You love baseball. Tim Kurkjian loves baseball. So while we await its return, every day we’ll provide you with a story or two tied to this date in baseball history.
ON THIS DATE IN 1935, Babe Ruth hit the final home run of his career.
That day in Pittsburgh, Ruth didn’t just hit home run No. 714. He also hit 712 and 713. His final three home runs came in the same game. He would play five more games, going 0-for-9; he was 40, he was fat, he was done. He retired as, at least statistically, the greatest player ever, a man whose power saved the game in the wake of the Black Sox scandal.
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The game was reeling in 1920, but Ruth brought it back with tape-measure homers and overwhelming charisma. He became the first player to glamorize the home run, hitting 54 that season, more than the next three home run hitters in the American League combined. Still, critics said he’d never hit that many again. In 1921, maybe the greatest season by any player ever, Ruth hit 59, with 177 runs scored, 168 RBIs and a 1.359 OPS.
“There’s only one greatest player ever,” said Paul Richards, who spent 55 years in the game, “and it’s Babe Ruth.”
Ruth was the first to hit 30, 40, 50 and 60 homers in a season. In 1921, he hit his 137th home run, passing Roger Connor as the all-time home run king: the next 577 only added to his record. When he retired with 714 home runs, no one in the game had half that many. In certain seasons, he hit more home runs than complete teams, from 1926 to 1932, he out-homered the Washington Senators, 343-327. Ruth finished with a career slugging percentage of .690. No active player has ever had a single-season slugging percentage of .690.
But Ruth was more than a slugger even though movies made about him depict him as a non-athletic clown; they turned the greatest player of all time into a cartoon character. Ruth was a great athlete. He was a great basketball player, quick and agile for a big man, He could run; he had 136 triples, more than any active player, and 130 more than Mark McGwire. Plus, Ruth was the best left-handed pitcher in the AL when he decided to become only a hitter. Ruth’s record for scoreless innings (29⅔) in World Series play lasted nearly 42 years. Ruth still has as many career shutouts as Pedro Martinez (17).
The final homer of his career that day in Pittsburgh was the first one ever to clear the right-field roof in the 26-year-old history of Forbes Field, a fitting finale to an amazing career. In 1982, I asked Burt Hawkins, a baseball writer who covered the game starting in the 1920s, to name the best player ever.
“Buddy boy,” he said, “I’ll take Babe Ruth, and you can have the next three.”
Other baseball notes for May 25
In 1981, the Rangers’ Bill Stein made it seven hits in seven consecutive at-bats as a pinch hitter.
In 1982, I saw Rangers manager Don Zimmer give Stein the hit-and-run with the bases loaded, the only time I’ve ever seen that call made. It did not end very well.
In 1935, author W.P. Kinsella was born. His brilliant book led to the making of the movie “Field of Dreams.” So many great lines and scenes. No, Ray, it was you.
In 1966, Dave Hollins was born. He was a good player, a good third baseman, but in 1993, he had an injured elbow. Of course, he played through it. But he had trouble making the throw to second on the double play. So, the Phillies turned two 5-4-3 double plays that year. And they won the pennant.
In 1979, pitcher Chris Young was born. Good pitcher, brilliant guy, great guy. And the tallest player (6-foot-10) in major league history to hit a triple.