Dale Long was born in Springfield, Missouri on February 6, 1926 and then moved to Massachusetts as a young boy. A multi-talented athlete as a youngster, he starred in semi-pro football and turned down an opportunity to sign with the Green Bay Packers to give a career in baseball a shot. That career started in 1944, when Long joined the Milwaukee Brewers, then a non-affiliated double A franchise in the American Association being managed at the time by Casey Stengel. During the next ten seasons, Long spent time with fourteen different minor league ball clubs in the organizations of five different Major League teams. In 1951, he made his big league debut as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates, where GM Branch Rickey was determined to convert Long into a left-handed catcher. That experiment lasted two pitches. He ended up on waivers that year and spent four more seasons trying to get back to the big dance.
His second chance came in 1955, again with the Pirates. This time Long was ready. He averaged .291 with 16 home runs, 79 RBIs and led all of baseball with his 13 triples. The following year, Long swung his way into baseball history when he hit home runs in eight consecutive games. That stretch of power made him a national celebrity and his 27 home runs and 91 RBIs that season made him a National League All Star.
After a slow start in 1957, Long was traded to the Cubs and after three seasons in the Windy City, he was sold to the Giants just as the 1960 regular season was beginning. In August of that year, Yankee GM George Weiss was looking for some left-handed power to add to Casey Stengel’s bench and he purchased Long from San Francisco. At the time the deal was made, the big guy was hitting just .167 but when he got to the Bronx, he went on a tear. He hit a robust .366 in his 46 at bats with New York that year and made the Yankees’ postseason roster, getting a hit in three pinch-hitting appearances against his former Pirate teammates in the 1960 World Series.
Long was a left-handed pull hitter who’s stroke was perfect for reaching the short porch down the old Yankee Stadium’s right field line. New York really loved having him as a pinch hitter but they had too many other stars and prospects in their employ to protect Long during the 1960 AL Expansion Draft. Sure enough, the Senators selected the veteran slugger with the 28th pick and he became the new Washington franchise’s first starting first baseman during their inaugural 1961 season. In July of 1962, the Yankees were once again in need of a left-handed pinch hitter and they offered the Senators a very good right-hand-hitting outfielder prospect from their farm system by the name of Don Lock in exchange for Long. Washington jumped at the offer and Lock became their team’s starting center fielder for the next half-decade. Long again came through in his role as a Yankee pinch-hitter and Moose Skowren’s back-up at first base. In 41 games he averaged .298 with 4 home runs and 17 RBIs. He again got to play in a World Series and this time won his first and only ring when the Yankees defeated the Giants in the 1962 Fall Classic.
By the time the 1963 season rolled around, Long had reached 37 years of age and his bat and his body were slowing down. He was hitting just .200 that August, when the Yankees released him and his big league career was over. Years later, Long became a sports announcer for a local television station in my viewing area. He died in 1991, a victim of a heart attack at the age of 64.
|PIT (4 yrs)||296||1100||970||124||264||40||20||44||176||1||106||170||.272||.339||.491||.830|
|CHC (3 yrs)||375||1342||1173||157||321||55||7||55||174||3||149||180||.274||.354||.473||.827|
|NYY (3 yrs)||81||175||150||19||46||7||1||7||27||1||24||18||.307||.398||.507||.904|
|WSA (2 yrs)||190||636||568||69||140||28||4||21||73||5||57||63||.246||.313||.421||.734|
|SFG (1 yr)||37||61||54||4||9||0||0||3||6||0||7||7||.167||.262||.333||.596|
|SLB (1 yr)||34||116||105||11||25||5||1||2||11||0||10||22||.238||.310||.362||.672|
I like to refer to February 6th as “Yankee Christmas.” Because on this date in 1895 in the not-so-little town of Baltimore, the New York Yankees all-time greatest player and the savior of Major League Baseball was born. Ruth’s life story has been told in scores of biographies and several times on the big screen. He was such a bad kid, his bar-owning father gave up custody of his only son to a Catholic reform school for boys when Ruth was just seven years old. That horrible parental decision turned out to be the biggest break in Ruth’s life when a Brother at the school taught young George Herman how to play baseball.
By 1911, he was playing minor league ball for the Baltimore Orioles and in 1914, his contract was sold to the Boston Red Sox where he quickly became one of the American League’s star lefthanded pitchers. But disaster was brewing for the national past time. The 1919 Black Sox scandal threatened to destroy the public’s interest in the game. The sale of Ruth to the New York Yankees, his conversion to an everyday player and the profound ongoing success the Bambino had with his bat not only brought back the sport’s disgruntled fans, it helped bring millions of new fans to the game as well. First, Ruth and the Yankees replaced the Giants as the most popular baseball team in New York City. Then, as the roaring twenties unfolded, Ruth’s prodigious slugging and his team’s consistent winning turned the Yankees into the most popular and successful sports franchise in the country if not the world.
The thing that always convinced me that Ruth truly was the greatest all around hitter in the history of the game was how much better he performed than his peers. In 1920, his first season with New York, Ruth hit 54 home runs. There was only one other entire team in baseball that hit more round trippers that year than Ruth hit himself. The National League’s Philadelphia Phillies managed to hit 64 home runs as a team. Let’s do a little bit of statistical comparison to put what Babe Ruth did over nine decades ago in today’s terms.
In 2011, the Texas Rangers finished second in Major League Baseball in home runs, with 210. (By the way, the Yankees led all of baseball in home runs last year with 222.) To match what Ruth did in 1920, which was hit 84% as many home runs as the team that finished second in the entire league in that category, the 2011 Major League home run champion would have had to hit 176 home runs. Jose Bautista led the league in 2011 with 43.
Though he was close to perfect on a baseball field, he had lots of behavioral problems off of it. His appetites for booze, food, gambling and women were as prodigious as the power of his swing. He was completely self-centered and often and unbelievably played years with teammates without even bothering to learn their names. He lacked manners, morals and memory. But boy could he hit a baseball.
Ruth injected no steroids in his butt. He swung no corked bats. The baseballs he hit over walls were not nearly as live as those in use today. Oh yeah, almost forgot, in 1920, when he hit those 54 home runs, Ruth’s batting average was .376. His lifetime batting average of .342 was ninth best of all time and he is at the top of the career list in Slugging, Wins Above Replacement (WAR) and OPS. If he remained a pitcher for sixteen big league seasons and won at the same pace he established when pitching regularly for the Red Sox at the beginning of his career, he’d have been a 300 game winner. His lifetime ERA on the mound was 2.28. He really was “The God of Baseball.”
Ruth’s hitting stats:
|NYY (15 yrs)||2084||9198||7217||1959||2518||424||106||659||1978||110||1852||1122||.349||.484||.711||1.195|
|BOS (6 yrs)||391||1332||1110||202||342||82||30||49||230||13||190||184||.308||.413||.568||.981|
|BSN (1 yr)||28||92||72||13||13||0||0||6||12||0||20||24||.181||.359||.431||.789|
Ruth’s pitching stats:
|BOS (6 yrs)||89||46||.659||2.19||158||143||11||105||17||4||1190.1||934||378||290||9||425||483||1.142|
|NYY (4 yrs)||5||0||1.000||5.52||5||4||1||2||0||0||31.0||40||22||19||1||16||5||1.806|