In 1920, Babe Ruth played his first season as a New York Yankee. Showing the way for a new generation of upper-cutting power hitters, the Bambino posted slugging numbers the game had never seen.
Besides hitting a Cobbian .376, Ruth swatted 54 home runs, which not only surpassed his own record of 29 but also each of the other seven American League teams. The nearest individual hitter, St. Louis' George Sisler, hit 19. Ruth led the league in slugging at .847, the highest mark recorded in either league until 2001. American League pitchers were no fools -- they walked Ruth 148 times -- but he still led the league in RBI with 137 and runs scored with 158.
Where Ruth led, others soon followed, as offense in almost every category rose steadily throughout the 1920s. Runs in the American League increased by about 1,000 in 1921. The National League followed the same pattern, although at a slower pace.
Sisler, who in 1920 actually collected 11 more total bases than Ruth at 399, batted .407, the seventh-best average of all time. Sisler also banged out 257 hits -- still a record. In the National League, Cardinals second baseman Rogers Hornsby batted a league-leading .370 and led in doubles with 44, total bases with 329, and RBI with 94.
The baseball rule-makers assisted the new home run style of baseball by changing two rules. The first was the outlawing of trick pitches such as the shine ball, the emery ball, and especially the spitball. That this had an enormous (and underrated) effect on major league pitching can be seen from the subsequent careers of 17 spitball pitchers, who were allowed, under a "grandfather clause," to continue to throw the pitch legally. While ERAs in both leagues shot up in 1920, the composite ERA of the 17 spitballers remained virtually unchanged.
The second change was the new practice of keeping clean baseballs in play throughout the game. This made for a more lively ball that traveled much farther in the air; thus, more home runs. Baseball's justification for the change was the fatal beaning of Cleveland shortstop Ray Chapman by Yankee pitcher Carl Mays, which many blamed on Chapman's inability to see a worn, discolored ball as it sped toward his skull.
Chapman's death greatly affected the American League pennant race, as New York faded to third, one game behind second-place Chicago. Cleveland won the flag thanks to Jim Bagby (31 wins) and rookie shortstop Joe Sewell, who sparked the Indians with a .329 batting average in August and September. The White Sox' chances were ruined when, after months of rumor, the team suspended the eight players suspected of throwing the 1919 World Series in the critical, final days of the season.
In the 1920 World Series, the Indians met National League champion Brooklyn, which was led by spitballer Burleigh Grimes's 23 wins and 2.22 ERA. Cleveland won the 1919 World Series five games to two. On the Indians' side, the games were marked by several World Series firsts, including Elmer Smith's grandslam, pitcher Bagby's homer, and Bill Wambsganss's unassisted triple play.
Besides the passing of the dead-ball era, 1920 also saw the establishment of the sole baseball commissionership under Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis. This replaced the old three-man commission, which had been dominated by American League president Ban Johnson since its inception in 1903. One of Landis's first official acts was to ban for life the eight members of the "Black Sox," whose trial for fraud had resulted in a fishy acquittal that was rumored to have been engineered by powerful White Sox owner Charles Comiskey.
Check out the next section for some of the major headlines from the 1920 baseball season.
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1920 Baseball Season Headlines
A variety of new rules were established for the 1920 baseball season that had a major impact on the game. Read about some of the headlines of the season below.
Ray Chapman Killed
Ray Chapman hugged the plate so closely when he batted that his head was usually in the strike zone. Carl Mays, to his dying day, insisted that the pitch that killed Chapman would have been called a strike had he managed to duck out of the way. Chapman had a .303 average in 1920, with 27 doubles and 49 RBI.
Indians Mourn Ray Chapman
The 1920 World Champion Cleveland Indians wore black armbands in memory of Ray Chapman, killed by a beaning. Joe Sewell was Chapman's replacement.
Eddie Cicotte Proves Dependable
Eddie Cicotte was one of the four 20-game winners on the 1920 White Sox. The quartet had a composite 87-46 record, while the rest of the Sox staff was 9-12. Manager Kid Gleason went with just six pitchers for most of the year, using Roy Wilkinson and George Payne primarily in relief. Late in the season, Cicotte was banned for his part in the Black Sox scandal. Eddie was truly sorry for dumping the 1919 World Series. His words dripped with irony when he said, "I'd give a million dollars to undo what I've done."
Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis Takes Charge
In his early years as commissioner, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis was like a kid at his first carnival, immediately trying all the wild rides. Landis was both feared and loathed by players, several of whom he banished for infractions that in retrospect seem ridiculously trivial. Landis later became known as a player's commissioner who was feared and loathed by many owners.
Rube Foster Forms NNL
The "Father of Black Baseball," Rube Foster created the Negro National League, the first organized black major league, in 1920. Although Foster was a pitcher in the early part of the century, by 1920 he functioned mainly as league administrator and manager of the Chicago American Giants, victors of the first three NNL pennants.
Jim Bagby Leads AL in Wins
After netting an American League-high 31 victories in 1920, Jim Bagby was good for only 21 more wins in his career. Ray Caldwell, a 20-game winner that year, collected just six more victories. And Duster Mails, a late-season sensation, was back in the minors two years later.
George Sisler Leads American League in Hitting
George Sisler was one of the greatest hitters in the game, though he seldom walked. He drew just 46 free passes as opposed to 257 hits in 1920. Strong in all other respects, Sisler also came close that year to becoming the first player to total 20 or more doubles, triples, and home runs in the same season.
Find highlights from the 1920 baseball season on the next page.
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1920 Baseball Season Highlights
During the 1920 baseball season, the sport underwent several changes in rules to prevent any further scandals like the 1919 World Series dump. Additionally, Babe Ruth continued to set records, and Rube Foster started up the Negro National League. See more highlights of the 1920 baseball season below.
- In January, the Red Sox sell Babe Ruth to the Yankees for $125,000.
- Cleveland wins its first major league pennant.
- Brooklyn triumphs for the second time in five years in the National League.
- Cleveland wins the 1920 World Series five games to two.
- In game five of the 1920 World Series, Cleveland second baseman Bill Wambsganss makes an unassisted triple play.
- Stan Coveleski wins three games for Cleveland in the 1920 World Series.
- Doc Johnston (Cleveland) and brother Jimmy (Brooklyn) oppose each other in the 1920 World Series.
- Cleveland shortstop Ray Chapman is beaned by NY pitcher Carl Mays August 16 and dies the next day.
- Babe Ruth hits a major league record 54 homers.
- Ruth scores 158 runs, also a new major league record.
- Ruth sets a major league record with an .847 slugging average.
- Ruth produces 241 runs, also a new record.
- St. Louis' George Sisler wins the American League bat title with a .407 average.
- Rogers Hornsby cops his first National League bat title (.370).
- Jim Bagby of Cleveland is the last American League righty until 1968 to win 30 games.
- Late in the season, eight members of the White Sox are suspended for allegedly dumping the 1919 World Series.
- Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis is named the first commissioner of baseball, a post he'll serve for the next 24 years.
Find more highlights from the 1920 baseball season on the next page.
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More 1920 Baseball Season Highlights
Following are more highlights from the 1920 baseball season, including the lifetime ban of eight White Sox players for throwing the 1919 World Series.
- Eight White Sox are found innocent of rigging the 1919 World Series by a Chicago jury.
- Baseball Commissioner Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis permanently bars all eight suspended White Sox from organized baseball.
- George Sisler sets an all-time major league record with 257 hits.
- The spitball and all other similar pitches are abolished.
- Detroit's Sammy Hale collects 17 pinch hits, an American League rookie record.
- Walter Johnson wins his 300th game.
- Johnson no-hits Boston on July 1.
- Cleveland's Larry Gardner is thrown out 20 times in 23 steal attempts.
- On October 2, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati play the last major league tripleheader.
- Tris Speaker sets a new major league record with 11 consecutive base hits.
- Rube Foster organizes the Negro National League.
- On May 1, Babe Ruth hits his first homer as a Yankee.
- On May 1, Leon Cadore of Brooklyn and Joe Oeschger of Boston both pitch all 26 innings of a 1-1 tie.
- Rogers Hornsby tops the National League in doubles (44), total bases (329), and SA (.559), as well as tying for the RBI crown (94).
- Philly's Cy Williams tops the National League with 15 homers, 39 fewer than Babe Ruth.
- Pete Alexander heads the National League in wins (27), ERA (1.91), CGs (33), innings (363), and Ks (173).
- Joe Jackson's 20 triples top the American League; Jackson is also high in almost every other hitting department.
- The White Sox have a record four 20-game winners, including Ed Cicotte and Lefty Williams.
- White Sox Jackson, Cicotte, and Williams are among the Eight Men Out.
- Owing to Babe Ruth, the Yankees hit 115 homers, shattering the major league record.
- Phillies batters walk just 283 times, a major league record.
- The Giants' Benny Kauff is banned during the season after he's tried for being part of a stolen car ring; he's found not guilty.
- Phillie Gene Paulette is banned for allegedly betting on games in 1919.