Great injustices: Babe Ruth was not MVP in 1927

I have been telling people that I think Babe Ruth is the greatest baseball player of all-time.  Others may choose Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Ty Cobb or someone else.  For me, it’s Ruth, who hit 714 home runs, won 94 games as a pitcher, and even stole 123 bases. More than 60 years after his death, there’s a reason Ruth’s name remains hallowed, like Michael Jordan in basketball or Joe Montana in football.

Mark Shapiro, a producer on the ESPN Sports Century project a decade ago that measured the top athletes of the 20th Century told Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke he considered Ruth the best of the century.

“Had he not moved to the outfield, he would have been the best pitcher ever,” Shapiro told Plaschke, for a December 31, 1999 column.  “If he had played football, he would have been one of the best football players ever.”

“Everything he did, he did bigger and better than anyone else.”

Imagine Ruth’s numbers if he had been a hitter his entire career– at least 800 home runs, no tainted record for Barry Bonds.  Imagine if Ruth had maintained solid conditioning throughout.  Imagine Babe Ruth on steroids.

Anyhow, I was on Baseball Reference a little while ago, as I am most days and noted with surprise that Ruth did not win Most Valuable Player in the American League in 1927, when he hit 60 home runs.  That award went to his teammate, Lou Gehrig.  It can be argued that Gehrig had a better all-around season, just as it could be said Sammy Sosa did better than Mark McGwire in 1998. But let’s look further at that.

Gehrig hit .373 in 1927, with 47 home runs and 175 runs batted in, along with 218 hits, 52 doubles and 18 triples.  Meanwhile, Ruth coupled his 60 long bombs with a .356 batting average, 192 hits, 158 runs and 164 runs batted in.  Both had on-base percentages approaching .500 and were the two best members of a Yankee team that won 109 games and swept the Pittsburgh Pirates in the World Series. (Those Yankees may be the best team ever, but that’s cause for another debate)

What it comes down to for me is that if I had to choose between Ruth or Gehrig that year for my team, I’d take Ruth.  No question.  I could sleep knowing I’d passed on Gehrig, as there are a select number of players in baseball history on par with him.  I think a number of players could have put up gargantuan numbers hitting next to the Sultan of Swat (Mel Ott, Bill Terry and Al Simmons come to mind.) But there was only one Babe Ruth.

Surprisingly, Ruth won a single MVP award during his career, in 1923 when he led the league in home runs and runs batted in but missed out on the Triple Crown, despite hitting .393.  The MVP award debuted in 1922, a year after the best season that Ruth– or any player– ever had, his 1921 campaign where he hit .378 with 59 home runs and 171 runs batted in.  Ruth had more home runs that year than eight entire teams, half the clubs in the majors that year.

They just don’t make them like Ruth anymore.

8 Replies to “Great injustices: Babe Ruth was not MVP in 1927”

  1. Graham,

    When they initially awarded the MVP you could only win it once. Ruth won it in 1923 and was no longer eligible. I think that was changed in the 1930’s.

    Kevin G.

    1. Hi Kevin, thanks for the clarification. I didn’t know that, but I still think it’s an injustice nonetheless. Ruth had the kind of year in ’27 that merited an immediate rule change.

  2. I agree with you Graham, Babe Ruth was the best baseball player ever. Ironically one of his most incredible pitching records lasted about 8 years longer than his single-season home run record. Babe had the record for most consecutive scoreless innings in World Series history. It was broken in 1962 by Whitey Ford.

    And to imagine that Babe was hitting more home runs in seasons that whole teams, and not only the year you mentioned, is astonishing. Steroids or not that would be like Pujols hitting between 200-240 homers in a given season!

    Most films of Babe that are left, are from when he started to gain weight, but it should be remembered that Babe was for a good part of his career in far better shape. He had good speed, even when he gained weight and was a better than average fielder.

    Babe of course was not only a power hitter, but to this day still has one of the best lifetime averages in all of baseball. His talent and production are just astonishing and no player has ever been as dominant in baseball, and maybe all of sports, as Babe Ruth was.

    I would add though that while any player would have benefited from playing alongside of the Babe, Lou Gehrig surely made it terrifying for pitchers hitting behind the Babe. And the truth is that Lou shined pretty well after Babe retired. The great shame and ultimate irony for Lou is that they now feel that he died not of ALS, but from the multiple concussions he received. If that were true than it was his obsession with his streak in essence that may have killed him. As Gehrig especially on one occasion had been beaned, lost consciousness and refused to rest. Imagine what he would have done had he played a full career. He’d have surely come close to the Babe in home runs.

    Claire Ruth, although no baseball expert, but no one to favor Gehrig, always felt that between the two, Babe hit the most towering home runs but that Gehrig was stronger and consistently hit the ball harder than the Babe, if you can imagine that!

  3. Lou Gehrig the Iron Horse was the greatest Yankee in history even over Ruth. He was never a distraction to his teammates all he did was put up gigantic numbers every single year he played… he inspired every player in baseball by the way he conducted himself on and off the field even when he was sick and dying…. Lou Gehrig did all this without conflict unlike Babe Ruth. Ruth liked to smoke ,drink booze, eat hot dogs and many other things that a premier athlete should not do, Ruth had an ego bigger than King Kong ,Lou Gehrig The Iron Horse didn’t…. he was an fine example to all. Derek’s baseball career was cut in half due to his illness if he would have lived and played 10 or 15 more years he would have owned every record imaginable in baseball. #4 Rules

    1. I made an error on my comment when I said {Derek’s} baseball career was cut in half!! Of course I meant to say,”Gehrig’s baseball career was cut in half due to his illness”. Sorry about that!!

  4. Seriously? I didn’t know that rule. The people who agreed to and thought that was a good idea should be embarrassed. 1 per candidate per team is a stupid enough rule, but only 1 MVP trophy per person for their career? Who thought that was a good idea? Because you were the best player in the league one year you can’t be considered the same in other years? So theoretically a guy could have won it one year hitting .325 with 30 HR’s and the next hit .500 with 100 HR’s and he wouldn’t even make the ballot? WOW. Poor Ruth (and any other player of that era that had to play under that asinine rule.

  5. I was on baseball reference too looking at MVP votes for 1926 and saw babe was not listed. Then I looked at 1927 and still not listed. I understand now. Thanks for clarification.

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