View From Lodi, CA: No Matter How Many Home Runs Bonds Hits, He'll Never Eclipse The Babe
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Any day now San Francisco Giant outfielder Barry Bonds will pass the immortal Babe Ruth's 714-career home run mark.

But even if Bonds hits 1,000 home runs, he'll never eclipse the great Ruth in the minds of amateur baseball historians like me.

One of my favorite Ruth stories is a relatively unknown one. Many casual fans know that Ruth was an outstanding pitcher early in his career. Few, however, know that his during his days as a Boston Red Sox, Ruth was one of the league's dominating pitchers.

Between 1915-1917 Ruth averaged over 20 wins, had an earned run average of under 2.00 and a batting average against of .200 Those are better numbers than the era's other great pitcher, Walter Johnson.

One of the grandest moments for Ruth was not his 60th home run in 1927 or his highly debated called shot against the Chicago Cubs' Charley Root in the 1932 World Series or his three home run performance in the cavernous Forbes Field as a washed up Boston Brave against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

What Ruth treasured the most was his final pitching victory in 1933 that capped his 20th season.

Ruth, who had pitched only once in the last twelve years, trained hard to get his 39-year-old arm in shape. He wanted to go out in a blaze of glory. His days as a Yankee, Ruth knew, were numbered.

Locked in a bitter dispute with the front office—his salary had been cut from $100,000 to $25,000—and despised by field manager Joe McCarthy, Ruth would be dumped off to the hapless Braves at the end of the year.

But he took to the mound one more time to end his majestic Yankee career.

The October 1st game against the Red Sox was ballyhooed for weeks.

Twenty-five thousand people turned out on a day filled with warmth and good will. Ruth brought the crowd to its feet when he won the pre-game fungo-hitting contest. The fans were determined to cheer Ruth on.

Sportswriter Heywood Hale Broun, one of those present, recalled how the game began.

"When Ruth walked to the mound, our hopes flickered. This was no longer the lean left-hander who had set pitching records in the World Series during his Boston days. The once-magic arm looked like a rope dangling from a barrel and its resemblance to a rather frayed rope became apparent as the old barrel tossed up soft stuff that the Red Sox belted to all fields."

Still, for five innings, the Red Sox were unable to push across a run while the Yankees, led by the Babe's 34th home run, jumped out to a 6-0 lead.

Ruth's dedicated and fearless teammates played a prominent role. An outstanding supporting cast including six future Hall of Famers—catcher Bill Dickey, first baseman Lou Gehrig, second baseman Tony Lazzari, shortstop Frankie Crosetti (from Stockton), third baseman Joe Sewell and outfielder Earle Combs—surrounded Ruth.

Meanwhile Ruth huffed and puffed, trying to hang on. Between innings, a trainer worked on Ruth's arm as if he could rub away twenty years of wear and tear.

In the sixth, the Red Sox pecked away for five singles for four runs. But Ruth held them and, after giving up one more run in the eighth, walked off with a complete game 6-5 win.

Ruth's line for the afternoon: 9 innings pitched, five earned runs, no strikeouts and three walks.

Outside Yankee Stadium, thousands waited. When Ruth emerged in his yellow camel- hair coat and cap, they erupted into non-stop cheering.

Using his right hand because his left was too stiff to lift, Ruth tipped his cap and disappeared into his car.

As the Lincoln vanished toward the Manhattan skyline, Ruth left behind a tiny plume of cigar smoke and two decades of priceless memories.

Joe Guzzardi [email him], an instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.

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