Eighty-four years ago, on September 30, 1927, Babe Ruth of the New York Yankees hit his 60th home run of the season against lefty Tom Zachary of the Washington Senators in the eighth inning to break his own major league record.
Born into a poor family in Baltimore in 1895, George Herman Ruth attended a reformatory and orphanage, where he was an unruly student classified as “incorrigible.” But he learned to play baseball and, at 19, was signed by the Baltimore Orioles, a minor league team. His teammates referred to him as the owner’s newest “babe,” a nickname that stuck.
Ruth made his debut in the majors as a left-handed pitcher with the Red Sox in 1914, and pitched 89 winning games before 1920. In the 1918 World Series, he notched 29 2/3 scoreless innings, a record that stood for 43 years. The next year, not only did he win nine of his 17 starts, but he hit 29 home runs.
In 1919, Ruth was traded to the New York Yankees, where his primary position was outfielder. In 1920, he nearly doubled his own home run record of 29 by slamming 54. He had so many fans that in 1923, when the new Yankee Stadium in the Bronx opened, it was dubbed “The House That Ruth Built.”
In one of Ruth’s last games, he hit three homers in Pittsburgh. On the final trip around the bases, he tipped his cap to the crowd of 10,000. That home run would be number 714, the last of his career. Many of his major league records held for decades.
Ruth’s career home run record stood until 1974, when it was broken by Hank Aaron. His record of 60 homers in a single season of 154 games was not broken until 1961, when Roger Maris of the Yankees hit 61 in 162 games. Barry Bonds is now baseball’s home run leader, with a total of 762 and the single season record of 73, set in 2001. But Ruth’s career slugging percentage of .690 remains the highest in history.
Ruth ended his major league career in 1935, after 10 World Series and 22 seasons. He led the New York Yankees to an unprecedented seven pennants and four World Series victories. In 1936, he was one of the first five players inducted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., along with Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson and Honus Wagner.
On the 25th anniversary of the opening of Yankee Stadium, the team honored the player that made them the most recognizable in sports history by retiring his number 3. It was the last time Ruth was seen in Yankee pinstripes. He died of throat cancer at 53 on August 16, 1948, in New York City.
His body lay in state at Yankee Stadium for two days and more than 100,000 fans paid their final respects. Babe Ruth was named The Associated Press Athlete of the Century in 1999 and The Sporting News’ Greatest Player of All Time. “Baseball,” he once said, “was, is and always will be to me the best game in the world.”