Monday, April 9, 2018

How much did Babe Ruth pitch and bat at the same time?

Added March 23, 2023:


The question has become more pertinent as Angels rookie Shohei Ohtani shows his doubters that it may be possible to be a modern Babe Ruth, a player who can excel at both pitching and batting at the same time. Prior to 2018 Ohtani had played only in the Japan Pacific League.

Yesterday Ohtani pitched against the Oakland As for the second consecutive Sunday, first in Oakland, then at home. Ohtani won both games, improving from a three run homer allowed in game one to seven shutout innings in which Ohtani struck out 12 and retired the first 19 batters faced.

In between Ohtani was designated hitter (DH) in three games and he homered in all three. Ohtani has now been DH in four games and batted 8th in all four. What's that about? In all four games the opposing team started a righty pitcher. Ohtani bats lefty and may effectively be in a platoon situation with righty batter Albert Pujols who has been DH when Ohtani has not. Apparently, Ohtani will also be rested in games prior to when he pitches, which would now seem to be Sundays.

So, two games pitched, two wins. Since both pitching games were in American Conference parks, the DH was employed and the pitcher, in this case Ohtani, did not bat. Four games as DH, three home runs.

The DH rule started in the old American League back in 1973. The old National League never adopted it. So when Babe Ruth was a full time pitcher for the Boston Red Sox in 1915, 1916, 1917 Ruth would bat in all games in which he pitched. Ruth never played another position until 1918 when he led the AL in home runs for the first time with 11, tied with Tillie Walker, who had been Ruth's teammate the previous two years and was playing center field for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1918.

Prior to modern expansion in 1961 there were eight teams in each of the two major leagues. They played only in league and 22 games against each of seven opponents. That's a 154 game schedule, which was not always completed and which could contain ties. Also, in 1918 and 1919 the schedule was shortened because of U.S. involvement in the first World War.  The Red Sox played these number of games during Ruth's years with them:
1914 91-62 (2) = 153
1915 101-50 (1) = 151
1916 91-63 (1) = 154
1917 90-62 (2) = 152
1918 75-51 (1) = 126
1919 66-71 (6) = 137

There is some overlap in 1918 and 1919 when Ruth both pitched and played another position so for those years only his starts at OF and 1B are shown.


Ruth clearly transitioned from a full time starting pitcher through 1917 to being mostly a non-pitcher. Ruth's percentage of team games played in 1918 went from under 30% to 60%, more than double. Then in 1919 Ruth played in 97% of Red Sox games. He also set a new season record for home runs: 29.





2 Yrs (2 Series)301.0000.8733021031.01933110081011160.9355.
2 WS301.0000.8733021031.01933110081011160.9355.

Note that Ruth's first World Series appearance was in 1915 ... pinch hitting. Ruth did not pitch in that WS. The Red Sox lost game one to the Phillies, then won four straight. In that loss Ruth PH for starting pitcher Ernie Shore with one out, one on. Ruth was the tieing run.

Top of the 9th, Red Sox Batting, Behind 1-3, Phillies' Pete Alexander facing 7-8-9

Ruth: Groundout: 1B unassisted; Henriksen to 2B

Alexander the Great retired 20 year old Ruth. In 1915 Ruth hit four homers in 92 at bats. His Red Sox teammates hit only ten. Ruth was tied for 9th most home runs in 1915:

Home Runs
1.Roth • 2TM7
2.Oldring • PHA6
3.Boone • NYY5
Burns • DET5
Fournier • CHW5
Walker • SLB5
Peckinpaugh • NYY5
Jackson • 2TM5
9.Kavanagh • DET4
Crawford • DET4
Ruth • BOS4
Caldwell • NYY4
Collins • CHW4
Pipp • NYY4
Maisel • NYY4

Let's see how Ohtani progresses. What initially seemed to me to be a bit of a joke is now interesting. However, I still think there's a reason there's been only one Babe Ruth, however you interpret his dual role as a great pitcher turned great hitter.

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