#Shortstops: Ruth’s first score
In 1921, the famous New York Yankees slugger was in the midst of arguably the greatest offensive season any ballplayer has ever enjoyed. The 26-year-old left-fielder, in only his second season with the Bronx Bombers, walloped 59 home runs – setting a new major league single-season record for the third consecutive year.
Calling the Polo Grounds home – the American League team from New York was a tenant at the New York Giants’ ballpark, with Yankee Stadium not opening until 1923 – the lefty swinging Ruth also led big league baseball with 168 RBI, 177 runs scored, 145 walks, a .512 OBP, and a .846 slugging percentage.
While Ruth’s impressive .378 batting average placed him third in the Junior Circuit, his 457 total bases and 119 extra base hits in 1921 are still MLB records.
By the time autumn came around, the Miller Huggins-led Yankees (98-55) were set to meet the Giants (94-59) in the World Series – the first of three consecutive Fall Classic matchups between the Big Apple rivals. Ultimately, the Giants, led by Hall of Fame skipper John McGraw, would prevail, five games to three, in the finale of the best-of-nine World Series format.
“Listening to my arguments not to disappoint one of the biggest crowds of the week, the doctor did not sanction, but did not forbid my playing. So I played, and expect to play to the finish. Throwing bothers me a lot more than swinging the bat, but a couple of more homers will even up for any wild ones I may heave from deep left field.”
Shortstop Roger Peckinpaugh, the captain of the Yankees, had only praise for Ruth after his Game 4 performance in a self-penned newspaper piece.
“What a remarkable fellow he is. In defeat a home run is just a hit to him and nothing more. In victory he thrills over his great drives,” Peckinpaugh wrote. “I’m sorry for him, and I’m hoping his next homer wins a game for us for the pleasure it will give to him, to us and to our rooters. He entered today’s game in worse shape than any player who ever took part in a world’s series, and he went in because he wouldn’t stay out – because he couldn’t be kept out.
“The big fellow has a heart as large as his great body, and they don’t come any gamer. His spirit is contagious and tomorrow we are going to do our darndest to express that spirit in terms of base hits and victory.”
Even “Mugsy” McGraw was impressed with the Colossus of Clout’s performance under trying conditions.
“I would like to take this occasion to express my respect for Babe Ruth. He certainly has proven his gameness,” McGraw said. “I know that his arm must have been very painful, but he stuck it out. He did not want to weaken his team and refused to sit on the bench. I am glad that he was able to play, for, as I said yesterday, I would rather the Giants beat the Yankees when (Yankees manager Miller) Huggins has his full strength in the field than to win from them when they are weakened in any way.”
In 1967, William McCabe of Dayton, Ohio, donated to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum a 1921 World Series program. While the cover is dominated by oval images of McGraw and Huggins and a sale price of 25 cents, the interior features scorecard pages filled out in pencil from Game 4.
Ruth – one of five in the Baseball Hall of Fame’s inaugural Class of 1936 – would end his 22-season big league career in 1935 with 15 World Series home runs, a record that remained until fellow Yankees legend Mickey Mantle swatted his final three – numbers 16, 17 and 18 – in the 1964 Fall Classic.
Bill Francis is the senior research and writing specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum