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As a Yankee, Ruth's transition from a pitcher to a power-hitting outfielder became complete. In his fifteen-season Yankee career, consisting of over 2,000 games, Ruth broke many batting records, while making only five widely scattered appearances on the mound, winning all of them.[55]

At the end of April 1920, the Yankees were 4–7, with the Red Sox leading the league with a 10–2 mark. Ruth had done little, having injured himself swinging the bat.[82] Both situations began to change on May 1, when Ruth hit a ball completely out of the Polo Grounds, a feat believed only to have been previously accomplished by Joe Jackson. The Yankees won, 6–0, taking three out of four from the Red Sox.[83] Ruth hit his second home run on May 2, and by the end of the month had set a major league record for home runs in a month with 11, and promptly broke it with 13 in June.[84] Fans responded with record attendance: on May 16, Ruth and the Yankees drew 38,600 to the Polo Grounds, a record for the ballpark, and 15,000 fans were turned away. Large crowds jammed stadiums to see Ruth play when the Yankees were on the road.[85]

"How Does He Do It?" In this Clifford Berryman cartoon, presidential candidates Warren G. Harding and James M. Cox wonder at Ruth's record home run pace.
The home runs kept coming; Ruth tied his own record of 29 on July 15, and broke it with home runs in both games of a doubleheader four days later. By the end of July, he had 37, but his pace slackened somewhat after that.[86] Nevertheless, on September 4, he both tied and broke the organized baseball record for home runs in a season, snapping Perry Werden's 1895 mark of 44 in the minor Western League.[87] The Yankees played well as a team, battling for the league lead early in the summer, but slumped in August in the AL pennant battle with Chicago and Cleveland. The championship was won by Cleveland, surging ahead after the Black Sox Scandal broke on September 28 and led to the suspension of many of the team's top players, including Joe Jackson. The Yankees finished third, but drew 1.2 million fans to the Polo Grounds, the first time a team had drawn a seven figure attendance. The rest of the league sold 600,000 more tickets, many fans there to see Ruth, who led the league with 54 home runs, 158 runs, and 137 runs batted in (RBIs).[88]

Ruth was aided in his exploits, in 1920 and afterwards, by the fact that the A.J. Reach Company, maker of baseballs used in the major leagues, was using a more efficient machine to wind the yarn found within the baseball. When these went into play in 1920, the start of the live-ball era, the number of home runs increased by 184 over the previous year across the major leagues.[89] Baseball statistician Bill James points out that while Ruth was likely aided by the change in the baseball, there were other factors at work, including the gradual abolition of the spitball (accelerated after the death of Ray Chapman, struck by a pitched ball thrown by Mays in August 1920) and the more frequent use of new baseballs (also a response to Chapman's death). Nevertheless, James theorizes that Ruth's 1920 explosion might have happened in 1919, had a full season of 154 games been played rather than 140, had Ruth refrained from pitching 133 innings that season, and if he were playing with any other home field but Fenway Park, where he hit only 9 of 29 home runs.[90]

Babe Ruth in 1921.
Yankees business manager Harry Sparrow had died early in the 1920 season; to replace him, Ruppert and Huston hired Barrow.[91] Ruppert and Barrow quickly made a deal with Frazee for New York to acquire some of the players who would be mainstays of the early Yankee pennant-winning teams, including catcher Wally Schang and pitcher Waite Hoyt.[92] The 21-year old Hoyt became close to Ruth:

The outrageous life fascinated Hoyt, the don't-give-a-shit freedom of it, the nonstop, pell-mell charge into excess. How did a man drink so much and never get drunk? ... The puzzle of Babe Ruth never was dull, no matter how many times Hoyt picked up the pieces and stared at them. After games he would follow the crowd to the Babe's suite. No matter what the town, the beer would be iced and the bottles would fill the bathtub.[93]

Ruth hit home runs early and often in the 1921 season, during which he broke Roger Connor's mark for home runs in a career, 138. Each of the almost 600 home runs Ruth hit in his career after that extended his own record. After a slow start, the Yankees were soon locked in a tight pennant race with Cleveland, winners of the 1920 World Series. On September 15, Ruth hit his 55th home run, shattering his year-old single season record. In late September, the Yankees visited Cleveland and won three out of four games, giving them the upper hand in the race, and clinched their first pennant a few days later. Ruth finished the regular season with 59 home runs, batting .378 and with a slugging percentage of .846.[94]

The Yankees had high expectations when they met the New York Giants in the 1921 World Series, and the Yankees won the first two games with Ruth in the lineup. However, Ruth badly scraped his elbow during Game 2, sliding into third base (he had walked and stolen both second and third bases). After the game, he was told by the team physician not to play the rest of the series.[95] Despite this advice, he did play in the next three games, and pinch-hit in Game Eight of the best-of-nine series, but the Yankees lost, five games to three. Ruth hit .316, drove in five runs and hit his first World Series home run.[55][96][97]

Babe Ruth in the stands on Opening Day, April 12, 1922, at Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C.
After the Series, Ruth and teammates Bob Meusel and Bill Piercy participated in a barnstorming tour in the Northeast.[98] A rule then in force prohibited World Series participants from playing in exhibition games during the offseason, the purpose being to prevent Series participants from replicating the Series and undermining its value. Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis suspended the trio until May 20, 1922, and fined them their 1921 World Series checks.[99] In August 1922, the rule was changed to allow limited barnstorming for World Series participants, with Landis's permission required.[100]

On March 6, 1922, Ruth signed a new contract, for three years at $52,000 a year. The largest sum ever paid a ballplayer to that point, it represented 40% of the team's player payroll.[100] Despite his suspension, Ruth was named the Yankees' new on-field captain prior to the 1922 season. During the suspension, he worked out with the team in the morning, and played exhibition games with the Yankees on their off days.[101] He and Meusel returned on May 20, to a sellout crowd at the Polo Grounds, but Ruth batted 0-for-4, and was booed.[102] On May 25, he was thrown out of the game for throwing dust in umpire George Hildebrand's face, then climbed into the stands to confront a heckler. Ban Johnson ordered him fined, suspended, and stripped of his captaincy.[103] In his shortened season, Ruth appeared in 110 games, batted .315, with 35 home runs, and drove in 99 runs,[55] but compared to his previous two dominating years, the 1922 season was a disappointment. Despite Ruth's off-year, Yankees managed to win the pennant to face the New York Giants for the second straight year in the World Series. In the Series, Giants manager John McGraw instructed his pitchers to throw him nothing but curveballs, and Ruth never adjusted. Ruth had just two hits in seventeen at bats, and the Yankees lost to the Giants for the second straight year, by 4–0 (with one tie game). Sportswriter Joe Vila called him, "an exploded phenomenon".[104]

After the season, Ruth was a guest at an Elks Club banquet, set up by Ruth's agent with Yankee team support. There, each speaker, concluding with future New York mayor Jimmy Walker, censured him for his poor behavior. An emotional Ruth promised reform, and, to the surprise of many, followed through. When he reported to spring training, he was in his best shape as a Yankee, weighing only 210 pounds (95 kg).[105]

The Yankees's status as tenants of the Giants at the Polo Grounds had become increasingly uneasy, and in 1922 Giants owner Charles Stoneham stated that the Yankees's lease, expiring after that season, would not be renewed. Ruppert and Huston had long contemplated a new stadium, and had taken an option on property at 161st Street and River Avenue in the Bronx. Yankee Stadium was completed in time for the home opener on April 18, 1923,[106] at which the Babe hit the first home run in what was quickly dubbed "the House that Ruth Built".[107] The ballpark was designed with Ruth in mind: although the venue's left-field fence was further from home plate than at the Polo Grounds, Yankee Stadium's right-field fence was closer, making home runs easier to hit for left-handed batters. To spare Ruth's eyes, right field–his defensive position–was not pointed into the afternoon sun, as was traditional; left fielder Meusel was soon suffering headaches from squinting toward home plate.[105]

The Yankees were never challenged, leading the league for most of the 1923 season and winning the AL pennant by 17 games. Ruth finished the season with a career-high .393 batting average and major-league leading 41 home runs (tied with Cy Williams). Another career high for Ruth in 1923 was his 45 doubles, and he reached base 379 times, then a major league record.[107] For the third straight year, the Yankees faced the Giants in the World Series, which Ruth dominated. He batted .368, walked eight times, scored eight runs, hit three home runs and slugged 1.000 during the series, as the Yankees won their first World Series championship, four games to two.[55][107]