Updated date:

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

Following a successful career as a journalist, graphic designer, and marketer, Gary Kauffman is now a freelance writer.

babe-ruth-king-of-the-long-ball-could-also-play-small-ball

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

YearHRSH

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

PlayerHRSH

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

Related Stories

the-homes-of-babe-ruth

The Homes of Babe Ruth

Babe Ruth was America's foremost sports superstar during the 1920s. He was also the highest paid. Did the Babe live like a king? Follow me as I take you on a tour through a few of his homes.