JIM WALKER: Mystery pitcher dominated in 2 different ways

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 29, 2007

He was the most dominating pitcher in baseball for four seasons. He won 23 and 24 games in two of those seasons and 18 in yet another. He held the record for scoreless innings in the World Series for nearly 40 years.

But, due to some other circumstances, he no longer made his trip to the mound every four of five days.

So who was this stellar left-hander?

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No, not Dizzy Dean. Yes, his career was ruined after being struck on the toe by a batted ball in the All-Star Game, but Dean was a right-hander.

No, not Sandy Koufax who overcame control problems early in his career to become the most dominant pitcher of his era until arthritis in his elbow forced an early retirement.

The pitcher was George Herman “Babe” Ruth.

Yes, the same Babe Ruth who set the standard for home run power. The Babe, the Bambino, the Sultan of Swat broke into the major leagues with the Boston Red Sox as a pitcher.

Because he showed the ability to hit the ball well and far, the Red Sox started playing Ruth more in the outfield than on the mound. He appeared in 19 games as pitcher in 1919, but another 111 in the field as he hit 29 home runs.

In his previous five seasons, Ruth had none in just five games in 1914 followed by 4, 3, 2, and 11.

Ruth pitched in just one game — he won it — during the 1920 season and hit 54 home runs. If Ruth had averaged just 25 home runs a year in his first four seasons he would have had 839 home runs for his career.

In his other 17 seasons, Ruth averaged 40 home runs a year. If he hit 40 a year in those other four seasons minus the 20 he did hit, his final total could have been 854.

And Ruth put up all his numbers hitting during the dead ball era in huge ball parks. Still, most of his home runs traveled between 400 and 500 feet. He was the only player to ever hit a ball out of Forbes Field over the right field roof, and he did it at the age of 40.

It would be hard to say Ruth would have hit even more had he taken better care of his body and health. Let’s face it, he still hit a lot of home runs.

Ruth, who had blazing speed in his younger years, was taking anti-steroids during his career. He usually had the clubhouse boy get him at least a six hot dogs before each game.

Pete Rose never drank any alcohol or took any drugs because he never wanted to damage his body.

Opposing players would take Ruth out at night and try to get him knock-down drunk. The idea usually backfired. The opposing players came to the ball park with hangovers and Ruth bounced into the locker room still looking for his hot dogs.

Records don’t always measure the total greatness of a player. Ted Williams missed the three best years of his career because he was in the military service due to World War II. Stan Musial may have been the best hitter ever in the National League, and there was no one any classier than Hank Aaron.

So don’t worry if Barroid Bonds breaks Aaron’s record. Take it for what it is worth. Every player in history sees his numbers decline when he hits 36 or 37 years old.

Except for Bonds whose numbers climbed for some reason.

Oh, by the way. Ruth pitched periodically throughout his career. He had a complete game victory at the age of 38.

Better check those hot dogs.

—Sinatra —

Jim Walker is sports editor of the Ironton Tribune.