Babe Ruth hits his 30th home run of the season, breaking his own single-season record
Babe Ruth didn’t just break records. He annihilated them. And in the process, he ensured no one would surpass his records for years to come.
No one, of course, except himself.
On July 19, 1920, the Great Bambino hit his 30th home run of the season, breaking his own single-season record of 29, which he had set the previous year. The shot, which was the first of two in the game for Ruth, came off of Chicago White Sox pitcher Dickey Kerr in the second game of a doubleheader.
The 1920 season saw Ruth finish with 54 home runs, a record that would not remain for long, as he broke it with 59 in 1921, and again with 60 in 1927.
“He had the stuff real heroes are made of,” famous saloon-keeper Toots Shor said in 1974. “After making [him], God must have discarded the mold.”
No other player would come closer than two homers of breaking Ruth’s record until Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris engaged in their famous home run race in 1961 which ended with Maris hitting his 61st home run on Oct. 1, nearly 40 years after Ruth set the record.
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The 29 home runs that Ruth hit in 1919 broke Ned Williamson’s 1884 record of 27. Williamson set his record playing in Lake Park, the Chicago White Stocking’s home field that featured a right field wall just 196-feet from home plate. In contrast, Ruth’s home field was Fenway Park, which was a notoriously difficult home run park during that time. Of his 29 home runs in 1919, only nine came in Boston.
After he was sold to the New York Yankees in late 1919, Ruth’s offensive production increased to 54 home runs in 1920, which marked the beginning of the live-ball era in Major League Baseball.
Ruth’s 54th home run seemed like a nearly insurmountable feat to top at the time, but in 1921, the Sultan of Swat hit 59. Seven years later, he once again beat his own record with 60 home runs as part of the Yankees’ “Murderer’s Row” lineup, which also featured Lou Gehrig, Bob Meusel and Tony Lazzeri. Ruth’s 60 home runs helped lead the team to the 1927 American League pennant and ultimately a World Series sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Though the 1927 season featured Ruth’s top home run output, he would go on to hit more than 40 home runs in each of the next five years. He ended his career after the 1935 season with a record 714 career home runs, not to be broken until April 8, 1974, when Hank Aaron launched his 715th home run off of Los Angeles Dodgers’ pitcher Al Downing.
Although both of his most famous records were eventually broken, Ruth’s 60 home runs in 1927 still rank him eighth in the single-season home run category, and he still is third on the career home runs list behind Aaron and Barry Bonds.
“They say that this record is a legend,” Babe’s widow Claire Ruth said in August 1961, two months before Maris hit his 61st home run. “Even if the record is broken, they’ll always remember the Babe as the first to do it.”
Kristen Gowdy was a public relations intern in the Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum