Reggie Jackson connects on his home run that hit the right-field light tower at Tiger Stadium in 1971. (Detroit News)
Beefy and boisterous, George had come out of reform school to play professional baseball. He was 19, a left-handed pitcher, and he had proved that he was prepared to pitch in the major leagues. It was 100 years ago this weekend that he made his major league debut.
There was little fanfare that afternoon in Boston’s still-new Fenway Park. The kid rookie would pitch seven innings and handle the Cleveland Naps rather well.
This was long before the DH in the American League. And it was long before managers were ruled by pitch counts. Relief pitchers were used sparingly and it would be almost another 80 years before baseball would turn the most effective of them into featured specialists called closers.
In July 1914, baseball was in need of some timely improvements.
George would contribute plenty to the development of Major League Baseball in America.
Babe Ruth, for that was what they called him, allowed eight hits and three runs, two earned, in seven innings in that debut a century ago. Pitchers batted way back then in the American League and Babe Ruth had been stifled in his first two at-bats. In a 3-3 tie, Bill Carrigan, the Red Sox’s manager, pinch hit for his rookie pitcher.
Duffy Lewis singled as Ruth’s pinch hitter in the Red Sox’s winning rally. Then Dutch Leonard, a star pitcher, finished in relief for what now would be called a save.
The untamed Ruth kid wound up a 4-3 winner in his first appearance in the major leagues, according to the box score of July 11, 1914, in Baseball.Reference.com.
It was a beginning.
There would be no end, never, not now, 100 years later. Babe Ruth would become the most famous, most revered athlete in American sports history, the most vital. My opinion, hardly original.
But it was Babe Ruth – George Herman Ruth – who revolutionized baseball in the 1920s.
He made the mass production of home runs a cherished portion of baseball history. And as a chain reaction what he did for baseball ultimately helped popularize all the American copycat sports.
It is true – there is proof – that ESPN did not discover Babe Ruth. It did not even invent baseball, football, basketball or soccer. It did not invent the photogenic home run, although it might seem so during the variety of sports shows around 10 o’clock every night.
Announcers for the TV network can be credited with inventing the yucky cliché “GO YARD.” That is something Babe Ruth did 714 times in the 21 years after his debut that 1914 afternoon.
ESPN – proclaimed by its paid propagandists as “The Worldwide Leader in Sports” – could demand credit for serving us the annual Home Run Derby. For certain ESPN made the event what it has become in 2014. (Please fill in your opinion right here.)
It is a matter of history that Arch Ward – a true print journalist – invented the All-Star Game in 1933.
And it is a matter of history, also, that the first guy to bash a home run in an All-Star Game in Comiskey Park, Chicago, was the 38-year-old Babe Ruth. He ran around the bases in mincing, pigeon steps.
It is also a matter of history that a later member of the Red Sox, Ted Williams, hit the most memorable home run in any of the All-Star Games. It transformed the All-Star Game into an occasion, something more than a midsummer sideshow. Again my opinion, not original.
There is plenty of footage of Williams striking the winning home run for the American Leaguers in the bottom of the ninth inning in 1941 at Briggs Stadium, Detroit. Down 5-4, Williams struck a pitch by Claude Passeau deep into the right-field stands. It was an historic walk-off home run – a half-century or so before the term “walk off” was invented.
And what remains the neatest are the newsreel shots of Williams – supposedly the placid, unemotional, unapproachable young star of baseball – with a mirthful grin, joyously clapping hands as he ran toward first base in Detroit.
Ted ran his home runs – unlike Babe – in loping, gliding strides.
The three-run homer won the game 7-5 for the Americans. One of the baserunners scoring before Williams was Joe DiMaggio, toward the end of his still unbroken 56-game hitting streak.
Home runs have been frequent in All-Star Games since Babe Ruth hit the first back in ’33 off a pitch by Bill Hallahan. The total currently is 178 homers hit in All-Star Games hit by such notables as Stan Musial, Arky Vaughan, Lou Gehrig, Frankie Frisch, Jimmie Foxx, DiMaggio, Johnny Mize, Al Kaline, Ralph Kiner, Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, Hank Aaron, Joe Medwick, Cal Ripken, Mike Schmidt, Eddie Mathews, Johnny Bench, Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice, George Brett – home run hitters of that ilk.
And Reggie Jackson!
Thirty years after Ted Williams’ home run that won the 1941 All-Star Game, Reggie stood in the same spot at home plate in the renamed Tiger Stadium. He hit the second most memorable All-Star Game home run off Dock Ellis. Jackson’s shot was hit farther than Williams’. The ball went above the right-field roof and smashed into the light tower before ricocheting into the night.
This is a personal recollection of that night in 1971 home in Detroit for the Midsummer Classic.
Williams' final appearance
One other powerful All-Star memory stands out for me.
Ted Williams – again – his final public appearance. It was the All-Star Game of 1999, with Ted’s No. 9 etched onto the outfield grass in Fenway Park, Boston.
Bud Selig’s acolytes lined up all the All Stars from the two leagues on the basepaths between first and third. Stand at attention, MLB told the players. Then Williams was rolled in his wheelchair from under the bleachers, across the outfield, to the pitcher’s mound as the Boston crowd unloosed a tremendous cheer.
There was a speech – and in the midst of it, one of the All-Stars broke ranks to the likely horror of Selig. Ken Griffey Jr. rushed toward Ted to shake hands and they did. Then all of the All Stars dropped the ordered pose and rushed forward to surround Williams.
Forgotten and blurred by time is the identity of the winner of the Home Run Derby before that All-Star Game. The Game itself honored Ted Williams, who hit the most historic home run of all the All-Star Games.
And all these home runs hit by the aforementioned Hall of Famers were hit in real game time; before the creation of the artificial spectacle of the Home Run Derby in 1985.
Funny, the last All-Star home run hit in real game time was two years ago, by Melky Cabrera. Soon thereafter, Selig gave that Cabrera his 50-game suspension boot on drug allegations.