Top 50 Sox Seasons #14: Babe Ruth, 1919

.322/.456/.657, 1.114 OPS, 542 PA, 139 H, 101 BB, 29 HR, 114 RBI, 284 TB, 74 XBH, 219 OPS+

Many look at Babe Ruth’s first season in New York, 1920, as the year he redefined hitting in Major League Baseball. In fact, his first revolutionary season was his last with Boston. Ruth outhomered 11 of the other 15 teams in baseball in 1919. His 29 were nearly three times the total of any other AL player – no surprise then that he set the league records for home runs, slugging and OPS, all of which he shattered the next season.

1919 was also Ruth’s last as a pitcher. He started 15 games, but his pitching suffered as he concentrated on his hitting. Once the Red Sox slipped from contention in the middle of summer, Ruth’s hitting was the only draw to Fenway Park, and he was turned into a full-time outfielder. He’d never go back. One wonders how many home runs Ruth would have hit had he the benefit of the right field bullpens later built for Ted Williams. Less than a quarter of Ruth’s 49 home runs as a member of the Red Sox were hit in Fenway.

After the season, of course, Ruth was traded – a terrible move alternately blamed on the stinginess of Harry Frazee or the machinations of Ban Johnson. Ruth promptly hit 54 home runs with the Yankees – five more than he hit in his six years in Boston combined. Despite the offensive explosion that occurred over the following two decades, Boston wouldn’t have another batter hit at least 29 home runs for 17 years – until Jimmie Foxx hit 41 in 1936. That .657 slugging percentage remains the sixth-best in Red Sox history, topped only by seasons from Foxx and Williams.

Key game: Aug. 24. In a topsy-turvy contest against Ty Cobb’s Tigers, Ruth slams two home runs to help keep the Red Sox even with Detroit at five at the end of nine innings. In the 11th, with two runs already across, Ruth then singles home Harry Hooper with the Sox’ eighth run. When Detroit rallies for two runs in the bottom of the 11th, Ruth’s RBI turns into the game-winner. The home runs give Ruth 22 on the season, extending the AL record and coming within three of the all-time mark.

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