George Herman “Babe” Ruth, Jr. (Baltimore, February 6, 1895 – New York, August 16, 1948), better known as Babe Ruth and Bambino, was an American baseball player. He began his MLB career as a left-handed pitcher playing for the Boston Red Sox, but achieved fame as a hitter, playing as a defensive outfielder for the New York Yankees. Ruth set many records in batting (and some as a pitcher), including career home runs (714), runs batted in (the last two remain to this day. Ruth is regarded as one of the great heroes of American sports, and is considered by many to be the greatest baseball player of all time. He is one of the first five to enter the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in 1936.
At age 7, Ruth was sent to St. Mary”s Industrial School for Boys, a reform school where he learned life lessons and baseball skills from Brother Matthias Boutlier of Christian Brothers, a school disciplinarian and good baseball player. In 1914, Ruth signed with the minor leagues playing for the Baltimore Orioles but was soon sold to the Red Sox. By 1916, he had a significant reputation as a great pitcher and sometimes hit long home runs, an unusual feat for any pre-1920 player in the dead ball era. Although Ruth twice won 23 games in a season as a pitcher and three-time World Series champion with Boston, he wanted to play every day and was allowed to start as an outfielder. With more regular playing time, he broke the single-season home run record in 1919.
After this season, Red Sox owner Harry Frazee controversially sold Ruth to the Yankees, an act that, along with Boston”s subsequent championship drought, became popularized as the “Curse of the Bambino.” In his fifteen years with New York, Ruth helped the Yankees to seven American League championships and four World Series. His power in hitting led to more and more home runs, which not only drew fans to the stadiums and boosted the popularity of the sport, but also helped usher in baseball”s live-ball era, which evolved from a low-scoring, much more strategic game to one where the home run was a major factor. As part of the 1927 Yankees, known at the time as “Murderer”s Row,” Ruth hit 60 home runs, extending his MLB single-season record. He retired in 1935 after a short stint with the Boston Braves. During his career, Ruth took the title of most home runs during a season on twelve occasions.
Ruth”s strong personality and charismatic personality made him an important figure in the so-called “Roaring Twenties.” During his career, he received intense publicity and public attention for his baseball accomplishments and his off-field fame as a drunkard and womanizer. His often reckless lifestyle was tempered by his willingness to do good, visiting children in hospitals and orphanages. He was denied positions in baseball after his retirement, most likely for his bad behavior during part of his career. In his later years, Ruth made many public appearances, especially in support of the war effort during World War II. In 1946, he was diagnosed with cancer and died two years later Ruth remains a part of American culture and in 2018, President Donald Trump posthumously awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
George Herman Ruth Jr. was born in 1895 at 216 Emory Street in Pigtown, a working-class neighborhood of Baltimore, Maryland, named for the many meat packing plants in the area. Its population included recent immigrants from Ireland, Germany, and Italy, as well as African Americans. Ruth”s parents, George Herman Ruth, Sr. (1871-1918) and Katherine Schamberger, were both German-Americans. According to the 1880 census, her parents John and Mary were Maryland natives. Ruth Sr.”s paternal grandparents were from Prussia and Hanover, respectively. Ruth Sr. held several jobs, including lightning rod salesman and streetcar operator, before becoming a clerk in a grocery bar on Frederick Street. George Ruth Jr. was born in the home of his maternal grandfather, Pius Schamberger, a German immigrant and trade unionist. Only one of young George”s seven siblings, his younger sister Mamie, survived childhood.
Many aspects of Ruth”s childhood are undetermined, including the date of her parents” marriage. As a young boy, George moved with his family to 339 South Woodyear Street, not far from the railroad yards; at that time, with the boy at age 6, his father owned a bar with an upstairs apartment at 426 West Camden Street. Details are equally scant for what reasons young George was sent at age 7 to St. Mary”s Industrial School for Boys, a reformatory and orphanage. As an adult, Babe Ruth suggested that he not only kept running around the streets and rarely went to school, but also drank beer when his father was not around. Some accounts say that after a violent incident at his father”s bar, the city authorities decided that this environment was unsuitable for a young child. At St. Mary”s School, which George Jr. entered on June 13, 1902, he was recorded as “incorrigible”; he spent more than twelve years there.
Although St. Mary”s boarders received an education, students were also expected to learn job skills and help operate the school, particularly when they reached the age of 12. Ruth became a shirtmaker and was proficient as a carpenter. He adjusted his collars himself rather than turning them over to a tailor, even during his well-paid baseball career. The boys, ranging in age from 5 to 21, did most of the work on the premises, from cooking to shoe making, and renovated the school in 1912. The food was simple and the brothers known as the Xaverian Brothers, who ran the school, insisted on strict discipline; physical punishments were common. Ruth”s nickname was “Niggerlips” because of her facial features and because she was darker than most of the white boys in the reformatory.
Ruth was sometimes allowed to join his family, or was placed at St. James”s Home, a supervised residence with work in the community, but he always returned to St. Mary”s. Ruth was rarely visited by his family; his mother died when he was 12, and according to some accounts, he was allowed to leave St. Mary”s only to attend the funeral. How Ruth got started in baseball is also uncertain: according to one account, his entrance to St. Mary”s was due to his repeated window smashes in Baltimore with his long hits while playing street ball; in other accounts, he was told to make the team on his first day at St. Mary”s by the school”s athletic director, Brother Herman, became a catcher although left-handers rarely play this position. During his stay there he also played third base and shortstop, again unusual for left-handers, and was forced to wear right-handed gloves. Ruth was encouraged in his activities by the head of the discipline class, Brother Matthias Boutlier, a Nova Scotia native. A strong man, Brother Matthias was highly respected by the boys for both his strength and his good sense of justice. For the rest of her life, Ruth would praise Brother Matthias, and his rebounding and running style very closely to his teacher. Ruth would claim, “I think I was born a hitter the first day I saw him hit a ball.” The old man became his mentor and role model; biographer Robert W. Creamer commented on the closeness between the two:
Ruth revered Brother Matthias … which is amazing, considering that Matthias was in charge in making changes in the boys” behavior and Ruth was one of the most misbehaved of all time. … George Ruth caught Brother Matthias” eye very early on, and the calm and considerable attention the great man gave the rebellious young man ignited a spark in the boy”s soul … attenuated the wildness of the nastiest boy I have ever heard of from at least half a dozen of his contemporaries in baseball, who describe him with awe and admiration as “an animal.”
The influence of the school stayed with Ruth in other ways: a lifelong Catholic, he sometimes went to church after partying all night and became a well-known member of the Knights of Columbus organization. He visited orphanages, schools and hospitals throughout his life, always avoiding publicity. Ruth was generous to St. Mary”s when he became famous and wealthy, donating money and making gifts to raise funds for the school; he spent $5000 to buy a Cadillac for Brother Matthias in 1926-subsequently replacing it when this car was wrecked in an accident. Even so, her biographer Leigh Montville suggested that many of the off-field excesses in Ruth”s career were driven by her deprivations from her days at St. Mary”s.
Most of the kids at St. Mary”s played baseball, with leagues organized at different levels of proficiency. Ruth later estimated that she played 200 games a year while constantly climbing the ladder of success. Although he played every position, including infielder, normally reserved for right-handers, he gained notoriety as a pitcher. According to Brother Matthias, Ruth once stood around laughing at the fumbled efforts at pitching of his teammates, and Matthias told him to go over and see if he could do better. After becoming the best pitcher at St. Mary”s in 1913, when Ruth was 18, he was allowed to leave the place to play on weekends for community teams. He was mentioned in several newspaper articles, both for the intrepidity of his pitches and his ability to hit long home runs.
Minor League, Baltimore Orioles
In early 1914, Ruth signed a contract with a professional team through Jack Dunn, owner and manager of the minor league Baltimore Orioles, an International League team. The circumstances of Ruth”s signing cannot be stated with certainty, with historical facts obscured by stories that may not all be true. According to some accounts, Dunn was urged to attend a match between the all-star team from St. Mary”s and a team from another Xaverian Brothers facility, Mount St. Mary”s College. Some versions say that Ruth escaped the expected game, returned in time to be penalized, and then pitched in the St. Mary”s victory while Dunn watched the game. Others say that Washington Senators pitcher Joe Engel, a Mount St. Mary”s graduate, pitched in an interscholastic game after watching a preliminary game between the freshmen and the St. Mary”s team, including Ruth. Engel watched Ruth play and talked with Dunn about him, talking about a possible reunion in Washington. Ruth, in her autobiography, states that she worked for Dunn for half an hour and then signed the contract. According to biographer Kal Wagenheim, there were legal difficulties as Ruth was supposed to stay in school until she turned 21.
The train journey to spring training in Fayetteville, North Carolina, in early March was possibly the first time Ruth had ever left the Baltimore area. The rookie player was the subject of several jokes by the veterans, which were probably the source of his famous nickname. There are several accounts of how Ruth was called Babe, but mostly by referring to him as Dunnie”s baby (English: Dunnie”s babe) or some variation. “Babe” was a common baseball nickname at the time, with perhaps the most famous being Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher and 1909 World Series hero Babe Adams, who looked younger than he really was.
Babe Ruth”s first appearance as a professional baseball player was in an inter-squad game on March 7, 1914. Ruth played shortstop and pitched the last two innings in a 15-9 victory. In his second time at bat, Ruth hit a long home run to right field, which was reported locally as longer than a legendary hit in Fayetteville by Jim Thorpe. His first appearance against a team in organized baseball was in an exhibition against the big league team, the Philadelphia Phillies: Ruth pitched three innings, conceding two runs in the fourth inning, but then rallying and pitching in the fifth and sixth innings allowing no runs. The next afternoon, Ruth was put in during the sixth inning against the Phillies and allowed no runs for the rest of the game. The Orioles scored seven runs in the bottom of the eighth inning, turning a score that was 6-0, making Ruth the winning pitcher.
When the regular season began, Ruth was an already star pitcher, also dangerous at home plate. The team performed well, even though it received almost no attention from the Baltimore press. A third major league, the Federal League began play, and the local franchise, the Baltimore Terrapins, put the city back in the big leagues for the first time since 1902. Few fans visited Oriole Park, where Ruth and his teammates worked in relative obscurity. Ruth must have been offered a larger bonus and salary to move to the Terrapins; when rumors to this effect swirled around Baltimore, giving Ruth the most publicity he had experienced up to that point, a Terrapins director denied such a version, stating that it was club policy not to sign players under contract agencyed by Dunn.
The Terrapins” competition has caused Dunn big losses. Although at the end of June the Orioles were in first place, having won two-thirds of their games, attendance dropped to 150 people. Dunn explored a possible move from Richmond (Virginia), as well as selling the club”s minority stake. These possibilities did not work out, leaving Dunn with little choice but to sell his best players to teams in the big leagues to raise money. He offered Ruth to the World Series champions, the Philadelphia Athletics owned by Connie Mack, but Mack had his own financial problems. The Cincinnati Reds and New York Giants expressed interest in Ruth, but Dunn sold him along with pitchers Ernie Shore and Ben Egan to the Boston Red Sox of the American League (AL) on July 4. The sale price was advertised as $25,000 but some say the value was less than half of what was advertised or possibly $8500 in addition to the $3000 loan write-off. Ruth stayed with the Orioles for many days while the Red Sox completed away games and reported to the team on July 11 in Boston.
Boston Red Sox (1914-19)
Ruth arrived in Boston on July 11, 1914, along with Egan and Shore. Ruth later recounted that he met that morning, the woman who would later become his wife, Helen Woodford-she was then sixteen years old, working as a waitress at Landers Coffee Shop, and Ruth reported that she was the one who served him while they had coffee. Other stories, however, suggest that the meeting happened on another day, and perhaps under other circumstances. Regardless of when he began courting his first wife, Ruth won his first game for the Red Sox that afternoon, 4-3, over the Cleveland Naps. He pitched with catcher Bill Carrigan, who was also the Red Sox manager. Carrigan asked Shore to start the next day”s game; he won that game and the next, and has since started throwing regularly. Ruth missed his second game as a first pitcher, and was little used thereafter. As a hitter, in his major league debut, Ruth failed to hit getting 0 of 2 at bats against lefty Willie Mitchell, suffered a strikeout in his first time at bat before being replaced by a replacement hitter in the seventh inning. Ruth was not much noticed by the fans, as their attention was on the Red Sox”s rivals, the Boston Braves, who began a legendary turnaround in the league by coming out of last place on July 4 and becoming the 1914 World Series champions.
Egan was traded to Cleveland after two weeks. During his time with the Red Sox, he kept an eye on the inexperienced Ruth just as Dunn had done in Baltimore. When he was traded, no one took his place as supervisor. Ruth”s new teammates considered him impetuous and, as a rookie, preferred that he remain quiet and unobtrusive. When Ruth insisted on batting practice despite being a rookie and not playing regularly, one day he found his bats sawed in half. His teammates nicknamed him “the big Baboon,” a name that the brunette Ruth, like his previous nickname at St. Marys”s, “Niggerlips,” detested. Ruth had received a promotion raise to the big leagues and quickly acquired a taste for good food, drinks, and women, among other temptations.
Manager Carrigan allowed Ruth to pitch in two exhibition games in mid-August. Although Ruth won both against minor league teams, he did not return to the pitching rotation It is uncertain why Carrigan did not give Ruth other opportunities. There is a movie, The Babe Ruth Story (1948)-which shows that the young pitcher had a habit of signaling his intention to throw a curveball by sticking out his tongue, which made things easier for the hitter until that was changed. Creamer pointed out that it was common for inexperienced pitchers to demonstrate such habits, and the need to take this away from Ruth was no reason not to have used it. The biographer suggests that Carrigan was unwilling to use Ruth for the rookie”s bad behavior.
On July 30, 1914, Boston owner Joseph Lannin had acquired a minor league team, the Providence Grays, members of the International League. Providence had had several owners associated with the Detroit Tigers, including hitter Ty Cobb, and as part of this transaction, a pitcher from Providence was sent to the Tigers. To calm the spirits of Providence fans for losing a team star, Lannin announced that the Red Sox would soon send a replacement piece to the Grays. It was intended to be Ruth, but his departure to Providence was delayed by Cincinnati Reds owner Garry Herrmann until the transfer was past the MLB deadline. After Lannin wrote to Herrmann explaining that the Red Sox wanted Ruth at Providence so they would have a player to develop, and would not release him to a team in the big leagues, Herrmann allowed Ruth to be sent to the minor leagues. Carrigan later stated that Ruth was not sent to Providence to make him a better player, but to help the Grays win the International League pennant.
Ruth joined the Grays on August 18, 1914. What was left for the Baltimore Orioles after Dunn”s dealings was to hold first place until August 15, and after that date they continued to fall down the table leaving the race for the pennant between Providence and the Rochester Red Wings. Ruth was very impressed by Providence manager “Wild Bill” Donovan, formerly a famous pitcher with a 25-4 winning record playing for Detroit in 1907; years later, Ruth credited Donovan for teaching him how to pitch. Ruth was always called upon to pitch, and won four games in eight days. On September 5 in Toronto, Ruth pitched in a 9-0 win, allowing only one hit, and hitting his first professional home run, the only one in the minor leagues, against pitcher Ellis Johnson. Recalled back to Boston after Providence finished the season in first place, he pitched and won a game for the Red Sox against the New York Yankees on October 2, getting his first hit in the big leagues, a double. Ruth finished the season with a winning record of 2-1 in the big leagues and 23-8 in the International League (for Baltimore and Providence). Once the season had concluded, Ruth married Helen in Ellicott City, Maryland. Creamer speculated that they would not have married in Baltimore, where the newlyweds boarded with George Ruth, Sr. to avoid possible interference from the people at St. Mary”s-both bride and groom were not yet of age, and Ruth remained on probation from that institution until her 21st birthday.
Ruth reported for his first major league spring training in Hot Springs, Arkansas, in March 1915. Despite a relatively successful first season, Ruth was not drafted to pitch regularly by the Red Sox, who had two phenomenal left-handed pitchers: Dutch Leonard, who had broken the record for the lowest clean run average (and Ray Collins, winner of 20 games in both 1913 and 1914. Ruth was ineffective on his first day as a starting pitcher, missing his third game of the season. Injuries and ineffective performances by Boston”s other pitchers gave Ruth another chance, and after a few good relief appearances, Carrigan gave Ruth another chance as a starter and he won in a rain-shortened seven-inning game. Ten days later, the manager started Ruth against the New York Yankees at the Polo Grounds. Ruth had a 3-2 lead until the ninth inning, but lost the game 4-3 in 13 innings. Ruth, batting in the ninth inning, as was customary for pitchers, hit a long home run in the upper deck in right field against pitcher Jack Warhop. At the time, home runs were rare in baseball, and Ruth”s majestic hit impressed the crowd. The winning pitcher, Warhop, would end an eight-season career in August 1915, mediocre but remembered as the first major league pitcher to hit a home run off Babe Ruth.
In 1916, attention was focused on Ruth because of his pitching, and his repeated duels against the Washington Senators” ace, Walter Johnson. The two met five times during this season, with Ruth winning four and Johnson winning once. Two of Ruth”s wins were by the score of 1-0, one of them in a 13-inning game. About one of the shutouts (1-0 score) decided in extra innings, American League President Ban Johnson said, “That was one of the best baseball games I”ve ever seen.” This season Ruth has managed a 23-12 winning record, with a 1.75 ERA and nine shutouts; two of these rates led the league. Ruth”s nine shutouts in 1916 set a new record for left-handers that stood until Ron Guidry tied the record in 1978. The Red Sox won the 1916 World Series, this time beating the Brooklyn Superbas (as the Dodgers were known) in five games. Ruth started and won game 2 2-1, in 14 innings. Until another game of this length was played in the 2005 World Series, this had been the longest game in the World Series, and Ruth”s performance with victory is still the longest complete game in postseason play.
Carrigan retired as a player and coach after 1916, returning to his hometown in Maine to be a businessman. Ruth, who played under the supervision of four coaches who are in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, always claimed that Carrigan, who was not enshrined by MLB, was the best captain he had played with. There were other changes in the Red Sox that postseason, as Lannin had sold the team to a three-person group headed by New York theatrical promoter Harry Frazee. Jack Barry was hired by Frazee as manager.
The entry of the United States into World War I happened early in the season and overshadowed the sport. Compulsory military service was introduced in September 1917 and most major league baseball players were within the age limit. This included Barry, who was a player-coach, and joined the Navy reserve in an attempt to avoid the draft, only to be called up after the 1917 season. Frazee hired International League president Ed Barrow as manager of the Red Sox. Barrow had spent the previous 30 years in various positions within baseball, although he never played professionally. Due to the war, Barrow had many lapses in the Red Sox team to fill.
Ruth had also noticed these vacancies and, dissatisfied with his role as a pitcher who appeared on the field every four or five days, wanted to play another position every day. Barrow tried Ruth as a first baseman and outfielder during the exhibition season, but the team moved to Boston and with the season underway, they restricted him to playing pitcher. At the time, Ruth was arguably the best left-handed pitcher in baseball; allowing him to play another position could backfire.
Inexperienced as a manager, Barrow had player Harry Hooper advising him on baseball strategy. Hooper insisted that he allow Ruth to play another position when he was not pitching, arguing to Barrow, who had invested in the club, that the crowd was larger on days when Ruth was playing because they were attracted to his hitting. Barrow relented in early May; Ruth promptly hit home runs in four consecutive games (one of which was an exhibition), the last against Walter Johnson. For the first time in his career (disregarding appearances as a substitute hitter), Ruth was given a spot in the batting order beyond the common ninth inning.
The Red Sox won their third pennant in four years and faced the Chicago Cubs in the 1918 World Series, starting on September 5, the earliest in history. The season was cut short because the government had defined that baseball players eligible for military service would have to work in vital war industries, such as armaments plants. Ruth pitched in game one for the Red Sox, a 1-0 shutout. Before game four, Ruth injured his left hand in a fight; he pitched anyway. He gave up seven hits and six walks, but was aided by the outstanding defensive players and his own batting performance, including a triple in the fourth inning, giving his team the 2-0 lead. The Cubs tied the game in the eighth inning, but the Red Sox scored a run and took the lead again, 3-2, in the bottom of that inning. After Ruth conceded a hit and a walk in the top of the ninth inning, he was replaced on the mound by Joe Bush. To keep Ruth as a hitter in the game, he was sent to play left field. Bush struck out the remaining players giving Ruth his second win of the Series and the third and final win as a pitcher of his World Series career, with no losses in three pitching appearances. Ruth”s efforts gave the team the lead in the Series at 3-1, and two days later the Red Sox would win their third World Series in four years, four games to two. Before allowing the Cubs to score a run in game four, Ruth had pitched 29+2⁄3 consecutive innings with no runs given up, a World Series record that stood for over 40 years until 1961, broken by Whitey Ford after Ruth”s death. Ruth was more proud of this record than any other among his feats as a hitter.
With the end of the World Series, Ruth earned discharge from the war call-up, accepting a nominal position from a Pennsylvania steel mill. Many industries were proud of their baseball teams and sought to sign major league players. The end of the war in November left Ruth free to play baseball without such stratagems.
During the 1919 season, Ruth pitched in only 17 of his 130 games, achieving an 8-5 winning record because Barrow used him as a pitcher in the first part of the season, when the Red Sox manager still had hopes of a second consecutive pennant. By the end of June, the Red Sox were clearly out of the race and Barrow had no objection to Ruth concentrating on hitting, if only that would bring people to the ballpark. Ruth had hit a home run against the Yankees on Opening Day and another after a month-long drought. Released from his pitching duties, Ruth began an unprecedented period of hitting home runs, which gave him widespread attention from both the public and the press. Even his misses were seen as majestic-one sports columnist wrote, “When Ruth misses a swing at the ball, the stands shake.
Two home runs by Ruth on July 5 and one in each of the following games a week later brought his total to 11, tying his career best number achieved in 1918. The first record to fall was the American League single-season record of 16 home runs, set by Ralph “Socks” Seybold in 1902. Ruth equaled the mark on July 29 and jumped ahead of the record of 24, set by Buck Freeman in 1899. Ruth reached the mark on September 8; at the time, chroniclers discovered that Ned Williamson of the 1884 Chicago White Stockings had hit 27-though in a stadium where the distances to right field was only 215 feet (66 m). On September 30, there was the so-called “Babe Ruth Day” at Fenway Park, in which Ruth won the game with a home run in the bottom of the ninth inning, tying Williamson. Ruth broke the record four days later against the Yankees at the Polo Grounds and hit one more against the Senators to end the season with 29. The home run in Washington made Ruth the first player in the big leagues to hit at least one home run in all eight stadiums in his league. Despite Ruth”s heroic hitting, Red Sox finished the season in sixth place, 20+1⁄2 games behind the champion White Sox.
Sale to the New York Yankees
As an outsider from New York City, Frazee was viewed with suspicion by Boston sportscasters and baseball fans when he bought the team. He won them over by his success on the field and his willingness to build the Red Sox by buying or trading players. He offered the Senators team $60,000 for Walter Johnson, but Washington owner Clark Griffith was unwilling to sell him. Even so, Frazee was successful in bringing other players to Boston, especially replacements for players who were serving in the army. This willingness to spend on players helped the Red Sox win the 1918 title. The 1919 season had record attendance and Ruth”s home runs for Boston made him a national sensation. However, on December 26, 1919, Frazee sold Ruth to the New York Yankees.
Not all the circumstances surrounding the sale are known, but brewer and former Congressman Jacob Ruppert, New York”s principal stockholder, reportedly asked Yankess coach Miller Huggins what the team needed to succeed. “Bring Ruth from Boston,” Huggins allegedly replied, noting that Frazee was permanently in search of money to finance his theatrical productions. In any case, there was precedent for the Ruth transaction: when Boston pitcher Carl Mays left the Red Sox in 1919, Frazee had settled the matter by selling Mays to the Yankees, despite opposition from American League president Johnson.
According to one of Ruth”s biographers, Jim Reisler, “why Frazee needed money in 1919-and great infusion of coin-is still, more than 80 years later, a mystery.” The story always told is that Frazee needed money to finance the musical No, No, Nanette, which was a hit on Broadway and brought Frazee financial security. The play did not open until 1925, when Frazee had already sold the Red Sox. Still, the story may be true in essence: No, No, Nanette was based on another play produced by Frazee, My Lady Friends, which opened in 1919.
There were other financial pressures on Frazee, even though his team was a success. Ruth, fully aware of the popularity of baseball and his role in the sport wanted to renegotiate his contract, signed before the 1919 season for $10,000 a year until 1921. He demanded that his salary be doubled, or he would sit out the season and profit from his popularity in other ventures. Ruth”s demands for his salary caused other players to ask for more money. In addition, Frazee still owed Lannin $125,000 for the purchase of the club.
Although Ruppert and co-owner Colonel Tillinghast Huston were both wealthy, and had, aggressively bought and traded players in 1918 and 1919 to make a winning team, Ruppert faced losses from his brewery business when the dry law in the United States was implemented, and if the team had to leave the Polo Grounds, where the Yankees were tenants of the New York Giants, building a stadium in New York would be too expensive. However, when Frazee, who hung out in the same social circles as Huston, suggested to the Colonel that Ruth was available at the right price, the Yankeess owners quickly proceeded with the purchase.
Frazee sold the rights to Babe Ruth for $100,000, the largest sum ever paid by a baseball player. The deal also involved a $350,000 loan from Ruppert to Frazee, secured by a Fenway Park mortgage. With the deal closed, Frazee reported to Barrow, who, stunned, told the owner that he was making a bad deal. Some say Barrow could have played a bigger role in the Ruth sale, as less than a year later, he became the Yankees general manager and in the following years made several trades of Red Sox players with Frazee. The $100,000 price included $25,000 in cash and promissory notes for the same amount payable on November 1, 1920, 1921, and 1922; Ruppert and Huston assisted Frazee in selling the notes to banks in exchange for immediate cash.
The transaction depended on Ruth”s signature, which was quickly accomplished-Ruth agreed to serve out the remaining two years of her contract, but was given a $20,000 bonus, payable over two seasons. The deal was announced on January 6, 1920. Reactions in Boston were mixed: some fans were bitter about losing Ruth; others admitted that it had become difficult for them to get along with the player. The New York Times suggested, “The low right-field wall at the Polo Grounds should prove an easy target for Ruth next season, and, playing seventy-seven home games, it would be no surprise if Ruth surpasses his record for home runs next summer.” According to Reisler, “The Yankees had pulled off the steal of the century.”
According to Marty Appel in his history of the Yankees, the transaction, “changed the fortunes of two great franchises for decades.” The Red Sox, winners of five of the first 16 World Series, those played between 1903 and 1919, would not win another pennant until 1946, or another World Series until 2004, a drought attributed in baseball superstition to Frazee”s sale of Ruth and sometimes dubbed the “Curse of the Bambino.” The Yankees, on the other hand, had not won any American League championships prior to Ruth”s acquisition. They won seven LA pennants and four World Series under Ruth, and lead baseball with forty pennants and 27 World Series titles in their history.
New York Yankees (1920-34)
As a Yankees player, Ruth”s transition from pitcher to power hitter was complete. In his fifteen seasons with the team, playing more than 2000 times, Ruth broke many records in batting, but only five times in limited appearances on the mound, winning every game as a pitcher.
At the end of April 1920, the Yankees were 4-7, with the Red Sox leading the league at 10-2. Ruth had done little, having injured himself swinging at the bat. Both situations began to change on May 1 when Ruth hit out of the Polo Grounds, a feat previously believed to have been accomplished by Shoeless Joe Jackson. The Yankees won 6-0. Ruth hit his second home run on May 2 and by the end of the month had set the major league record for home runs in a month with 11, and immediately broke the record again in June with 13. Fans responded with attendance records: on May 16, Ruth and the Yankees drew 36,000 people to the Polo Grounds, a record for that stadium, and 15,000 fans were denied entry. Large crowds packed stadiums to see Ruth play when the Yankees played away from home
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 the doubleheader four days later. By the end of July, Ruth had 37, but the pace slowed a bit after that. Still, on September 4, he tied and broke the organized baseball record for home runs in a single season, breaking the record of Perry Werden who in 1895 hit 44 in the minor league Western League. The Yankees were playing well as a team, fighting for the league lead from the beginning of the summer, but fell in August to the American League in the battle for the pennant with Chicago and Cleveland. The championship was won by Cleveland, staying ahead after the Black Sox Scandal broke out on September 28, leading to the suspension of many top players, including Joe Jackson. The Yankees finished third, but brought 1.2 million fans to the Polo Grounds, the first time a team had ever managed a 7-figure attendance. The rest of the league sold 600,000 more tickets, many of these from fans in attendance to see Ruth, who led the league with 54 home runs, 158 runs scored, and 137 runs batted in (RBIs).
Ruth was aided in his exploits in 1920 and later by the fact that the A.J. Reach Company, manufacturer of the balls used in the big leagues, was using a more efficient machine to wind the yarn inside the balls. When these were used in play in 1920, at the beginning of the live ball era, the number of home runs increased by 184 compared to the previous year within the big leagues. Baseball statistician Bill James points out that while Ruth was probably helped by the change in the ball, there were other factors in the sport, including the gradual abolition of spitball (illegal pitching in which the ball was altered by applying saliva, paraffin, or other foreign substance) (accelerated by the death of Ray Chapman, struck by a ball thrown by Mays in August 1920) and the more frequent use of new balls (also a response to Chapman”s death). Still, James theorizes that Ruth”s 1920 explosion could have happened in 1919 if a full 154-game season had been played instead of 140, if Ruth had refrained from pitching in 133 innings that season, and if he had been playing in a stadium other than Fenway Park, where he hit only 9 of his 29 home runs.
Yankees business manager Harry Sparrow had died early in the 1920 season; to replace him, Ruppert and Huston hired Barrow. Ruppert and Barrow quickly made a deal with Frazee for New York to acquire some players who would be mainstays of the Yankees” winning teams including catcher Wally Schang and pitcher Waite Hoyt. Hoyt, at 21, became very close to Ruth:
The scandalous life fascinated Hoyt, the freedom to not give a shit, the no limits, the confusion in excess. How could a man drink so much and never get drunk? … Babe Ruth”s puzzle was never tiring, no matter how many times Hoyt picked up the pieces and stared at them. After a few games he would follow along with the crowd to Babe”s suite. No matter what town, the beer would be cold and bottles would fill the bathtub.
After the Series, Ruth and teammates Bob Meusel and Bill Piercy participated in exhibition games (barnstorming) in the northeast. A rule prohibited World Series participants from playing in exhibition games during the preseason, the purpose being to prevent participants from replicating the Series and undermining its value. Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis suspended the trio until May 20, 1922, and fined them the value of their 1921 World Series payments. In August 1922, the rule was changed to allow limited exhibition games with World Series participants, with Landis” required permission.
After the season, Ruth was invited to the banquet hosted by the Elks Club, set up by Ruth”s agent with the Yankees” support. There, each speaker, finished by future New York Mayor Jimmy Walker, rebuked him for his bad behavior. A very emotional Ruth promised to improve and, to the surprise of many, followed through on his promise. When he reported to spring training, he was in his best shape as a Yankees player, weighing only 95 pounds.
The Yankees” status as the Giants” tenant at the Polo Grounds had become increasingly uncomfortable,and in 1922 Giants owner Charles Stoneham stated that the concession, which was to expire after that season, would not be renewed. Ruppert and Huston had long contemplated a new stadium and had a priority option to purchase at 161st Street and River Avenue in the Bronx. Yankee Stadium was completed in time for the opening on April 18, 1923, in which Babe hit the first home run in what was quickly dubbed “the House that Ruth Built.” The stadium was designed with Ruth in mind: although the fences in left field were farther from the home plate than at the Polo Grounds, the fences in right field at Yankee Stadium were closer, making home runs easier to hit for left-handed batters. To spare Ruth”s eyes, right field-his defensive position-was not in the direction of the afternoon sun, which was traditional; left fielder Meusel would soon be suffering from headaches from being cross-eyed when looking toward home plate.
Ruth spent part of the 1925-26 preseason in physical work at the Artie McGovern academy, getting fit again. Barrow and Huggins had rebuilt the team, surrounding the veteran group with good young players like Tony Lazzeri and Lou Gehrig. But New York was not expected to win the pennant.
The 1926 Series would also be known for the promise Ruth made to a hospitalized 11-year-old boy named Johnny Sylvester that he would hit a home run in his name. Sylvester had been injured falling off a horse, and a friend of Sylvester”s father gave the boy two balls autographed by the Yankees and Cardinals teams, and relayed the promise of Ruth, who did not know the boy, to hit a home run for him. After the Series, Ruth visited the boy in the hospital. When the story came out, the press magnified it enormously, and by some accounts even said that Ruth had saved the boy”s life by visiting him, promising him a home run, and fulfilling the promise.
Before the 1929 season, Ruppert, who had bought Houston in 1923, announced that the Yankees would wear uniforms with numbers to allow fans in cavernous Yankee Stadium to differentiate one player from another. The Cardinals and Indians had experimented with numbered uniforms; the Yankees were the first to wear them in home and away games. Since Ruth was batting third in the batting order, he was given the number 3. According to a very old baseball legend, the Yankees adopted their, now iconic, striped uniform in the hope that Ruth would look thinner. In fact, however, the team had been wearing the striped uniform since Ruppert had bought the team in 1915.
The Yankees faced the Cubs, McCarthy”s old team, in the 1932 World Series. Blood was hot between the two teams as the Yankees resented the Cubs rewarding Mark Koenig, a former Yankee, with a post-season bonus. The games at Yankee Stadium had not been crowded; both were won by the home team, with Ruth getting two single hits but notching four runs after earning four walks. In Chicago, Ruth was offended by the hostile crowd that met the Yankess train and jeered them at the hotel. The crowd for game three included New York Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Democratic candidate for president, who was sitting with Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak. Many in the audience threw lemons at Ruth, a sign of derision, and others (as well as the Cubs themselves) shouted insults at Ruth and other Yankees. They were briefly silenced when Ruth hit a three-run home run over pitcher Charlie Root in the first inning, but soon the Cubs tied the score at 4-4 in the fourth inning. When Ruth came to the plate in the top of the fifth inning, the crowd and Chicago players, led by pitcher Guy Bush, shouted insults at Ruth. With the count at two balls and a strike, Ruth gestured, possibly toward center field, and after the next pitch (a strike), may have pointed to that spot with one hand. Ruth hit the fifth pitch over the center field fence; the ball is estimated to have traveled close to 152 yards. Whether or not Ruth intended to indicate where he planned (and succeeded) to hit the ball is not certain, but the incident has entered legend as Babe Ruth”s called shot. The Yankees won game three, and the next day with another 13-6 victory they won the World Series. During this game, Bush hit Ruth with a pitch on the arm, causing jeers from both sides.
Boston Braves (1935)
Although Ruth knew that his playing career was almost over, he wished to remain in baseball as a manager. He was often mentioned as a possible candidate in managerial roles, but in 1932, when he was mentioned as a candidate for the position with the Red Sox, Ruth stated that he was not yet ready to leave the field. There were rumors that Ruth was a likely candidate each time the Cleveland Indians, Cincinnati Reds, and Detroit Tigers were looking for a manager, but nothing happened.
Shortly before the 1934 season, Ruppert offered Ruth the job as manager of the Yankees” minor league team, the Newark Bears, but was advised to stay out of it by his wife, Claire Merritt Ruth and his business manager, Christy Walsh. Soon after that, Tigers owner Frank Navin made an offer to Ruppert and Barrow-if the Yankees traded Ruth to Detroit, Navin would appoint Ruth player-coach. Navin believed that Ruth would not only betray a winning attitude for the team that had not been able to get past third place since 1923, but would also boost the Tigers” poor numbers in stadium attendance. Navin requested that Ruth come to Detroit for an interview. However Ruth declined as Walsh had already arranged an appearance at a celebrity golf tournament in Hawaii. Ruth and Navin negotiated by phone while Ruth in Hawaii, but these talks broke down when Navin refused to give Ruth a share of the Tigers box office proceeds.
At the beginning of the 1934 season, Ruth openly began campaigning to become manager of the Yankees. However, the position was never a serious possibility. Ruppert always supported McCarthy, who would remain as manager for another 12 seasons. Ruth and McCarthy”s relationship had been lukewarm, and Ruth”s claims cooled the relationship. By the end of the season, Ruth hinted that he would retire unless Ruppert named him Yankees manager. For his part, Ruppert wanted his hitter to leave the team without drama and strong feelings when the time came.
During the 1934-35 pre-season, Ruth traveled the world with his wife, including a performing tour of the Far East. On his final stop before returning home to the UK, Ruth was introduced to cricket by Australian cricketer Alan Fairfax, and after having little luck in the cricket playing position, he remained a baseball batsman and threw some massive strikes across the field, destroying the bat in the process. Although Fairfax regretted that he had not had time to make Ruth a cricketer, Ruth had lost any interest in such a career upon learning that the best batsmen earned only $40 a week.
Also during the preseason, Ruppert had scouted other clubs in hopes of finding one that would be willing to have Ruth play coach and/or player. However, the only serious offer came from the Athletics” owner-coach, Connie Mack, who considered quitting as a coach in favor of Ruth. However, Mack later dropped the idea, saying that Ruth”s wife would run the team in a month if Ruth took over.
While the performance tour was underway, Ruppert began negotiating with Boston Braves owner Judge Emil Fuchs, who wanted Ruth as a flashy attraction. Although the Braves had enjoyed recent success, finishing fourth in the National League in 1933 and 1934, the team performed poorly at the box office. Unable to pay the rent on Braves Field, Fuchs had considered bringing dog racing to the stadium when the Braves were not playing at home, only to be turned down by Landis. After a series of phone calls, letters, and meetings, the Yankees traded Ruth to the Braves on February 26, 1935. Ruppert had stated that he would not release Ruth to go to another team as a full-time player. For this reason, it was announced that Ruth would become vice president of the team and would be consulted on all club transactions in addition to playing. Ruth was also made assistant coach to the Braves” captain, Bill McKechnie. In a lengthy letter to Ruth just days before a press conference, Fuchs promised Ruth a share in the Braves” profits, with the possibility of becoming a co-owner of the team. Fuchs also raised the possibility of Ruth succeeding McKechnie as manager, perhaps in early 1936. Ruppert called the deal “the biggest opportunity Ruth ever had.”
There was considerable attention when Ruth reported for spring training. He hadn”t hit his first home run of training until the team left Florida and began the trip north to Savannah. He hit two home runs in an exhibition game against the Bears. Amid much media attention, Ruth played his first in Boston in over 16 years. Before a crowd of over 25,000 on opening day, including five of New England”s six governors, Ruth accounted for all of the Braves” runs in a 4-2 win against the New York Giants, hitting a two-run home run, hitting a single with 1 more RBI, and later in the same inning, notching the fourth run. Although age and weight had slowed him down, he caught the ball running in left field that sports columnists considered the defensive highlight of the game.
Ruth had two hits in the second game of the season, but there was quickly a drop in performance from both Ruth and the Braves from then on. The season soon settled into a routine of Ruth performing poorly on the few occasions he did play and the Braves losing most games. From April to May, Ruth”s deterioration became even more pronounced. While he remained productive at the plate early on, he could do little else. His condition had deteriorated to the point that he could barely trot between the bases. His performance on defense became so poor that three Braves pitchers told McKechnie that they would not go to the mound if he were drafted. Before long, Ruth also stopped hitting. He became increasingly irritated that McKechnie ignored most of his advice. For his part, McKechnie later claimed that Ruth”s high salary and her refusal to stay with the team when they played away from home made it almost impossible to enforce discipline.
Ruth soon realized that Fuchs had deceived him and had no intention of making him the coach or giving him any significant off-field duties. Ruth later claimed that his only tasks as vice president consisted of making public appearances and signing tickets. Ruth also discovered that far from giving him a share of the profits, Fuchs wanted him to invest his money in the team in his latest effort to improve his balance sheet. As it turned out, both Fuchs and Ruppert knew all along that Ruth”s off-field positions were meaningless.
Although Fuchs gave Ruth his unconditional release, no other team expressed interest in hiring him. Ruth still had hopes of being hired as a manager if he could no longer play, but only a managerial position, from Cleveland, became available from Ruth”s retirement and the end of the 1937 season. Asked if he would consider Ruth for the position, Indians owner Alva Bradley replied in the negative.
The writer Creamer believed that Ruth was treated unfairly because he was never given the opportunity to manage a major league club.
The author believed that there was not necessarily a relationship between personal conduct and managerial success, noting that John McGraw, Billy Martin, and Bobby Valentine were winners despite character flaws. Team owners and general managers assessed that Ruth”s extravagant personal habits as a reason to exclude him from a managerial position; Barrow said, “How can he manage other men when he can”t control himself?”
Ruth played golf and a few exhibition baseball games, demonstrating a continued ability to draw large crowds. This appeal contributed to the Dodgers hiring him as a first base coach in 1938. But Brooklyn general manager Larry MacPhail made it clear when Ruth was hired that he would not be considered for the manager”s job if, as was expected, Burleigh Grimes retired at the end of the season. Although much has been said about what Ruth could teach young players, in practice his duties were to appear on the field in uniform and encourage runners on base-he was not called upon to relay signals to the players. He got along with everyone except the team captain, Leo Durocher, who had been hired as Grimes” replacement at the end of the season. Ruth returned to retirement, never working in baseball again.
On July 4, 1939, Ruth spoke at Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day at Yankee Stadium as a member of the 1927 team and a fully packed stadium honored the first baseman, forced into an early retirement by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, which would kill him two years from now. The following week, Ruth went to Cooperstown, New York, for the formal opening of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Three years earlier he had been one of five players nominated for the Hall of Fame. As baseball broadcasters became popular, Ruth sought a job in that field, arguing that his celebrity and baseball knowledge would ensure large audiences, but he received no offers. During World War II, he made many personal appearances to advance the war effort, including his last appearance as a player at Yankee Stadium in an exhibition game in 1943 for the Navy-Army relief fund. He hit a long fly ball against pitcher Walter Johnson; the hit went into left field, becoming a foul ball but Ruth circled the bases anyway. In 1946, he made a final effort in an attempt to get a position in baseball, contacting Yankees boss MacPhail, but was sent a rejection letter.
Ruth met Helen Woodford (1897-1929), according to some accounts, in a Boston coffee shop where she was a waitress and they married on October 17, 1914; he was 19 and she was 17. They adopted a daughter, Dorothy (1921-1989), in 1921. Ruth and Helen separated around 1925, reportedly due to their repeated cheating. The couple”s last appearance was during the 1926 World Series. Helen died in January 1929 at the age of 31 in a fire in Watertown, Massachusetts, at the home owned by Edward Kinder, a dentist with whom she lived as “Mrs. Kinder.” In her book, My Dad, the Babe, the Babe”s daughter, Dorothy, claims that she was Ruth”s biological daughter with a mistress named Juanita Jennings.
On April 17, 1929, just three months after the death of his first wife, Ruth married actress and model Claire Merritt Hodgson (he was 34 and she was 31. This was the couple”s second and final marriage. According to one account, Julia and Dorothy were, through no fault of their own, the reason for the seven-year split in Ruth”s relationship with fellow actor Lou Gehrig. In 1932, Gehrig”s mother, during a conversation that she assumed was private, commented, “It”s a shame you don”t dress Dorothy as well as she dresses her own daughter.” When the comment inevitably got through to Ruth, he angrily told Gehrig to tell her mother to mind her own business. Gehrig in turn took offense at Ruth”s comment about his mother. The two never spoke to each other off the field again until they reconciled at Yankee Stadium at the Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day tribute to Gehrig in 1939.
Although Ruth was for most of his baseball career, when Colonel Huston asked him to tone down his lifestyle, the player said, “I promise to go slower on the drinking and go to bed earlier, but not for you fifty thousand dollars or two hundred and fifty thousand dollars that I”m going to give up women. They are too much fun.”
In the early years of the war, doctors had warned Ruth to take better care of his health, and he begrudgingly followed their advice, limiting his drinking and failing to go on a proposed trip to support troops in the South Pacific. In 1946, Ruth began to feel a lot of pain above her left eye, and have difficulty swallowing. In November 1946, Ruth was admitted to French Hospital in New York City for some tests, which revealed that Ruth had an inoperable malignant tumor at the base of her skull and in her neck. It was a lesion known as carcinoma of the nasopharynx, or “lymphoepithelioma.” His name and fame gave him access to experimental treatments, and he was one of the first cancer patients to receive both drug treatments and also radiation simultaneously. He left the hospital in February, having lost 36 pounds, and went to Florida to recover. He returned to New York and Yankee Stadium after the season had already started. The new commissioner, Happy Chandler (Judge Landis had died in 1944), proclaimed April 27, 1947, Babe Ruth Day in all the major leagues, with the most significant observance at Yankee Stadium. Some teammates and others spoke in honor of Ruth, who gave a brief speech to an audience of 60,000.
At this time, developments in chemotherapy offered some hope. The doctors had not told Ruth that he had cancer because of his family”s fear that he might do something to himself. They treated him with teropterin, a derivative of folic acid; he may have been the first human to use it. Ruth showed dramatic improvement during the summer of 1947, so much so that his case was presented at a scientific meeting by his doctors, without using his name. Ruth was able to travel around the country, doing promotional work for the Ford Motor Company for American Legion Baseball. He appeared again at another day of tributes at Yankee Stadium in September, but was not well enough to pitch in a veterans game as he had hoped.
His improvement was only a temporary remission and by the end of 1947, Ruth was unable to help with the writing of his autobiography, The Babe Ruth Story, which was almost entirely ghost-written. In and out of the hospital in New York, he left for Florida in February 1948, doing what activities he could. After six weeks he returned to New York to attend a book signing party for his book. He also traveled to California to witness the filming of the book.
On June 5, 1948, a “thin and washed up” Ruth visited Yale University to donate a manuscript of The Babe Ruth Story to their library. On June 13, Ruth visited Yankee Stadium for the last time in her life by appearing for the 25th anniversary celebration of “The House that Ruth Built.” By this time, she had lost a lot of weight and had difficulty walking. Presented with other still-living teammates from 1923, Ruth used a cane as a walking stick. Nat Fein”s photo of Ruth taken from the back, standing near the home plate and facing “Ruthville” (right field) became one of the most famous and widely circulated baseball photos and won the Pulitzer Prize.
Ruth made one last trip on behalf of American Legion Baseball, then was admitted to Memorial Hospital, where she would die. He was never told he had cancer, but before his death, he had imagined it. He was able to leave the hospital for a few short trips, including a final visit to Baltimore. On July 26, 1948, Ruth left the hospital to attend the premiere of the movie The Babe Ruth Story. Soon after, Ruth returned to the hospital for the last time. He could barely speak. Ruth”s condition gradually became worse; only a few visitors were allowed to see him, one of them was National League President and future Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick. “Ruth was so thin it was unbelievable. He had been such a big man and his arms were just skinny little bones and his face was so disfigured,” Frick recounted years later.
Thousands of New Yorkers, including many children, held vigil outside the hospital during Ruth”s last days. On August 16, 1948, at 8:01 p.m., Ruth died in her sleep at 53. Instead of going to a funeral home, her casket was taken to Yankee Stadium, where it would remain for two days; 77,000 paid tribute. His funeral mass was held at St. Patrick”s Cathedral; a crowd estimated at 75,000 waited outside. Ruth was buried in section 25 of Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne, New York. An epitaph by Cardinal Francis Spellman appears on his headstone. His second wife, Claire Merritt Ruth, would be buried beside him 28 years later in 1976.
On April 19, 1949, the Yankees unveiled a granite monument honoring Ruth on center field at Yankee Stadium. The monument was located on the playing field and similar tributes to Huggins and Gehrig until the stadium was remodeled in 1974-1975, which resulted in the outfield fences moving inward and enclosing the monuments into the playing field. This area was known as Monument Park. Yankee Stadium, “the House that Ruth Built,” was rebuilt after the 2008 season with the new Yankee Stadium on the street in front of the old one; Monument Park was subsequently moved to a new location behind the center field fence. The number 3 on Ruth”s uniform was retired by the Yankees, and he is one of five Yankees players or coaches to have a granite monument inside the stadium.
The Babe Ruth Birthplace Museum is located at 216 Emory Street, the Baltimore home where Ruth was born and three blocks west of Oriole Park at Camden Yards, where the Baltimore Orioles of the American League play. The property was restored and opened to the public in 1973 by the nonprofit Babe Ruth Birthplace Foundation, Inc. Ruth”s widow, Claire, her two daughters, Dorothy and Julia, and her sister, Mamie, helped select and install the exhibit at the museum.
Ruth was the first baseball star to be the object of overwhelming public interest. Baseball had stars before, such as Cobb and “Shoeless Joe” Jackson, but both had unfriendly relationships with fans. In Cobb”s case, sometimes marked by violence. Ruth”s biographers agree that he benefited from the moment of his rise as “King of the Home Run,” with an America hit hard by World War I and the Spanish flu of 1918 yearning for something to help forget those traumas. Montville argues that a “larger-than-life” figure capable of unprecedented athletic prowess in the nation”s largest city, Ruth became an icon of significant social change that marked the early 1920s. Glenn Stout notes in his history of the Yankees, “Ruth was New York incarnate – rough and raw, extravagant and flashy, oversized, out of scale, and absolutely unstoppable.”
Ruth became such a symbol of the United States that during World War II, Japanese soldiers shouted in English, “To hell with Babe Ruth,” to enrage American soldiers. (Ruth retorted by saying that she hoped “every Jap who mentions my name gets shot.”) Creamer recorded that “Babe Ruth transcended the sport, went beyond the artificial boundaries of field lines and fences and sports pages.” Wagenheim stated, “He appealed to a deeply rooted American yearning for the ultimate climax: clean, fast, undisputed.” According to Glenn Stout, “Ruth”s home runs were exalted, they were an uplifting experience that meant more to fans than any run he was responsible for. A Babe Ruth home run was an event in itself that meant anything was possible.”
Ruth”s ease in hitting home runs changed the way baseball was played. Until 1920, home runs were uncommon, and managers tried to win games by having a runner on base and advancing him around the bases to score runs with base stealers, bunts, and hit and runs. Advocates of what was called “inside baseball,” such as Giants manager McGraw, disliked the home run, considering it a stain on the purity of the game. According to sports columnist W. A. Phelon, after the 1920 season, Ruth”s performance that season and the public response in enthusiasm and stadium attendance, “attested for all time, that the American public is more in love with the home run than a smart fielding game or a pitcher who allows no hits. Hurrah for the home run, and two cheers for Babe Ruth, home run exponent, and blinding star.” Bill James noted, “When team owners discovered that fans liked to watch home runs, and when the fundamentals of the games were simultaneously put in jeopardy by the shame in the Black Sox Scandal, then there was no turning back.” While some, like McGraw and Cobb, lamented the death of the old style of play, teams quickly began to seek out and develop hitters.
According to contemporary sports chronicler Grantland Rice, only two sports figures of the 1920s came close to Ruth in popularity-the boxer Jack Dempsey and the racehorse Man o” War. One of the factors that contributed to Ruth”s wide appeal was the uncertainties about her family and past life. Ruth appeared to exemplify the American success story, that even without education, sophisticated youth, rich family or connections, she can do something better than anyone else in the world. Montville notes that “Mist will forever make him accessible, universal. He will be the patron of American possibility.” Similarly, the fact that Ruth played when a relatively small portion of his fans had the opportunity to see him play, before the era of television coverage of baseball, allowed his legend to grow through word-of-mouth and hyperbole from sports reporters. Reisler notes that recent hitters who have surpassed Ruth”s 60 home runs mark, such as Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds, have generated far less excitement than when Ruth repeatedly broke the single-season home run record in the 1920s; Ruth dominated a relatively sparse world of sports, while Americans of the present era have many sports available to watch.
Creamer called Ruth “a unique figure in the social history of the United States.” Ruth even entered the English language: a dominant figure on the field, in or out of sports, is always called “the Babe Ruth” of that area. Similarly, “Ruthian” has become in sports: “colossal, dramatic, prodigious, magnificent, with great power.”
More books, Montville noted in 2006, have been written about Ruth than about any other Baseball Hall of Fame member. At least five of these books (including those by Creamer and de Wagenheim) were written in 1973 and 1974, timed to capitalize on the increased public interest in Ruth as Hank Aaron approached his career home run mark, which was broken on April 8, 1974. Aaron recalls that as he approached Ruth”s record, “I don”t remember a day that year that I didn”t hear Babe Ruth”s name.”
Montville suggests that Ruth is probably even more popular today than he was when his career home run record was broken by Aaron. The long ball (home run) era that Ruth started continues in baseball, to the delight of fans. Team owners build stadiums that encourage the home run, which are featured on SportsCenter and Baseball Tonight each night during the season. The issue of performance-enhancing drug use that has dogged recent home run hitters like McGwire and Bonds has not diminished Ruth”s reputation; her excesses with beers and hot dogs seem part of a simpler time.
Ruth has been considered the greatest baseball player of all time in various polls and rankings. In 1998, The Sporting News website placed him number one on its list of the “100 Greatest Baseball Players.” In 1999, fans placed Ruth on the Major League Baseball All-Century Team. He was chosen as baseball”s greatest player in a vote commemorating the 100th anniversary of professional baseball in 1969. The Associated Press reported in 1993 that Muhammad Ali was tied with Babe Ruth as the most recognized athletes in America. In a 1999 ESPN poll, Ruth came in second as the second greatest American athlete of the century, behind Michael Jordan. In 1983, the United States Postal Service honored Ruth by issuing a twenty-cent stamp.
One survivor of the mania over Ruth may be the Baby Ruth candy bar. The original company that made the confectionery product, the Curtis Candy Company, maintained that the candy was named after Ruth Cleveland, daughter of former President Grover Cleveland. She died in 1904 and the candy was first marketed in 1921, at the height of the batter craze. Ruth later searched for candy that could be marketed under her name; she was denied a trademark because of the existing Baby Ruth candy. The 1921 corporation files no longer exist; the trademark changed hands several times and is now owned by the Nestle company. Ruth”s image was licensed for use in an advertising campaign for Baby Ruth candy in 1995. Due to a marketing agreement in 2005, the Baby Ruth bar became the official candy bar of Major League Baseball.
Montville notes Babe Ruth”s continued relevance in American culture, more than three-quarters of a century after his last hit in a major league game:
The fascination with his life and career continues. He is bombastic, a superficial hero of our bombastic history, slovenly, with indeterminate origins, a folk tale of American success. His moon face is as recognizable today as it was when he looked at Tom Zachary on a certain September afternoon in 1927. If sports have become the national religion, Babe Ruth is the patron saint. He remains at the heart of the game he played, the promise of a warm summer evening, a bag of peanuts and a beer. And just maybe, the longest ball hit out of the park.