Babe Ruth, the Pitcher
Babe’s slugging was so overwhelming for the era and is still so impressive today that a good portion of people are unaware he started his career as a pitcher. Even fewer people realize just how skilled a pitcher he truly was. It is these feats that make Babe the unique ballplayer that he was. There is no other player in baseball history with such well-rounded abilities that were actually game-proven in Major League play.
Initially, when Babe Ruth was signed first by the Minor League Baltimore Orioles and then by the Major League Boston Red Sox, his primary role was as a pitcher.
Babe’s Major League pitching career began mid-season in 1914 when he moved from the Minor League Baltimore Orioles to the Boston Red Sox, although he only pitched in 4 games that year for the Sox. In the following four full seasons (1915-1918), Babe’s main role on the Red Sox team was pitching.
In the 1916 World Series between the Red Sox and Brooklyn Robins (eventually Dodgers), Ruth took on Sherry Smith in what would become one of the biggest pitching match-ups in history. The game was tied 1-1 through 14 innings until the Red Sox finally scored and won the game. Both Ruth and Sherry Smith pitched the entire game, which is still the longest World Series game ever played. In the 1918 World Series, Babe Ruth pitched 29 1/3 scoreless innings, a mark that stood until 1961 when Whitey Ford finally broke it. It wasn’t until 1919 that Babe began his transition into a hitter, with 17 games pitching and 130 games hitting that year. In the four and a half seasons that Babe devoted to pitching, he amassed the following statistics:
- ERA – Earned Run Average (2.28 career):
- #1 in ERA in the American League (AL) in 1916.
- 15th overall for career ERA.
- Wins (65 career):
- Top 3 in the AL in 2 of his 5 full seasons as a pitcher.
- Won the most games of any left-handed pitcher in the Majors from 1915-17.
- Win/Loss% (.671 career):
- 12th on the list for best career win/loss percentage.
- Top 5 in the AL in 2 of his 5 full seasons as a pitcher.
- #1 in the AL in 1916.
In Babe Ruth’s 1916 season as a pitcher, his record was 23 Wins and 170 Strikeouts, with a 1.75 ERA, 9 Shutouts and 23 Complete Games – a very impressive mark for even the best pitchers in baseball. To give some perspective, Roger Clemens, who is considered to be one of the best pitchers today and throughout baseball history, has earned himself a record 7 Cy Young Awards. In what has been considered the best season of his career to date, Clemens had the following record: 24 Wins, 238 Strikeouts, a 2.48 ERA, 1 Shutout and 10 Complete Games.