Babe was eating too much again. Even before he began playing he had regained eight of the 30 pounds he lost during his illness. And he was still weak. Through June and July he batted .250 and hit only a handful of home runs. He looked terrible. He was 31 years old, and a lot of people felt he was finished as a player.
The Ruthian hitting may have stopped, but the Ruthian carousing had not. In August, Miller Huggins fined Babe $5,000 and suspended him. Ruth raged at Hug-gins and reviled him, but Huggins stood fast. After nine days the great rebellion ended with a rather abject apology by Ruth.
While Babe in time returned to his abiding predilection for food, drink and willing women, he never again challenged Huggins' authority. Despite his big belly, which waned and waxed through the years like the moon, he was never again seriously out of shape. To the critics who said he was through, Babe could have smiled and said, "You ain't seen nothin' yet." From 1926 through 1931, as he aged from 32 to 37, he put on the finest sustained display of hitting that baseball has ever seen. During those six seasons he batted .354, averaged 50 home runs a year, 155 runs batted in and 147 runs scored. He hit the 300th home run of his career the day after Huggins reinstated him, but there were more than 400 to come. He had been a dominant figure in five of his six World Series, but the best of his World Series were still ahead of him, too. From the ashes of 1925, Babe Ruth rose like a rocket.
In 1927 the Ruthian Yankees reached their peak. The lineup that had coalesced as the team recaptured the pennant a year earlier was much stronger in 1927. Gehrig's batting average jumped from .313 to .373. Tony Lazzeri hit .309, Earle Combs .356, Bob Meusel .337, Ruth .356. And the runs poured across the plate. Gehrig batted in 175, Ruth 164, Meusel 103, Lazzeri 102. The pitching also was sharply improved.
Batting .307 as a team, setting a new major league home-run record, the Yankees won 110 games and lost only 44. Gehrig, coming into full maturity, matched Ruth homer for homer from April to the middle of August and was, in fact, three ahead of the Babe on Aug. 10, with 38 to Ruth's 35. It was the first time anyone had directly challenged Ruth's preeminence—when he lost the home-run championship in 1922 and 1925 he had missed the first six or seven weeks of the season each time—and it more than made up for the lack of excitement in the pennant race as the Yankees took the league apart. But Gehrig hit only nine home runs the rest of the season, while Ruth hit 25, his pace becoming faster and faster as the season neared its end. When he hit his 50th on Sept. 11 he talked of breaking his 1921 record of 59, but it seemed all but impossible: there were only 17 games left to play. He hit three in the next eight games, which is very close to a 60-homer pace, but that was not good enough. He still needed seven more, and there were only nine games left. He hit three in the next three games. After No. 56 he carried his bat around the bases with him to frustrate souvenir seekers. As he passed third base a boy came out of the stands, pounded him joyfully on the back and grabbed the bat. Babe dragged boy and bat all the way across home plate.
He hit no home runs in the next game or the game after that. Only four games left now, and four homers still to go. He hit his 57th, a grand slam, in the first of those four games. In the second he hit his 58th, then a triple off the right-field fence, then his 59th (another grand-slammer) and then a long fly the rightfielder caught at the fence. On Sept. 30, in the next-to-last game of the season, he hit his 60th. It was down the right-field line, just fair. Tom Zachary, the opposing pitcher, yelled, "Foul ball! Foul ball!" and argued with the umpire. Years later, in 1947, Zachary shook hands with Ruth in Yankee Stadium, and the Babe, his voice a croak from the cancer that was killing him, said, "Are you still claiming that ball was foul?" In 1927 he whooped it up in the clubhouse, shouting. "Sixty, count 'em, 60! Let's see some other son of a bitch match that!"
He played again on the last day of the season but had no hits in three at bats.
The 60th homer meant a great deal to Ruth. In the early years he had bettered his home-run total each season—11 in 1918, 29 in 1919, 54 in 1920, 59 in 1921 but he had been trying futilely since to break the record again. Now at last he had done it, and he had demonstrated to young Gehrig (who, deservedly, won the Most Valuable Player award) that Ruth was still the king. Yet, while the 60 home runs were a shining achievement and a shining target for others, 1927 was not his best season, as a comparison of his performances in 1921 and 1927 (see box) clearly shows.
Still, the 60th homer in 1927 and his .625 average in the 1928 World Series were the twin peaks of Ruth's career, the happiest moments in years of great accomplishment and relative serenity. His life would never again be as uncomplicated, although nothing—not the inevitable decline of his physical powers, or the deaths of people close to him—was able to suppress completely his casual, carefree personality.
"He was one of those exciting people who make life fun, and who give more to life than they take from it," said Arthur Robinson, a New York reporter who was one of the Babe's ghostwriters. "God, we liked that big son of a gun," said Waite Hoyt. When Roger Maris was chasing Ruth's home-run record in 1961, Jimmy Dykes said, " Maris is a fine ballplayer, but I can't imagine him driving down Broadway in a low-slung convertible, wearing a coonskin coat." Dugan said, "What a fantastic ballplayer he was; the things he could do. But he wasn't human. He dropped out of a tree."