Babe Ruth appeared in 171 games at the ballpark that became known as Griffith Stadium, including his last two in a Yankees’ uniform – September 29 and 30, 1934. His homer in the first game of a doubleheader on September 29, a three-run shot, was the last he hit as a Yankee.
Ruth hit 34 home runs in Washington, the fewest at any of the seven A.L. road cities he played in, hardly a surprise given the depths of the fences at Griffith Stadium. Ruth had 18 triples in D.C., however. (His favorite ballpark for homers on the road was Shibe Park in Philadelphia, where he hit 68.) In any case, Ruth’s 34 homers at Washington’s ballpark were the most ever hit by a visiting player.
Although Ruth hit 10 inside-the-park homers in his career, none of them came in Washington. On May 7, 1921, he connected for what for years was considered the longest homer ever hit in D.C. It came off Walter Johnson, no less. Ruth went deep against the Big Train 10 times in his career.
Ruth beat Johnson the first six times they matched up (and both got decisions) as starting pitchers. Before he began hitting home runs off everybody, Ruth, the star left-hander, beat Johnson in a 13-inning, 1-0, game on August 15, 1916, in Boston. Both Ruth and Johnson went the distance.
Although Johnson won a 10-inning game in 1916 in which Ruth didn’t get a decision, the Big Train finally defeated Ruth, 6-0, on October 3, 1917, in Boston. Johnson’s lone victory over Ruth in D. C. came in the Bambino’s last pitching appearance in Washington — on May 9, 1918. The Nats won in walk-off fashion, 4-3, against Ruth with two outs in the 10th.
As a pitcher with Boston, Ruth was 4-4 in D.C., but 12-6 overall against the Senators with five shutouts. Ruth’s best D.C. performance on the mound was his two-hitter on May 7, 1917, a 1-0 victory over the Big Train. Later that month, he shut out the Nats again on a six-hitter in Washington. (Making a token start with the Yankees in New York on June 1, 1920, Ruth was awarded the victory over Washington under the rules of the day, although he pitched just four innings.)
In New York, between the Polo Grounds and Yankee Stadium, Ruth connected for homers off Washington pitching 55 times. But in D.C., Ruth never hit more than one homer in any game against the Senators. With the Yankees, Ruth hit .340 at Griffith Stadium, close to his .342 lifetime average. Overall, including his Boston years, he hit .332 in D.C. Senators’ pitchers walked him 107 times here, which produced an on-base percentage of .435, considerably shy of his lifetime .472 against all opponents. His OPS in Washington was 1.072, well under his lifetime 1.164, but still the highest of anyone who played more than 100 games in D.C.
Ruth hit two milestone homers against the Senators. Most famously, his record-setting 60th home run came on September 30, 1927, at Yankee Stadium off Washington lefty Tom Zachary. On September 24, 1920, Ruth hit his 100th career homer in New York against Washington. The homer was Ruth’s 50th of the season, but it was the only run the Yanks could muster in a 3-1 loss to the Senators. (On July 18, 1921, in Detroit, Ruth hit his 139th career home run to become the all-time leader, a position he held until the 1974 season.)
Outfielder Gavvy Craveth had been widely credited with setting the single-season home run record, prior to Ruth, when he hit 24, playing for the Phillies at the homer-friendly Baker Bowl in 1915. In fact, playing under essentially the same rules, Buck Freeman’s 25 home runs for the 1899 National League Washington Senators should have been the record. Ruth, still with Boston in 1919, topped Craveth’s total and tied Freeman with his 25th homer on September 5 at Shibe Park. He broke Freeman’s record by hitting his 26th homer at the Polo grounds against the Yankees on September 8, 1919.
Ruth first appeared in a game against Washington at Fenway Park on October 5, 1914, when he pinch hit and struck out. Pitching in relief on October 7, he batted for himself and singled. This was Ruth’s second big-league hit. A blow-out win for Washington, 44-year-old Nats’ manager Clark Griffith pitched the ninth inning in the final appearance of his career. (Tris Speaker pitched the ninth inning for Boston.) So if anybody asks if Griffith and Ruth ever appeared in the same game, the answer is yes.
His first appearance at what was then known as National Park came on June 21, 1915, when he went the distance for his fourth win of the season, beating the Nats, 8-3, in the first game of a twin-bill. He doubled in four plate appearances. His next times at bat in D.C. came in both games of an October 2 doubleheader. He pitched two innings in relief of Smokey Joe Wood in one game and pinch hit in the second, 0 for 2 in two at-bats.
In six games in D .C. in 1916 — four as a pitcher — Ruth had two hits but did not homer. He appeared in just three games in Washington 1917, but had yet to homer against the Nats.
Ruth’s first home run in Washington came on May 7, 1918. He was playing first base and hit it off Johnson, accounting for the Red Sox only two runs in a game Walter won on a four-hitter, 7-2. Ruth was 7-for-12 in this three-game series with three doubles, a triple and the homer.
On June 28, 1918, in Washington, Ruth’s seventh-inning homer was the only hit off Nats starter Harry Harper. Two days later, Ruth’s two-run homer in the 10th beat Johnson and the Nats, 3-1. Ruth was playing center field for the Red Sox in both those games.
Playing nearly every day for the first time in 1919, Ruth hit three of his then-record 29 homers against Washington, but just one – his 29th, on September 27 — came in D.C. Although Ruth obliterated his single-season home run record with 54 in his first year with the Yankees, again he hit just one in Washington.
A famous photo from a game on July 5, 1924, shows Ruth unconscious on the ground near the concrete wall down Griffith Stadium’s right field line. The Bambino crashed into the wall tracking a fly ball off the bat of Joe Judge. Ruth was out for about five minutes until the Yankees trainer revived him by pouring cold water on Ruth’s head. Looking on over the wall at the scene below the right-field pavilion were several Black fans. Clark Griffith set aside this segregated seating for them, at a time when most major league stadiums were not segregated. Ruth, by the way, stayed in the game.
In that September 29, 1934, game, his playing days almost over, Ruth hit a foul ball to right that glanced off the arm of a young fan. After he walked, Ruth motioned the bench to put in a pinch runner. According to a story in the next day’s Washington Post, Ruth “started out for the kid his foul had hit. On the way. the Babe called for a baseball from an umpire. He reached the stands and looked down at the kid and the kid looked up at him,” the Post‘s account read. “He autographed the ball and gave it to the lad and also put his autograph in the boy’s book…. The 5,000 (fans) cheered again – not the Babe this time, but his big heart….. That’s why he is the Might Man of Baseball.”
A version of this appeared in the July 2021 edition of The Squibber , the online quarterly newsletter of SABR’s Bob Davids chapter.