NEW YORK – As had become his custom, Babe Ruth reported to Hot Springs in early February of 1924 to sweat and golf off the extra pounds the winter had added to his bulbous frame. He was about 240 at the end of the month when the recurrent spring flu got him again. Burning with fever for a few weeks, he sweated off 20 pounds before making his way to spring training in New Orleans.
Yankee fans had reason to be optimistic about things, as their team had just come off of their first championship run in franchise history. Unfortunately for them, the team was aging; four regulars and nearly everyone on their bench was over 30-years old. That oppressive number for a ballplayer may not have kept them away from the speakeasies and parties, as they were as boisterous a bunch of noisemakers as ever. Their performances on the diamond, however, slipped drastically. It was only the Babe who was immune to the slump.
He may have been leading the party brigade, but at age 29, Ruth had plenty of life in him to burn the candle at both ends. In fact, 1924 is the first year that Ruth biographers mentioned his frequent use of bicarbonate of soda to quell the rumblings of a bloated, overfed stomach. The effect of the bubbly drink was perfect for the Yankee slugger. He would revel throughout the night, then before each game, down a few hot dogs and several bottles of soda pop, drink some bicarbonate, emit a loud belch, and then hit the ball a mile.
His efforts on the diamond aside, his teammates’ tempers were never calmed by their thrilling escapades off the field. In mid June, Ruth was at the center of an on-field brawl with Ty Cobb in Detroit. The fray led to several ejections and fines, and the forfeiture of the game to the Yankees when angry fans stormed the playing field. The team was out of control, and nothing Yankee manager Miller Huggins could do seemed to make a difference.
In an attempt to quell the fiery nature of his players, he shipped off one of his more surly pitchers, Carl Mays, to Cincinnati in midseason. The Yanks never recovered. After starting the season hot, New York fell behind the surging Washington Senators. Without Mays, the Yanks were unable to catch up and finished two games back. The Senators’ late charge, winning 16 of their final 21, made the difference.
Ruth finished the season by winning his first and only batting title. He won the home run title again and led the league in runs, total bases, walks, on-base percentage, and slugging average. Goose Goslin of the Senators wound up driving in 129 runs to Babe’s 121, squashing Ruth’s chances of winning the Triple Crown.