From The New York Times’ Archive: Babe Ruth’s 500th Home Run (1929)

A slugger’s 500th home run is a much celebrated feat, often times more so than the 600th. Maybe it is the 500th home run level of difficulty: 600 has only been accomplished by eight batters; 500 by twenty-five with Albert Pujols only 25 away entering 2013.

In 1929, no hitter had reached the 500 plateau. In fact, only Babe Ruth had more than 250. When Ruth went deep on August 11, 1929 in Cleveland, many were unsure of how to react. Every one was used to Ruth, his power and the achievements that accompany. This home run was seen coming from a mile away. They did know, however, that a home run total as high as 500 needed to be celebrated.

From an article written by William E. Brandt and published in the Times a day after Ruth’s 500th entitled “Ruth Hits His 500th Major League Homer, but Yanks Lose; Giants and Robins Win:”

Babe Ruth’s 500th major league home run and a subsequent four-bagger by Lou Gehrig represented about all the glory the Yanks gleaned against Cleveland today.

The fans overflowed from the stands to form a crescent across left field. The attendance numbered upward of 25,000, making a proper setting for Ruth’s achievement of his most important homer numerically thus far this year. He made it on the first ball pitched by Willis Hudlin in the second inning, a high fast ball which left home plate much higher and ten times faster than it arrived. It cleared the right-field fence near the foul line and was the first run in the after noon.

Brandt continued to write under the subsection “Ruth Far Ahead of Rivals:”

Ruth not only became the first player in history to hit 500 home runs, but he has raised his total to the point where it is more than double the aggregate number of circuit blows made by any other player. Cy Williams, veteran outfielder of the Phillies is his nearest rival with 237. Williams had made 234 up to the start of the present season.

This chart appeared along side the NYT article (Aug. 12, 1929)
This chart appeared along side the NYT article (Aug. 12, 1929)

In 1929, Cy Williams was 41 and on his way out of the Major Leagues. After hitting 237 home runs as mentioned above, Williams only added four more before retiring after 21 games in 1930. Williams was heavily aided by the live ball era as his per season home run average jumped from 6 during 1912-1919 to 23 from 1920, the beginning of the live ball era, to 1927, his last truly productive Major League season. During his 19 year career, Williams led the league in home runs four times (1916 with 12; 1920 with 15; 1923 with 41; and 1927 with 30.

After his career, Williams never received more than 5% of the vote for the Hall of Fame, being on the ballot for 13 years.

Continuing from Brandt’s article:

Ruth has served notice that he will put up a great fight before being deposed as home run monarch this season. In his last seven games the Babe has smashed six homers, His present total of thirty puts him on even terms with Hack Wilson of the Cubs. Only Chuck Klein of the Phillies now leads Ruth.

Ruth finished the 1929 season with 46 home runs, 3 more than Klein and and 7 more than Wilson who finished fourth. Mel Ott, with 42, finished third.

Brandt then talks about Jack Geiser, a 46 year old man who accidentally came up with Ruth’s home run:

Babe dispatched a courier in quest of the priceless ball he knocked out of the park to place the major league all-time homer-hitting record at the half-thousand mark. Ten minutes later there reported at the Yankee bench Jake Geiser, aged 46, of New Philadelphia, Ohio. He was visiting relatives near the ball park, and at the moment Babe Ruth’s 500th home run dipped over the fence he was on his way to catch a bus for New Philadelphia.

He was just a passerby, but his capture of the baseball after it ricochetted of a Lexington Avenue doorstep put him in fame’s spotlight for a moment. The Emperor of Swat shook hands with him in the Yankees dugout, traded him a pair of autographed baseballs in exchange for the the historic sphere he fielded off the doorstep, then presented him with a $20-bill, unautographed.

Mr. Geiser decided to miss the New Philadelphia bus, but after watching Ruth miss the fence in three subsequent efforts, and ascertaining that Ruth’s 600th  homer is not likely to happen here this week, he left for his home tonight, richer by $20, to say nothing of the two baseballs.

Using an inflation calculator, Geiser’s $20 in 1929 is equivalent to $296.26. The last 500th home run hit, Gary Sheffield’s in 2009, was estimated by his teammates said (whether jokingly or not) that the ball would cost him $100,000. It ended up only costing him a few signed bats and jerseys.

The two signed baseballs, however, if kept in nice condition, would be worth upwards of $15,000 apiece today.

In a separate article under the column “Topics of the Times” published on August 13, 1929 in the Times, the writer speaks of the milestone of the 500th home run:

Yet from the spectator’s point of view the home run was the event of the day, and 500 is a high mark for other batsmen to shoot at. One of them may equal it, for Ruth has been batting for fourteen years and there are youngsters like Foxx and Ott whose records to date far surpass the Ruth beginnings. The new men have the advantage of the ‘lively ball,’ which Ruth has had only recently. It is not inconceivable that the mark of 500 will some day be passed.

If only the knew …

Next Home Run: Babe Ruth’s 600th

Previous Home Runs:

Babe Ruth’s 60th in 1927
Mel Ott’s 1st
Babe Ruth’s 1st

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