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Diamond Life

Monday Marks 75th Anniversary of Season When Ruth Hit 60 Home Runs

September 29, 2002|From Associated Press

NEW YORK — In the Golden Age of sports, America's athletic landscape was dominated by larger than life characters--Dempsey and Tunney, Jones and Tilden, Grange and Thorpe.

All were giants. All were overshadowed by Babe Ruth.

Baseball was king in those days, and Ruth was the king of baseball, the centerpiece of a New York Yankee team on its way to becoming the most successful sports franchise in history.

Much of that history revolves around the man who hit 714 home runs and a record 60 in 1927. Monday marks the 75th birthday of No. 60, the diamond anniversary of a most dramatic diamond event.

These were the Miller Huggins Yankees of Gehrig and Lazzeri, Meusel and Combs, a team that would win 110 games and lose just 44. And most of the reason was Ruth.

He came to the Yankees in 1920 and hit an astounding 54 home runs that year, more homers all by himself than the entire roster of any other team. A year later, he pushed that number to 59.

He was the Bambino, a rollicking slugger of gargantuan appetites and accomplishments, always relishing the spotlight, always commanding attention. And in 1927, he punctuated his power numbers with an exclamation point-- 60 home runs.

It is an old number now, an obscure footnote to the 73 homers Barry Bonds hit last season, the 70 that Mark McGwire had in 1998 and the 61 that Roger Maris hit in 1961. But in 1927, Ruth's 60 was pretty special.

The game on Sept. 30, 1927, at Yankee Stadium was rather insignificant. The Yankees had long since wrapped up their fifth American League pennant, all of them achieved after Ruth arrived. They would finish 19 games in front of Connie Mack's Philadelphia Athletics.

But every game was a showcase for Ruth, a chance for the Babe to do something special. He had tied his record of 59 home runs when he hit a pair the day before in a 15-4 rout of Washington, and now, with two games left in the season, he would be swinging to break it.

Before the game, he challenged his teammates. "I'll bet anyone 10 bucks I hit one," he announced.

There were no takers.

There were just 10,000 fans rattling around cavernous Yankee Stadium that day. The Yankees and Senators were tied at 2-2 in the eighth inning. Mark Koenig, who had tripled, was on third base as the Babe settled into the batter's box and Tom Zachary went to work against him.

Ruth swung at a pitch and sent a shot toward right field.

"Foul ball!" Zachary shouted.

No such luck. Ruth's ball, halfway up the right field bleachers, was fair by 10 feet and the Babe circled the bases with those little baby steps that became his trademark. It was his 17th home run of the month and last at-bat of the regular season.

Zachary was not pleased. Asked about the record home run years later, he said, "If you really want to know the truth, I'd rather have thrown at his big, fat head."

When Ruth reached home plate, he doffed his cap to the fans, who threw torn-up scorecards in an impromptu confetti celebration. At the dugout, with his teammates banging their bats on the floor in tribute, the Babe exulted over his accomplishment.

"That's 60," he said, "count 'em, 60. Let [someone] match that."

It would take 34 years before somebody did.

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