Ten facts for 100th anniversary of the Babe's debut
Beyond pitching for Red Sox, legend had several interesting stories his rookie year
One hundred years ago this week, Babe Ruth made his Major League debut, pitching for the Boston Red Sox against the Cleveland Naps.
But as tends to be the case with the Babe, there are many interesting stories within the story. Here are 10 interesting tidbits about Ruth's rookie year in professional ball:
1. The discovery: Accounts vary as to how Jack Dunn, owner and manager of the Orioles, was pointed to Ruth, but one theory is that Joe Engel, a pitcher for the Washington Senators, saw Ruth play for St. Mary's against the freshman team of his alma mater, Mount St. Mary's, before an alumni game. Legend has it that Ruth pitched a gem of a ballgame, and Engel raved about him when talking to Dunn on a train to Baltimore that night. Interestingly, Engel would go on to become a legitimate scout and an eccentric promoter as president of the Chattanooga Lookouts. In 1931, Engel signed a 17-year-old girl named Virne "Jackie" Mitchell to pitch against the Yankees in an exhibition, and she struck out both Ruth and Lou Gehrig.
2. A minor in the Minors: Ruth signed with the Orioles, then of the International League, for $250 a month on Feb. 14, 1914, when he was 19 years old and had not yet reached the age of majority (since lowered to 18). He was under the legal ward of Brothers Gilbert Cairns and Paul Scanlon of St. Mary's Industrial School for Boys. To sign Ruth, Dunn, then 42, had to become his legal guardian.
3. The birth of 'the Babe': No one knows exactly how George Herman Ruth came to be known as "Babe," but the accepted theory is that in Spring Training 1914, the O's Scout Steinman told the other players to take it easy on Ruth because he was "one of [Jack] Dunnie's babes." Baltimore Sun writers Rodger Pippen and Jesse Linthicum began referring to him as "Babe Ruth" in their reports.
4. First unofficial homer: The first documentation of a Ruth homer in the pros came in The Baltimore Sun's account of a spring scrimmage held by the O's in which Ruth, playing shortstop that day, hit a ball past a white post (marking a spot where Jim Thorpe had once hit a ball in the Carolina League) and into a neighboring cornfield, an estimated 428 feet from home plate. "Homer by Ruth Feature of Game," read the headline in The Baltimore Sun.
5. Prologue to a sale: Ruth might have remained with the Orioles were it not for the presence of a Baltimore franchise in the Federal League, which was established in 1914 and lasted just two seasons. The Baltimore Terrapins played across the street from the O's and dwarfed the more established club's attendance totals, forcing Dunn to hold a fire sale that included Ruth to the Red Sox for a reported $25,000.
6. First official homer: The first home run in an in-season professional game occurred with the Providence Grays, the Red Sox's farm team, on Sept. 5, 1914. It was actually hit in Toronto, at Maple Leaf Park, against Forts pitcher Walt Johnson (not that one), and it was Ruth's only documented Minor League home run. The shot landed in Lake Ontario. Ruth also, incidentally, threw a one-hitter that day.
7. Triple threat: It's no big shock that while with Baltimore and Providence in '14, Ruth finished second in the International League in victories (23) and fifth in strikeouts (139). What's interesting is that he tied for 21st in triples, with 10 of them in just 121 at-bats.
8. First Major League hit: The Babe would have to wait until 1915 for his first big league homer, but his first hit came on Oct. 2, 1914 -- against the Yankees. Ruth doubled to right off Leonard "King" Cole in an 11-5 victory. There were 2,872 hits to follow.
9. The Marrying kind: What better way to wrap a whirlwind first year in baseball than to get married to the Boston waitress you met along the way? Ruth and Helen Woodford officially said "I do" in Ellicott City, Md., on Oct. 17, 1914. He was 19, she was 16, and the two would adopt a daughter, Dorothy (who would later claim she was Ruth's biological child by a girlfriend named Juanita Jennings), in 1921 and would separate by '26. Helen died in a fire in 1929.
10. The rookie card: The Baltimore News printed the first baseball card to feature Ruth in 1914. It featured his photo on the front (printed in either red or blue), with the Orioles' International League schedule on the back. Only 10 are known to be in circulation, and the top bid fetched for one was $450,300, in 2013.