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60 Years Later, It Remains a Symbol of Greatness : 60 : Not Many Have Challenged Babe Ruth's '27 Homer Total

September 30, 1987|EARL GUSTKEY | Times Staff Writer

Sixty years ago today, in the eighth inning of a New York Yankees-Washington Senators game at Yankee Stadium, Babe Ruth, on a 1-and-1 count, drove a low, inside fastball toward the right-field foul pole.

Washington pitcher Tom Zachary, catcher Muddy Ruel and plate umpire Bill Dinneen watched the ball, which was hooking rapidly toward foul territory. Ruth began his home run trot to first. Zachary shouted: "Foul ball! Foul ball!"

The ball landed halfway up the lower bleachers, fair by a foot. While Zachary argued with Dinneen, there was a wild scramble among the bleacher fans for the ball--it was retrieved by Joe Forner, 40, of 1937 First Ave., New York--and a roar went up from about 10,000 in attendance, all of whom were present for only one reason, to see Ruth make baseball history.

That home run, on Sept. 30, 1927, was his 60th of the season, a single-season record that survived until Roger Maris broke it in a 162-game season in 1961.

Afterward, the exuberant Ruth and his Yankee teammates celebrated his latest record--he had set the old mark of 59 in 1921--in the locker room.

Shouted Ruth: "Sixty! Count 'em, 60! Let's see some other son of a bitch match that!"

No one did, for 34 years. Only a few, in fact, have even approached that magic number, 60.

Even today, in a season when three players--George Bell, Andre Dawson and Mark McGwire--are flirting with 50-homer seasons, the fact remains that in the history of the sport, only 10 players have hit 50 in one season, and no one has done it since 1977.

For Ruth, it was the perfect season for 60, because his was a team for all seasons. They called the '27 Yankee lineup "Murderer's Row." Only the Mantle-Maris Yankees of 1961 are spoken of in the same breath with the '27 Ruth-Gehrig Yankees.

The Philadelphia Athletics won 91 games that year--and finished 19 games behind the Yankees. The 1927 Yankees were a collection of very good players, many of whom had their best seasons, and they won 110 games. As a team, the Yankees hit .307.

Ruth, who was 32 that year, also drove in 164 runs and hit .356. Gehrig, 24, hit 47 home runs, drove in 175 runs, then a major league record, batted .373 and was voted the league's top player.

Earle Combs, 28, hit .356 and, batting in the leadoff spot, scored 137 times. He also led the league with 231 hits, 166 of them singles. Bob Meusel, 31, hit .337 and drove in 103 runs. Second-year infielder Tony Lazzeri, 23, batted .309, hit 18 home runs and drove in 102 runs.

The pitching staff's ace was Waite Hoyt, 28, who had a 22-7 year and a league-leading 2.63 earned-run average. Herb Pennock, 33, was 19-8, with a 3.00 ERA. Urban Shocker, 37, was 18-6. The bullpen ace was a rookie, Wilcy Moore, 30. He was 13-3 as a reliever and had an 2.28 ERA.

According to Ruth biographer Robert Creamer in his 1974 book, "Babe: The Legend Comes to Life," Moore was something of a comedy ace, too. Known as one of the worst hitters in baseball--he hit .080 in 1927--Moore was teased unmercifully by Ruth. In spring training, Ruth bet Moore $300 he wouldn't get three hits all season.

Moore went 6 for 75, though, and Ruth paid up. Later, according to Creamer, Moore told Ruth he used the money to buy two mules for his Oklahoma farm and named one Babe, the other Ruth.

Ruth and Gehrig, like Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris 34 years later, waged a homer-for-homer battle until mid-August, when Gehrig ran out of steam and Ruth picked up the pace. Ruth hit 32 home runs on the road that year, still the major league record.

Gehrig hit only 9 after Aug. 5, and Ruth hit 25. In September, Ruth registered the best single month of his 22-year career. He hit 17 home runs, a one-month total matched by only two other major leaguers, Rudy York, who once hit 18, and Willie Mays, who had 17.

In September, Ruth's towering home runs came in majestic bunches. On Sept. 6, in Boston, he hit three. Then he hit two more in Fenway Park the next day, bringing him to 49. He hit two on Sept. 13 in Yankee Stadium, bringing him to 52.

He was stuck on 56 with five games left, and it looked as if his 1921 record, 59, would stand. But a great finish was in the cards--four homers in four days.

He hit No. 57, a grand slam, against Philadelphia Sept. 27. He got Nos. 58 and 59 Sept. 29 against Washington, then came No. 60 the next day.

He had multiple home run games 10 times in 1927. He hit two or more homers in one game 72 times in his career, still the major league record.

Home run No. 56 was a broken-bat hit and it had a twist. A youngster, seated behind first base, got so excited that he ran out of the stands as Ruth reached first base. The boy cut across the infield and greeted him at third.

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