When Babe Ruth started playing professional baseball, he was really a great pitcher. He was also a great hitter, and the Boston Red Sox had Ruth playing outfield to hit on the days he wasn’t pitching. There were some years his home run count exceeded the league and entire teams, and his presence changed baseball. His 714 career home run record was ultimately broken by Hank Aaron about 40 years later and Aaron ended up with 755 career home runs.
There is at least one issue comparing Ruth and Aaron, and any home run hitter since — Babe Ruth’s quality of the 714 home runs simply cannot be challenged after you break down the direct stats and metrics.
BABE CHANGED BASEBALL FOREVER
Babe Ruth helped to end the “Dead Ball Era” and changed the mechanics of baseball entirely. After he began belting home runs, the rest of baseball started to hit more homers. Pitchers also rarely had seasons with 30 wins after Ruth’s dominance took over the game. Ask yourself if a crowd prefers to see a game loaded with home runs or if they prefer strikeouts.
Did Hank Aaron pitch? Babe Ruth also won a reported 87 games as a pitcher and had only a 2.16 earned run average from 1915 to 1919. He even won three World Series games and set a record of 29 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings for that.
It has never been common for players to be great pitchers who would have made the Hall of Fame as a pitcher and who also would have made it to the Hall of Fame as a batter. Now you know why Shohei Ohtani has become such a huge hit in America.
BABE’s KEY MILESTONES
Babe Ruth is one of the greatest hitters of all-time. He is also one of the most widely recognized heroes of all-time in all sports. So what is this issue about him no longer being the home run king? Records are meant to be broken, but the quality of these records needs at least some clarification. Only Ted Williams has ever come close to breaking Ruth’s .690 all-time high career slugging percentage.
Here are some other yearly milestones by Ruth:
- Ruth managed to hit 29 home runs in 1919, breaking the former record of 27 homers by Ned Williamson back in 1884.
- Ruth’s contract sale to the Yankees in 1920 for a sum of $125,000 (along with a personal loan to the Red Sox owner) led to “The Curse of the Bambino” where Boston went for decades without winning a World Series.
- His first Yankees season of 1920 for the Yankees was led by 54 homers from Babe alone as a full-time outfielder.
- In 1921, Ruth outdid his record again with 59 homers.
- After Babe’s homer count fell to 35 in 1923, the magnificent new Yankee Stadium led Ruth to hit 41 homers. This helped lead to the baseball field’s nickname of “The House That Ruth Built.”
- As Ruth’s salary jumped to $70,000 in 1927, that same year he slammed his enduring 60 home run record of that era.
According to the SABR site, Babe Ruth was the sole highest-paid baseball star for 13 consecutive years and that is another MLB record that has never been broken.
Ruth’s 60 home runs in a year was ultimately broken by Roger Maris, but Maris’ 61 home run record at the time was given an asterisk (*) in the books because it was a longer baseball season. Ruth played in a 154-game season versus the 162-game season in 1961 for Maris.
HANK vs. BABE IN STATS
Hank Aaron’s 715th home run and the subsequent years’ home runs were in a longer career span and in more games per season for over half of Aaron’s career. Many other of Aaron’s batting metrics just do not stack up against Ruth. Hank Aaron led the league in homers in 4 different seasons, but he never belted 50 homers in a single season. What he did consistently for 17 seasons (1957-73) in a row was hit well over 30 and 40 homers, with only 2 seasons under 30 homers.
Babe’s 714 home run record was broken in 1974 by Hank Aaron, after Aaron ended the 1973 season “one-shy” with 713 homers.
Babe outpaced Hank on many metrics and he did it in far fewer games. These are just some of the key stats that make Babe Ruth stand out so much more than Hank Aaron’s record of 755 home runs:
Total Games — Ruth 2,503 vs. Aaron 3,298
At Bats — Ruth 8,399 vs. Aaron 12,365
Plate Appearances — Ruth 10,623 vs. Aaron 13,941
Batting Average — Ruth .342 vs Aaron .305
Runs — Ruth and Aaron tied at 2,174
Runs Batted In — Ruth 2,214 vs. Aaron 2,297
Walks — Ruth 2,062 vs. Aaron 1,402
Strike Outs — Ruth 1,330 vs. Aaron 1,383
Slugging Percentage — Ruth 0.690 vs Aaron 0.555
WHERE AARON STANDS ABOVE
Hank Aaron did tie Ruth for runs and he exceeded Ruth in RBIs. Again, he had more games for the runs. On beating Ruth in RBIs, Aaron ended the 1973 season 2,133 RBIs versus the 2,214 over Ruth’s career. The back of the 1974 Topps Hank Aaron #1 as the “New All-Time Home Run King” shows many of the key differences comparing the quality of Hank Aaron’s record versus Ruth’s career.
Where Hank Aaron does stand out is in the total number of hits. Hank has 3,771 hits and even at the end of 1973 season (his 20th season) he still had 3,509 hits before breaking Babe Ruth’s home run record in 1974. Babe Ruth ended his career with 2,873 hits after 22 seasons. That said, Ruth’s first real season hitting was just 95 games in 1918 — with his prior 4 seasons totaling just 156 games, 108 hits and only 9 homers. So does this really add up in Hank’s favor or does it make Ruth stand out even more?
WHAT ABOUT END OF CAREER WOES?
Where Aaron and Ruth diverge is in the final years of their career. Aaron managed to play 2 more seasons batting for Milwaukee after breaking the home run record with the Atlanta Braves. Ruth’s end of career was plagued with unsuccessful efforts to get into managing, ultimately ending in embarrassment with the Boston Braves in 1935. Aaron had a clean image during and after his career, and Ruth’s post-career was effectively kept outside of baseball.
Hank Aaron ended his career after 23 seasons and he only played in less than 100 games in the final 1976 season at age 42. In his last two years Aaron hit just 22 combined homers. His last two years also had just 171 combined hits and his batting average dipped to career-lows of .234 (1975) and .229 (1976). Aaron had 95 RBIs in his last two years combined.
Babe Ruth’s career ended after 22 years at the age of 40 in 1935. With only 28 games in his final season, Ruth’s last two years had 28 homers (just 6 in the last). His last two years combined had 118 hits (just 13 in the last). His batting average dipped to .288 in the second to last and went to .181 in that miserable last season. Ruth still managed 96 RBIs his last two years, despite only 12 his final season.
VINTAGE CARD COMPARISONS
Most vintage baseball collectors want a piece of Babe Ruth in their collection. And as collectibles have matured into an alternative asset class, investors have also helped push the demand and price of Babe Ruth cards and memorabilia higher and higher over time. Prices for Babe Ruth cards, signed balls, signed checks, other autographs, and other memorabilia have risen handily over time. Collectors and investors who purchased Babe Ruth cards and autographs prior to 2021 should all feel very happy that they own a piece of The Babe.
Babe Ruth cards can routinely cost $10,000 and go on up. In fact, some of the world’s highest priced cards are from Babe Ruth sales. Only the 1954 Topps Hank Aaron rookie would qualify in the highest price cards in almost every auction.
Most vintage collectors also want a piece of Hank Aaron in their collection. A key difference versus Ruth’s cards is that Aaron’s cards are just not so expensive outside of his 1954 Topps rookie card and outside of his later years in the highest grades. Another issue that remains puzzling to at least some collectors is that that Hank Aaron’s cards generally trade at a significant discount each year versus Mantle, and Aaron’s cards frequently sell at a discount versus Willie Mays.