This Month in Baseball History – May 16. 1915: Babe Ruth Hits 1st Career Home Run

Since baseball’s beginning, harsh debates rage the identity of the true creator of baseball George Herman Ruth, more popularly known  as “Babe” Ruth is not the choice. While, technically,  baseball had existed long before Babe Ruth was himself a babe, a review of baseball’s long and  tangled history throws its weight behind Ruth more than and with greater verve than anyone else. Even through the most casual study of MLB’s history, it becomes quickly clear the baseball OF today owes more to Ruth than anyone else. It was on this on a May day – more specifically May 16, 1915 – Ruth would start his climb up the home run records and make the home run the ultimate attention-getter.

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Before Ruth, the home run existed but two factors would combine to curtail them significantly The most obvious was the baseballs.

“The ball used then was “dead”(…) from overuse.”

Termed the “Deadball Era” (1900?-1919?) when a baseball was introduced into the game, it stayed in, going so far as to be retrieved even after a home run. Very quickly, a new baseball would become dirty and dented from usage. As well, pitchers were allowed to scuff up and even spit on the ball, It remained in play and thus, very soon went “Dead.”

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Factor #2, the stadiums.

As baseball progressed , the stadiums would morph into what we would know today. In the beginning, however, games would be played in open fields with the public taking their viewing pleasure from wherever they so choose, including on the field.  Since the parks had no defined structure, home runs could only really be achieved by running the bases. Even as stadiums became as we know them today, they were still not very home run friendly, with cavernous outfields, such as Ebbets Field’s centerfield.

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Ruth was the game changer.

Why was Ruth able to hit home runs when others couldn’t? Hitting study has only recently gained its appreciation  as the art form that it is. As well, recent hitters have s greater advantage in that there is quite a bit more information available on them. As well, we can see them live an do not have to rely on flowery secondhand accounts. We are more exposed to their game and its strength and weaknesses Where Ruth, the material exists but it is limited.

One theory comes from today’s MLB. Home runs are on the rise all around, even unlikely plays are swatting their share of big flies, four shortstops already have 10+. A new fad has invaded and teams throughout baseball have fallen in love with it.

Launch angle, which teaches lifting the ball.

This could easily explain Ruth’s massive amount of success.  He was actually trying to hit home runs. And hit them he did.

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His first four years in professional baseball were spent as a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox and would only hit sparingly. Ruth would, however gain the taste for it and begin to excel. Following his infamous sale to the Yankees to begin his 7th year in the big  leagues, Ruth would take up full time residence in the outfield and his bat would have its vengeance for being held down for so long.

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Ruth would go on a prodigious spree with the Yankees, hitting 54 home runs in  1920, besting  his previous year’s record of 29, his last season with the Red Sox. As well, Ruth’s 54 in 1920 would be more than 14 of the 16 teams in MLB. Number two – George Sisler 19.

Overall, Ruth’s season would look like this:

142 GP 616 PA 458 AB 158 R 172 H 36 2B 9 3B 54 HR 135 RBI .376/.532/.847 slug line

Clearly. Ruth was on another level than the rest of the two leagues. Certainly, his 1921 season bore that out in tenfold. Ruth would up his home run total and again set the single season home run total with 59, more than half of the sixteen teams.

For the 1921, Ruth would hit more than double the homers than #2 fellow teammate Bob Muesel’s 24.

New York Yankees' Babe Ruth swinging his bat. Babe Ruth fol

Ruth’s even bigger 1921 season looks like this.

152 GP 693 PA 540 AB 177 R 204 H 44 2B 16 3B 59 HR 168 RBI .376/.532/.847 slug line

Ruth would be the only player to hit 50 + home runs until 1930 when Chicago Cubs centerfielder Hack Wilson hit 56. Ruth would hit 50 four times before Wilson would notch his first.

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When we  trace baseball’s origins, Babe Ruth’s name cannot be ignored. His hand prints are over its foundations, more so than anyone else’s. Histories are written with an eye on the ending. The beginning remains an elusive piece of the over all legend and on this month of May – May 16, 1915 – Babe Ruth took his first swing into baseball immortality.

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