Babe Ruth played more than 2,500 games in his MLB career. And during his illustrious 22 years of bashing baseballs, the New York Yankees legend often got the best of opposing pitchers. However, the 12-time home-run champion ran into one formidable opponent in April 1931 that he couldn’t quite figure out.
And as it turns out, The Sultan of Swat couldn’t measure up to this pitcher’s prowess. So who was Ruth’s nemesis on that fateful afternoon?
A 17-year-old girl.
Babe Ruth put up ridiculous numbers in Hall of Fame career
Before he became baseball’s home run king, Babe Ruth actually got his start on the mound. By the time he was 20 years old, he went 18-8 with a 2.44 ERA for the Boston Red Sox. The following year, he led all pitchers with a sterling 1.75 ERA and went 23-12 on a league-high 40 starts. Of course, the Red Sox infamously traded Ruth to the New York Yankees and his pitching days were over.
From the moment he arrived in New York, Babe buried baseballs into the bleachers. He hit 54 home runs in his first season with the Yankees. Over the course of his 15 seasons in pinstripes, the brash and bold slugger hammered 659 homers, knocked in 1,978 RBIs and hit an astounding .349. Ruth’s statistics still stand out even by today’s standards. He topped 150 runs scored on six occasions, led the majors in slugging percentage 13 times and had a career on-base percentage of .474.
Of course, Ruth’s insane individual stats helped the Yankees achieve incredible team success. With Ruth and Lou Gehrig forming arguably the most formidable duo in baseball history, New York won at least 100 games three times and captured four World Series titles. The Yankees posted a losing record just once in Ruth’s career.
Yankees legend was incredibly disciplined for a power hitter
Despite his prodigious power numbers, The Babe was anything but an all-or-nothing hitter. In fact, his plate discipline and patience stand out when you take a deeper dive into his lengthy statistics. Though he did lead the majors in strikeouts five times, Ruth actually totaled just 1,330 strikeouts in 10,624 plate appearances (12.5 percent). Even though he played in a different era, that ratio actually measures up well to other talented, yet disciplined power hitters.
For example, Hank Aaron launched 755 homers and struck out just 1,383 times in 13,941 plate appearances (roughly 9.9 percent). Contemporaries Albert Pujols (1,279 strikeouts in 12,231 plate appearances) and Barry Bonds (1,539 strikeouts in 12,606 plate appearances) have similar profiles.
On the other hand, Ruth’s strikeout percentage pales in comparison to more modern-day sluggers. Jim Thome ranks eighth on the all-time home run list, but he also ranks second all-time with 2,548 strikeouts. Alex Rodriguez retired after hitting 696 home runs, yet he also struck out 2,287 times in 12,207 plate appearances (18.7 percent). And who can forget the original slugger, Mark McGwire? He may have hit 583 home runs, but he also struck out on nearly 21 percent of his plate appearances.
Teenager Jackie Mitchell struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in an exhibition game
Of all of Ruth’s career strikeouts, the one that may have mattered the most never went into the MLB record books. On April 2, 1931, the Yankees played an exhibition game against a minor league affiliate team called the Lookouts. The game was set up by the team’s president, Joe Engel, who wanted to make a huge marketing splash and made 17-year-old Jackie Mitchell the first female to sign a professional baseball contract.
The talented teenager actually didn’t start the game, but she entered after the first two batters reached base. Her timing couldn’t have been worse, as she was set to face the dynamic Ruth-Gehrig duo that punished pitchers for more than a decade.
It turns out facing Murderer’s Row didn’t dissuade the youngster. Ruth casually stepped into the batter’s box and let the first sinker drop by for a ball. On the next pitch, Ruth took a gigantic swing and came up empty. After swinging and missing on the next pitch, The Great Gambino even demanded that the umpire examine the ball.
The next pitch painted the outside corner for a called third strike. Ruth flung his bat down and disgust and then watched Gehrig swing and miss on three straight pitches. Though baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis (how’s that for a name?) voided Mitchell’s contract, nothing could take away her memories of striking out Gehrig and The Babe.