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Sunday, September 30, 2018

Babe Ruth's Final Game as a Pitcher Was a Complete-Game Win Against the Boston Red Sox in 1933

Before becoming synonymous with slugging baseballs, the legendary Babe Ruth was an outstanding pitcher, who was on track for a Hall of Fame career form the mound before destiny came calling with the lumber. The Bambino became a full-time hitter following the 1919 season, when he hit a then record 29 home runs and was traded by the Boston Red Sox that offseason to the New York Yankees.

After joining the Yankees, Ruth went on to hit hundreds of home runs and win four World Series titles. However, he never fully gave up pitching, and occasionally toed the rubber every, with his last official appearance on the mound coming in 1933 when he pitched a complete game win at the age of 38 on the last day of the regular season; and just more than three years after his last pitching appearance.

In 1933 the Yankees were in an unfamiliar place for them; not in first. The Washington Senators ended up winning 99 games and taking the division by seven games over New York. Thus, on October first of that year, when the Yankees hosted the Red Sox for the final regular season game, the team had nothing significant at stake by letting Ruth take up his old occupation one last time.

Although Ruth hit .301 with 34 home runs, 104 RBIs and a league-leading 114 walks that season, it appeared he was finally in decline. After all, it was the lowest number of home runs he had hit in a full season since 1919, and his 1.023 OPS was below 1.100 for the first time in seven seasons.

The Red Sox were a second division team in 1933. They ended up at 63-86; only saved from last place by the even more putrid St. Louis Browns, who finished a full nine games behind them. Boston‘s problem was that they had no offensive firepower. Only one player (Roy Johnson) had double digit home runs, and then just barely with his 10. Unfortunately, their other problem was that they had no pitching firepower either, as only Bob Weiland (3.84) had an ERA below four.

The proverbial cherry was placed on Boston’s sundae that first day of October, as the rotund Ruth went out and tossed nine job-getting-done innings and beat his former team 6-5. A few notes about the outing, courtesy FanGraphs and Baseball Reference:

An approximate 25,000 fans showed up to see the spectacle. This was about five times the size of an average crowd at a Yankees game that season. It also represented nearly 10 percent of the entire Boston gate for the year (estimated 268,715 in 1933 attendance).

Ruth permitted 12 hits (11 singles and a double by the immortal George Stumpf). He walked three batters, but did not record any strikeouts.

New York outfielders were kept busy, as 21 of the 27 outs were recorded through the air.

Ruth helped his own cause by batting his customary cleanup and hitting his 34th home run of the season (and 686th of his career) in the bottom of the fifth inning.

The Yankees obviously had a far superior team to the Red Sox in 1933. Judging from the stat line alone, Ruth did not have to do much to keep his team in the game. 

Nevertheless, he earned the “W,” which was the 94th and final victory of his career—marking the final time he ever took to a major league pitching mound.

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