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The Sultan of Swat The Sultan of Swat
by Jack Wellman
2007-09-20 09:44:05
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On September 20th, 1927, 80 years ago, George Herman Ruth hit his 60th home run of the season. Previously, in 1921, he had hit 59 which shattered the old mark of 29. Known to the world as “The Babe”, Babe Ruth (1895-1948) he was the first great American sports superstar. This occurred at the height of the Great Depression, an era of worldwide economic collapse, widespread poverty, homelessness and joblessness.

He might have become baseball's greatest left-handed pitcher had he not wanted to play everyday. Ruth began his career as a successful starting pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, where he compiled an 89-46 record setting several World Series pitching records. In 1918, Ruth started to play in the outfield and at first base so he could help the team on a day-to-day basis as a hitter.

In 1919, he appeared in 111 games as an outfielder. He also hit 29 home runs to break Ned Williamson’s record for most home runs in a single season. A pitcher breaking a hitter's record! He then became the first player to hit 59. Then 60 homer runs in a season (1927).

In his first World Series, he pitched 29 2/3rds scoreless innings, breaking Christy Mathewson's record and setting a mark that would stand for 43 years…the same year (1916) that he won a league-best 23 games with the top ERA (runs per game) at 1.75.

His 9 shutouts that year (no runs) is to this day a record for left-handed pitchers in the American League. A pitching record held by a hitter! In Game 2 of the 1916 World Series, Ruth pitched a remarkable 14-inning complete game, winning 2-1.

His homerun mark fell to Hank Aaron first, then latter Barry Bonds. But consider that Babe lost about six years as a primary hitter (about 2,000 at bats) from 1914-1919 and season’s lasted only from 142 to 156 games. Season‘s today are 162 games.

The difference is people fell in love with the Babe’s gargantuan home run’s and the huge home run totals. This not only excited fans, but helped change baseball from a low-scoring, speed dominated game to a high scoring, power game. His fame transcended baseball, even though he never sought it, it sought him. Yankee Stadium was “the house that Ruth built“.

Off the field he was famous for his charity, spending many months and years visiting disadvantaged children and offering financial support. But he was also noted for his often reckless lifestyle. His “loose and fast” style wouldn’t fly at the Ladies Annual Charity Ball, but he was the real deal. No additives. No shots (save the glass). Just blood, sweat and “tears” (they had razor sharp spikes on their shoes). He liked his beer and loved his cigars…but so what, most people thought. He was the real deal…the Sultan of Swat”. He was entitled.

***

Flash ahead, 80 years later to April, 2007, just prior to spring training. Barry Bonds threw his ninth player under the bus. He tested positive for amphetamines and claimed that one of his team mates, Mike Sweeney, had accidentally thrown them into his locker, therefore he “took them by mistake”. He later apologized. He sells out the little bottles too, saying that he didn’t know what is in it; he thought it was only “flaxseed oil”. Had he known there were steroids in the crème, he wouldn’t have used it.

He denies any connection with Balco’s federal indictments, although his name surfaced as a former client. He denies taking any illegal substances, such as steroids, “knowingly”. Even so, the investigation is on-going. Mark McGuire, Rafael Palmero, Jose Canseco, and a multitude of others join the list of those under suspicion for using performance enhancing products. HGH (human growth hormone) is nearly impossible to detect. There are others, not mentioned here, that can easily be hidden in blood and urine samples.

Should there be an asterisk * next to Barry Bonds new home run records? I don’t know, but I do know that 80yrs ago, the Babe became the first baseball player to hit 60 home runs in a season. And I am certain it wasn’t a “performance enhanced” effort. It was all him and nothing but.


    
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Emanuel Paparella2007-09-20 12:58:45
Good point Jack: Babe Ruth is a super-athlete not only for his skills but for his integrity, something that seems to be more and more in short supply in today's brave new world of sports. On the other hand, it cannot be forgotten that not many Black athletes had a chance to compete against Babe Ruth at the turn of the 20th century when the world of sports in America was pretty much segregated. Unfortunately, not many people at the time complained about that kind of overall unfairness. Somehow they failed to perceive that fairness means that everybody begins on a level playing field and if somebody has been held back for centuries by social injustice, then efforts have to be expended to bring him up to speed. So, a complete unbiased picture in the Hall of Fame would have to depict the individual's accomplishments within the broader canvas of the times in which he lived and operated.


Jack2007-09-20 22:02:59
So right Sir, the Hall of Fame is more like a Hall of Shame for those who rightly deserve to be their, regardless of skin color. Satchel Paige is a case in point. The most valuable pitcher award, the Cy Young Award, could easily have been the Satchel Paige Award and the NFL's Superbowl, the Jim Brown Trophy, for how much he really started the whole nation to watch. Thanks.


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