A Loving Biography of Babe Ruth, Baseball's Ultimate Hero
Through the course of history, millions of people have turned their hand to athletics in its various forms. Never has any player in any sport been held in such esteem within the hearts of fans from every city and hamlet, every creed and race, as Babe Ruth.
The Yankees slugger was truly beloved, and not in the contrived manner of modern basketball or football stars. With a beaming smile and a mighty swing, Ruth was a metonymy for the United States’ uprising.
He embodied the nation’s sense of post-war power, and he distilled the home run as America’s definitive sporting act. He would have been impossible to invent, so extreme was his talent, so large his transcendence, and so huge his meaning. Quite simply, he was Babe Ruth. The Colossus of Clout. The King of Crash. The Sultan of Swat. The Great Bambino. No baseball player before or since commanded such attention, from every crevice of the land.
Ruth rivalled Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan as the ultimate sporting showman, but he did more than either to revolutionise his game and alter its place in the American psyche. Hockey has Wayne Gretzky and golf has Tiger Woods, but first there was George Herman Ruth, a trailblazer decades before his time.
Even now, the image and essence of baseball’s reigning monarch is pervasive in our minds. We are rendered giddy by clips of that thunderous swing and that inimitable, tippy-toe stride around the bases like a corpulent ballet dancer. Just looking at that famous face, so round and cheerful, pride pours forth and moods are fixed. This rollicking, charismatic hedonist continues to uplift people decades after his death, because he was more than a baseball player. He was an inspiration.
Why is Babe Ruth so famous?
In many ways, Babe Ruth lived the dream. He stood as a monument of possibility, from rough beginnings to global renown. The guy ate hot dogs and steaks by the dozen, drank beer by the boatload, and was a prolific lover. He lived in palatial hotel suites, wore the finest silk shirts, and bet astronomical amounts on horse races. His shoes were custom made here in England and shipped across the ocean. His cigars came from Cuba, and his camelhair coats were tailored immaculately. The man lived like a king, because that is exactly what he was.
Ping Bodie, a teammate on the Yankees, was once asked what it was like to room with the Babe on road-trips. “How would I know?” the outfielder replied. “I don’t room with Babe Ruth, I room with his suitcase.”
That was an accurate snapshot of a loud, abrasive and impossibly immature hero who milked every last pleasure from life. Babe Ruth was a lovable caricature, a humble and humorous chap who visited hospitals and loved to treat children. He forgot names with incredible ease, but he was eminently quotable and signed so many autographs that perhaps nothing was more common in the realm of sporting memorabilia.
With charisma and preternatural talent, the Babe ingratiated himself to a nation, where affection for him burned into the annals of history. Even the name was perfection. Babe Ruth. So magical. So satisfying. So right.
The greatest Babe Ruth stats, facts and trivia
Yet the true Ruth was arguably even greater than the caricature. We adore the myth, but the statistical reality is possibly even more stirring. Ruth was the first player to reach 200, 300, 400, 500, 600 and 700 career home runs.
He hit more homers in the first half of seasons - 373 - than Joe DiMaggio, Mo Vaughan or Scott Rolen did in their entire careers. The Babe won seven World Series championships, ten pennants, and led the American League in home runs on twelve separate occasions, a record never likely to be broken.
Ruth remains the all-time leader in OPS with a 1.164 mark, and is second in OBP at .474. The Big Bam drew more walks in the 1923 season - 170 - than AJ Pierzynski has accumulated in the past nine seasons combined.
Ruth hit .342 in his career, but still slugged 714 home runs, an immortal figure in baseball history. Even 81 years after hanging up his spikes, the Babe ranks third on the sacred career home run list. He has only been passed by one man not under suspicion of illegal chemical enhancement.
There will always be debate about the greatest player who ever lived, with some people citing obscure formulas as rationale for Willie Mays, Ted Williams or even Barry Bonds, that tainted villain of hardball history. However, this discussion ends quite soon after you ask what ERA any of those other candidates managed to log.
You see, for the first chapter of his career, Babe Ruth was an outstanding pitcher. For a time, he was considered the best southpaw hurler in the game, and his 94-46 record and 2.28 career ERA substantiate such a claim. Ruth also threw 29.2 consecutive scoreless innings in the World Series, which remained a record until Whitey Ford broke it in 1961.
Quite simply, no human before or since was as good at hitting and pitching as Babe Ruth. In that regard, he was almost akin to a baseball alien.
The Baltimore orphan – Babe Ruth’s childhood
George Herman Ruth was born in the Baltimore neighbourhood of Pigtown, so named due to the herds of pigs that were routinely traipsed through streets from stockyard to slaughter. Little is known about his mother, apart from the fact she had eight children, six of whom died young. His father was a lightning rod salesman and later a tavern owner whose capricious line of work forced the family to move around a lot.
When trying to decipher facts from Ruth’s childhood, one is confronted by embellishment from the myth machine. The true story may never be known, but Leigh Montville outlined the basics in The Big Bam, his wonderful biography of Ruth.
“The environment can be stitched together from history books and memoirs of local writers,” Montville explains. “But it is a broad picture of turn-of-the-century Baltimore and a bad neighbourhood and working class woes. Stevedores, sailors, wagons, horses, the many-layered bustle of business – these are the backdrops in an area of alleys and cramped brick houses near the docks on the wrong side of Pratt Street, the downtown dividing line for class and economics.”
Branded ‘incorrigible,’ Ruth was sent to St Mary’s Industrial School for Boys, a place of great discipline with strict wakeup calls and bedtimes. The institute had a religious outlook and was ran by Xaverians, who often whipped and punished the children. With more than eight hundred youthful inhabitants, St Mary’s operated like a barracks. Everything was done in communal fashion, from sleeping and eating to washing and working.
The actual reasons for Ruth’s admittance were never disclosed, although general legend cites misbehaviour around town. While the school was incredibly tough, the world may never have known Babe Ruth without it - for it was there that young George discovered baseball.
Again, myth surrounds his introduction to the game, but Brother Matthias Boutlier is a central figure in most stories. No matter how he stumbled upon it, there is something otherworldly and miraculous about a ruffian boy who has never played baseball discovering that within his loins resided the most outrageous talent we have ever seen. It was pure, natural, raw genius. Some would even call it divine intervention.
In many ways, St Mary’s was ideal breeding ground for a baseball immortal. It offered a rough fight for survival, with industrial language and competing men a typical part of most days. Sport was a huge part of the St Mary’s curriculum, and Ruth played up to 200 baseball games a year, in all manner of positions. Baseball quickly became his passion, his distraction, and hopefully his passport out of squalor.
In one game, he threw a one-hitter with 22 strikeouts while soaring home runs off his bat also became a common sight. At first, Ruth knew very little about baseball, with fundamentals such as positions even providing a challenge. However, according to legend, he followed the instructions and style of Brother Matthias, right down to the pigeon-toed gait and the uppercut swing that wrote his name in the history books.
Montville calls Ruth “The Patron Saint of American Possibility,” and writes that “his success will be a lottery ticket in every open pocket. If he can do it, then why can’t I? Or why can’t my kids? He grew up worse than all of us. He came from the terrible, unspeakable fog. Look at him now.”
Indeed, a childhood of restriction can partly explain the adulthood of irascibility. Babe Ruth was deprived of choice and freedom as a kid, which inspired him to devour food, sex and baseballs with voracious hunger when finally given the chance.
A history of Babe Ruth with the Baltimore Orioles
Jack Dunn, owner of minor league Baltimore Orioles, was the man who freed Ruth from St Mary’s. Referred to the slugging pitcher by a rival manager hoping to keep his own players, Dunn was first interested in another southpaw named Ford. We do not know how Ruth stole the limelight, but whatever he did, it was impressive. Dunn gave him a contract for $250 per month. George did not even known money could be made from playing baseball.
When he left to join the Orioles, it was the first time he ever ventured outside the walls of St Mary’s alone. He took his first train ride, enjoyed his first taste of freedom, and discovered that he could now do whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted - within reason.
Naturally, Ruth ate and drank and pursued pretty women. The strangest things were novelties to this hulking rookie, such as the weather, time zones and hammocks. He once spent hours simply riding the elevators in a team hotel, totally amazed by the contraption. Ruth was crude, naïve, unendingly enthusiastic and phenomenally talented. Ah, yes, he was super talented all right.
After picking up the Babe nickname in his first Baltimore camp, Ruth dazzled with the Orioles, pitching a complete game against the Athletics in an exhibition that made Dunn glow. Yet his team was in dire financial straits, with attendances sagging below 1,000 thanks to interest in the crosstown Federal League Terrapins. With sharks circling, Dunn was forced to sell his best assets, of which Ruth was one.
The Athletics and Reds showed interest, but Dunn sold him to Harry Frazee and the Boston Red Sox, along with Ben Egan and Ernie Shore. Initially cited as $25,000, the fee was later reported as $12,500 or $8,500 plus the cancellation of a $3,000 loan. Baseball would never be the same again.
How the Boston Red Sox developed Babe Ruth as a pitcher and hitter
Ruth was initially unhappy about moving to Boston. The pay rise to $625 per month did not bother him. He just wanted to stay home near his friends. When he did eventually join the Red Sox, Ruth was quickly isolated. Veterans like Tris Speaker and Smokey Joe Wood resented Ruth’s exuberant personality.
The Babe always straddled the boundary between right and wrong, a precedent laid down by his chaotic upbringing, and that did not always sit well as he started out. Used sparingly, Ruth was sent down to the farm in 1914, and he regained momentum with the minor league Providence Grays.
In The Glory of Their Times, star outfielder Harry Hooper remembered the early Ruth with refreshing honesty. “This 19 year old kid, crude, poorly educated, only slightly brushed by the social veneer we call civilisation, gradually transformed into the idol of American youth and the symbol of baseball the world over,” explained the Red Sox veteran. “A man loved by more people and with an intensity of feeling that has perhaps never been equalled, before or since.
“I saw a man transformed from a human being into something pretty close to a god. If somebody had predicted that back on the Boston Red Sox in 1914, he would have been thrown into an insane asylum.”
After earning promotion in 1915, Ruth began firmly establishing himself in the game’s ecosystem. His first career home run came against the Yankees that year, and he slugged three more long balls while pitching effectively. Boston won the pennant, then the World Series, as Ruth enjoyed a luxurious life of parties and ballgames.
By 1916, he was considered the best lefty hurler in baseball, and legendary duels with Walter Johnson doubled as jousts for the overall crown of pitching supremacy. However, Ruth always wanted to play the field, too, and his opportunities grew as World War I put holes in the Sox’ roster.
Manager Ed Barrow eventually relented, putting Ruth in the everyday lineup when he was not pitching, hoping for an attendance boost. Ruth’s debut as a major league position player came on 6th May 1918, and the Babe hit another home run against the Yankees. In the stands, Colonel Jacob Ruppert, co-owner of the New York club, jokingly offered Frazee $150,000 for Ruth right then and there. Both owners laughed.
Boston won the world championship in 1916 and 1918, building a formidable dynasty. In his third World Series, Ruth established the record for consecutive scoreless innings in the Fall Classic, finishing a brilliant year in which he also led the league in home runs for the first time. A further 29 bombs and 113 RBI in 1919 solidified Ruth’s status as the most valuable player in baseball. Not since the prime of Ty Cobb had the game witnessed such an influential individual.
Why Red Sox owner Harry Frazee sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees
According to legend, Colonel Ruppert and his partner Colonel Tillinghast L’Hommedieu Huston asked manager Miller Huggins what he needed to finally win a championship for the Yankees in 1920. “Babe Ruth,” he supposedly replied.
Such was Ruth’s ability, it seemed improbable that the Red Sox would allow him to leave, but Frazee had financial insecurities and worries about Ruth’s outlandish persona. When the Colonels offered him $125,000, plus a personal loan, in return for the mighty slugger, a deal was completed in secrecy. The date was 26th December 1919, an immortal mark in baseball history. The transaction was announced ten days later, after Ruth took some convincing to become a Yankee.
Selling Ruth allowed Frazee to stay solvent and keep his theatre business alive. Signing Ruth allowed Ruppert and Huston to become very rich, as the Bambino stopped pitching and turned his concentration to becoming the greatest slugger that ever lived. In turn, Ruth’s unprecedented success fill the stadium, made the Yankees universally famous, and force the team to grow into a genuine colossus.
It was the biggest deal in sports history.
How Babe Ruth became the greatest sportsman of all-time with the Yankees
“Ruth was New York incarnate,” wrote Glenn Stout. “Uncouth and raw, flamboyant and flashy, oversized, out of scale, and absolutely unstoppable.” Indeed, New York City, self-assigned as the greatest place on earth, only magnified and extrapolated Ruth’s circus act of moonshots. Somehow, it would not have been the same if he revolutionised baseball playing in Philadelphia or Cincinnati or even St Louis. New York was evolving at an unprecedented rate, and Babe Ruth became one of its intrinsic hubs of cultural fascination.
In his debut season with the Yankees, Ruth hit 54 home runs, breaking his own single season record. That season, he hit more homers alone than all major league teams except the Phillies. The two players who recorded the next-best totals hit eleven less long balls than Ruth combined.
Attendance soared to 1,289,422 as the Yankees became the first team ever to reach seven digits. Ticket prices were raised, enabling the pinstripers to become the richest team in baseball and catalysing a mystique that lasts to this day.
Ruth and the Yankees were so popular that Giants owner Horace Stoneham wanted them out of the Polo Grounds, a shared home the Yankees rented. Accordingly, early in 1921, plans for a majestic, three-tiered stadium in the Bronx were unfurled. Excavation began three weeks later, as another cog in the Yankee machine was created.
On 10th June 1921, Ruth hit the 120th home run of his career, establishing a major league record that stood for fifty-three years until Hank Aaron broke it. Ruth’s home runs were not only more frequent, but also more jaw dropping, than anybody had ever known. He launched the furthest home runs ever seen at so many parks around the league, and there was a vicarious sense of accomplishment derived from being in the crowd to see the Babe hit one.
The Yankees rode this lethal weapon to glory. Ruth’s arrival in New York was the big bang moment for Yankee Greatness, baseball history and sport in general. Ruth powered the Yankees to their first pennant in 1921, but was stricken by an abscess as they lost the World Series. Nevertheless, rings and success followed in due course as the Bambino soared in popularity.
Babe Ruth’s fame was a perfect miracle of time and place, as the explosion of tabloid media, radio and newsreel film beamed his image and essence around the world. The crowds that swarmed around this guy befitted a President, a Messiah, a God. “His existence enlarges us,” said Heyward Hale Broun. “Just by looking at him or thinking about him. That’s because you saw perfection, and it’s so glorious that it’s almost painful.”
The Babe had everything at his fingertips ions before that became the norm for star athletes. Sure, he struggled with vice and temptation, and even neglected his family at times, but the wider public loved him regardless. A candy bar was even named after him, for crying out loud! What more can a man achieve?
“Of this, there can be no doubt,” wrote Marty Appell in Pinstripe Empire. “He [Ruth] became the face of the Yankees as they emerged as the best-known team in sports. All discussions of Yankee greatness, dynasties and success begin with the Babe. Obtaining him proved to be the greatest transaction a team ever pulled off, and keeping his name and image front and centre proved to have enduring qualities for the franchise.”
People felt more alive because of Ruth. He provided escape and excitement, a glimpse of big ideas amid the humdrum everyday grind. Ruth was the ultimate showman. He, himself, became an event. When baseball was unrivalled as the national pastime, the Bambino was the face people saw and associated with first and foremost. Immigrants knew that, if they could identify and talk about Ruth, their assimilation to American life would be easier.
“No novelist or Hollywood screenwriter, at the furthest extremes of their imagination, would have dared invent somebody like this,” Donald Honig observed. “This was science fiction.”
In the immediate aftermath of the Black Sox scandal, in which certain members of the Chicago White Sox took bribes to lose the 1919 World Series to Cincinnati, Ruth was just what baseball needed to bring the fans back. However, what they were watching was decidedly different, a Baseball 2.0 if you will. Previously, baseball was a chess match in which managers bunted, moved runners along and sought one run to back strong pitching. That had been the norm for half a century, then the Babe came along and won whole ballgames with one swing of his mighty bat.
So unprecedented was Ruth’s performance, scientists and psychologists attempted to decode why he was so different, like somebody from another planet. He was slowed somewhat in 1922, slamming just 35 homers in 110 games, but the Yankees ventured to another World Series, only to lose once more. However, that was the last real year of competitive balance in baseball. The Bronx Bombers duly took over the world.
Why was Yankee Stadium known as The House That Ruth Built?
Yankee Stadium was a fitting abode for Ruth and his teammates. The first triple-decked stadium in America, it was a huge, great, hulking monument to the team’s potential and Ruppert’s dream of unremitting success.
It was built to cater for Ruth and draw fans in record numbers to watch his wondrous act. Opening Day for baseball’s defining cathedral attracted 74,200.
“I would give a year of my life to hit the first home run here,” said the Bambino, which of course he did later that day. The park was duly christened The House That Ruth Built in perpetual admiration.
Ruth blasted 41 homers in 1923 to complement a .393 batting average, still the team record. The Yankees met the Giants, their crosstown nemesis, in the Fall Classic, and finally prevailed in six games. It was Ruth’s fourth World Series ring and, of course, the first of twenty-seven in Yankees history. In every sense possible, it was the start of something great.
The Yankees could not repeat in 1924, and Ruth was limited to ninety games by his Bellyache Heard ‘Round the World in 1925, but the pieces of a juggernaut team were slowly assembled. Lou Gehrig, a mild mannered first baseman, added pop to the lineup before evolving into one of the most legendary players and gentlemen in baseball history. “I’m not a headline guy,” said Gehrig of his lot in life. “I know that, as long as I was following Ruth to the plate, I could have stood on my head and nobody would have known the difference.”
The Yankees won the pennant in 1926, but Ruth was caught stealing to end a Series in which he became the first player to hit three homers in one Fall Classic game. According to mythology, the Bambino also slammed a Series home run for Johnny Sylvester, a seriously ill child who begged him to hit one out. Whether apocryphal or not, this was another mesmeric tale in the Ruth tapestry. Nevertheless, there was plenty to prove in 1927, and the famous Murderers’ Row ballclub obliterated all concern in emphatic fashion.
That year, the Yankees set a standard for excellence that is yet to be convincingly surpassed. Gehrig hit 47 homers, drove in 170 runs and honed a .373 batting average en route to winning the MVP award. Tony Lazzeri and Bob Meusel each drove in more than 100, too, while Earle Combs hit .356 and the pitching staff combined for a 3.20 ERA.
New York led the league in runs scored, homers, triples, slugging percentage, ERA and shutouts. The numbers were historically good, but what Babe Ruth managed to achieve that year crashed through to another realm of excellence. His feats that summer still echo in the annals of sporting history.
How much money did Babe Ruth earn in his career?
Prior to the season, the Babe signed a three-year, $210,000 contract. That dwarfed the salary of previous baseball demigods such as Cobb and Speaker, and even surpassed the pay check of Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis. Hell, Ruth even earned more than the President, to the outrage of some traditionalist, but when the Bambino slammed sixty home runs, breaking his own single season record, the Yankees thought he was worth every cent.
The number seemed outlandish and unbreakable.
“Let’s see some son of a bitch try to top that one”, said Ruth. It took thirty-four years for anybody to get close.
The Yankees reclaimed their world championship in 1927 and successfully defended it the following year, when Ruth threatened to break his record again but settled for 54 homers.
In 1929, the Yankees became the first team to wear jersey numbers full-time. Management handed them out in correlation with the batting order, so Ruth took number three. It quickly became a symbol of power and majesty in baseball, and I believe it should join Jackie Robinson’s 42 as the only digits retired across the league.
By 1930, Ruth was earning $80,000, which was $5,000 more than President Herbert Hoover. When asked about the discrepancy in salary, the Babe offered a priceless response: “I know, but I had a better year than him.”
Babe Ruth and The Called Shot – did it happen?
New York did not return to the Series until 1932, by which time Ruth was 37-years old. That three-season wait between pennants heightened tensions in the Bronx, which speaks volumes about the dynasty being created. Meanwhile, in Boston, the Red Sox were just fourteen years into a championship drought that stretched until 2004. The so-called Curse of the Bambino, popularised by a riveting book by Dan Shaughnessy, became the catchall rationale for Boston failure, with many believing the trade of Ruth doomed the Red Sox to almost a century of heartache.
In many ways, 1932 provided the last glimpse of a vintage Bambino. Prior to the campaign, he worked with trainer Artie McGovern, losing weight and blazing a trail of serious offseason conditioning. He proceeded to slug 41 homers and produce a .341 batting average in the regular season, before illuminating the World Series with legendary antics.
In Game 3 of the Fall Classic at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Ruth may have gifted baseball its defining miracle. Facing Cubs pitcher Charlie Root in the fifth inning, mythology suggests the Babe pointed towards the centre field bleachers, signalling his intent to launch a home run on the next offering. Indeed, when Root delivered his pitch, Ruth clobbered a mammoth bomb over the wall.
The veracity of this tale cannot be confirmed, but grainy footage of the game definitely shows Ruth pointing somewhere during the specific plate appearance. Many say he was gesturing towards the Cubs dugout, where rival players were criticising him loudly. Others, like me, prefer to believe the cuddly, romantic version of events.
The fact that a man could not only hit a round ball with a round bat, with only a split second in which to think, is a wonder alone. The notion of somebody predicting beforehand that he would not only connect, but that he would send the pitch crashing into the distant horizon, on the biggest stage of all, is intoxicating.
It may be false, as a lot was in the reporting of Ruth’s life. Yet as Jean Shepherd once explained: “It’s a harmless little myth. There is nothing wrong with it. Hell, a lot of people believe in Santa Claus.”
The Called Shot is baseball’s version of the Moon Landing. It was arguably the most fabled moment in the game’s history, but many people are still unaware that the towering home run was also Ruth’s fifteenth Series clout, which set a new record that lasted thirty-two years. It was a stroke of genius, and perhaps the last spark of genuine brilliance Ruth ever displayed. The Yankees demolished the Cubs, and the Sultan of Swat earned his seventh and final World Series ring.
He would never again reach that theatre of dreams.
The twilight of Babe Ruth’s career
The following year, Ruth hit the first home run in All-Star Game history, because of course he did. Nevertheless, George hit just 34 long balls in 1933 as age began to eat away at even the very best baseball had known.
Ruth thwacked his 700th homer in 1934, but managed just 22 in his penultimate campaign. He left the Yanks after that season, heartbroken that they never granted his dream of becoming manager.
Twenty-eight games with the Boston Braves in 1935 seemed incongruous, but Ruth notched six more home runs before retiring with the hallowed number of 714. When he finally departed, the Babe held thirty-four major league or American League records, and twenty-six different World Series marks.
His 2,062 career walks represented 185,580 feet, or 35 miles, down the first base line. That is roughly the equivalent of walking from the Bronx to Brooklyn and back.
Upon his retirement, Ruth sat atop the all-time home run list, with Gehrig second at 353 and Rogers Hornsby third with 300. In short, he more than doubled the home run output of any man on the planet ever to pick up a baseball bat.
You like new-fangled statistics? Well, Ruth also has the most Wins Above Replacement ever, per Baseball-Reference. That metric also suggests that he owns the three best individual seasons ever recorded, and six of the top twelve. The damn thing did not even exist back then, and Ruth still led the league. One could write an entire book about his statistical accomplishments alone.
The death of Babe Ruth
Unfortunately, death came for Babe Ruth far too early. He was struck by throat cancer and began wasting away. As he battled the vicious disease, 27th April 1947 was designated Babe Ruth Day across baseball, as the mighty slugger became the first player to have a league-wide Day in over half a century.
The Yankees retired Ruth’s number on Old Timers’ Day in 1948. For the ceremony, he adorned the famous pinstripes one last time, smiling and waving at the thousands who loved him with unalloyed passion. He was emaciated and a shell of his former self, but the poetry and symbolism was overpowering. “As twenty Yankee pennants hung over the facade, and with tears running down most everyone’s cheeks, the Babe was saying goodbye,” wrote Appell.
Ruth eventually died at 8.01pm on August 16th 1948. He was 53. Television programmes were interrupted by news bulletins and papers barked the news in monolithic font fit for a monarch. In many ways, that is just what Ruth was. His body lay in state behind home plate at the Stadium, and up to 100,000 people filed by to pay their respects.
“Every big league player and his wife should teach their children to pray: ‘God bless mommy, God bless daddy, and God bless Babe Ruth,’” said Waite Hoyt, a beloved teammate.
“No game will ever see his like, his equal, again,” wrote esteemed Grantland Rice. “He was one in many, many lifetimes. One all alone.”
How did Babe Ruth change the world?
Babe Ruth became such a symbol of the United States that, during World War II, Japanese soldiers yelled in English, “To hell with Babe Ruth,” hoping to anger American soldiers.
Ruth was human, but he travelled from superstardom to legend, then finally to myth, resting with the gods. It is easy to overlook the pressure heaped upon the Babe, to see him as superhuman. But imagine if you were tasked with changing forever how something so cherished was done. Imagine if you were burdened with the expectation and pressure of 65,000 screaming fans who were only there to see you perform that signature trick.
That pressure rarely affected Ruth. He just kept hitting, drinking, eating and hitting some more. And therein lies his innate genius.
The legacy Ruth left is still felt today. Any time somebody slips on those pinstripes or places that interlocking NY cap on their head, they are carrying on a tradition of greatness authored by the Babe himself. They become keepers of the flame and stewards of Yankee mystique, a concept almost entirely of his creation.
“The fascination with his life and career continues,” Montville concludes. “He is a bombastic, sloppy hero from our bombastic, sloppy history, origins undetermined, a folk tale of American success. His moon face is as recognizable today as it was when he stared out at Tom Zachary on a certain September afternoon in 1927.
“If sport has become the national religion, Babe Ruth is the patron saint. He stands at the heart of the game he played, the promise of a warm summer night, a bag of peanuts, and a beer. And just maybe, the longest ball hit out of the park.”
Amen to that. And amen to Babe Ruth, the greatest hero baseball will ever know.
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Ryan Ferguson is the author of Conflict: The Yankees, the Red Sox and the War for My Heart, available now in paperback and Kindle formats through Amazon. Click the link below to get your copy now!