The Impossible Record: The Legend Behind Babe Ruth’s 1927 Season

Babe Ruth takes a swing during batting practice launching the ball well over the right field wall, 1921. | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Babe Ruth is one of the greatest legends to ever step onto a baseball field. From batting average to slugging, Ruth topped basically every statistical leaderboard during his time with the 1920’s and early 1930’s New York Yankees. His fame and popularity knew no bounds. His fortune was immense. His lifestyle was vivid. Yet, even with all of his accomplishments, Ruth yearned for something more. Earlier in his career, Ruth hit an astonishing 59 home runs and became obsessed with reaching the 60 mark. He knew that hitting 60 would be something that the league had never before seen, and would keep his name prominent for years to come. Going into the 1927 season, he was eager to do just that.1

If one were to view the sport of baseball as a country, Babe Ruth and the rest of the 1920’s Yankees would be the revolutionaries within it. Before Ruth reached the MLB, home runs were few and far between, as pitchers had dominated hitters for years. However, whenever Ruth stepped up to the plate, he would swing for the fences. This was his style, and it was extremely successful. Opposing pitchers at the time described facing Ruth on the field as the last thing they ever wanted to do. His early years with the Yankees only placed him on a pedestal within the industry, and his unparalleled success is the very reason why people still idolize him today. Throughout this time, Ruth became a superstar, gaining wealth and recognition, and it was well deserved, given his prowess as a hitter. While he played, attendance rose to new heights. Yankees stadium would even come to be known as “The House that Ruth Built.” While his career was shining, other issues would come to haunt Ruth.2

Babe Ruth in his first career game with the New York Yankees, 1920 | Courtesy of Wikipedia

Before becoming a professional, Ruth was living in St. Mary’s Orphanage. At St. Mary’s, the brothers who ran the school were heavily devoted to baseball. They had their own fields and had over 44 teams. This was where Ruth learned the trade that would launch him into stardom. Also, St Mary’s was the place where scouts signed him up with the Orioles as a pitcher. He was eighteen. So, as a kid from a sheltered orphanage, Ruth had barely any knowledge or experience of the real world.3 This led Ruth toward a livid lifestyle. While he was not on a baseball field, he was out partying and throwing money at everything he could find. His teammates described his off-the-field attitude to be nothing short of unhealthy. Ruth was drinking every night and flirting with every woman at every bar he visited, or he was cussing up a storm at anyone around him. As one could imagine, this way of life did not reflect well on him as an athlete. Ruth was traded to the New York Yankees in 1920, and he played well in his early seasons for them. By the 1925 season, Ruth weighed over 250 lbs, 30 lbs overweight of the Yankees projected goal for him. He took the off-season as a time to enjoy his successes rather than to prepare for upcoming seasons. While he was at the 1925 Spring Training, he was ordered to stop drinking by team management, but he relapsed during this time. Then, during a road trip on the same season, Ruth collapsed and was rushed to the hospital. His health kept him there for a while, and a rumor even started that he had died, since he was not playing at the time. But eventually Ruth was released and finished the season. After this, Ruth had a change of heart about his health. The next off-season, he actually took care of himself and trained properly. Unknown to him, this would be the year the Yankees became special.4

Yankees management during the 1926 season added a few younger weapons to their arsenal, the most famous being Lou Gherig. Ruth and the Yankees had low expectations for their season as the newer look of the team was uncertain to mesh with Ruth and his veteran status. But as the season began, Ruth slingshotted forward to his old form. Once again, he led the league statistically, but this time with a close second of Lou Gherig, the Yankees rookie. This success brought about a new form of competition for Ruth, one that would improve his game even higher. The media at the time embraced this Ruth/Gherig time as newspapers everywhere guessed at who would come out on top of which hitting categories. While locked in this competition, the Yankees never seemed to lose games, eventually going on to reach the playoffs, then the semifinals, then win the World Series in a sweep. According to many analysts, even to people one hundred years later, this 1926 Yankees team was the greatest team to ever play the game of baseball. They dominated all of the competition on levels that seems unmatched by any other sports team in history. This level of winning led to them being called the “Murderer’s Row” Yankees, as their first six hitters were effectively a line of batters that would “murder” pitchers. Ruth was the largest part of this, ending the season hitting with an average of .372 with 47 home runs and upwards of 140 RBIs. Finally, Ruth was again playing like his previous self. While the game is completely different now, some analysts believe this team could have hung with others around the late century. From this success, Ruth and the Yankees were once again held to the highest expectations as their domination seemed untouched by other teams in the league. So, heading into the 1927 season, it once again felt like World Series or bust.5

A team portrait of the “Murderers’ Row” New York Yankees, a nickname given as a token of their success | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

This off-season would prove vital to Ruth as he took this time off more seriously than the previous ones. Still overweight and unhealthy from before, he improved his physical state greatly during this time. He lost close to forty pounds and reduced nine inches off his waistline. He practiced harder than he ever had at any Spring Training before, and he was determined to achieve something special during this season. No one expected anything too much from him. After all, he was thirty-two years old and by no stretch in his prime. While his health had improved, some speculated that he would return to his previous bad habits. Some even felt that the team was turning over toward the newer players as its new elite members. This was the overall attitude surrounding the team heading into the season, but the Babe had a different idea. He was still determined to exceed his previous home run record.6

As the season began, Ruth started out hot, like he was younger again. He posted strong stats all across the board, only contested by his own teammates. Lou Gherig was the one who followed closest to Ruth. Seemingly whenever Ruth would launch one over the wall, Gherig would not be far behind in sending one back. Both Ruth and Gherig would joke about their home run “race,” and the media loved it as well. Newspaper headlines always reported on which player would be leading, and give their own predictions on who would prevail.7 As the season progressed, Ruth showed no signs of slowing down. Then, later in the season, Gherig finally overtook Ruth in a 45 to 44 lead. This was short lived as Ruth maintained his pace by launching a couple more in the following games. Luckily for Ruth in the race, Gherig would cool off, ending the season with only two more home runs. By this time, the Yankees were well ahead of their competition, and were already guaranteed a division win. Ruth, despite this and determined to bring his dream to life, stayed focused on his game. Going into the final series, Ruth had 57 home runs, meaning he needed to hit three more in three games. If he followed his previous pace for the season, he would fall short.8

On September 30, fans flooded into Yankee Stadium hoping to witness history. At this point, the Babe was just one home run shy of his goal, but the season was quickly coming to a close as today would be the Yankees’ second to last game of the season. Anticipation loomed over the stadium as the Yankees took the field. A sold out crowd roared at the announcement of Ruth’s name in the starting lineup, as they all knew what could happen. Then, in the bottom of the first, Ruth stepped up to the plate. Once again, the cheering rose throughout the stands, and everyone was on the edge of their seats. Ruth knew what he wanted to do. The pitcher knew what he wanted to do. Everyone knew. Then, in that appearance, Ruth launched a ball high in the air. The screaming fans shook the walls of the stadium as the ball soared over the outfield fence. Ruth had done it. His 60 home run season was complete, and Ruth’s legacy would be untouchable. 9

George Herman Ruth’s plaque in the Baseball Hall of Fame, one of the Hall’s most famous pieces | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

This season stapled Ruth as a baseball legend. The 1927 Yankees would go on to the postseason to assert their dominance even further. The team would end up winning the World Series in a four game sweep with Ruth once again dominating. The Babe would continue to play for six more years, becoming even more infamous for the “called shot.” His record would hold for close to thirty years before being busted by someone who played many more games in a season. Ruth would then come to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, being known as one of, if not the greatest baseball icon to have ever lived.10

  1. George Herman Ruth, The Babe Ruth Story : As Told to Bob Considine ; with 49 Photos (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1948), 23.
  2. St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture, 2013, s.v. “Ruth, Babe,” by Peter Kalliney.
  3. Bill Bryson, One Summer : America, 1927 (New York: Doubleday, 2013), 23.
  4. James H. Toner, Babe Ruth (Pasadena: Salem Press, 2008), 23.
  5. St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture, 2013, s.v. “Ruth, Babe,” by Peter Kalliney.
  6. George Herman Ruth, The Babe Ruth Story : As Told to Bob Considine ; with 49 Photos (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1948), 23.
  7. George Herman Ruth, The Babe Ruth Story : As Told to Bob Considine ; with 49 Photos (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1948), 23.
  8. Bill Bryson, One Summer : America, 1927 (New York: Doubleday, 2013), 23.
  9. Bill Bryson, One Summer : America, 1927 (New York: Doubleday, 2013), 23.
  10. UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2003, s.v. “Babe Ruth,” by Laura B. Tyle.

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60 Responses

  1. Babe Ruth, what a legend in baseball history. It was nice to find out how Babe Ruth made history by hitting a record number of home runs in a single season, being 60. Another way he made history as being the highest-paid baseball player during his time, he was the first to get paid $50,000. Although he has many accomplishments under his belt, like everyone, he had some roadblocks like drinking and smoking. Thank you for teaching me more about Babe Ruth.

  2. This was a very interesting article that kept me reading for more. Babe Ruth was definitely one of a kind and he made a big difference in MLB. I wonder if MLB will see someone like him again in my lifetime. I didn’t know about his struggle to drinking and partying and it’s very inspiring on how he was able to get through that and still be the best ever in the league. I love how this article did a great job by building up to a great climax and a good closing to the story.

  3. From any baseball player’s point of view if they were to be asked who they think Babe Ruth was they would say “he’s one of the best to ever play the game.” The Great Bambino reached milestones in his career that will be in the record books for years more to come, and his character on and off the field has changed the game. With every professional’s career, they have their own personal struggles that they have to overcome. Ruth had his struggle with alcoholism but that never changed how he approached the game, and with that, his legacy will continue to be a part of baseball forever.

  4. Babe Ruth has left a mark on baseball that will forever be remembered. His legacy still runs strong nearly 100 years later and shows the dominance he would display. He can be claimed as the stepping block for the New York Yankee’s and their power run over the last couple years. The legendary Gambino will forever be remembered.

  5. Babe Ruth is like the Michael Jordan of baseball. I’m not a big fan of baseball and I don’t really know a lot of players but Babe Ruth is a legend and many people look up to him in baseball. His 60 home runs in one season is just crazy just thinking about it. This was a great article learned a lot about Babe Ruth.

  6. I’ve heard about Babe ruth throughout my years in school, but I never really knew his story. He made history with all the home runs he had hit in just one season. Since he did it no one else has hit as many as him in one season. I never herd or knew he had a drinking problem but it is good he started to become healthy and beat his record of home runs.

  7. Babe Ruth is a legendary icon of American history. He beat record after record in his prime and nothing seemed to be stopping him. He was also, if I recall correctly, the first player to make $50,000 a year. He was at a time when that kind of money for playing baseball was unheard of. I always envisioned him as a stern athlete with a passion for the game – which he was. Although, I never knew he had such a problem with drinking. I’m glad to hear that he took strides to become healthy and eventually beat his home run record.

  8. Babe Ruth definitely made history by hitting 60 home runs in one season. No one else has been able to do so since then. I never knew he was an alcoholic and that caused friction between him and sports management. He did however manage to change his life around and complete his dream of hitting 60 home runs, which is amazing!

  9. Babe Ruth’s legacy is still alive and around to this day and this article just highlights another piece of that legacy. For Ruth to have such an amazing career and leave a lasting impact on the game of baseball is remarkable. Despite having many accomplishments, his struggles with smoking and drinking were a few bumps on the road to all of it. As the game of baseball continues to move forward, Babe Ruth’s career and legacy will continue to move with it.

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