May 6, 1915: Red Sox pitcher Babe Ruth hits first major-league homer
Boston Red Sox pitcher Babe Ruth, later nicknamed the Sultan of Swat, began his home run-hitting career in a game on May 6, 1915, against his future team, the New York Yankees. A crowd of about 5,000 visited the Polo Grounds for an American League matchup between the two rivals. (In the National League on this date, the New York Giants were playing the Boston Braves at k.)
According to the Boston Globe, “[T]he Sox defense wobbled sufficiently to give the Yanks a decided advantage in the early innings.”1 The teams combined for six errors, four of them by the visiting Red Sox at critical times in the game. This would affect the outcome, as the Yankees fought the Red Sox “tooth and nail for thirteen innings.”2
Ruth was making his third pitching start (and fourth appearance) of the season for the Red Sox. In his previous outings, he was 1-0 with a 5.02 earned-run average. He had picked up two hits in seven at-bats, good for a .286 batting average. The New York Times affirmed that “the big left-handed pitcher, Babe Ruth, was all that a pitcher is supposed to be, and some more.”3 The Yankees countered with Jack Warhop, a 5-foot-9-inch right-hander also making his third start. Warhop was 0-2 with a 6.19 ERA in the young season. Through May 5, Boston was in fourth place in the American League. New York was second, two games behind the league-leading Detroit Tigers.
The game moved steadily for the first two frames. In the third inning, “Ruth, who impressed the onlookers as being a hitter of the first rank, swatted a low ball into the upper tier of the right-field grandstand and trotted about the bases to slow music.”4 Boston had the lead and Ruth was pitching through the New York lineup, prompting the Boston Globe writer to say, “This run looked as tall as the Woolworth Building.”5
New York tied the score in the fifth without the help of a base hit. Boston infielders Heinie Wagner and Mike McNally each made a fielding error, and a force out off the bat of Luke Boone brought Doc Cook home with the equalizer. Through seven innings and despite allowing the one run, the 20-year-old Ruth had allowed only one hit, a single by Hugh High in the first inning.
Boston regained the lead in the top of the seventh inning. Bill Carrigan stroked a double to left and came around to score on Wagner’s timely “long single to the same territory.”6 Cook and Boone both singled in the Yankees’ half of the seventh, but Boone overran his base and “was caught by a quick throw from [right fielder] Harry Hooper.”7
In Boston’s next at-bat, Duffy Lewis and Everett Scott each doubled to give the Red Sox a 3-1 edge. Again from the Boston Globe: “The Sox seemed to feel that the victory had been padlocked, but they reckoned without Mr. Unexpected Error.”8 Fritz Maisel singled in the New York eighth. When he attempted to steal second, Boston catcher Carrigan threw the ball into center field, allowing Maisel to advance to third. Maisel then scored when Roy Hartzell grounded out to first. Instead of having a comfortable advantage going into the final frame, the Red Sox had struggled, but, according to the New York Times, “The Bostons looked like sure enough winners up to the ninth inning.”9
However, the lead did not last. The New Yorkers managed to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth. Ruth retired Wally Pipp on a grounder to first, but then he hit Cook with a pitch, and the speedy Cook stole second.10 After Roger Peckinpaugh sent a high fly to Dick Hoblitzell in short right field for the second out,Luke “Daniel Boone set off some fireworks with a two-base shot to centre which scored Doc Cook with the tying run,”11 sending the game into extra innings. It was each team’s first extra-inning affair of the season.
Yankees starter Warhop had been replaced in the top of the ninth by Cy Pieh, a right-handed spitballer. Pieh got through that inning and the 10th without incident, but Boston threatened in the 11th, getting runners on second and third with just one out. Pieh came back and struck out the next two batters. New York put two men on with two outs in the bottom of the 11th, but Ruth pitched his way out of it, retiring Les Nunamaker on a fly ball to right.
At the end of 12 rounds, Ruth was still on the mound. He then “weakened a bit in the 13th, yielding two successive singles, which, with a steal, gave the much coveted run to the Yankees.”12 High started it off for the Yankees with a single and stole second. Ruth struck out Pipp, but then “Cook grounded his single to right and High romped home with the game.”13
For the day, Ruth was 3-for-5 at the plate. He had knocked the first home run of his storied career and raised his batting average to .417. Wagner and Lewis each contributed three hits to Boston’s 12-hit attack. Ruth eventually hit four home runs in 42 games in 1915, and his quartet of over-the-wall hits led the Red Sox.14 The Babe’s .315 batting average for the season was second on the Red Sox only to teammate Tris Speaker (.322), but Ruth’s slugging percentage (.576) and retrospective OPS (.952) led the Boston regular players.15
Despite the loss, Boston went on to win 101 games in 1915, edging out the Tigers for the pennant. The Yankees finished fifth, 32½ games back. In absorbing the loss, Ruth had yielded 10 hits and three walks and struck out three. Pieh picked up his first win of the season. While Ruth was just beginning his amazing career as a pitcher and slugger, Warhop and Pieh were gone from the majors after the 1915 season.
Ruth’s first major-league home run came in his 10th major-league game.16 His next round-tripper came on June 2, in a contest against the Yankees, again at the Polo Grounds, and again off Jack Warhop.17 In that game, he pitched another complete game and earned a 7-1 victory. In fact, Ruth belted three of his four home runs in 1915 against the Yankees. For the season, his pitching record against New York was 4-2, with a 1.91 ERA. In his career with the Red Sox, Ruth hit 12 home runs against the Yankees.
Twenty years after this contest, on May 30, 1935, Ruth played his last game. He had hit 714 regular-season home runs, 659 of them for the Yankees and the last three of them just five days earlier, in Pittsburgh, as a member of the Boston Braves. But his first career homer was against them.
Ruth’s first home run was immortalized in Lee Allen’s The American League Story, from which the following is excerpted:
“Warhop ... ended his days as the caretaker of a Wall Street man’s estate at Islip, Long Island. His employer there was familiar with Jack’s role in the Ruth story. Often, while entertaining friends for cocktails, he would steer the conversation around to Ruth and then say, “Would you like to meet the man off whom Babe hit his first home run?” This question was usually greeted with puzzled assent, and then he would say, “Wait a minute, I'll call him.” Warhop would then be summoned to make the pitch all over again, just as Grover Alexander spent the last twenty-four years of his life striking out Tony Lazzeri.”18
In addition to the sources mentioned in the notes, the author consulted baseball-reference.com, mlb.com, and retrosheet.org. Special thanks for Jack Zerby and Greg Erion for supplying valuable additions to this summary.
1 “Red Sox Lose to Yanks in 13th,” Boston Globe, May 7, 1915: 9.
2 “New York Clubs Defeat Boston’s Two Teams: High and Cook Spill Red Sox in 13th,” New York Times, May 7, 1915: 11.
4 “Red Sox Lose,” Boston Globe.
9 “New York Clubs,” New York Times.
10 Cook stole 29 bases in 1915, second on the Yankees behind Maisel’s 51 swipes.
11 “New York Clubs,” New York Times.
12 “Red Sox Lose,” Boston Globe.
13 “New York Clubs,” New York Times.
14 Ruth hit four home runs in 1915 on a Boston squad that produced a grand total of 14 homers.
16 Ruth debuted on July 11, 1914, and he played in 5 games, all as a pitcher, that season. This May 6, 1915, game was his 5th game of the 1915 season (the 10th game of his career)
17 “Left-Hander Ruth Puzzles Yankees,” New York Times, June 3, 1915: 9.
18 Lee Allen,“The American League Story,” Hill & Wang: New York, 1962: 105-106. Thanks to Greg Erion.