It wasn't the most dramatic home run ever hit, but it's certainly one of the most significant in baseball history.
Imagine: Red Sox at Yankees. A Boston player crushes a shot over the wall, collects four hits, and pitches a complete game — that goes 13 innings. That’s the kind of performance that sets your Twitter feed on fire for hours. Do that in today's always-on sports media machine, and you go viral.
Now what if that player was Babe Ruth?
That's exactly what happened on May 6, 1915 at the Polo Grounds in New York, 100 years ago this week. The Babe was 20 years old, the home run was the first of his legendary career. It was his rookie season with Boston's Red Sox and Babe Ruth's first four-base trot was the unofficial beginning of a new wave in sports. The start of stardom.
Ruth bashed 714 home runs in his career, and for the better part of a century, he wore the most iconic crown in all of sports: Home Run King. Nothing comes close.
On the anniversary of Ruth's homer, 22-year-old Bryce Harper hit three in his first three at-bats, a remarkable performance in any era. We have always liked home runs and history's produced plenty of memorable ones, from Kirk Gibson's hobbled shot to Bucky Fucking Dent, Aaron Boone's surprise walk-off, Carlton Fisk waving it fair, Mike Piazza after 9/11, and Ruth's called shot. Home runs occupy a special place in the hearts of American sports fans.
In 1961, Roger Maris's hair was falling out because of the stress he felt in chasing Ruth's single-season home run record of 60. Even back then, way before social media and the 24-hour sports media cycle, Maris felt the pressure from the enormity of the man and the moment he was chasing. Hank Aaron received death threats while he climbed up the all-time home run leaderboard in the early-70s. Barry Bonds did, too, just a few years ago.
And in 1998, before we walked around with computers in our pockets, the world stopped every time Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa came to bat. Radio stations would cut into the games. ESPN was in on every pitch, no matter what was airing. The home run chase that summer was the mutant evolution of Ruth’s first homer, the PED-enhanced monster era that forever tainted the game of baseball.
After all these years, there is no more exciting play in sports. Yes, a double-eagle or a hole-in-one in golf are insane; the touchdown return in football is always a crowd pleaser; a slap-shot goal is nice and a dunk is exciting, but nothing compares to the home run in America in terms of drama, degree of difficulty, and nostalgia.
Every home run is its own slow-building ballad. The walk to the plate. The dirt, the batting gloves, the gum, the cup. The pitcher. Signs from the catcher. The windup, and for a moment everything is silent. The din of the ballpark breaks with the crack of the bat. The crowd rises, and the cheer builds. A fly ball. Going. Going. Gone. Babe Ruth basically started all of that.
The ability to turn on a fastball and muscle it 400 feet back the other way has turned many men into legends over the last century since Ruth's first home run. No, he was not the first player to ever go yard, but he's the only one from that era we're still talking about after all these years. Probably the only guy mentioned in this story whose name will be mentioned on the 100-year anniversary of his first big league homer.
Look around today's game and see if there's a player they’ll be discussing 100 years from now. Unless Harper continues putting up home run hat tricks, Alex Rodriguez might be the only one. And who knows what they’ll be saying about him a century from now.
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