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The hot debate among baseball fans in 1918: Where should Ruth play?

On May 20, 1918, the San Luis Obispo Daily Telegram carried an article debating whether George “Babe” Ruth should be a pitcher or everyday player.
On May 20, 1918, the San Luis Obispo Daily Telegram carried an article debating whether George “Babe” Ruth should be a pitcher or everyday player.

Every baseball manager would like to have Ed Barrow’s problem.

He had a player named George who was a great pitcher.

In 1916, George had pitched a complete 14-inning game in the World Series to help his Red Sox defeat the Brooklyn Robins. The Red Sox won the series that year four games to one.

Of course George Herman Ruth was better known as Babe.

San Luis Obispo Daily Telegram, June 24, 1916: “Babe Ruth of the Red Sox has a wicked way of feeding baseballs to the right field bleacherites. Wonder if he knows those pills cost $1.25 per.”

By 1918, the pitcher was hitting so well that his manager was toying with playing him every day.

Barrow wouldn’t have that problem today. Thanks to the ill-conceived designated-hitter rule, Babe Ruth would have never developed from premier pitcher to the hitter that all all-star hitters are compared to.

This is from a syndicated column by Paul Purman, published May 20, 1918, in the San Luis Obispo Daily Telegram:

PITCHER? Where should Ruth Play? FIRST BASE

A few days ago Babe Ruth was stationed at first base for the Boston Red Sox in the absence of Dick Hoblitzel, the regular first sacker.

Babe played errorless ball on the bag, covered fully as much ground as Hoblitzel can cover and batted for .800.

The next day Babe took his regular turn in the box, pitched fair ball and in five trips to the plate made three doubles, a single and a triple.

The question has arisen in Boston whether Ruth should not be definitely transferred to the initial sack so the club can benefit from his batting in a large percentage of games instead of only the few he is called into as a pitcher or pinch hitter.

The argument in favor of this is that Ruth, hitting every day, probably would improve his batting and become one of the greatest swatsmen of the league.

The argument against it is that Ruth is capable of winning from 20 to 30 games a season and the club cannot afford to take him from the box. These two arguments are giving manager Ed Barrow a lot of worry right now.

There is one precedent in the league to go by. When George Sisler came to the Browns three seasons ago, he had the earmarks of a wonderful southpaw pitcher. He could also play the outfield in approved style and showed signs of being a wonder on the first sack.

The argument in favor of this is that Ruth, hitting every day, probably would improve his batting and become one of the greatest swatsmen of the league.

Paul Purman in the San Luis Obispo Daily Telegram on May 20, 1918

The Browns were not particularly loaded with high-class pitching that year and Sisler was used on the slab in several games. But when Fielder Jones took charge of the club, he looked Sisler over and decided it would be folly to waste Sisler’s fielding, batting and base-running ability, regardless of how great a pitcher he might be. Sisler was sent to first, where he has since remained.

It was Fielder Jones who recently declared that Ruth is the greatest of modern batters. Jones believes Ruth should be used on first base, where his tremendous clouting will benefit the club every day.

Ruth is undoubtedly a natural hitter. He swings on the ball somewhat after the fashion of Sam Crawford in Sam’s palmiest days.

There’s probably no batter in either league who takes a harder, cleaner drive at the ball. An idea of his tremendous hitting power is seen in his batting in the first 11 games he appeared in this year. He was at bat 32 times and connected safely 16 times for an average of .500. Of this 16 hits, 10 were for extra bases, including six doubles, one triple and three home runs, 27 total bases in 32 times at bat.

Ruth may be more valuable to his club as a pitcher, but there are a lot of managers around the major leagues who would enjoy having the benefit of his war club every day.

David Middlecamp is a photographer for The Tribune. 805-781-7942, dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com, @DavidMiddlecamp

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