“The Longest Three-bagger on Record”

11 Feb

Babe Ruth was the reason American League Umpire Billy Evans called for a rule change after the 1918 season.

Billy Evans

Billy Evans

Ruth tied Philadelphia Athletics outfielder Clarence “Tillie” Walker for the league lead with 11 home runs, but Ruth was not given credit for what would have been number 12 on July 8.

Ruth’s Red Sox were in a scoreless tie with the Cleveland Indians in the tenth innings of the first game of a doubleheader.  Stan Coveleski gave up a single to Amos Strunk with one out, and Ruth came to the plate.

The Boston Post said:

“Coveleski will probably hear the crash of Ruth’s bat for many a day.  The ball sped like a bullet far into the right field bleachers almost to the top.”

The Boston Globe said:

“It is getting so now that Ruth is the man of the hour every day.  His mighty crash into the right field bleachers in the 10th inning drove Strunk home.”

Ruth’s blast landed more than half way up into the right field bleachers, and The Boston Herald said a ball had never been hit further at Fenway Park, but noted, because Strunk had crossed the plate with the winning run “The best the scorers could give Ruth was a triple;” or, as The Post called it “The longest three-bagger on record.”

The box score

The box score

That winter, in his nationally syndicated column, Evans called Ruth’s “triple:”

“(O)ne of the longest drives I have ever seen.

“If there was a real, genuine, sure-enough home run, that wallop was the last word.  It was the longest drive Ruth made for the season, yet in the records he is credited with only a three-base hit.”

Ruth hit

Ruth hit “The longest three-bagger on record.”

To Evans, the solution was simple:

“I believe a more just scoring would have had the final result 2 to 0 in favor of Boston.  I believe a rule should be made which said that when a ball was knocked over the fence, or into the bleachers in an extra-inning game, all runners on the bases, as well as the batsman, should be entitles to score.”

For any present day fan, Evans’ suggestion sounds like common sense.  But, in 1918 it was criticized in many quarters.  One of the biggest critics of the potential rule change was William Blythe Hanna of The New York Herald.  Hanna said the rule change would go against everything the game stood for:

“Nothing could smack more of sophism than such advocacy.  Ball games end when the winning run crosses the plate, and any juggling with the rules to give a man a home run under the circumstances noted would be making the game subordinate to individual feats, which, of course, would be contrary to all the well-founded tenets of sport, discipline and organization.  It is surprising that a man of Evans’ intelligence could take so specious, so fallacious a view.”

Evans suggested his proposed rule change again in a column the following year, and sportswriter Fred Lieb of The New York Sun—a non-voting member of the rules committee—introduced the proposal.  The final roadblock was committee member and National League umpire Hank O‘Day, who according to Lieb insisted “I’m telling you, it is illegal.  You can’t score runs after the game is over!”

Despite O’Day’s objection the rule change was officially enacted by the Rules Committee on February 9, 1920 in Chicago.  Hanna had his final word on the rule the following day in The Herald:

 “This is a radical departure, and it is by no means a sure thing that is was based on sound reasoning.”

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