Thursday, October 17
Updated: October 18, 10:39 PM ET
How did they pitch to Ruth?
By David Schoenfield
The Babe went out and hit two home runs that day and the Yankees would go on to defeat the Giants to win their first World Series championship.
While you won't hear Mike Scioscia say such words about Barry Bonds, the anticipation of seeing Bonds in the World Series is similar to the anticipation of seeing Babe Ruth in 1923. And back then, like this year with Bonds, the big question was: Will they pitch to Ruth?
In McGraw's defense, the Giants had defeated the Yankees in the 1921 and 1922 World Series, and Ruth hadn't exactly dominated. He hit .313 with one homer in six games in '21, striking out in half his at-bats, and just .118 with one RBI in 1922.
In 1923, however, Ruth hit .368 with three home runs -- and drew eight walks around 19 at-bats, meaning McGraw at some point decided it may be best not to challenge the Babe.
Ruth, of course, had already been a World Series star before 1923 -- as a pitcher with the Red Sox he went 3-0 in three career starts. But that Game 2 in '23 turned around Ruth's postseason legacy as a hitter. In all, he played in seven World Series with the Yankees and hit .347 with 15 home runs in 118 at-bats. Here are his World Series numbers with the Yankees compared to his lifetime hitting numbers:
Series Regular Season Average .347 .342 On-base Pct. .490 .474 Slugging Pct. .788 .690
Ruth was actually able to raise his performance in the World Series, a remarkable achievement. Was that because -- like McGraw said he was doing -- pitchers challenged Ruth? Not necessarily. In his seven Yankees World Series appearances, Ruth averaged one walk every 3.58 at-bats; his career average was one walk every 4.07 at-bats, so he walked slightly more often during the World Series than the regular season.
Bonds by the way, averaged 2.04 at-bats per walk during the regular season this year and 2.0 at-bats per walk so far in the playoffs. In other words, he's been pitched in the postseason like he was in the regular season: with extreme caution.
When examining play-by-play data from Cohen and Neft's "The World Series," we can learn a few more tidbits. For instance:
Bonds has 14 walks in 10 postseason games so far, and most of them were undoubtedly intentional or semi-intentional. It appears Bonds is more feared than Ruth was, at least if you consider walks a sign of fear.
More feared than Ruth.
David Schoenfield is the baseball editor for ESPN.com.