Babe Ruth Made His Professional Debut Against the Bisons

February 28, 2016

Part one of a three part series about Babe Ruth pitching against the Bisons.

Babe Ruth with the 1914 Baltimore Orioles. Public Domain.

 

In 1914, the Bisons faced a 19 year old left handed pitcher who went on to become the greatest slugger the game had ever known, George Herman “Babe” Ruth. The Babe had recently been plucked off the amateur fields of Baltimore by Orioles owner and manager Jack Dunn. Ruth had a successful pre-season and even pitched against major league teams including the Philadelphia Athletics and New York Giants, and was now ready to make his regular season professional debut in the second game of the season against the International League’s Buffalo Bisons in Baltimore. 

 

The Orioles defeated the Bisons 7-0 in the season opener, behind the pitching of left-hander Dave Danforth who allowed only four hits in a complete game shutout. The game was played in front of “the smallest crowd that ever witnessed an opening game in Baltimore”.[1] The small crowd was due in part to poor weather and a soggy field. However, the main reason for the low attendance was that Baltimore, like Buffalo, had a new Federal League baseball franchise. The Federal League’s Baltimore Terrapins played directly across the street from the Orioles. Many Baltimore fans felt snubbed when the Orioles were dropped from the American League after the 1902 season, thus dropping the city from the major leagues. The new Federal League appealed to many fans, because it dubbed itself as a third major league, and brought the city of Baltimore back into the majors.[2] On opening day, the Orioles drew only 1,200 spectators, while the new Federal League’s Terrapins drew about three times that number playing across the street. These attendance problems would persist throughout the season and would eventually cause the Orioles to begin selling off players, including Babe Ruth to the Boston Red Sox.

 

The 1914 Baltimore Orioles. Babe Ruth is on the far right. Public Domain.

 

Another interesting subplot leading up to Ruth’s debut against the Bisons, was that after the season opening game, Buffalo traded second baseman Frankie Trusedale, who batted.316 in 1913 for the Bisons, to the New York Yankees for outfielder Frank Gilhooley . Besides the fact that the speedy “Flash” Gilhooley was a solid player who had starred in the International League for Montreal the year before, the move was made to give Buffalo utility man Joe McCarthy regular playing time at second base. McCarthy had starred on the

playing field for Niagara University and would go on to have a solid couple of years in Buffalo, batting .266 over two seasons. McCarthy would, of course, go on to become Ruth’s manager for the Yankees, manage seven World Series Champions, have the highest winning percentage of any major league manager ever, and enter the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1957. The Bisons also acquired outfielder Les Channell from the Yankees.

 

Bisons manager “Derby Day Bill” Clymer promised that the 7-0 loss in the first game of the season had been “Just a little hospitality on our part for the home folks,” and that the second game of the season would be a different story.[3] While Clymer was starting 37 year old veteran hurler George McConnell in the second game, Baltimore manager Jack Dunn was countering with 19 year old rookie Babe Ruth. As the Buffalo Evening News noted, “While the youngster (Ruth) has still considerable to learn of the art of pitching, Dunnie has sufficient confidence to start him this early in the championship season.”[4]

 

The Bisons threatened early in the game, but were unable to get a run across against Ruth. With one out in the top of the first inning, Joe McCarthy walked and went to second on a wild pitch. After Jimmy Murray flew out to centerfield, Ruth and first baseman Gus Gleischmann got mixed up on a pop up, allowing the ball to drop, and Ben Hauser reached first, while McCarthy advanced to third. Hauser stole second base and Ruth hit George Jackson to load the bases. Bisons captain Roxey Roach came to the plate with two outs and the bases loaded, and hit a hard grounder that looked like it was going to go through the right side, but a sensational play by second baseman Neal Ball going to his left behind first base ended the inning. The Buffalo Commercial Advertiser said that “After that the Bisons ate lamblike from Ruth’s hand.”[5]

 

Baltimore got on the board quickly, scoring three in the first to take a 3-0 lead. The Bisons threatened again in the second, getting two men on, with a bloop single and a walk. However, Ruth induced Joe McCarthy to ground out to the second baseman Neal Ball to end the inning. The Orioles tacked on three more in the second to take a 6-0 lead.

 

 

In the top of the fourth, Buffalo's Roxey Roach hit a leadoff double. At this point, Ruth settled in and struck out Del Paddock. First baseman Gus Gleischmann fielded a shot hit by Paul Kritchell for the second out, advancing Roach to third. But, Ruth struck out George McConnell to end the inning and keep the score 6-0.

 

Buffalo again loaded the bases off Ruth in the fifth. Leadoff hitter Bobby Vaughn singled to left, followed by a Joe McCarthy fly-out to right, a walk to Jimmy Murray, a groundout to Ruth by Ben Hauser, and another walk to George Jackson. Buffalo captain Roxey Roach came to the plate with the bases loaded and a chance to get the Bisons on the board, just as he had in the first inning when he was robbed of a hit. This time Roach hit a fielder’s choice to shortstop Claud Derrick, and Ruth kept the shutout intact.

 

The Bisons came close to scoring in the ninth inning when centerfielder Del Paddock hit a drive off the top of the left field fence, but a good play by Baltimore left fielder George Twombly held Paddock to a single, and he failed to come around to score.

 

Babe Ruth had thrown a shutout in his first regular season professional game. His final line was nine innings pitched, with no runs on six hits, three walks and four strikeouts. The Buffalo Courier said “Ruth was unbeatable, he allowed only six hits and pitched better ball with men on base.”[6] He also got his first professional regular season hits with two singles in four plate appearances. This amazing debut was viewed by somewhere between 100 to 300 fans depending on which newspaper report is to be believed. The Federal League Terrapins were once again playing across the street, and they drew between 3,000 to 4,000 fans.

 

After the game, the Bisons made another transaction. Buffalo sold right fielder Jimmy Murray to the Boston Braves to make room for newly acquired outfielder Frank Gilhooly. Murray had been with the Bisons for three full seasons, batting .328 in 1911, .311 in 1912, and .300 in 1913. The move not only made room for Gilhooly, but also allowed Joe McCarthy, who was 0-4 with a walk against Ruth, to continue playing regularly.

 The next day, Ruth got in as a pinch hitter against the Bisons. After Gus Gleischmann singled, the future “Sultan of Swat” came in to pinch hit for pitcher Frank Jarman, to face Bison pitcher Fred Beebe. The Babe promptly ripped a ball deep to centerfield. As Gleischmann circled the bases and scored, Ruth ended up at third, with his first triple, and first run batted in. When Bert Daniels grounded out to short, Ruth scored his first professional run. The Buffalo Commercial Advertiser stated that “This young Ruth seems to be some batter as well as pitcher. He was put in as a pinch hitter at this stage and got a corking three-sacker.” Despite Ruth’s heroics, the Bisons won the game 5-3, as Buffalo starter Fred Beebe scattered seven hits for the win. Unfortunately for the Orioles, the Buffalo Express reported that “Less than a hundred fans saw the game. So far the local Feds have had all the better of the battle of the turnstiles.”[7] Across the street the Baltimore Terrapins were beating the Buffalo Federal League team, the Buffalo Blues, by a score of 4-3 in front of about 3,000 fans.

 

To Be Continued: Part 2 of 3 That Time Babe Ruth Pitched Against the Bisons in Their Home Opener, Part 3 of 3 That Time the Bisons beat Babe Ruth.

 

[1] “Jack Dunn’s Orioles Grabbed Off Opener,” Buffalo Enquirer, April 22, 1914.

[2] Leigh Montville, “The Big Bam, The Life and Times of Babe Ruth,” Anchor Books: NY, 2006.

[3] “Bisons Blanked in Their Opening Game,” Buffalo Evening News, April 22, 1914.

[4] Ibid.

[5] “M’Connell Was Wild,” Buffalo Commercial Advertiser, April 23, 1914.

[6] “Orioles’ Back-Lot Pitcher Proves Too Good for Herd,” Buffalo Courier, April 23, 1914.

[7] “Not Turning Out in Heaps,” Buffalo Express, April 23, 1914.

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