Changing of the Guard! Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb

Changing of the Guard! Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb

Babe Ruth and the Long Ball

1920 - 1939

"Never let the fear of striking out get in your way."

Babe Ruth

Babe Ruth and the Long Ball

1920 - 1939

The Roaring Twenties certainly had its share of great athletes, which is why it was dubbed “The Golden Era of Sports.” No one made more of an impact than Ruth. Even though generations of the Red Sox faithful lamented Babe’s trade to New York’s Yankees, and the Babe’s “curse” on his former team seemed to haunt all of New England for over 80 years, in reality the trade was a match made in heaven for Gotham was without question the biggest and most influential city of all. In a time when newspaper and magazine coverage was the daily staple of information, New York itself had several dailies ready to pump out even the most inane tidbits about their city’s Bambino. And the always press-accessible Babe Ruth became a national hero. Most agreed that during the 1900s the Babe would become more popular and recognizable than even the president of the United States.

Attendance records were set everywhere Ruth’s Yankees played, while the press tripped over itself trying to dream up better nicknames for the New York slugger. The Bambino, Bazoo of Bang, Rajah of Rap, the Big Bam, the Colossus of Clout, and the Sultan of Swat remain the most colorful. Ruth said he mirrored his mighty swing after that of "Shoeless" Joe Jackson. "His is the perfectest," he once told the great sportswriter Grantland Rice. But it was the way Ruth deployed that stroke upon the world that won over so many hearts and minds. He refused to change his grip or, more importantly, cut on his swing with two strikes. Fans everywhere embraced his all-or-nothing approach.

Ruth’s success first remade the game and then perhaps saved it from itself. Ty Cobb, who personified the dead ball era with his hit-oriented and crafty style of play, may not have appreciated the sea changes Ruth was bringing to the game. But the public, clamoring for Ruth to hit more and longer home runs, certainly did. By the end of the 1921 season, when Ruth hit a record 59 dingers, the Yankees’ slugger had already walloped more home runs than any other man in history. “Cobb [is] in eclipse for the first time since he began to show his remarkable ability,” stated the New York Times. “Ruth has stolen all of Cobb’s thunder.” In doing so, the Bambino kept the focus of the game on the diamond in the wake of the “Black Sox” scandal, which, as noted, involved Ruth’s own boyhood hero, “Shoeless” Joe.

In 1923, the Yankees opened a new ballpark, Yankee Stadium, in the Bronx. Called the “House That Ruth Built,” it was a shrine to baseball with three stately decks seating more than 62,000; even Ruth was at a loss for words when he first set eyes on it. Ruth homered (naturally) in his first at-bat in the Bronx, ushering in an era of great hitters, which included George Sisler, Paul Waner, Harry Heilmann, Goose Goslin, Hack Wilson, Lou Gehrig, and Rogers Hornsby.

In 1927, Ruth, leading the famed Yankee “Murderer’s Row,” hit 60 home runs, a single-season record that would stand until another Yankee slugger, Roger Maris, came along a generation later in 1961 to blast 61. Ruth closed out the era leading baseball with 54, 46, and then 49 homers. He and his side-kick, Yankee first baseman and fellow long ball specialist Lou Gehrig, seemed to dominate all rivals on the diamond and in the hearts and minds of the baseball-happy public. After they made their considerable mark on the national game, smacking over 1,200 home runs between them during their careers, baseball would really never be the same again.

As the Roaring Twenties gave way to a new decade, the Babe continued to dominate the headlines. He called his own shot when he homered in Game 3 of the 1932 World Series. During the at-bat, Ruth made a pointing motion to the outfield stands while staring down the other team’s players who were hooting and hollering at him from the safety of their dugout. Whether the Babe meant to hit it out of the ballpark on the next pitch remains, even today, hotly debated. But he did, of course, and his legend continued to grow. Babe’s career record of 714 home runs stood until 1974, when it was surpassed by Hank Aaron.

The next season, 1933, marked the first time the All-Star Game was played midseason. Initially intended to be a one-time event at the World’s Fair in Chicago, the game proved so popular that it became an American institution. By the mid-1930s, Babe would leave New York and return to Boston to play for the lowly Braves. But new stars emerged, including a youngster named Joe DiMaggio who tore up the Pacific. There was also Ted Williams—credited as being the greatest hitter who ever lived. DiMaggio would spend his career with the Yankees from 1936 while Ted started wowing them in Boston three years later, assuring baseball fans everywhere that the drama between those two teams would be cemented for decades.

By the end of the 1930s, with the Great Depression having gripped the nation for most of the decade, more serious matters took hold. Lou Gehrig, aptly nicknamed the “Iron Horse” because he had played in 2,130 consecutive ball games, was terminally ill. On July 4, 1939, after pulling himself out of the starting lineup a month earlier because of a neuromuscular disease that was ravaging his body, he told fans at Yankee Stadium that he was, "the luckiest man on the face of the Earth." Two years later he succumbed to ALS, also known as "Lou Gehrig’s Disease."

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  • <p>Autograph from 1920 of Ray Chapman, Carl Mays...
  • <p>George Sisler “Record” bat used when he made...
  • 1920

    After being sold by the Boston Red Sox to the New York Yankees, George Herman “Babe” Ruth hits 54 home runs, setting the new standard for a single season.

  • <p>Babe Ruth photograph taken by Charles Conlon...
  • <p>Washington Senators and New York Giants at...
  • <p>Signed John McGraw photograph</p>
  • 1920

    Cleveland Indians’ shortstop Ray Chapman is killed by a Carl Mays pitch.

  • <p>Panorama photo showing the 1924 Negro League...
  • <p>Grover Cleveland “Pete” Alexander world...
  • 1920

    Walter Johnson of the Washington Senators pitches a no-hitter against Boston, coming within an error of a perfect game.

  • <p>Babe Ruth photograph</p>
  • <p>Babe Ruth single signed baseball</p>
  • <p>Babe Ruth and Rogers Hornsby photo</p>
  • <p>Rogers Hornsby game-used bat</p>
  • <p>Babe Ruth game-used baseball bat</p>
  • 1920

    Ty Cobb breaks Honus Wagner’s Major League record for career hits.

  • <p>Sandstone carving from Hawkins Stadium in...
  • <p>This bat was game used by Babe Ruth during the...
  • <p>Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Jimmie Foxx...
  • 1923

    The New York Yankees’ new home, "The House that Ruth Built," opens in the Bronx.

  • <p>Jimmie Foxx, single signed baseball</p>
  • <p>Signed 1929 panorama photo of the Philadelphia...
  • <p>1929 World Series Program featuring the...
  • <p>1929 Philadelphia Athletics autograph...
  • <p>George “High Pockets” Kelly 1931 tour of Japan...
  • <p>1930 autographed baseball bat from the Boston...
  • 1927

    The Yankees field one of the best teams of all-time. They finish the season 110–44, winning the American League Pennant by 19 games and sweeping the Pittsburgh Pirates in the World Series. Only four teams have won more regular-season games: the 1906 Chicago Cubs and 2001 Seattle Mariners with 116, the 1998 New York Yankees with 114, and the 1954 Cleveland Indians with 111.

  • <p>1932 letter from Joe Tinkerto, a fan, stating...
  • <p>Bill Terry single signed “World Champions”...
  • 1933

    The All-Star Game is played for the first time during the midseason. It draws a big crowd at the World’s Fair in Chicago.

  • <p>First Major League Baseball All-Star Game...
  • <p>1934 Tour of Japan “All American Game” Photo...
  • 1934

    Carl Hubbell of the New York Giants strikes out Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons, and Joe Cronin in succession in the All-Star Game at New York’s Polo Grounds.

  • <p>1937 World Series arcade game</p>
  • <p>Joe DiMaggio advertising display</p>
  • <p>1938 trophy presented to Hugh Duffy on his...
  • 1939

    New York Yankee great Lou Gehrig, nicknamed the “Iron Horse,” retires at the age of 36.

Origins of the GameOur National PastimeFrom Dead Ball to Live BallBabe Ruth and the Long BallFrom the Ballfields to the Battlefields

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When a baseball player uses the main tool of his trade, the baseball bat, he is gripping the most important single weapon in his arsenal. Each is customized to a certain weight, length, and feel. This exhibit features the bats used by some of baseball’s greats during their professional career.