Ball hit for Ruth’s 60th homer part of baseball lore in Cooperstown

Written by: Bill Francis

Though it has been surpassed more than a half-dozen times since, Babe Ruth’s 60 home runs hit in 1927 remains a monumental benchmark in the sport’s history.

While Roger Maris, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds have all exceeded the iconic single-season record, Ruth – the charismatic, larger-than-life figure from the Golden Age of Sport – is still remembered as the first to attain the hallowed milestone. Today, the baseball hit by the King of Clout for his 60th home in that memorable event almost 90 years ago resides at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Ruth was arguably the brightest star in the galaxy that made up the 1927 New York Yankees, considered by many the greatest baseball team of all time. With its Murderer’s Row lineup, the impressive squad was made up of such future Hall of Famers as Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri, Earle Combs, Waite Hoyt, Herb Pennock and manager Miller Huggins.

With the regular season almost over, the Yankees were on their way to a 110-44 record and a World Series sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates. But first there was the matter of the 32-year-old Ruth, who with two games left in the season was only one homer away from breaking the record of 59 round-trippers he had swatted in 1921.

Gehrig, who remained deadlocked with Ruth in the home run race throughout most of the summer before cooling off in September, finished with 47 homers in ’27.

Facing the visiting Washington Senators, and veteran southpaw starter Tom Zachary, in the campaign’s penultimate contest on the afternoon of Friday, Sept. 30, the reported 10,000 or so fans at cavernous Yankee Stadium this day knew what was at stake for the Sultan of Swat, who had hit his 58th and 59th homers against the same team the previous day.

Much to the Yankee faithful’s audible dismay, Zachary, who had given up two Ruth homers earlier in the season, walked Ruth on four straight pitches in the first inning before the Bambino singled in the fourth and sixth. But the fans finally were rewarded in the bottom of the eighth inning, with the game tied at 2-2 with one out, and Mark Koenig at third the result of a triple. On a 1-1 pitch from Zachary, Ruth, in his familiar left-handed stance, pulled the ball down the right field line that landed about 10 rows deep in the bleachers.

"While the crowd cheered and the Yankee players roared their greetings the Babe made his triumphant, almost regal tour of the paths,” wrote James S. Carolan in the next day’s New York Times. “He jogged around slowly, touched each bag firmly and carefully, and when he imbedded his spikes in the rubber disk to record officially Homer 60 hats were tossed into the air, papers were torn up and tossed liberally and the spirit of celebration permeated the place.”

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W.B. Hanna in the New York Herald Tribune, in a similar vein, wrote, “Nobody ever got a livelier reception per capita than Ruth as he paced around. (Coach Art) Fletcher’s cap went up in the air first, then (Coach Charley) O’Leary’s – and O’Leary hates to expose his bald head – and the other players rushed to congratulate the Babe. All of the fans - grandstand, bleachers and boxes - stood and cheered and waved their handkerchiefs. The crowd was small, the ovation deafening.”

Ruth’s two-run shot proved to be the winning margin in a 4-2 victory over the Senators.

“Sixty! Count ‘em, 60!,” Ruth reportedly shouted in the Yankees’ clubhouse after the game. “Let’s see some other (player) match that.”

Interestingly, around this same time, “Babe Ruth,” a white Leghorn hen, was on its way to setting the world’s egg laying record. Ultimately, the hen laid an egg for 173 consecutive days, ending its record streak on Oct. 18.

While Ruth, the hitter, celebrated his historic wallop, the 31-year-old Zachary, the victim of this new big league record, tossed a complete game but saw his season’s won-loss record fall to 8-13.

“We all knew he was going for a record,” Zachary would say years later. “And the first time he came at bat I yelled at him he’d better start swinging at everything because he wasn’t going to get a good pitch all day. I cussed at him and he cussed me back.

“There’s a ballgame that has to be won and I don’t want to walk him if I can help it. I threw him the best pitch I had, with the most on it. Well, it was a big wallop. It went up and out but close to the line. As soon as I saw it, I started hollering ‘foul’ – it was too late to do anything else.

Although his record of 60 home runs has since been surpassed, Babe Ruth’s 1927 season ranks as one of the greatest in baseball history. (National Baseball Hall of Fame)

“I’ve been wishing ever since I’d stuck that pitch in his ear.”

In 1947, when a dying Ruth was honored at Yankee Stadium, the former slugger reportedly shook Zachary’s hand and with a hoarse voice said, “Are you still claiming that ball was foul?”

When Zachary, a big league pitcher from 1918 to 1936 and winner of 186 games, died at the age of 72 in 1969, the first line of his New York Times obituary read, in part, “… the Washington Senators pitcher who served up Babe Ruth’s 60th home run ball in 1927 …”

Retrieving the now famous home run baseball was 40-year-old Joe Forner, a truck driver from the Bronx who took his prized possession to Ruth in the Yankees clubhouse after the game, where the slugger signed and dated it as well as noting it was from the 60th home run.

According to Forner, when Harry M. Stevens’ hot dog and peanut venders announced in the bleachers at the start of the game that hat merchant Truly Warner was offering $100 for the baseball with which the Bambino scored his next home run, he took a seat at what he considered the strategic point. After the Ruth homer, Forner said he was clawed slightly by fans before securing the keepsake.

The 1927 Yankees, with its Murderers' Row lineup, featured multiple Hall of Famers and won the 1927 World Series with a sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates. (National Baseball Hall of Fame)

Days later, newspaper advertisements for Truly Warner (“Headquarters For Hats”) began appearing across the country with a rendering of the Ruth 60th home run home baseball along with a ball from a Sept. 30, 1921 Christy Mathewson benefit game signed by Ruth, Mathewson, President Warren Harding, Vice President Calvin Coolidge, George “High Pockets” Kelly of the Giants and Commissioner Kenesaw M. Landis that Warner had purchased at the time for a record $750. According to the ad, “Enlarged photographs of the original autographed balls are now shown in all Truly Warner windows.”

Years after Truly Warner died in 1948 at the age of 73, his son, Douglas T. Warner, wrote a letter to the Baseball Hall of Fame in April 1964 offering to donate Ruth’s 60th home run ball as well as the Mathewson benefit ball. In his response, Hall of Fame Director Ken Smith wrote, “This is the place that the baseballs should be, where they will be safe and for so many to see.”

The 60th home run ball is currently on display at the Museum’s Babe Ruth: His Life and Legend exhibit.

As for Ruth, he finished the 1927 season with .356 batting average, 165 RBI and 158 runs scored, his 60 homers more than the totals of any other team in the American League that year. His 17 homers in September were the best single-month total of his 22-year career.

Check out more Ruth items from the Hall of Fame archives in the latest uploads to the Museum’s online offerings at collection.baseballhall.org.


Bill Francis is a Library Associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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