Babe Ruth Made his Debut Against the Indians 104 Years Ago Today

One hundred and four years ago today, the Indians got the first view of one of the greatest players of all time – one who would bedevil them for the better part of the next two decades.

When the Indians (at that point still known as the Naps) met the Red Sox at Fenway Park on July 11, 1914, they did so before a crowd of 11,087 – the largest non-holiday crowd to see the Naps (who lost 102 games that year, giving no one a really good reason to see them). But they were there to see Boston’s newest pitcher, acquired from the minor league Baltimore Orioles, the team in his home town.

The next day’s Plain Dealer only used the pitcher’s last name: Ruth. His given name was George, but he became known worldwide as Babe, a nickname hung on him because of his naivete in his brief time with the Orioles.

“Ruth has been heralded from one end of baseballdom to the other this season as the greatest youngster developed in the minor league ranks,” said the Plain Dealer, proving hype is not a recent invention. He, Ernie Shore and Ben Egan were sold by the Orioles to the Red Sox on July 4, but stayed with the Orioles while the Red Sox completed a road trip. (In those days, minor league teams were mostly unaffiliated, and made their money from gate admissions as well as developing and ultimately selling players to major league teams – and the Orioles were hard up, facing competition from the Terrapins, Baltimore’s entry into the short-lived Federal League.)

Ruth arrived in Boston on July 11 and made his major league debut that day. He looked good enough in his first major league game, but the Indians were getting around on him and ended up tying the game at three in the seventh inning. Ruth was scheduled to lead off the bottom half of the frame, but he’d gone 0-for-2 that day, and Duffy Lewis was brought in to pinch-hit. He got safely to first, but first baseman Jay Kirke’s throw to pitcher Willie Mitchell – who was covering the base – was wide, and Lewis took second. Olaf Henriksen flew out to Jack Graney, and Everett Scott hit a comebacker to Mitchell, setting up a potential inning-ending double play had Lewis not been on second. Lewis ended up getting caught in a rundown, but Scott took second and then scored the winning run on a single by Tris Speaker – who would be playing for the Indians less than two years later, sold for a price that would only be eclipsed by the sum paid by the Yankees when they bought Ruth from the Red Sox before the 1920 season.

Ruth was heralded as a great pitcher, and the next day’s Plain Dealer said he could be the next Rube Waddell. Had he stayed a pitcher, he probably could have lived up to that billing. Instead, he turned his talents to the outfield and the batter’s box, and absolutely revolutionized the game.

Ironically, Ruth’s rookie year with the Red Sox was overshadowed by the other baseball team in Boston. The day he made his debut, the Braves were 31-41. By the beginning of August, they were at .500, took the National League lead in September and ended up winning the pennant by 10 ½ games – and then swept the vaunted Philadelphia Athletics in the World Series. It was their last World Series appearance until 1948, when they lost to the Indians. That August, Babe Ruth died of cancer.

Photo: Getty Images/Buyenlarge

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