Babe Ruth's Worst Season Ever
The New York Yankees, bolstered by the addition of durable infielder Everett Scott, pitchers Joe Bush and Sad Sam Jones from the Red Sox (who else?), and outfielder Whitey Witt from the Athletics, were looking forward to another pennant-winning season in 1922.
The Season Begins
Because of Babe Ruth and Bob Muesel's off-season barnstorming, the season began -- despite pleadings to Baseball Commissioner Landis from around the country -- with these two players out with the team before the games, only to retire to a box seat or go home when the action began. During their layoff, the bored Ruth and Meusel had their tonsils out (at the time it was considered a preventive action).
Before one game Ruth showed up with a little girl, about two years old, and introduced her as his daughter, Dorothy. Although it did not become clear until years later, Dorothy was adopted. This fact mattered not one bit to the huge kid. It was obvious he loved her.
While the Yankees managed to win 22 games (and lose 11) before the return of their two hitting stars, estimates indicate that the Yanks drew $100,000 less in gross receipts without the Babe as a draw.
Ruth and Meusel were reinstated by Landis in time for the game on Saturday, May 20, 1922. Ruth, delighted to be in uniform, couldn't have known he was on the way to one of his worst seasons ever -- in every respect.
Ruth's first game back was a disaster. He struck out, twice popped out, and also grounded out. The crowd turned on him. They began to boo. The fans did not seem to want to forgive their hero. The booing increased as the games continued, and Ruth failed to hit. The Polo Grounds faithful began to deliver nasty applause when he caught easy fly balls. Babe responded in turn by sarcastically tipping his cap to the throng.
In only his fifth game back, the pressure got to him. After being thrown out trying to stretch a single into a double, Ruth threw a handful of dirt in umpire George Hildebrand's face. Hildebrand tossed him from the game, and as Ruth neared the Yankees dugout a fan in the stands screamed something nasty at him. Babe charged into the stands after the heckler, who scampered away.
League President Ban Johnson announced a suspension pending an investigation. Ruth, who had hardly ever missed a game -- regular season or exhibition -- in years, had been ejected for the first time ever and suspended for the second time in one year.
Once again, money talked. The Yanks' next game was scheduled for Washington, where tight-fisted owner Clark Griffith earned big checks on the days Babe Ruth played. Griffith needed the money. Johnson reinstated Babe after one day, ordered a $200 fine, and took away his title of captain. His "promotion" had lasted just six days.
Even though the Yankees were winning, managing to stay close to the St. Louis Browns in the standings, they were causing havoc with manager Miller Huggins's ulcers. Huggins sent a private detective to follow them on road trips, posing as a rich "sport." There were fights in the dugout between players and between Huggins and players. Landis made a special trip to address the team in the clubhouse about their behavior. It didn't help.
Spats with the men in blue continued, too. In the middle of June, Ruth came charging in from left field to argue a call at second base by umpire Bill Dineen. What he said led to a three-day suspension. The next day before the game Ruth challenged Dineen to a fight under the stands, which was avoided, but Johnson tacked two more days onto Ruth's suspension.
Ejected for disputing a called third strike late in August, Ruth was suspended three more days, making a total of five suspensions (if you count both the preseason one and the addition to the first Dineen suspension).
Challenged at the Plate
There was another reason that 1922 was a bad season for Ruth. It was the first time he had to face lefty Hub Pruett of the St. Louis Browns. Pruett had a sneaky little screwball that broke the opposite direction of a regular curve. The first 14 times Babe faced the youngster, he struck out 10 times and walked twice.
The only time he managed to put his bat on the ball, he just rolled it right back to the pitcher. In a critical game in September, however, Ruth seemed to remove the curse when he homered and singled in consecutive appearances against Hub.
Pruett never pitched in the American League after 1924 (which certainly pleased Ruth), and although Ruth's average against the lefty improved over the next few years, Pruett's mastery of the Babe became a legend.
Another pitcher, righthander George Uhle, was also tough on the Babe. However, unlike Pruett, he was tough on everybody. Uhle was an early master of the slider. Those who want to claim that Babe Ruth's batting numbers would have been lower if he had to face screwball and slider pitchers more often (as those pitches boomed in popularity later) may have a case in light of Ruth's performances versus Pruett and Uhle.
Aided by another former Boston player, "Jumpin' Joe" Dugan, in July, the Yankees held on to win the pennant by one game. Despite playing only 110 games, Ruth led the league in slugging percentage and batted .315 (league leader George Sisler batted 105 points higher). It was the first time in five years -- since he became a regular, in fact -- that he failed to lead the league in home runs, finishing third with 35. Only once over the course of the next 10 years would he fail to lead the league.
The 1922 World Series
If Ruth thought it was his worst season, many would have to agree. The suspensions, the fines, the booing, and his efforts in the World Series all took their toll. Facing the Giants again, Ruth was stymied when McGraw ordered his pitchers to throw nothing but curves "low on the outside" to the Babe. He struggled to hit just one single and one double in 17 at bats, driving in only one run as the Giants swept the Yanks in four games.
During the Series, the crowds and the other players were tough on the Babe. Notably, there was some particularly venomous name-calling from the Giants bench. Babe could usually take the foul-languaged banter that came at him from opponents, and he could dish it out, too, but he found these personal attacks to be too much.
After one of the games he charged into the Giant clubhouse to challenge a player who had been particularily abusive. Luckily the tempers were cooled before any fighting occurred.
It was about this time that Colonel Huston disagreed with one of Huggins's managerial decisions and served notice that the tiny manager's days with the Yankees were numbered. Colonel Ruppert overruled Huston, but the rift between the two was insoluble. The next May, Huston sold his share in the team back to Ruppert for $1.5 million, six times what he had paid for it in 1915.
After a rough season on the field, Babe Ruth turned some attention to his personal life. On the next page, learn who he met that would change his life forever.
For more information about baseball and baseball players: