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View From Lodi, CA: Babe Ruth And The Big Train
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October 24, 2003, 05:00 AM
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October means the World Series and, invariably, the New York Yankees. The Yankees` World Series record is an incredible 26-12.

No broadcaster can announce an October Yankee game without mentioning the greatest Yankee of them all—Babe Ruth.

Most baseball fans know that Ruth began his career as a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox. And almost everyone knows that Ruth was a top-flight hurler. But only a few know that Ruth, in his pitching prime, was as good on the mound as anyone who ever threw a baseball.

He was better than the pitcher most baseball historians consider the all-time best, the Washington Senators` Walter "The Big Train" Johnson.

We have to travel back all the way to 1916-17 to see how the two greats matched up. During those years, Ruth compiled won-lost records of 23-12 and 24-13 with ERAs of 1.75 and 2.01.

Johnson put up some eye-popping numbers, too. But his statistics weren`t as good. Over the same two years, "The Big Train" was 25-20 and 23-16 with ERAs of 1.89 and 2.30.

Ruth was the league leader in ERA in 1916 and in complete games in 1917.

Of course, Ruth was subsequently traded to the Yankees where he became the most feared slugger in baseball. And he often faced his old pitching rival, Johnson.

In the September 1920 issue of Baseball Magazine, Johnson wrote an article titled "What I Pitch to Babe Ruth—and Why"

Johnson`s analysis provided great insight into how one immortal confronted another.

Here`s what Johnson wrote:

"Babe Ruth is the hardest hitter in the game. There can be no possible doubt. He is a tremendously powerful man. He uses an enormous bat so heavy that most players would find it an impossible burden. To him however, it is just the thing.

"He hits a ball farther and drives it longer than any man I ever saw. I certainly hope he never drives one straight at me for while I know my pitching days have to end sometime, I don`t want them to end quite so suddenly."

Johnson`s career was ending just as Ruth began his slugging rampage. And Johnson was aware that he always had to be his very, very best when facing Ruth.

Concluded Johnson:

"Ruth is still a young fellow with his best years ahead of him. There is no pitcher who can stop him or prevent him from making his long hits. As a veteran pitcher with most of his career behind him and a rather uncertain future ahead of him, I can only say that every time I am called on to face Ruth, I shall do my best to get an extra hop on my fastball. Whatever happens, I wish Babe Ruth the best of luck."

In an unusual baseball footnote, the Red Sox and the Senators played a role in Ruth`s very last pitching appearance in 1933.

Although the Yankees won 90 games that year, they were out of the pennant race as the season wound down. So the Yankees advertised a special treat for their fans on the last day of the season.

Babe Ruth would pitch against his old team where he had done his best pitching, the Boston Red Sox.

Ruth, then 38, knew that he didn`t have his old fastball so he relied on off-speed pitches and let his infielders do the work.

Thanks in large part to Ruth`s 34th homer into the right field bleachers in the fifth inning and a two run single by Lou Gehrig, the Yankees held a 6-0 lead after five innings.

In an uneven mound performance, Ruth ended up with no strikeouts and allowed twelve hits and three walks. While Ruth gave up plenty of hits, the Red Sox couldn`t bunch them until the 6th inning when a walk and five hits brought in four runs for the Sox.

In the eighth three Red Sox singles produced two more runs. But that would be all for the Sox. Ruth and the Yankees hung on to win by a final of 6-5.

After the game, Ruth announced that he would never pitch again. The Boston Red Sox were his last victims. His lifetime pitching record was 94-46 with an ERA of 2.28.

Walter Johnson and Babe Ruth met again in 1936 when, along with Christy Mathewson, Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner, they were the first elected to baseball`s Hall of Fame.

[Note to VDARE.COM readers: In Yankee Stadium`s Center Field the plaque for Babe Ruth reads: "A great ball player, a great man, a great American." Although we now know that Ruth had more than his share of human weaknesses, he was a beloved figure wherever he traveled. In 1934 when the Yankees went to Japan, more than 500,000 fans lined the streets to see the great Bambino. Said Ruth, "There are no bad people among the lovers of baseball."]

Joe Guzzardi [email him], an instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.