On Monday, baseball’s Shohei Ohtani accomplished a feat not seen in nearly a century — taking the mound as his team’s starting pitcher while simultaneously leading the league in home runs. The last man staking a claim to such an effort? Herman “Babe” Ruth, on June 13, 1921.
When the Angels sent Ohtani to the bump to start the club’s game in Texas, he did so having hit seven home runs on the season, good for a tie with seven other players atop all of Major League Baseball. (Later Monday evening, the Phillies’ Rhys Hoskins blasted a pair of long balls versus the Cardinals, giving him eight on the season and vaulting him into sole possession of the league lead.)
Ohtani, who serves as Los Angeles’ designated hitter in games he does not pitch, tossed five innings versus the Rangers, striking out nine batters and allowing four earned runs en route to his first win of the year. At the plate the 26-year-old from Japan was 2-3 with a pair of RBI and three runs scored as the Angels earned a 9-4 victory.
On June 13, 1921 — also a Monday — Ruth’s 19 dingers were good for best in baseball when “The Babe” took the hill for the Yankees. Facing the Detroit Tigers and batting third, Ruth collected two more homers, but allowed four runs in the 5th inning and was removed from the ball game. Ruth, whose most effective seasons as a hurler were spent with the Boston Red Sox from 1915-1919, shifted almost exclusively to the outfield moving forward, and did not make another start until 1930.
While Ruth finished his career with a 94-46 pitching record, it’s his prowess at the plate where his legacy lives. In his 22 big league seasons, “The Babe” belted 714 home runs, third most all-time, behind only Henry “Hank” Aaron (755) and Barry Bonds (762). Ruth is universally regarded as one of the greatest baseball players ever.
The dawn of another diamond dual threat
All of this is to say that Ohtani has placed himself in extremely elite company. Limited this season by a blister to only three pitching appearances, Ohtani has hurled 13.2 innings, allowing five earned runs while striking out 23. He’s appeared as a batter in all but one game for the Angels — an April 20 contest in which he pitched but did not hit — and currently sports a .300 average in 80 at bats.
Ohtani, who pitches as a righty but bats from the left side, joined the Angels in 2017 after five All-Star seasons in Nippon Pro Baseball, the highest level of baseball in Japan. He earned the American League’s Rookie of the Year award in 2018 after hitting 22 home runs and notching a 4-2 record in 10 starts on the mound. The last player to hit at least 15 homers while pitching a minimum of 50 innings in a single season?
Once again that would be Babe Ruth, who did so in 1919.