Monday, April 6, 2009

The Top 100 Red Sox: No. 9

We'll fill in the Top 10 as we go:

10. Smoky Joe Wood, P

9. Babe Ruth
"He was such a rube that he got more of his share of teasing, some of it not too pleasant. 'The Big Baboon, some of them used to call him behind his back, and then a few got up enough nerve to ridicule him to his face. This started to get under his skin, and when they didn't let up, he finally challenged the whole ballclub. Nobody was so dumb as to take him up on it, so that put an end to that."
-- Harry Hooper, "The Glory of Their Times"

Babe Ruth liked to eat. Babe Ruth liked to drink. Babe Ruth liked to hit a baseball. Everyone knows that.

What's less known is how much Babe Ruth liked to fight.

He liked to fight on the field -- after a walk to the first hitter of a game against Washington, he got himself into an argument with the home-plate umpire and ended up throwing a punch. (Ernie Shore took over in relief and retired 26 in a row; Ruth was suspended for nine games.)

He liked to fight on the train -- during the 1918 World Series, he was punching out the top of straw hats on the team train when he scuffled with someone and wound up with a swollen finger that almost cost the Red Sox a win in Game 4.

He liked to fight in the ring -- after the 1918 season, during a contract dispute, he threatened to retire from baseball and become a boxer.

And he liked to fight in the clubhouse -- after his manager hired a hotel porter to catch him breaking curfew, he stormed into the locker room the next day and shouted, "If you ever come to my room again, you son of a bitch, I'll punch you right in the nose!"

But it was that personality that made him such a great pitcher. In four years with the Red Sox, Ruth compiled a 2.19 ERA and an ERA+ of 125; in 1916, he had a 1.75 ERA and threw nine complete-game shutouts and went the distance in a 2-1 win in 14 innings in Game 2 of the World Series. His ERA ranks fifth in franchise history, and so too does his winning percentage of .659.

Oh, and he could hit a little bit, too. Let's hear from Hooper again:

"Sometimes I still can't believe what I saw: This 19-year-old kid, crude, poorly educated, only lightly brushed by the social veneer we call civilization, gradually transformed into the idol of American youth and the symbol of baseball the world over -- a man loved by more peopleand with an intensity of feeling that perhaps has never been equaled before or since. I saw a man transformed from a human being into something pretty close to a god. If somebody had predicted that back on the Boston Red Sox in 1914, he would have been thrown in an insane asylum."

Coming up: The greatest center fielder in Red Sox history.

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