Baseball: Past and Present

Babe Ruth

[Babe Ruth with Red Sox teammates, 1915 | Library of Congress]

A frequent refrain from supporters of Jack Morris’s Hall of Fame candidacy is that he pitched the greatest game in World Series history. Certainly, Morris placed himself in unique company in 1991 when he became the third Fall Classic pitcher to hurl a 10-inning shutout after Clem Labine in 1956 [hat tip to Devon Young] and Christy Mathewson in 1913. Morris is also the 10th and most recent pitcher with a Game 7 shutout, joining men like Dizzy Dean in 1934, Sandy Koufax in 1965 and Bret Saberhagen in 1985. In addition, Morris is the only pitcher in World Series history with an extra inning, complete game victory in Game 7.

For some fans, all of this may be more than enough to anoint Morris. By various objective measures, though, Morris’s masterpiece is far from the greatest World Series pitching performance. There’s Don Larsen’s perfect game in 1956 or journeyman Howard Ehmke’s surprise start in 1929 where the junkballer set a record at the time by striking out 13 stunned Chicago Cubs including Hall of Famers Rogers Hornsby, Hack Wilson and Kiki Cuyler twice apiece. Then there’s Bob Gibson’s five-hit shutout in 1968 where he set a World Series record that still stands with 17 strikeouts.

Game 2, 1916 World Series – Boston 2, Brooklyn 1
Pitching IP H R ER BB SO HR BF GSc WPA aLI RE24
Sherry Smith, L (0-1) 13.1 7 2 2 6 2 0 51 82 0.582 1.77 3.3
Babe Ruth, W (1-0) 14 6 1 1 3 4 1 48 97 1.082 1.54 4.8
Stats provided by Baseball-Reference.com | Full box score

By Game Score, the best World Series pitching performance came in 1916 by Babe Ruth with a 97. [Morris is tied for 38th at 84.] Ruth set a World Series record that still stands when he went 14 innings for the Boston Red Sox in Game 2 on October 9, beating the Brooklyn Dodgers 2-1. He even drove in one of Boston’s runs, the New York Times noted, when Brooklyn second baseman George Cutshaw juggled a grounder in the third inning, allowing Everett Scott to score.

No one ever really talks about Game 2 of the 1916 World Series anymore, though it’s a great story. The day after it happened, the New York Times described the game as “the most thrilling world’s series battle ever fought.”

It was Ruth’s first start in a postseason game, as the 21-year-old southpaw had been kept in reserve for the 1915 World Series after going 18-8 with a 2.44 ERA that season. Robert Creamer explained in his signature Ruth biography that Red Sox manager Bill Carrigan had elected to primarily use right-handed pitchers in the 1915 Series against Philadelphia and its slugger Gavvy Cravath who had hit 24 homers in the regular season, best in the modern era to that point. Ruth got one pinch hit appearance in the Series while Boston won 4-1 and kept Cravath homer-less with a .125 batting average.

Ruth earned the nod for Game 2 of the 1916 Series after going 23-12 with an American League best 1.75 ERA [as well as a combined 10.4 WAR between pitching and hitting.] Ruth struggled early in his World Series pitching debut, surrendering an inside-the-park home run to Hy Myers in the first inning after, as Creamer noted, two Boston outfielders tripped in pursuit of the ball.  Teammate Jack Barry wrote the following day in a presumably ghostwritten Boston Post column, “Ruth oftentimes has his hardest session at the beginning. We all were sure as the game went along that Ruth would get better.”

Pitching in cavernous Braves Field with 44,000 fans packed in, Ruth threw 13 innings of shutout ball the remainder of the game, allowing five hits and three walks. As Creamer noted, Ruth pitched a no-hitter the final seven innings. Barry wrote that Myers’ homer came off a high fastball and that Ruth kept Myers hitless thereafter by pitching him low. Ruth escaped trouble, Barry noted, recording consecutive ground outs to close the eighth inning after Brooklyn put runners on second and third. Later in the 13th inning, Red Sox left fielder Duffy Lewis provided a running catch off a Jake Daubert fly ball.

The game finally ended amid fading daylight when pinch hitter Del Gainer provided an RBI single in the 14th inning. Having now taken the first two games, Boston would go on to win the Series 4-1. “I told you a year ago I could take care of those National League bums, and you never gave me a chance,” Creamer quoted Ruth telling Carrigan after Game 2. “Forget it Babe,” Carrigan is said to have replied. “You made monkeys out of them today.”

At least a few prominent writers praised Brooklyn’s hurler Sherry Smith, something of a surprise starter as the New York Times noted in its game coverage. [Major League Baseball historian John Thorn tells me there were occasional surprise World Series starters back then, Ehmke being perhaps the most famous.] Hugh Fullerton, a few years away from helping break the Black Sox Scandal, wrote that Ruth was saved by superior defense. Barry also wrote that Ruth received better support. Grantland Rice wrote in his syndicated column the following day:

Smith pitched the better game. For thirteen innings he had the Red Sox lashed to the phantom, swinging as helpless as the bewildered old dame who attempted to sweep back the ocean with a mop. They couldn’t hit with a machine gun loaded with buckshot.

Ruth pitched twice more in postseason play, winning two games in the 1918 World Series. His all-time Fall Classic pitching line: 3-0 with a 0.87 ERA, two complete games and a shutout. Somehow, the best was yet to come.



2 Comments so far

  1.    jpomrenke on September 2, 2014 7:03 pm      

    Nice story. Ruth’s performance is definitely under-appreciated, so it’s good to see it get some more attention. Since Game Score has a well-known bias toward extra-inning performances, I thought it’d be interesting to see how Ruth’s great day stacked up if you took out the IP bonus.

    This list is the top 100 WS performances by actual Game Score, then re-sorted by simply taking out the 2-point IP bonus for each. Hope these columns come through OK: the next-to-last column is actual Game Score and the last column is now “Game Score minus IP bonus”. Ruth is at #18 on the new list, which is still pretty dominant. Most of the other extra-inning WS performances got dropped straight to the bottom, which is evidence that they weren’t really all that dominant except for longevity. (FYI, Jack Morris fell from #45 to #58 on the new list):

    Player Date Series Gm# Tm Opp GmSc GmSc-IP
    Don Larsen 10/08/56 WS 5 NYY BRO 94 84
    Ed Walsh 10/11/06 WS 3 CHW CHC 94 84
    Bob Gibson 10/02/68 WS 1 STL DET 93 83
    Randy Johnson 10/28/01 WS 2 ARI NYY 91 81
    Monte Pearson 10/05/39 WS 2 NYY CIN 90 80
    George Earnshaw 10/06/31 WS 4 PHA STL 90 80
    Bill Dinneen 10/02/03 WS 2 BOS PIT 90 80
    Don Drysdale 10/05/63 WS 3 LAD NYY 89 79
    Hod Eller 10/06/19 WS 5 CIN CHW 89 79
    Roger Clemens 10/22/00 WS 2 NYY NYM 87 79
    Jim Lonborg 10/05/67 WS 2 BOS STL 88 78
    Sandy Koufax 10/14/65 WS 7 LAD MIN 88 78
    Sandy Koufax 10/11/65 WS 5 LAD MIN 88 78
    Whitey Ford 10/04/61 WS 1 NYY CIN 88 78
    Warren Spahn 10/05/58 WS 4 MLN NYY 88 78
    Allie Reynolds 10/05/49 WS 1 NYY BRO 88 78
    Bill James 10/10/14 WS 2 BSN PHA 88 78
    Babe Ruth 10/09/16 WS 2 BOS BRO 97 77
    Orel Hershiser 10/16/88 WS 2 LAD OAK 87 77
    Vic Raschi 10/04/50 WS 1 NYY PHI 87 77
    Orval Overall 10/14/08 WS 5 CHC DET 87 77
    Tom Glavine 10/28/95 WS 6 ATL CLE 85 77
    Allie Reynolds 10/04/52 WS 4 NYY BRO 86 76
    Bobo Newsom 10/06/40 WS 5 DET CIN 86 76
    Mordecai Brown 10/12/06 WS 4 CHC CHW 86 76
    Christy Mathewson 10/12/05 WS 3 NYG PHA 86 76
    Derek Holland 10/23/11 WS 4 TEX STL 84 76
    Bob Gibson 10/12/64 WS 5 STL NYY 87 75
    Mike Boddicker 10/12/83 WS 2 BAL PHI 85 75
    Johnny Sain 10/06/48 WS 1 BSN CLE 85 75
    Claude Passeau 10/05/45 WS 3 CHC DET 85 75
    Rube Foster 10/09/15 WS 2 BOS PHI 85 75
    Chief Bender 10/17/10 WS 1 PHA CHC 85 75
    George Mullin 10/12/09 WS 4 DET PIT 85 75
    Chief Bender 10/10/05 WS 2 PHA NYG 85 75
    Christy Mathewson 10/09/05 WS 1 NYG PHA 85 75
    Jack Coombs 10/17/11 WS 3 PHA NYG 88 74
    Josh Beckett 10/25/03 WS 6 FLA NYY 84 74
    John Tudor 10/23/85 WS 4 STL KCR 84 74
    Jack Sanford 10/05/62 WS 2 SFG NYY 84 74
    Bob Turley 10/06/58 WS 5 NYY MLN 84 74
    Dickey Kerr 10/03/19 WS 3 CHW CIN 84 74
    Bill Dinneen 10/13/03 WS 8 BOS PIT 84 74
    Chris Carpenter 10/24/06 WS 3 STL DET 82 74
    Cliff Lee 10/28/09 WS 1 PHI NYY 83 73
    Greg Maddux 10/21/95 WS 1 ATL CLE 83 73
    Mike Caldwell 10/12/82 WS 1 MIL STL 83 73
    Nelson Briles 10/14/71 WS 5 PIT BAL 83 73
    Steve Blass 10/12/71 WS 3 PIT BAL 83 73
    Ralph Terry 10/16/62 WS 7 NYY SFG 83 73
    Mort Cooper 10/08/44 WS 5 STL SLB 83 73
    Waite Hoyt 10/06/21 WS 2 NYY NYG 83 73
    Duster Mails 10/11/20 WS 6 CLE BRO 83 73
    Dutch Leonard 10/11/15 WS 3 BOS PHI 83 73
    Mordecai Brown 10/13/08 WS 4 CHC DET 83 73
    Jose Rijo 10/20/90 WS 4 CIN OAK 81 73
    Jack Morris 10/27/91 WS 7 MIN ATL 84 72
    Dave Stewart 10/14/89 WS 1 OAK SFG 82 72
    Dave McNally 10/09/71 WS 1 BAL PIT 82 72
    Bob Gibson 10/08/67 WS 4 STL BOS 82 72
    Jim Palmer 10/06/66 WS 2 BAL LAD 82 72
    Bill Hallahan 10/02/31 WS 2 STL PHA 82 72
    Pete Alexander 10/03/26 WS 2 STL NYY 82 72
    Walter Johnson 10/07/25 WS 1 WSH PIT 82 72
    Rube Benton 10/10/17 WS 3 NYG CHW 82 72
    Ernie Shore 10/12/16 WS 5 BOS BRO 82 72
    Tim Lincecum 11/01/10 WS 5 SFG TEX 80 72
    Madison Bumgarner 10/31/10 WS 4 SFG TEX 80 72
    Kenny Rogers 10/22/06 WS 2 DET STL 80 72
    Jack Billingham 10/18/72 WS 3 CIN OAK 80 72
    Schoolboy Rowe 10/04/34 WS 2 DET STL 87 71
    Tom Glavine 10/17/92 WS 1 ATL TOR 81 71
    Scott McGregor 10/16/83 WS 5 BAL PHI 81 71
    Bob Gibson 10/06/68 WS 4 STL DET 81 71
    Jim Lonborg 10/09/67 WS 5 BOS STL 81 71
    Dave McNally 10/09/66 WS 4 BAL LAD 81 71
    Whitey Ford 10/08/60 WS 3 NYY PIT 81 71
    Vic Raschi 10/02/52 WS 2 NYY BRO 81 71
    Gene Bearden 10/08/48 WS 3 CLE BSN 81 71
    Ernie White 10/03/42 WS 3 STL NYY 81 71
    Carl Hubbell 10/03/33 WS 1 NYG WSH 81 71
    Howard Ehmke 10/08/29 WS 1 PHA CHC 81 71
    Eddie Plank 10/11/13 WS 5 PHA NYG 81 71
    Eddie Plank 10/16/11 WS 2 PHA NYG 81 71
    Christy Mathewson 10/14/05 WS 5 NYG PHA 81 71
    Bob Turley 10/09/56 WS 6 NYY BRO 80 70
    Curt Schilling 10/21/93 WS 5 PHI TOR 80 70
    Burt Hooton 10/12/77 WS 2 LAD NYY 80 70
    Bob Gibson 10/12/67 WS 7 STL BOS 80 70
    Bob Gibson 10/04/67 WS 1 STL BOS 80 70
    Wally Bunker 10/08/66 WS 3 BAL LAD 80 70
    Joe Dobson 10/11/46 WS 5 BOS STL 80 70
    Harry Brecheen 10/07/46 WS 2 STL BOS 80 70
    Dizzy Trout 10/06/45 WS 4 DET CHC 80 70
    Dizzy Dean 10/09/34 WS 7 STL DET 80 70
    Clem Labine 10/09/56 WS 6 BRO NYY 81 69
    Tom Seaver 10/15/69 WS 4 NYM BAL 80 68
    Bill Donovan 10/08/07 WS 1 DET CHC 83 67
    Carl Hubbell 10/06/33 WS 4 NYG WSH 80 66
    Sherry Smith 10/09/16 WS 2 BRO BOS 82 64

    Original link: http://bbref.com/pi/shareit/nn2w5

  2.    Alvy on September 8, 2014 6:19 pm      

    I really enjoyed reading a new story about the phenomenal pitching exploits of the Babe. Great article!
    Babe’s weight later in life is often used to reduce his all-round greatness as a player. But Babe is the only player in the modern history of the game who exhibited greatness as both everyday player and pitcher. This amazing outing is one testament to that, another of course is his scoreless innings record in the world series which lasted a good deal longer than his season home run record did; both ironically broken by Yanks.

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  • Written by Graham Womack