- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 1, 2006

There are lots of reasons Barry Bonds will never out-Babe George Herman Ruth. One of my favorites — and one that’s rarely cited — concerns Ruth’s exploits on Sept. 30, 1930.

No, he didn’t set any home run or hot dog-eating records that day. What he did was something even more remarkable, something only the Bambino could do. In the final game of the season, after not pitching for nine years, he strolled to the mound at Fenway Park and went the distance in a 9-3 victory over the Red Sox. He was 35 … but still able to bamboozle big-league hitters.

Let’s see Barry try that — with or without “flaxseed oil.”

Everybody knows about the Babe’s prowess as a hurler — his two 20-win seasons, his .671 winning percentage, his string of 292/3 scoreless innings in the World Series. But far fewer know about his 1930 Return to the Rubber.

Interesting that he chose that particular year to attempt such a comeback — interesting and courageous. After all, it might have been the worst season ever to be a pitcher. Juiced-up baseballs in 1930 — anything to sell tickets during the Depression — produced the National League’s last .400 hitter (the Giants’ Bill Terry), an RBI record that still stands (191 by the Cubs’ Hack Wilson) and nine teams that batted .300.

By the end of September, though, the Yankees had been eliminated from the pennant race and were looking for ways to amuse themselves. So manager Bob Shawkey let Ruth start the season finale — against his old Boston club in his old stadium. To add to the fun, Lou Gehrig insisted on playing left field (figuring, no doubt, that he’d get more action out there than at first base).

He figured wrong. Gehrig caught only two flies all day, and the entire outfield caught just six. The Babe didn’t just keep the ball in the park, he kept it in the infield. In fact, he started two double plays himself — in addition to racking up three strikeouts and walking only two.

The Red Sox didn’t score on him until the sixth inning (and that was with the help of a passed ball). They didn’t get an earned run until the eighth. The Bambino, ever the crafty lefty, “dealt speed and curves in a manner which utterly bewildered the Red Sox until his arm tired in the eighth,” the New York Times reported. “All four hits credited to the Sox in the first six innings were scratches, including one slow infield bounder and three short flies which dropped safe between infielders and outfielders. Until the sixth no Sox reached second base.”

Until the sixth no Sox reached second base. Can you believe this guy?

Naturally, Ruth finished the game. (This is, after all, the 1930s we’re talking about.) Six of the Red Sox’s 11 hits came in the last two innings when, as the AP put it, “Ruth was just lobbing the ball across, coasting home behind a comfortable lead.”

Oh, and when he wasn’t mesmerizing Boston batters, he was hitting two singles and scoring a run. (He’d already locked up his 11th American League home run title with 49, eight more than runner-up Gehrig.)

The Babe took the hill one more time before heading to Cooperstown — three years later, when he was almost at the end. Again, it was the final game of the season. Again, the Yankees were out of contention. Again, the opponent was the Red Sox, the club that had foolishly sold him to New York … and launched the greatest dynasty the game has known.

On this afternoon, Ruth wasn’t quite so impressive. Indeed, he didn’t whiff a single batter. But he held the Sox scoreless for five innings and hung on for a 6-5 complete-game victory, scattering 12 hits (11 of them singles). He also helped himself with a sixth-inning homer, No. 686, which started the three-run rally that ultimately won the game. The biggest assist he got, though, was probably from — in the words of the Times — “Doc Painter’s diligent rubbing between innings.”

The Bambino pitched out of trouble in the eighth, then set the Red Sox down in order in the ninth. The Yankee Stadium crowd exulted when he got the final out, and in the locker room he was “as happy as a schoolboy,” the Times said. But after showering, the adrenaline having subsided, he was feeling considerably more mortal.

“Never again,” he said wearily.

He was right about that. Never again would there be another Babe Ruth.

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