Babe Ruth with a fan in 1929. [New York Times photo]

Eighty years ago today, New York Yankees outfielder Babe Ruth became the first major league ballplayer to hit 500 home runs. He accomplished the feat at Cleveland’s League Park in the second inning against pitcher Willis Hudlin.  Ruth was 34 years old at the time, and the homer was his 30th of the season. The Indians won the game, however, beating the Yankees 6-5.


Cleveland’s League Park in 1924 [Plain Dealer file photo]

Ruth would hit his 600th homer 2 years and 10 days later; it would take him almost 3 more years to hit his 700th.

Two other players hit their 500th home runs while playing for the Yankees: Mickey Mantle in 1967 at the age of 36, and Alex Rodriguez in 2007 at the age of 32 (making him the youngest player to reach the milestone). Former Yankee Reggie Jackson hit his 500th after leaving the team to join the California Angels. The only player to hit his 500th home run while wearing a New York Mets uniform is Gary Sheffield, who hit his dinger earlier this year, becoming the 25th man to accomplish the feat and the only player whose 500th home run was also his first home run for a new team.

Here’s an interesting tidbit about the year 1929, the Indians, and the Yankees. This was that major-league baseball players wore numbers on the backs of their jerseys. The Indians had experimented with numbers in 1916, with the players wearing numbers on their left sleeves, but they soon abandoned the practice. The Yankees were supposed to be the first team to have players wear numbers on the backs of their jerseys, but their home opener was rained out in 1929, so Cleveland got the honor. And it was a game between the Yankees and the Indians on May 13, 1929 that was the first to feature both teams wearing numbers. The practice was adopted by all major league teams by the mid-1930s. At the start, the numbers corresponded to the players’ numbers in the batting order, so Ruth wore the number “3.”

(By the way, if you like the photo of Ruth above, you can order your own museum-quality copy here from the Times.)