homers in a season. In 1921, Ruth broke his single season record of homers by belting 59, and becoming the first player ever to have consecutive seasons of 50 or more homers. In 1927, Ruth broke his single season home run record by belting 60 homers, and becoming the first player to top 20 homers in 9 consecutive seasons (which he would do for a total of 16 consecutive seasons). To summarize Ruth’s numbers, at the end of his career he had amassed 714 homers, 506 doubles, 136 triples, 2217 RBI and 2174 runs scored. Ruth was basically a video game character.
Nine times in Ruth’s career he was worth more than 10 fWAR. Ted Williams (4), Mike Trout (2) and Mickey Mantle (3) combined had as many seasons that great. In his entire tenure with the Yankees (1920-1934), Ruth had only one season that was close to an average player’s fWAR (which is defined as being 2.0). In 1925, playing in only 98 games, Ruth was worth 3.6 fWAR. This apparently lit a fire under him as the next three seasons he put up fWAR’s of 12.0, 13.0 and 10.6 respectively. Even without adding in his 12.4 fWAR as a pitcher, Ruth’s career total of 168.4 has only been challenged once, and that was only because Barry Bonds (164.4) decided to become a steroid-enhanced menace on the NL from 2000-2007. It’s safe to say that Ruth will be number one for a considerable length of time.
Ruth was a charter member of the Hall of Fame in 1936, only one year after his retirement as a player. While it’s a mystery why 11 people consciously decided that Babe Ruth didn’t belong in the Hall of Fame, it’s no mystery why he is there. Ruth’s legend will forever live on, and he will always be baseball’s shining star.
And wow, that’s it for the rankings. I’m not nearly done yet, as I still want to look at the upcoming ballot and discuss who I think belongs in. I will also be doing (what I consider at least) a fun little exercise and doing some split stats for my rankings (e.g. by teams, positions, etc.). I will probably not be doing a double-daily post binge for a while, but I will definitely keep updating. I’ll take a small break right now, however, and start back up on Friday.
On deck 12/23/16: I’ll be posting some split-stat analysis on my ranking, and a post about the vote from the Veteran’s Committee selections.