He wore No. 3 for only seven seasons, but boy did he wear it big.
Babe Ruth already had hit 470 of his 714 home runs by Opening Day in 1929, when the Yankees and Indians became the first Major League Baseball clubs to regularly wear jersey numbers on their backs. (Go back to our 8 Days post for more on that history.) Just as Opening Day is where you begin any regular season, it also is where you begin any discussion of The Bambino as a player, so we are going to focus on his annual beginnings as we tick down to a new MLB season in only three days at Sydney.
Cumulative Opening Day stats:
Pitching: 3-0, 1.71 ERA, 26 1/3 IP, 5 ER, 5 BB, 10 K
Batting: 25 for 60 (.417), 22 R, 22 RBI, 7 HR, 6 BB, 5 2B, 1 3B
His teams were 15-3 when he played on Opening Day.
Just stop and appreciate the following numbers. It all begins with three consecutive victories as a pitcher, just two outs away from what would have been three straight complete games. The following photo was taken of Ruth during the same season of his 1918 opening gem. The fourth Opening Day, he plays in the field and opens with a bang on the road against the club that would take him away the next offseason.
BOSTON RED SOX
1916: 8.1 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 6 K (2-1 win vs. PHI) | 0 for 2 at the plate
1917: 9 IP, 3 H, 3 ER, 3 BB, 1 K (10-3 win at NYY) | 1 for 4, R
1918: 9 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 3 K (7-1 win vs. PHI) | 1 for 3, 2 RBI
1919: 2 for 4, 2 R, 3 RBI, HR (10-0 win at NYY)
NEW YORK YANKEES
1920: 2 for 4 (3-1 loss at PHI)
1921: 5 for 5, R, 2 RBI, 2 2B (6-3 win at WAS)
1923: 1 for 2, R, 3 RBI, HR (4-1 win vs. BOS)
1924: 1 for 3, R, BB (2-1 win at BOS)
1926: 3 for 6, 3 R, 2 RBI, 2 2B (12-11 win at BOS)
1927: 0 for 3 (8-3 win vs. PHI)
1928: 1 for 3, 3 R, 2 BB, 3B (8-3 win at PHI)
1929: 1 for 2, 2 R, 1 RBI, HR (7-3 win vs. BOS)
1930: 1 for 4, R, 2B (6-2 loss at PHI)
1931: 2 for 3, R, RBI, BB, HR (6-3 win vs. BOS)
1932: 3 for 5, 2 R, 5 RBI, 2 HR (12-6 win at PHI)
1933: 1 for 4, R (4-3 win vs. BOS)
1934: 0 for 3, R, 2 BB (6-5 loss at PHI)
1935: 2 for 4, 2 R, 3 RBI, HR (4-2 win vs. NYG)
Yes, even in Ruth’s final Opening Day, he knocked one out and scored twice in a win. He was magical on Opening Day.
Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis suspended Ruth for the first six weeks of the 1922 season after he participated in a barnstorming tour following the World Series. Then there was “The Bellyache Heard ‘Round The World” in 1925, causing Ruth to miss the start of the season after an offseason of excess and surgery for an “intestinal abscess.” Given his spectacular Opening Day stats, one wishes in hindsight that Ruth could have made those two starts just to see what they would have done to his total.
As hard as it is to single out any particular Opening Day for someone who did so much damage and led his team to so many victories on that occasion, the one celebrated most often in Ruth lore came in 1923. It was the opening of a new Yankee Stadium. On April 18, a warm day in New York, we are told that Ruth and the Yankees drew an announced crowd of 74,217 for their opener against the Red Sox. It is said that another 25,000 were turned away, with reports of scalping arrests. New York Gov. Al Smith threw out the ceremonial first pitch.
Howard Ehmke started on the hill for Boston, and he surrendered a three-run homer to Ruth in the third inning. It was the first homer in what would become known as The House That Ruth Built. The Yankees won that opener, 4-1.
As a side note, Ruth and Ehmke would face off numerous times, each having their moments, so let’s give the highly competitive Ehmke his due in this discussion of the slugger. Ehmke went on to win 20 games for Boston that season and 19 the next in a 15-year career. It was Ehmke who also would allow Ruth’s first homer of the 1927 season, four games into the schedule, and that would become the first of 60 in what most consider the greatest season by any team in MLB history. Ruth’s record would stand until the Yankees’ Roger Maris passed it with 61 in 1961.
Ruth’s final game was on May 30, 1935. The Yankees retired his No. 3 in 1948, the year he passed away.
Ruth was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1936 (Hall ceremony in 1939), and although Hank Aaron broke his career home run record in 1974 (see No. 44 in our countdown), Ruth’s career records include highest slugging percentage (.690), OPS (1.164) and OPS+ (206). Those are stats no one could foresee when a legend was being pounded out on Opening Days long ago.
Now another Opening Day approaches. For the 2014 Yankees, the season begins April 1 at Houston, and the home opener is April 7 against Baltimore, with a No. 3 plaque always out in Monument Park representing the tradition. MLB Schedule | Tickets
Who should be No. 2?