Thursday, September 30, 2010

September 30, 1927: 60

NEW YORK - They tore through the American League like no team had before them. Cruising to a league-record 110 wins, the 1927 Yankees so dominated the league that they earned their lineup was called Murderer's Row. The offensive leaderboards that year was a who's-who of Yankees as manager Miller Huggins wrote four hall-of-famers into his starting lineup every day, with two more on the pitching staff.

At the center of all that brilliance was the most dominant player of his or any era. After a few subpar seasons - by his standards, anyway - Babe Ruth was enjoying a second career peak in 1927. With Lou Gehrig, now firmly established as a superstar, batting behind him in the batting order, Ruth saw more good pitches to hit in 1927 than he had for years, and he made American League pitchers pay. Ruth batted .356 in 1927, while driving in 164 runs; Gehrig, however, topped both those marks, hitting .373 with 175 runs batted in (for comparision's sake, only one player has topped Ruth's total since World War II, but Ruth was only second on his own team in runs batted in).

The Yankees made a mockery of the American League pennant race. A 12-1, 21-1 doubleheader sweep of Washington on July 4 put them 12.5 games up in the race, and their lead only expanded from there. The only drama left in the season was whether Ruth would match or break his record of 59 home runs set in 1921. Through most of the summer, he stayed near or ahead of his pace from that season, adding drama to a season that otherwise had none.

But adding to the fun was Gehrig, who made a serious run at 59 home runs himself. At one point mid summer, Gehrig actually passed Ruth in the home run race and was declared the favorite by some newspapers. The two battled back and forth throughout August and early September, and after Gehrig homered during an 18-inning marathon on September 5, the two sluggers were tied at 44.

The next day, September 6, in a 14-2 win over Boston, Gehrig hit another home run to give him 45, but Ruth hit two to jump ahead at 46. From there, Ruth stepped on the gas, hitting home runs at a faster rate than even he had ever done before. A doubleheader on September 7 saw Ruth hit three more home runs. He reached 50 on September 11, then hit five more in 10 days to get to 55 on September 21. On September 27, Ruth reached number 57, leaving him three blasts short of the record with four games to go. Gehrig hit number 46 that same day, his first home run since the 6th.

Ruth hit two more in a 15-4 win over Washington on September 29, tying his own record and giving him two games to hit number 60. His first chance came on September 30. Washington was visiting Yankee Stadium and sent Tom Zachary to the mound. Coming up to bat in the 8th inning of a tie game, Ruth took a 1-1 count and blasted it deep to right. The distance wasn't a question, but it was right down the line. Although Zachary always claimed he saw it as a foul ball, it landed fair by six inches. Ruth had his record.

Ruth's 60 home runs were thought to be completely untouchable. For years, it seemed that way, as many great sluggers in the years following came up painfully short. It took 34 years for the record to fall, when Roger Maris hit 61 in 1961.

After the regular season they had, the Yankees were heavy favorites to beat the Pirates in the 1927 World Series. In fact, it's often said that after watching the Yankees put on a power display in batting practice before game 1, the Pirates were so intimidated that the World Series was virtually already over. Ruth hit two more home runs in the Series as the Yankees completed the highly expected sweep.


In all the attention surrounding Ruth's 60th home run, another milestone moment in baseball came and went in that game in Yankee Stadium with almost nobody noticing. Walter Johnson, perhaps the greatest pitcher of all time, ended his 21-year Major League career in that game, pinch-hitting for Zachary in the top of the ninth. Johnson ended his career by flying out to Ruth in right.

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