08/11/09 11:58 AM ET
Marking the 80th anniversary of the 500 club
Ruth swatted historic homer on this date in 1929
By Mark Newman / MLB.com
It could not have been considered a "club" back then, as he had twice as many homers as any other top slugger.
Although his club now has 25 members, the Sultan of Swat remains a legend never surpassed in American sports.
The year 1929 was eventful not only in American history -- because of the stock market crash and subsequent Great Depression -- but for the then-34-year-old Ruth. It was the year his estranged wife, Helen, died in a fire, and the year he married Claire on Opening Day. It was the year his longtime Yankees manager, Miller Huggins, died and the year he sought to become the team's skipper but was rejected by general manager Ed Barrow.
It was the year Ruth led the American League yet again in homers, with 46 of them despite playing in only 135 games (during a 154-game regular season). The Bronx Bombers were fading at that point as Connie Mack's powerhouse Philadelphia A's dominated, but Ruth still had a good enough season that, when told the following spring that he was making more money than President Herbert Hoover, he said, "So what? I had a better year."
On Aug. 11, 1929, Ruth faced Indians right-hander Willis Hudlin. The at-bat resulted in Ruth's 30th homer of the season and the 500th of his career; Hudlin also surrendered Lou Gehrig's 29th that same game. Hudlin managed to record one of his 17 victories of the season on that day, but from then until the day he died at age 96 in 2002, he often would be asked about Babe's 500th.
Ruth's homer landed on Lexington Avenue, and he wanted it back for posterity. He approached Detective H.C. Folger and said, "I'd kinda like to have that one."
According to the story, the detective found the boy who had caught the ball and brought him to meet the superstar. The kid -- most everyone was "keed" to the Babe -- exchanged the historic ball for an autographed ball and some cash.
The boy was interviewed the next day, and he supposedly said, "Gee, Ruth's a swell guy."
On this morning, the 80th anniversary was tweeted by @MLB, and it was the most rapid and widespread retweet so far this year. There is no question how beloved Ruth is to this day, and perhaps even increasingly more in this era.
"He hits a ball harder and farther than any man I ever saw," teammate Bill Dickey said.
"Others may break Babe's stats, but show me one ballplayer that can break them all," said Donna Analovitch, Ruth's granddaughter.
Ruth wound up with 714 homers, a number that remained sacrosanct until the great Hank Aaron surpassed it in 1974. It requires far more space to list the memorable homers hit by George Herman Ruth, but on this day, the 500th seems especially meaningful.
It is the club that the Babe started. He did not invent the home run, but he made it magical.
Vladimir Guerrero hit his 400th in the Angels' 8-7 win over the Rays on Monday night.
Those kinds of big, round numbers for homers are special because of Ruth.
Tonight there will be plenty of longballs crushed around the Majors. Maybe there will be walk-off blasts, maybe grand slams. Maybe there will be a milestone or two.
There should be a moment of celebration all around the game for the Babe.
It's still his 500 Home Run Club.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.