April 30, 2021

Further To Ohtani-Ruth Factoid

Update Below!

On April 26, it was reported that Shohei Ohtani of the Angels was the first player to start a game as a pitcher while also leading the major leagues in home runs since Babe Ruth did it on June 13, 1921.

I saw something yesterday that implied this might not be completely accurate, so I checked it out. After June 1921, Ruth pitched in three more games for the Yankees: two starts and one relief stint.

October 1, 1921: Ruth pitched four innings of relief in the second game of a doubleheader, the penultimate game of the season. He took the mound for the top of the eighth with a 6-0 lead, but before he could get two outs, he had allowed six hits, two walks, and six runs. Yet he stayed in the game (?) and was awarded the win when New York walked off 7-6 in 11 innings. (I suppose his bat was too valuable to take out of a close (and then tied) game.) At the time, Ruth led the major leagues with 58 home runs. He hit his 59th the next day, and ended up out-homering five of the other seven AL teams. (Bob Meusel and Ken Williams tied for second in the AL, with 24 homers. High Pockets Kelly led the NL with 23.)

September 28, 1930: In the final game of the season, Ruth pitched a complete game (9-11-3-2-3) against the Red Sox at Fenway Park, a 9-3 win. Ruth led the AL with 49 home runs, but Hack Wilson had 56 in the NL (and 191 RBI).

October 1, 1933: Another complete game for Ruth (9-12-5-3-0), again in the final game of the season, and again against the Red Sox, but at Yankee Stadium. New York won 6-5. Ruth came into the game with 33 home runs and he hit #34 in this game. However, Jimmie Foxx of the Athletics led the league (and MLB) with 48.

So the original factoid is correct. 

This is also correct: Ohtani became the first American League player to start a game on the mound while leading the league in home runs since Ruth (September 28, 1930).

. . .

Unless . . . 

Perhaps some AL hitter between 1922 and 2020 happened to be leading the league in homers when he made a brief cameo on the mound in a blowout. That's certainly possible, though teams likely shied away from putting one of their best hitters on the mound for any reason. (If anyone wants to research that, be my guest!)

P.S.: Ted Williams pitched two innings on August 24, 1940. He had 18 home runs. His teammate, the aforementioned Mr. Foxx, had 33 at the time.

Update: A SABR-L post: "When Jimmie Foxx took the mound in August 6, 1939 he was leading the American League with 27 home runs."

1 comment:

Jere said...

In game one of a doubleheader on August 6th, 1939, the Red Sox were losing 10-1 to the Tigers at Fenway Park heading to the 9th. They brought in Jimmie Foxx to pitch. Foxx was a runaway leader in the major league home run race going into that day with 27 dongs. (He would win the HR crown with 35 that year, despite ending his season on September 8th due to getting an appendectomy.) He retired all three men he faced in the inning, including Pete Fox.

Foxx only pitched in one other year, his final season of 1945, when he got into nine games, including a 6+ inning start. He only had 4 home runs at the time of his first pitching appearance in July and finished with 7, so no league-leading there.