October 12, 2018

Q: "Did Babe Ruth Ever Bat Right-Handed?"

Tom Shieber, Baseball Researcher, October 12, 2018:
There have long been rumors that Babe Ruth, one of the greatest left-handed batters of all time, sometimes batted right-handed. Are those stories true? Let's take a look at the various claims. ...

Spring Training of 1918

In his book "Babe Ruth and the 1918 Red Sox," author Allan Wood states that Ruth batted right-handed against noted southpaw Rube Marquard during a 1918 spring training game between the Red Sox and the Brooklyn Dodgers in Dallas. I contacted Allan and he generously tracked down his research notes which revealed that, according to the Boston Herald-Journal of April 3, 1918, Ruth batted right-handed in his second of three at bats that day.

I researched this story further and found in numerous contemporaneous sources that Ruth did indeed face Marquard in his first two at bats that day, striking out on both occasions. Furthermore, in the Boston Globe of April 3, 1918, sportswriter Edward Martin reported that "Ruth was not very much in the limelight today, whiffing three times, batting left-handed the second time he took the ozone route."

Besides the fact that the phrase "took the ozone route" is now officially my favorite euphemism for striking out, Martin's sentence left me a bit confused. Why call out that Ruth batted left-handed his second time up when he was a natural left-handed batter? Indeed, this implies Ruth batted right-handed in his first and third at bats. But if that were the case, it would make more sense to call out Ruth's right-handed bats: Ruth ... "batting right-handed the first and third times he took the ozone route." No, I find it much more likely that Martin made a simple mistake and accidentally wrote "left-handed" when he actually meant "right-handed."

Conclusion: Likely true. Though I'd prefer to have another independent source confirm this claim, I'm inclined to believe that in this spring training game, Ruth did indeed bat right-handed once.
First of all, you should lose yourself in Shieber's blog at your earliest convenience. It's endlessly fascinating, well-written, and exhaustively researched. (Three examples: here and here and here.)

I was somewhat surprised that I did not have a printout of at least some of the game story, but I don't think the Boston Herald-Journal (or the other Boston papers) ran box scores of spring training games. And despite the novelty of Ruth batting right-handed, I only took notes from the microfilm rather than transcribe the actual wording from the game story, since there would not be a lot of time spent recounting spring training games in the book.

Perhaps someone with access to the BHJ microfilm could grab a shot of the April 3, 1918 paragraph that includes the mention of a right-handed Colossus taking "the ozone route". Also: I need to see if I took notes from the Brooklyn Eagle, but I'm skeptical that the Eagle reporter would have spent much time discussing the Red Sox.

Finally, Edward Martin may have dictated his story over the "long-distance telephone" (making a non-local call was still a novelty in those days). If so, that would have introduced another ripe opportunity for the miscommunication Shieber mentions.

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