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Mudville: July 23, 2024 5:46 am PDT

700

BY KEVIN KERNAN

Imagine the Power of 700.

This Saturday, July 13th marks the 90th anniversary of Babe Ruth hitting his 700th home run. At the time Ruth hit Number 700, the four men closest to him in home run totals were teammate Lou Gehrig with 323, Jimmie Foxx at 248, Al Simmons at 235 and Mel Ott with 197.

Babe Ruth lapped the field over and over.

Ruth’s 700th home run was brought to my attention this week by my friend Ernestine Miller, vice president of the Casey Stengel Chapter of SABR, which serves New York City.

Why is it named after Casey? He is connected to all four teams. He played for both the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants and managed the Dodgers, Yankees and Mets. In fact, on July 13th,1934, Casey was the manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Ernestine used to be on the board of the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum, a must stop on the museum trail, if you are in Baltimore.

Turns out the Yankees and Aaron Judge, the Yankees current home run king, will be in Baltimore this weekend playing the Orioles and you can walk to Babe’s Museum from Camden Yards.

Perfect timing to remember Babe’s 700 and now Michael Kay has something else to mention on the broadcast.

“Any chance I get I spread the word about the museum and Babe Ruth,’’ Ernestine Miller told me on Tuesday. “A few weeks ago, at a dinner party, I talked about the museum. The museum is such an under the radar treasure, and you talk to baseball fans, and they don’t even know. Now, with the Orioles doing so much better people need to see the museum.’’

When Ernestine talks, sports fans listen.

She wanted to make sure that I was aware of the 90th anniversary of Babe’s momentous 700th blast. I wasn’t, so it is a good thing she alerted me. Too much of baseball history is falling through the cracks these days, but not at BallNine.

With the constant celebrations of home runs in MLB, it’s time to put Babe’s 700th in perspective. It took 39 years for someone else to reach 700 home runs and that someone was the classy Hank Aaron. That came on July 21, 1973, at Atlanta Fulton County Stadium off Philadelphia’s Ken Brett – and Harry Kalas had the perfect call, proclaiming when the ball was hit: “High towering drive this may be it, there it goes, home run, No. 700 for Henry Aaron!’’

No one reached the 700 level again until a chemically enhanced Barry Bonds hit No. 700 against the Padres’ Jake Peavy on September 17, 2004, and Duane Kuiper had this masterful call: “The shift is on for Bonds. Bonds hits one to left-centerfield. He hits it well. Klesko back. It is outta here! No. 700 for Barry Bonds. Aaron, Ruth and now Bonds, the 700 Home Run Club as Bonds steps on home plate and listen to this crowd.’’

Listen indeed. Kuiper hit one home run during his 12-year career, so he certainly appreciated No. 700 from Mr. Bonds.

I followed the dramatic Bonds home run chase and was in San Francisco when the AT&T crowd was in its glory as the 700th banner was unfurled, no matter the circumstances surrounding Bonds magical power surge – and his march past Ruth’s 714 home runs and Aaron’s 755. Albert Pujols is the fourth member of the 700 club with 703.

That is the rarity of 700, and thanks to Ernestine Miller for reminding me of the origins of this Amazin’ Race, Ruth hitting his 700th 90 years ago, come Saturday.

The 700 home run years: 1934, 1973, 2004, 2022, that kind of says it all. That’s it for the 700 Club; and Ruth was first and should forever hold a special place in baseball’s heart.

That is the rarity of 700, and thanks to Ernestine Miller for reminding me of the origins of this Amazin’ Race, Ruth hitting his 700th 90 years ago, come Saturday.

I laugh when Zoomers of today say Babe Ruth couldn’t hit pitchers of today. There was and will always be only one Babe Ruth in baseball history and he should never be forgotten or tossed aside as someone who could not succeed in a Big Babe Way today.

To hit home run No. 700 in 1934 was a momentous feat.

That 1934 season was his last with the Yankees, his 15th season as he was the original Bronx Bomber. During his time with the Yankees, Ruth hit 659 home runs, and, of course, slugged 60 home runs in 1927.

No. 700 came off the Tigers’ Tommy Bridges at Navin Field in Detroit. Bridges won 22 games that year as the Tigers won the pennant, winning 101 games and losing 53. They lost the World Series to the Cardinals in seven games. Bridges was no slouch. He also pitched in the All-Star Game that year – when the All-Star Game with Carl Hubbell doing his strikeout thing was The Game of the Summer and not just a lazy exhibition game used to sell ugly All-Star uniforms like they are today; and this year’s All-Star uniform is embarrassingly bad.

If Chancellor Manfred could make one change in MLB, I would suggest going back to an All-Star Game where players wear their team uniforms, if for no other reason creating a rainbow of baseball colors on the field of play, making the All-Star Game feel like an All-Star Game and not just a Tuesday night softball game with bad unis purchased on the cheap. But that will never happen. If Manfred & Co. can sell one All-Star uniform to one fan, they would do it. They will not walk away from any marketing moment no matter how bad it makes baseball look. They don’t care.

CLEVELAND, OH - JULY 19, 1934: Babe Ruth reading newspaper in bed at the Hotel Cleveland. Ruth was confined to bed after being struck in the right ankle by a line drive during the Indians - Yankees game at League Park. The Indians won in a slugfest 15-14. (Photo by Louis Van Oeyen/Western Reserve Historical Society/Getty Images).

Tigers pitcher Elden Auker was friends with Ruth and they would often golf together in the winter in Florida. He was there that day at Navin Field when Ruth hit No. 700. Auker, who had an amazing career and life, wrote a wonderful baseball book in 2001 with my friend Tom Keegan called Sleeper Cars and Flannel Uniforms, an on-the-spot account of what baseball life was like at that time. Of No. 700 he noted in the book that the ball went out of Navin Field: “A teenage boy named Lenny Beals was at the head of the pack of boys sprinting down Plum Street to retrieve the souvenir. He sold it to Babe for $20 and an autographed baseball. Isn’t that about the same amount the guy who sold Mark McGwire’s record-setting home-run ball got?’’

The home run traveled 500 feet. Beals was interviewed by the Detroit Free Press decades later and said of racing to get No. 700, “Me being a track man (Northwestern High School), I went down the street after it, like a nine-second man. It rolled under a car. I dove under the car and grabbed it. A lot of policemen and ushers all grabbed me. They put me on their shoulders and stopped the game and took me into the dugout with Babe Ruth, Joe McCarthy, the manager and Lou Gehrig.’’

Auker loved the Babe and he saw first-hand how the fans loved Babe Ruth. He wrote: “We were the actors; they were the audience and there was to be no interaction between the two groups. That is the way Judge Landis wanted it. But Ruth paid no more attention to that rule than he did to the man on the moon. He was always waving to fans and walking over to the stands to start conversations with them.’’

Babe Ruth belonged to the Yankees and the people.

Babe Ruth hands Leonard Beals an autographed ball in exchange for home run ball number 700 for the Babe, which Beals retrieved during a game in Detroit on July 13, 1934. (Photo by Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics, Getty Images)

Ernestine Miller made this terrific point on the impact of Babe Ruth, something I never thought about before she mentioned it to me.

“This is a point I’ve wanted to make for a long time,’’ Miller, a true historian said. “Babe brought women to the game. He was a superstar. You look at the stands, you see women. Those days men and women got dressed up to go to baseball games. He was an idol. He was a superstar, women wanted to know more about him to converse with their husbands, their boyfriends, their families about baseball because Babe Ruth generated an interest. I have files where I note this with photographs. It was an event, he filled stadiums everywhere, it elevated the interest in sport with his natural ability and he brought women to the game of baseball.’’

What a great point.

“No. 700 for Ruth came in his 15th season with the Yankees, his last season with the Yankees,’’ Miller said. “It came in the third inning. That was Ruth’s 14th home run of the season. This is such a significant anniversary of a significant home run.’’

It sure is and the game was much different then in many aspects.

“Those players were playing day games in the hot sun, they were wearing heavy flannel uniforms in the heat of the day on a day like today, 95 degrees was the same 95 degrees,’’ Miller said. “Travel by trains, no air-conditioned clubhouses, no nothing. Just the bare essentials of playing baseball, standing out in the field in the blazing heat, no designated hitter to get a break from the field. It was the same circumstances for all the players.’’

No launch angle, no video, no helmets, no protective gear, just baseball, pitcher vs hitter. Babe did have his hot dogs though and that fueled him.

Babe also did much charity work on the side and was a great friend to young fans of the sport.

Explained Miller: “There were many stories where he would be with the sportswriters on the train and he would get off and say, ‘See you later.’ And he would quietly go visit children in orphanages and he would go to visit children in the hospitals, and that is all true. Kids idolized him. The photos are precious, the glee in the children’s eyes when he would sign autographs.’’

Babe found time for the fans. “He would sign autographs and wouldn’t leave the field, he wasn’t impatient’’ Miller said. “He elevated this sport to all ages, all genders. What he did went beyond baseball.’’

1935: Babe Ruth signs autographs for two page boys on the roof of the Savoy Hotel during his visit to London. (Allsport Hulton Archive)

Fans love their baseball heroes. Look at Aaron Judge today. I have been watching a lot of Little League softball all-star games and every team, it seems, has a No. 99 on the squad.

“With Judge there is so much comparison to Ruth all the time,’’ Miller said. “He’s having a season that is remarkable. I don’t know what has happened to the Yankees.’’

The stumbling Yankees lost to the Rays Tuesday night, 5-3. Judge leads baseball with 32 home runs.

Current career home run totals help put Babe’s deeds into perspective.

Judge owns 289 home runs. For all of Judge’s mighty heroics he is 425 home runs behind the Great Bambino. Only four players are in the 700 Club: Bonds is tops at 762, then Aaron at 755, Ruth at 714 and Albert Pujols with 703 home runs. The closest active player on the list is Giancarlo Stanton with 420 home runs, good for 54th on the all-time home run list. Judge is 173rd on the list.; both so far away from 700. FYI, Mike Trout follows Stanton at 376, Joey Votto is at 356, Paul Goldschmidt owns 352 home runs, good for 96th on the all-time list, Freddie Freeman is at 334, and then comes Bryce Harper at 326, 122nd on the list.

All those home run numbers put the greatness of Ruth into perspective and being the first to 700 way back 90 years ago in 1934, really tells the Babe Ruth Story.

Baseball has forever been a numbers game – yes Nerds, you didn’t invent the numbers – and to me and so many fans, home runs represent the big number.

Babe was first. Babe saved the game after the Black Sox Scandal. Hank Aaron created a new home run number with 755 that all fans knew, and Barry Bonds is at the top of the list with 762, but for my money, 755 and 714 are still the numbers I know so well.

Getting to 700 first 90 years ago is an amazing baseball feat. The Babe got their first and he did it with Babe Ruth flair.

“Babe Ruth is the benchmark, he set so many records, he was the first, he will always be the person referenced as a comparison.’’ Miller said. “And Babe Ruth never forgot where he came from.’’

Baseball cannot forget Babe Ruth. On Saturday, the game needs to take a minute to honor the Babe for what he accomplished on this day 90 years ago, the first player to hit 700 home runs, the original member of the 700 club.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

Comments
  • David H Lippman

    Fantastic story with great writing and information and wonderful perspective from Ernestine

    July 10, 2024
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