Happy Birthday to baseball legend and American icon Babe Ruth, born on February 6, 1895.
The discussion of two-way baseball players starts and ends with Babe Ruth. In the years before the infamous sale that sent Ruth from Boston to New York, the man known as the “Sultan of Swat” was baseball’s premier left-handed pitcher. Ruth would later become the most prolific hitter in baseball history.
Before his powerful uppercut swing made home runs relevant and transformed baseball into an offensive game, the full-time pitching ace and part-time slugger led the Red Sox to three
World Series Championships. Ruth put together a 94-46 career record with nearly all of his pitching appearances coming in a Red Sox uniform. His 2.28 ERA is 17th lowest in baseball history.
The Babe found his place on the pitcher’s mound at the St. Mary’s Industrial School, a boys’ reformatory school. He developed his craft with the Baltimore Orioles of the International League under owner and manager Jack Dunn, who signed the 19-year-old southpaw to his first professional contract in 1914. The first Ruth baseball card was included in the 1914 Baltimore News series. Issued with red or blue fronts and black variation backs, the card displays a gangly teenager yet to make his major league debut. A red PSA-1 version of the Ruth rookie sold at auction for $450,300 last year.
Struck with financial hardship due to the emergence of the Baltimore Terrapins of the short-lived Federal League, the Orioles unloaded Ruth, Ernie Shore and Ben Egan to the Red Sox for $16,000 later that year. Pitching behind established hurlers Smokey Joe Wood and Dutch Leonard among others, Ruth was used sparingly. But in 1915, he went 18-8 as the team’s third starter and helped the Red Sox to the AL Pennant.
In 1916, Ruth emerged as a dominant pitcher, winning 21 games while tossing nine shutouts and posting a league-best 1.75 ERA. Helping the Red Sox to back-to-back World Series championships, Ruth pitched 14 innings for a 2-1 Game 2 victory over the Brooklyn Robins.
Still considered a top-notch pitcher, Ruth returned in 1917 with a 24-13 record and 2.01 ERA. He finished 35 of the 38 games he started. At the same time, Ruth’s offensive prowess was taking shape. He finished the season batting .325, triggering an eight-year streak of hitting .300 or better.
Already an established pitching ace, Ruth’s transformation to iconic slugger hit full stride in 1918. Primarily an outfielder, Ruth led the league in homers with 11, earning his first of 12 home run titles. Appearing in 20 games as a pitcher, he went 13-7 with a 2.22 ERA. The Babe pitched a 1-0 shutout in Game 1 of the World Series and won Game 4, as he established a 29 ⅓ scoreless innings streak, eclipsed by Whitey Ford decades later.
The Babe made 17 appearances on the mound in 1919, going 9-5 with a 2.97 ERA, but by this time pitching was merely a diversion for the future Hall of Fame slugger-to-be. Ruth led the league in home runs (29), RBI (114) and runs (103). Following the 1919 season, the Yankees purchased Babe Ruth the slugger, not the ace pitcher from financially-strapped Red Sox owner Harry Frazee for $100,000.
Ruth’s Red Sox-Yankees overlap is highlighted in his 1914 Frederick Foto card. The unique card displaying a photo-quality image, pictures the Babe in a red Sox uniform, but reads “Babe Ruth N.Y.” in the upper left-hand corner.
In his first season with the Yankees Ruth set a new standard with 54 home runs, effectively introducing America to a new brand of baseball emphasizing power and brawn over speed and savvy. Putting Ruth’s 1920 season in perspective: No other player hit more than 19 home runs and only one team hit more homers than Ruth did individually.
Laying the groundwork for what would become the Yankee Dynasty, Ruth’s 1921 season may have been the greatest in MLB history. The 26-year-old Ruth batted .376 while bashing 59 homers, driving in 171 runs, scoring 177 runs, and slugging a then-unthinkable .846. Riding Ruth’s prowess as a slugger, the Yankees became baseball’s most recognizable — not to mention most dominant — team, establishing new attendance records almost annually.
He eventually raised the bar to 60 round-trippers in 1927, a record that would stand for 34 years. The Babe’s contribution to baseball was almost as significant as his contribution to the New York Yankees. The new stadium built to house a growing fan base was quickly dubbed “The House That Ruth Built.”
Prior to Ruth wearing pinstripes, the Yankees neverwon a title of any sort. In his 15 years in New York, the Yankees captured seven AL Pennants and four World Series titles. Most baseball historians consider the 1927 Yankees to be the best team in baseball history.
Ruth returned to Boston in 1935 to play his final season with the Braves, hitting six homers to bump his career total to 714. The Bambino held an amazing 56 major league records at the time of his retirement — including most career home runs. In 1936 the newly formed Baseball Hall of Fame elected Babe Ruth as one of its five original inductees. More than 75 years after his retirement, Ruth remains one of baseball’s first and America’s greatest icons.
The complete history of the Babe can be found in the 1962 “Babe Ruth Special” subset, which captures significant moments from his life and career, beginning with “Babe as a Boy” (#135) and ending with “Babe’s Farewell Speech”. The special 10-card subset was issued one year after Roger Maris eclipsed the Babe’s single-season home run record. Most of the cards can be found in good – very good condition for $8-$15.
There are two outs in the bottom of the ninth with the side of righteousness trailing by a run. The Baseball Writers Association of America has one more chance to right one of the biggest wrongs in the Hall of Fame by electing Tim Raines.
Raines has steadily gained support, but is in his 10th and final year of eligibility. In his first five years on the ballot, the former Expos great, was nominated by 22-49% of the voters, with 75% needed for election. Last year he jumped from 55% to 69.8%. This year Raines is looking to become just the fourth player to be elected in his final year of eligibility, joining Red Ruffing (1967), Joe Medwick (1968), Ralph Kiner (1975), and Jim Rice (2009).
Placed in a historical context, Raines’s resume is HOF worthy. He was one of the game’s great leadoff hitters, top base stealers, and — believe it or not — an extra-base-hitting-machine during his 23-year major league career. Raines was often lost in the shadow cast by Rickey Henderson, arguably the greatest leadoff hitter ever. But digging deeper into the numbers, Raines was every bit the player as Henderson and even rivaled the great Ty Cobb, arguably the best hitter in baseball history.
We all know Raines was one of the game’s great base stealers, but his consistency on the base paths was unparalleled. He ranks fifth on the career stolen base list with 808 and is the career leader in stolen base percentage (84.7) among players with 400 attempts. Raines is the only player in baseball history to steal at least 70 bases in seven consecutive seasons (1981-1986). He stole 40 consecutive bases between July 1993 – August 1995, a major league record later broken by Ichiro Suzuki with 45 consecutive swipes.
Like Cobb, Raines will never be considered a home run hitter, but the former speedy outfielder combined extra base hits with stolen bases at an historic rate. He was the only player in baseball
history with at least 100, triples, 150 homers and 600 stolen bases. Raines finished his career with 113 triples and 170 homers.
Raines finished with 2,605 career hits — well below the imaginary 3,000-hit Hall of Fame threshold. But looking deeper, only nine of the 27 players with 3,000 hits can match Raines’s .385 career on-base percentage. Raines reached base more times than three HOFers with 3,000 hits: Tony Gwynn, Lou Brock, and Roberto Clemente as well as the ageless and still playing Ichiro.
Need more convincing? Raines was the only player ever with four seasons of 50-plus extra base hits and 70-plus stolen bases. Henderson and Cobb combined for four such seasons; every other HOFer combined for an additional four.
Raines is seldom mentioned with the all-time greats such as Cobb, but he should be and the evidence is in the numbers: He is the only player in MLB history with five consecutive seasons with at least 30 doubles and 70 stolen bases, which he did from 1982-1986. Before 1982, the last player to record 30 doubles
and 70 stolen bases in a season was Cobb in 1915.
For more head-spinning stats, be sure to check out the Ace of MLB Stats Twitter account. Its creator, Ryan Spaeder, seems to be on a personal crusade to get Raines into the Hall of Fame. Raines did the work and Spaeder has aligned the numbers in convincing fashion.
Just under 70 percent of the HOF electorate voted for Raines last January. He’s on course to receive the 75 percent of the vote needed for enshrinement this year. Raines is looking to become the third player to go into the Hall of Fame as a Montreal Expo, joining Gary Carter and Andre Dawson. Raines won two World Series rings (1996 and 1998) in New York as a role player with the Yankees. Here’s hoping one of baseball’s great injustices is rectified.
The Raines Topps rookie card is one of the top rookies from the 1981 series. Issued just before the mass-produced sets of the ‘80s, the Expos “Future Prospect” card also includes Roberto Ramos and Bobby Pate, two “future stars” that never panned out. Be careful if you’re buying: The “Future Prospect” cards are notorious for having gum-stained backs.
Any comparisons to Babe Ruth are subject to hyperbole, but the recent exploits of 22-year-old Shohei Otani give us reason to believe the Japanese star could be the Major League’s next great two-way ball player.
The recently-named Most Valuable Player of the Pacific League of Nippon Professional Baseball became the first professional league Japanese player to hit 10 or more homers and win 10 or more games as a pitcher in the same season. The only player in major league history to score a double-double was Ruth, who stroked 11 home runs and won 13 games for the 1918 World Series Champion Boston Red Sox.
Otani is coming off one of the greatest seasons in Japanese history, boasting a 10-4 record with a 1.86 ERA. The right-handed flamethrower posted a 0.95 WHIP while averaging 11.2 strikeouts and 2.9 walks per nine innings. Moonlighting as a left-handed-hitting DH, the 6-foot-4 Otani slugged 22 home runs while hitting .322 with a whopping 1.004 OPS in 104 games. After four professional season, Otani is 39-13-2.49 as a pitcher while batting .275 with 40 homers and an .838 OPS.
Pacific Rim scouts have referred to Otani as the “modern-day Babe Ruth”. A top-of-the rotation pitcher and a middle-of-the-order slugger all in one. Otani throws a high-90s fastball that has reportedly topped out at 103 mph. He uses a low-90s forkball to keep hitters off balance. His changeup, which he hasn’t needed to this point, still a work in progress.
With natural power and a keen eye at the plate, Otani projects to be a legitimate major league hitter. Otani played 62 games as a corner outfielder his first two years as a professional. A sprained ankle early in the 2014 season quickly put an end to Otani’s outfield duties. He has been used exclusively as a DH when not pitching over the last two years.
Otani yearns to pitch and hit in the majors, to compete against the best in the world as a pitcher and a hitter. The questions ahead are complicated: How does he walk away from Japan and gain entrance to the majors at such a young age? Is there a major league team that will break the bank to sign Otani and allow him to hit between pitching assignments?
Otani cannot test the free agent waters until accumulating nine seasons in the Nippon Professional
League. However, the Nippon Ham Fighters can — and reportedly will — allow Otani entrance into the majors via the posing system at the conclusion of the 2017 season. The Fighters will surely receive the maximum $20 million posting fee from the major league team that would sign Otani. With revenues on the rise for MLB and free agent contracts spiraling upward — not to mention the mystery surrounding the next potential international star — could mean a long-term contract breaking $200 million for Otani, according to published reports.
Several Major League teams — including the Red Sox, Yankees, and Rangers — expressed interest in Otani four years ago. As a high school two-way player, Otani led his team to the Koshien Championshipship. The Fighters were able to convince Otani that his only chance to excel as a two way player would be in Japan.
A year from now several teams will be will likely be willing to empty the vault for his services. His decision may hinge on which team allows him to pitch and hit on a regular basis. Will an American League team allow Otani to DH or play the outfield two or three times a week? Is he better suited to pitch — and hit for himself — in the National League? Will batting just every fifth day satisfy his appetite? Will pitching every fifth day opposed to every sixth day (as he does in Japan) affect his workload as a pitcher or hitter? Questions that possible suitors and Otani need to answer in what looks to be a fascinating 2017 off season.
Otani is expected to display his baseball skills globally in the World Baseball Classic next spring. Japan manager Hiroki Kokubo is planning to use him as a pitcher, DH, and pinch hitter.
Otani’s first baseball card was an insert in Japan’s Sports Card Magazine #97 released in January 2013. It was a promo card for the 2013 BBM Rookie Edition set. Expect this card and other Otani rookies to gain significant interest during the WBC.
Remember Reggie Jackson’s only uneventful season from the 1970s, the year he he played for the Baltimore Orioles? A lost season for Jackson, completely ignored by Topps … almost!?! Say what? First some background information …
On this day 40 years ago (April 2, 1976), Oakland A’s owner Charlie Finley shocked the baseball world by trading Jackson to the Orioles. Knowing he did not have the money re-sign the pending free agent after the season, Finley sent Jackson and left-handed starter Ken Holtzman to the Orioles for outfielder Don Baylor and right-handed pitchers Mike Torrez and Paul Mitchell. Shocked by the transaction and not thrilled with his salary situation, Jackson refused to report to Baltimore until the Orioles increased his salary from $165,000 to $200,000. As a result of the dispute, Jackson missed the first 16 games of the season.
Seeking the limelight, Jackson did not enjoy his brief time in Baltimore. From 1971-1982, Jackson’s teams made the playoffs 10 of 12 times with one of the exceptions being the year he spent wearing an Orioles uniform and batted .277-27-91.
If you’re using your old baseball card sets to chronicle baseball history, you might think that 1976 was a lost season for Jackson; that his time in Baltimore never actually happened. As soon as Jackson signed with the Yankees prior to the 1977 season, Topps quickly airbrushed the original photo, covering the Orioles home uniform and multi-colored hat with Yankee pinstripes and traditional cap. If you look closely, you will see that the colors are rather dull, not the traditional Yankees colors. The card also pictures the green and gold sleeve of a former A’s teammate over Jackson’s shoulder. Jackson’s first official Yankees card (#10) became a key part of the 1977 Topps set and currently sells for $8 in mint condition.
Jackson never “officially” appeared on an Orioles card, however a few original blank-backed proof cards escaped the Topps shredders and found their way into the marketplace. Because of its scarcity and Jackson’s October heroics, this proof card has become one of hobby’s most sought-after commodities. The proof card does not have a facsimile autograph commonly featured on ’77 Topps cards.
According to published reports, television commentator,/baseball historian/hobbyist Keith Olbermann owns two versions of this almost singular collectible. One is an actual card, the other is part of an uncut proof sheet that he purchased at a 1989 Topps/Guernsey’s auction for an undisclosed price.
Although Jackson played the 1976 season with the Orioles, he is pictured in an Oakland A’s uniform because Topps did not have time to doctor the photo before the series was released. Later that season, Star Co. finally released a card with Jackson wearing an Orioles uniform. Nearly a decade later Upper Deck released the first memorabilia cards sporting Jackson in an Orioles uniform.