Babe Ruth, King of the Long Ball, Could Also Play Small Ball

Updated on June 6, 2020
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Following a successful career as a journalist, graphic designer, and marketer, Gary Kauffman is now a freelance writer.

While browsing through Babe Ruth’s mind-blowing statistics, as I do occasionally, I came across something I’d never noticed before: In 1930, Babe Ruth is listed as having 21 sacrifice hits. Sacrifice hits is the common term and abbreviation (SH) for sacrifice bunts.

I could scarcely believe my eyes. The Bambino, the Sultan of Swat, in a year in which he led the league with 49 homers, also sacrificed himself 21 times! In fact, according to Baseball Reference, he did so 113 times in his career, including 14 times in 1927 when he hit 60 homers.

Not All Sacrifices Were the Same

Curious to see in what situations he thought it was wise to give up his potent bat to move a runner along, I looked at his game logs for 1930. Curiously, the game logs listed him with only five sacrifice hits. Still quite a few for the game’s premier home run hitter, but significantly short of the season total.

A handful of games that season have no play-by-play available, so it’s possible that he was credited with a bunt we don’t know about, but it hardly seems likely that he managed to put down 16 bunts in those few games.

This required a bit more digging. By the third game of that season, I found my answer. In the second game of a double header with the Red Sox in Fenway Park, Ruth hit a flyball to left in the top of the sixth. Earle Combs tagged up at second and advanced to third. The play-by-play lists this as a sacrifice fly.

Then in the top of the eighth, Ruth hit a flyball to right and Combs tagged up at third and scored. Again, the play-by-play lists it as a sacrifice fly. So for the game, Ruth is credited with two sac flies but no sacrifice hits.

Yet if you look at the sacrifice fly column for the season, as well as his career, you’ll find that it’s blank. That’s because the sacrifice fly didn’t become an official statistic until 1954, six years after Ruth’s death. Apparently, Baseball Reference thought it best to lump the sacrifice flies into the sacrifice hits category for the season.

Still a Lot of Sacrifices

So if Baseball Reference lists him at 113 sacrifice hits, how many of those were actual sacrifice bunts? 54. When you think about a home run hitter like Ruth, 54 sacrifice bunts is a lot. Ruth had a sacrifice bunt every year between 1915 and 1930. From 1922-30, when he clubbed 403 homers, he also laid down 33 sacrifice bunts.

Mel Ott, who is listed with 109 sacrifice hits, had 63 actual sacrifice bunts among those, the most of anyone who hit more than 500 homers. One dramatic difference in the list for sacrifice hits and actual bunts is Jimmie Foxx. Although listed with 71 sacrifice hits, only 22 of those were bunts – still a significant number for a man renowned for his physical strength.

Babe Ruth's Homers and Sacrifice Hits

Year
HR
SH
1914
0
0
1915
4
2
1916
3
4
1917
2
7
1918
11
2
1919
29
4
1920
54
1
1921
59
1
1922
35
4
1923
41
1
1924
46
5
1925
25
6
1926
47
3
1927
60
3
1928
54
1
1929
46
5
1930
49
5
1931
46
0
1932
41
0
1933
34
0
1934
22
0
1935
6
0
Totals
714
54

Bunting Still Rare Among Big Hitters

Obviously, players known for hitting homers don’t often get called on to put down a sacrifice bunt. Harmon Killebrew and Frank Thomas, who combined hit nearly 1,100 homers, never had even one bunt. Jim Thome and Albert Pujols, both with more than 600 homers, each have one sac bunt to their credit.

Besides Ott and Ruth, the only others among the elite home run hitters with more than 30 sac bunts are Ernie Banks, 45, and Eddie Mathews, 36. Hank Aaron had 21.

Just how amazing are the sacrifice bunt totals of Ott and Ruth for power hitters? In the past 50 years, no one with at least 350 homers has topped either of their totals. The closest is Dwight Evans, who hit 385 career homers with 52 sacrifice bunts. Darrell Evans, with 34 sac bunts, has the most of any player with more than 400 homers (414) in the past 50 years.

In the past 50 years, 309 players have matched or exceeded Ruth’s total of 54 sacrifice bunts. Only 14 of those reached 200 career homers; Steve Finley, with 304, is the only one to top 300 homers.

In the era of sabermetrics when sacrifice bunts have been deemed ill-advised except by a pitcher, we’ll probably never again see numbers like those by Ott and Ruth, who were able to play small ball in the midst of their long ball feats.

Sacrifice Hits by Top Homer Hitters

Player
HR
SH
Mel Ott
511
63
Babe Ruth
714
54
Ernie Banks
512
45
Eddie Mathews
512
36
Jimmie Foxx
534
22
Hank Aaron
755
21
Sammy Sosa
609
17
Frank Robinson
586
17
Alex Rodriguez
696
16
Mike Schmidt
548
16
Rafael Palmeiro
569
15
Mickey Mantle
536
14
Willie Mays
660
13
Reggie Jackson
563
13
Gary Sheffield
509
9
Ken Griffey Jr.
630
8
Willie McCovey
521
5
Barry Bonds
762
4
Mark McGwire
583
3
Ted Williams
521
3
Manny Ramirez
555
2
David Ortiz
541
2
Eddie Murray
504
2
Albert Pujols
656
1
Jim Thome
612
1
Harmon Killebrew
573
0
Frank Thomas
521
0

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