Ruth Regains HR Title, Move Over Barry Bonds
By Joe Guzzardi
Major League Baseball has a new home run champion, and his name has been familiar to fans for more than a century: Babe Ruth. Forget about Barry Bonds, his 73 homers in 2001, and his career 762 round-trippers. Likewise, disremember Hank Aaron with his 755 career blasts. The new champion in both individual season and career categories is Ruth, the Big Bam.
In his 2007 book titled “The Year Babe Ruth Hit 104 Home Runs,” author Bill Jenkinson takes the reader through Ruth’s 1921 season when he hit a then-record 59 homers and sweetened the pot for Yankees’ manager Miller Huggins by hitting .378, and knocking in 168 runners. For good measure, Ruth’s on base percentage was .512; he slugged .846, racked up 457 total bases, scored 177 runs, and rang up 119 extra-base hits. Ruth’s plate production helped the Yankees win 98 games and finish in first place, 4-1/2 ahead of the Cleveland Indians.
Jenkinson made clear that his book isn’t a Ruth biography – dozens of those are available – but rather a recap of the slugger’s fearsome power, and how he dominated baseball during the 20th century’s early decades. The conclusion: in modern, smaller ballparks, with games played under different rules, more comfortable travel modes – specifically charter planes instead of rickety railroad cars – air-conditioned hotel rooms and the constant availability of skilled trainers, Ruth would have hit 104 home runs in 1921, 90 in some other seasons, and over 60 many times. In all, Ruth would have hit well over a thousand home runs in his career, Jenkinson’s research found, and obliterated Bonds’ record.
Fastidiously, Jenkinson listed every home run Ruth hit with estimated distance for each. Although the official record for the longest home run belongs to Mickey Mantle, 565 feet in Griffith Stadium in 1960, Jenkinson found that several Ruth blasts, when they finally came to rest, soared between 600 and 650 feet from home plate. As one Associated Press account recalled: “The ball cleared the right field fence 400 feet from the plate by more than 40 feet and was still ascending. The ball landed on the far side of the running track of a high school athletic field in Kirby Park [PA]. Officials estimated the length at 650 feet.”
No matter how many long-ago seasons are parsed or what analytical methods are relied upon to calculate who reigns as baseball’s most powerful and productive hitter, Ruth comes out on top. If he doesn’t, then the data was entered incorrectly or incompletely.
For those who may still doubt Ruth’s Ruthian batting greatness, consider these five comparisons to other baseball giants. First, for nine separate seasons, Ruth slugged .700 or better, more than Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Ted Williams and Stan Musial combined. Second, if Ruth came back from the dead, returned to baseball and struck out 3,187 straight times, he would still have a .500 slugging percentage, higher than Hall of Famer Ernie Banks. Third, if resurrected again, Ruth would have to go 0-for-1,147 for his slugging percentage to drop below Bonds’ .6069. Fourth, Ruth stole home plate ten times more than Lou Brock, Tim Raines and Rickey Henderson who, combined, had nine. Fifth and finally, Ruth had three qualifying seasons in which his slash line – batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage – was .375/.500/.750; no other MLB player in history has had at least one such season.
Before baseball writers anoint Shohei Ohtani the next Ruth, consider that the American League’s 2021 Most Valuable Player’s best slash line came in 2018: .285/.361/.564. Dismantling Ruth from his well-deserved titled of baseball’s king will be impossible.
Joe Guzzardi is a Society for American Baseball Research and Internet Baseball Writers Association member. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.