Babe Ruth won his only batting title 100 years ago

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There’s not much Babe Ruth didn’t do in his large life. The man who some called “The Behemoth of Bust” squeezed every ounce of excitement out of his time in this world. On the baseball field, he accomplished practically everything. But he nearly failed to win the most coveted honor a batter could earn in his era. It happened 100 years ago, in 1924.

Ruth’s accomplishments are legendary: 714 home runs, more than 2,000 hits, runs scored, and runs batted in. He helped his teams to seven World Series titles. When he was famously sold to New York, his presence in pinstripes launched the greatest dynasty in American team sports.

Babe was an incredible pitcher, but his dominance emerged as a batter. He revolutionized the game of baseball, dragging the sport from the deadball era into a time when players swung from the heels for home runs. In 1927 he smacked 60 home runs, a total that surpassed every other team in the league.

Ruth won 12 home run titles. But he was far more than a simple slugger. No Dave Kingman was he: the Babe could hit and hit for high average. His career batting mark was .342, which ranks in the top 15 of all-time. Still, by 1924, Ruth had yet to win baseball’s most prized honor: a batting crown.

In the time before the 1930s, winning a batting title (awarded to the player with the highest batting average for the season) was considered by many to be the true measure of baseball’s best batter. But prior to the home run explosion, the batting crown was a honor monopolized by Ty Cobb, Rogers Hornsby, George Sisler, and a few others. In the 1920s, Harry Heilmann, a Cobb prodigy won the batting crown four times, in alternating years starting in 1921. But when the 1924 season started, the Babe had never copped the title, and with Heilmann the reigning champ, and the irritating Cobb still in the league, it didn’t seem like Ruth would ever do it.

Flirtation with .400

On June 1, Heilmann was batting .427 for Detroit. It looked like the defending batting champ would win the title again. But, inexplicably, Heilmann batted .198 in June and sagged in the batting race. That’s when the Babe caught fire.

In July of 1924, Ruth batted an unbelievable .450, collecting 59 hits that month in 37 games. True to his reputation, Ruth clubbed 14 home runs too. On July 1, the Babe was hitting .355, and at the end of the calendar month his average was .388,

Entering August, a new challenger appeared in the batting list: Bibb Falk, an outfielder for the White Sox from Texas. Falk was a remarkable athlete, and he was having his first big season as a baseball player. But, eventually, Falk settled down from his high mark of .382 after July 1, and finished with a .352 average for the ’24 season.

Ruth continued his rampage with the bat. From July 23 to August 8, the Yankee outfielder batted .537 (36-for-67) with 13 multi-hit games in 17 games played. The slugger truly lived up to one of his nicknames, The Colossus of Clout, smashing 10 homers and 18 extra-base hits in those 17 games. It was arguably then hottest two-week stretch of his career, at least of those years when he was solely a hitter.

That amazing .537 barrage lifted the Babe’s average to .408 on the morning of August 9th. But in the next 11 contests, with a huge lead in the batting race, Ruth was less slugger and more sluggish. He hit .225 from August 9-24, with one measly homer. His average dropped to .390, and was .388 on the morning of September 1st.

Charlie Jamieson, a fine outfielder for the Indians, had a good September and crept up the batting charts. But the Babe was way too far out in front. The Yanks finished the season with a 19-game road trip(!), and they needed Ruth and everyone else to race to the finish line, because New York was locked in a tight battle for the pennant with the Senators.

The Yankees were two games behind Washington when they left for Boston by train on September 7th. Eight days later they were tied. But the Yankees never did inch past the Senators. In the final weekend of the season, they lost to the A’s when Eddie Rommel pitched a gutsy complete game to defeat them. The defeat eliminated the Yankees, and for the first time since 1920, the Yankees failed to win the pennant.

But for Ruth, 1924 was a triumph. He proved to his critics that he was more than just a big swinger. Yes, his 46 wallops were good for his sixth home run title, but he took great pride in winning the batting title with a .378 mark. It was the fourth time since he joined the Yankees in 1920, that the Babe had hit at least .370 for the season.

Most importantly to Ruth, he earned his first crown as a batting champion. He was no longer second fiddle to his rival, Ty Cobb, a 12-time batting champ.

“Take away [his] home runs,” Cobb once chided, “and Ruth is nothing but a novelty act.”

Not in 1924. Because that’s the year the Babe became a batting champ.

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Dan Holmes

Dan Holmes

Dan Holmes is the author of three books about baseball, including Ty Cobb: A Biography. He previously worked for the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and Major League Baseball Advanced Media. He lives in Michigan where he writes, runs, and enjoys a good orange soda now and again.
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