The Great American Home Run Derby: Ruth vs. GehrigA look back at the classic home run duel between two of baseball's greats
"There has never been anything like it," Paul Gallico wrote in the New York Daily News. "Even as these lines are batted out on the office typewriter, youths dash out of the AP and UP ticker room every two or three minutes shouting, 'Ruth hit one! Gehrig just hit another one!'"
Christy Walsh, Ruth's business manager, born in Los Angeles in 1891, coined the phrase: "The Babe and the Buster" for the pair. Hillerich and Bradley, manufacturer of Louisville Sluggers, supplied their dealers with posters that had places for fans to mark off the homers hit by Ruth and Gehrig and keep track of their progress.
It was the reserved, young and muscular, the dimpled and handsome college educated Gehrig versus the flamboyant, older, moon faced, in and out of trouble Behemoth of Swing, Ruth.
"There will never be another guy like the Babe," Gehrig said. "I get more kick from seeing him hit one than I do from hitting one myself."
In Waite Hoyt's view Gehrig was "A smooth faced Atlas, an All-American type, typical first-boy-in the seat in Sunday school."
The Babe had that wink he'd wink at fans in the stands, people on the street, at the opposing pitcher, at fielders on the opposition as he circled the bases totting out a home run. The winking Babe said: "This is easy. This is a lot of fun."
Babe hated authority; Lou accepted it. Babe loved people; Lou was a loner, shy and suspicious.
Babe left a ten-dollar tip for a five cent cup of coffee sometimes a fifty dollar tip if he were in the mood to do so when fifty cents would have been generous; Lou left dimes.
The good guy and the bad guy. You paid your money and you made your choice.
Crowds like never before were everywhere the Yankees went the home run race between Ruth and Gehrig, the powerhouse that was the 1927 team, the mystique of New York in the roaring twenties. The Yankees were New York and New York was the Yankees. It all was a package.
Richards Vidmer was a sportswriter who wrote with style and grace for The New York Times. A former Minor League baseball player, he was a sophisticate and an adventurer. It was Vidmer who came up with the term for the Ruth-Gehrig battle: "The Great American Home Run Handicap."
And great it was. It was the first time Babe Ruth ever had any real competition in a home run race. And the competition was the man who batted behind him in the potent Yankee order, who watched him from up close from the on deck batting circle, who shook the Bambino's hand when he crossed home plate finishing the home run trot.
It was also Gehrig who was getting the publicity, who was becoming a fan favorite and a media darling.
"Holy crap, holy moley, it was like two Babe Ruths," were the lines going around the American League. "One was bad enough, but Gehrig too."
"Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig," noted Bill Werber, a Duke sophomore and a fly on the wall for a month of that season at the Stadium "were entirely different disposition-wise, but they both had an intense desire to win. And you'd better have the same disposition if you were on that ball club, or they were on you're a**. Eating or drinking during the course of the game, you'd better not do that."
• Ruth ended the 1927 season with 60 home runs, along with a .356 batting average, 158 runs and 164 RBIs. His OPS+ was 226.
• Gehrig finished with a line of .373, 47 home runs, 143 runs, 175 RBIs and an OPS+ of 221.