“It is wonderful for a man to break a record that has stood for 20 years, especially in the face of the fact that American League pitchers have been working their hardest against him all season and passing him almost every time he was up there in a pinch.”
The Babe of Fenway
“George Tyler didn’t know until it was too late that with Babe Ruth at bat, it is better to check him up for one base on four balls than three or four bases on one,” began sportswriter J.V. Fitz Gerald’s story on the Red Sox’s Game 4 victory at Fenway over the Chicago Cubs in the 1918 World Series. “With two out in the fourth, two on and the count three balls and two strikes on the Baltimore lad, Tyler put one over the plate. The ball never reached Bill Killifer’s mitt. Ruth met it with his bat and sent it on an excursion trip toward the bleachers. The clout was good for three bases and two runs, enough to yield the Red Sox a 3 to 2 victory.”
Ruth would end 1919 with a major league-best 29 round-trippers; Gavvy Cravath of the Phillies next with 12. Williamson had passed away in 1894, but another 19th Century star, Buck Freeman, who clocked in with 25 homers for the Senior Circuit’s Washington Senators in 1899, was amazed at Ruth’s prodigious output that year.
“I congratulate Ruth on his great work,” Freeman said. “It is wonderful for a man to break a record that has stood for 20 years, especially in the face of the fact that American League pitchers have been working their hardest against him all season and passing him almost every time he was up there in a pinch.”
Certainly not a highlight of Ruth’s career, but it may go down as one of his memorable big league appearances. The starting pitcher in the first game of a doubleheader against the Senators at Fenway, he walked the game’s leadoff batter, Ray Morgan. So infuriated was he with the work behind the plate by umpire Clarence “Brick” Owens, Ruth threatened the arbiter before striking him behind the left ear with his right hand.
“Three of the four balls should have been strikes,” Ruth recalled years later. “I growled at some of the early balls, but when Owens called the fourth one on me I just went crazy. I rushed up to the plate and I said, ‘If you’d go to bed at night, you so-and-so, you could keep your eyes open long enough in the daytime to see when a ball goes over the plate!’”
After Ruth was dragged off the field by several policemen, Ernie Shore was brought in from the bullpen. Morgan was promptly thrown out at second base in a steal attempt, with Shore proceeded to retire the next 26 consecutive batters in the 4-0 no-hit victory.
After the game, AL President Ban Johnson was quoted as saying, “I’ll take care of Mr. Ruth.” A week later it was announced that Ruth would be suspended for a week and fined $100, a hefty amount for the time.
Bill Francis is a Library Associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum