During the broadcast of Shohei Ohtani’s MLB pitching debut today on MLB Network, it was noted that only three players in big league history have produced both a 10-win season and a 10-home run season at some point in their career. Ohtani, whom the Los Angeles Angels plan to use as both a DH and a starting pitcher, did it in the same season twice in Japan. The great Babe Ruth did both in 1918, when he was with the Boston Red Sox, going 13-7 on the mound and hitting 11 homers, the first of 17 straight double-digit homer seasons. Rick Ankiel, who broke in as a pitcher and converted to the outfield, did it during his career (1999-2013) but not in the same season. The only other player to achieve this impressive feat was Jackson native Ewell Albert “Reb” Russell, who played in the early 1900s. Russell, a left-hander, won 23 games as a rookie for the Chicago White Sox in 1913 and posted three other double-digit win seasons before hurting his arm in 1918. He spent some time in the minors, came back to the big leagues in 1922 with Pittsburgh and belted 12 homers in 60 games. He hit nine more the next year in what was his final fling in the majors.
On this date in 1920, the course of baseball history – and Sammy Vick’s career – changed. The Boston Red Sox, under new ownership, sold their best player, Babe Ruth, to the New York Yankees for the sum of $125,000. Ruth, who would come to be regarded by some as the best player ever, transformed the Yankees into a dynasty that became major league baseball’s iconic franchise. The “cursed” Red Sox, who had won three World Series with Ruth, fell into a decades-long funk that only recently ended. Ruth was a two-way star for the Sox, hitting a record 29 homers as their left fielder and going 9-5 on the mound in 1919. The Yankees made him a fulltime outfielder in 1920, and he played mostly in right, where he displaced the former starter, Batesville native and Millsaps College alum Vick. After missing most of the 1918 season while serving in the military, Vick, then 24, earned the Yanks’ right field job in 1919. He had an up-and-down year, batting .248 with two homers, 15 doubles and nine triples in 106 games. Ruth’s smashing arrival – he hit 59 homers in 1920 – was the beginning of the end for Vick, who got into just 51 games that year, then was traded to the Red Sox in ’21. That was his final big league season.
Not to be overlooked amid all the hubbub over the Home Run Derby and tonight’s All-Star Game: On this date in 1914, Babe Ruth made his big league debut as a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox. His mound opponent at Fenway Park was Pleasant Grove native Willie Mitchell of the Cleveland Naps. Ruth and the Red Sox won the game 4-3 as Mitchell took the loss. But the record will also show that in his first at-bat in the majors, Ruth – not yet known as the Sultan of Swat — was struck out by Mitchell. A crafty lefty, Mitchell pitched parts of 11 years in the big leagues, won 84 games and fanned 921 batters.
Guy Bush, the “Mississippi Mudcat” from Aberdeen, finished his major league career in 1945 with some nice numbers: 176 wins (most ever by a Mississippi native), 542 appearances, 151 complete games. He also allowed 151 home runs, a total that happened to include the last two – Nos. 713 and 714 — hit by Babe Ruth. It happened on May 25, 1935, at Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field. Bush, who spent most of his career with the Chicago Cubs, was pitching for the Pirates. Ruth, who made his legend with the New York Yankees, was in his only season with the Boston Braves. He hit three homers that day in Pittsburgh, the first off of Red Lucas, who was replaced by Bush in the first inning. The last homer of Ruth’s career cleared the right-field roof at Forbes Field, the first ever to do that. May 25, 1935, truly was Ruth’s last hurrah. He played only five more games in the big leagues without getting another hit. Meanwhile, it was a tough day all around for Bush. He logged six innings in relief and the Pirates prevailed 11-7, but he didn’t get the win. Waite Hoyt blew the save after replacing Bush in the seventh inning.