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This Day In Sports: The Sultan of… the Mound

1918: During a certain hurler’s starts, Boston Red Sox fans did not turn away when the pitcher’s spot came up in the batting order. The Bambino was emerging.
Babe Ruth before a Boston Red Sox game in 1919. Ruth had just converted to an everyday outfielder after five successful years as a starting pitcher.

BOISE, Idaho — THIS DAY IN SPORTS…May 9, 1918:

A Boston Red Sox pitcher has five hits but takes the loss in a 4-3 defeat at the hands of the Washington Senators. His name was Babe Ruth, and the next season he backed away from pitching to concentrate on hitting and playing the outfield. Ruth clubbed a then-staggering 29 home runs for the Red Sox in 1919 — then was traded to the Yankees, and you know what happened from then on. In Boston, the trade became the “Curse of the Bambino”, finally extinguished with the Red Sox World Series title in 2004.

Ruth still made 17 appearances on the mound in 1919, most of them early in the season, going 9-5 with a 2.97 ERA. His pitching record over six seasons with Boston was 89-46, including 20-win seasons in 1916 and 1917. Ruth was arguably the best pitcher in baseball from 1915-18 and won three World Series games, one in 2016 and two in that fateful 2018 Series. After the trade to the Yankees, the Babe would pitch just five more times in his career. The last time was in 1933, when he made one start and threw a complete game versus the Red Sox at the end of the season.

He fully transitioned to the outfield in 1920 and started hitting homers at a remarkable rate. Ruth tied his single-season record of 29 on July 15 and broke it with home runs in both games of a doubleheader four days later. He finished with an unthinkable 54 home runs and 137 runs batted in, and the Yanks reaped the benefits at the gate. Playing at the Polo Grounds before Yankee Stadium was built, they became the first big league team to draw over a million fans, ultimately attracting 1.2 million.

We thought there would never be a two-way story like the Babe’s again, but since Shohei Ohtani’s arrival from Japan in 2018, Ruth’s pitching and batting prowess have come into focus again. Ohtani is 32-14 as a pitcher and has hit 134 home runs. Just last Wednesday at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Ohtani reached another milestone, striking out 13 batters to reach 500 in his career. That made him just the second player in modern MLB history to record 500 strikeouts as a pitcher and 100 homers as a hitter. The first, of course, was Ruth.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra. He also anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK and one on News/Talk KBOI. His Scott Slant column runs every Wednesday.)

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