Bave Ruth came into Boston in 1914 poor and alone. He was uncultured, untraveled, and uninhibited. He left less than six years later as a young man of considerable wealth and fame. He was married, with a large country home and more friends and creature comforts than he had ever imagined possible.
His years in Boston after he joined the Boston Red Sox marked a coming of age for George Ruth Jr. -- a time when he not only conquered baseball but learned to enjoy the varied pleasures that his excellence and its financial rewards opened to him.
After an upbringing of hardened discipline and little love, he burst forth at his newfound freedom with a healthy enthusiasm. Along the way, he became one of the greatest stars in American sports.
Babe's Sox Pitching Debut
Ruth always seemed to be a man in motion, so it should come as no surprise that five hours after arriving in Boston's Back Bay Station at 10 a.m. on July 11, 1914, he was making his major-league pitching debut against the Cleveland Indians at Fenway Park.
Allowing two singles in the first inning, he recovered to help nail one runner at home plate and pick Shoeless Joe Jackson off first to end the frame. Four months out of St. Mary's, and he was already showing the poise of a major leaguer.
Relying mostly on speed and guile, Ruth took a 3-1 lead into the seventh. He was scheduled to bat in the bottom of the inning, but then the Indians rallied with three singles to tie the contest. In his first two at bats against lefthander Willie Wilson, Babe had struck out and flied to right.
When his time came again, Boston manager Bill Carrigan sent up veteran Duffy Lewis to pinch-hit. Lewis promptly scratched out an infield single and came around to score. When the lead held up, George Ruth had won his first major-league game.
Although the tactic worked, it is difficult today -- with the luxury of hindsight -- to imagine anyone intentionally taking the bat out of the Babe's hands. At the time, however, Carrigan's move made sense.
Despite the bursts of power he had shown in Baltimore, Ruth was still a rookie who had hit .200 in the minors and was facing a fellow left-hander. Besides, pitchers were not expected to perform well at the plate.
The brash youngster would fight for more time in the batting cage during ensuing weeks, but Ruth's status became clear when he discovered one day that teammates had sawed the handles off his bats. He was there to pitch, not hit, and even this arrangement looked to be short-lived.
Knocked out of the box by the Tigers early in his second start, Babe was relegated to the bench for a month -- where he watched former Orioles teammate Ernie Shore meet instant success on the mound.
The Providence Grays
The Red Sox were not an easy ballclub to break into at the time. They had christened brand new Fenway Park with a world championship in 1912, and much of the nucleus of that team was still intact. Leading the group was Carrigan, a no-nonsense manager who also served as the team's catcher and had earned the nickname "Rough" for his playing style and discipline toward players.
The outfield of Tris Speaker, Harry Hooper, and Lewis was among baseball's best; Speaker was also generally recognized as one of the game's greatest hitters. Larry Gardner was a solid third baseman and fine batsman, and the durable Everett Scott had taken over at short -- where he would remain for 1,307 consecutive games.
The pitching staff was a deep combination of veterans and newcomers. Joe Wood and Ray Collins were the mainstays, and youngsters Shore (10-4), Dutch Leonard (19-5), and Rube Foster (14-8) were all turning in great seasons.
Even during an off year when Boston finished second, it was easy to see why Ruth was expendable. In August of that season, he was demoted to the Providence Grays -- an International League rival of Baltimore and another club just purchased by Boston owner Joe Lannin.
His teammates did not shed many tears at his departure. Despite the fanfare that had surrounded the arrival of Lannin's "$10,000 baby," Ruth was widely disliked for his crude manner, wild eating habits, and a carefree playing style that hard-nosed veterans viewed as lackadaisical. These same qualities would soon endear Babe to millions, but they were unacceptable coming from an unproven rookie.
Once during warm-ups, a ball got away from Wood and rolled toward Ruth who, despite Wood's calls for assistance, intentionally let it pass between his legs with an exaggerated spread-eagle stance. Wood exploded, Ruth shouted back, and Carrigan had to restore order.
Babe was troubled by such incidents but was able to seek refuge in the time he spent with a quiet, pretty 16-year-old waitress. He had met Helen Woodford while stopping into a coffee shop his first day in town, and the pair were dating regularly when he got the order to report 40 miles south to Providence.
Ruth's August 20 debut for the second-place Grays included the type of drama he would soon be enjoying on a regular basis. Pitching before an overflow crowd of 12,000 -- then the largest ever to see a baseball game in Rhode Island -- he earned a 5-4 victory and helped his own cause by tripling twice.
The performance was the springboard to a pennant for Providence, with Ruth going 9-2 in less than a month's work. Recalled to the Red Sox for the final week of the season, he drew a start from Carrigan and gained his first of many victories (along with his first major-league hit, a single) against the hapless New York Yankees.
Nobody in Boston really noticed; up the street from Fenway, the "Miracle" Braves were completing a last-to-first climb up the standings that would culminate in a World Series sweep of Connie Mack's mighty Philadelphia Athletics.
Finishing the First Year
There had been rough spots, but all told it had not been a bad year for George Ruth. Leaving the gates of St. Mary's in May a poor, foul-mannered kid, he returned to Baltimore six months later a local celebrity after going 23-8 at the highest level of minor league baseball and 2-1 in the big leagues.
He had fallen in love (he and Helen married in October), earned more money then he'd ever seen -- going from a $600 salary to $3,500 in one season -- and spent it as fast as it came in. He had gotten his first driving license, had his first car accident, and experienced the pleasures of life on the road and in the big cities of the East Coast.
Perhaps just as important at this point in his life's journey, Babe had realized there was more to life than shirtmaking and playing ball. He now seemed intent on finding out just how much of this new world he could make his own.
What's next for Babe Ruth's amazing baseball career? Get details on the Babe's first major league home run on the next page.
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