Babe Ruth

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Babe Ruth
Babe Ruth2.jpg
Ruth in 1920, in New York Yankees uniform
Outfielder / Pitcher
Born: (1895-02-06)February 6, 1895
Baltimore, Maryland
Died: August 16, 1948(1948-08-16) (aged 53)
New York City
Batted: LeftThrew: Left
MLB debut
July 11, 1914 for the Boston Red Sox
Last MLB appearance
May 30, 1935 for the Boston Braves
Career statistics
Batting average.342
Hits2,873
Home runs714
Runs batted in2,213
Win–loss record94–46
Earned run average2.28
Teams
Career highlights and awards

MLB Records

Induction1936
Vote95.13%
 
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Babe Ruth
Babe Ruth2.jpg
Ruth in 1920, in New York Yankees uniform
Outfielder / Pitcher
Born: (1895-02-06)February 6, 1895
Baltimore, Maryland
Died: August 16, 1948(1948-08-16) (aged 53)
New York City
Batted: LeftThrew: Left
MLB debut
July 11, 1914 for the Boston Red Sox
Last MLB appearance
May 30, 1935 for the Boston Braves
Career statistics
Batting average.342
Hits2,873
Home runs714
Runs batted in2,213
Win–loss record94–46
Earned run average2.28
Teams
Career highlights and awards

MLB Records

Induction1936
Vote95.13%

George Herman "Babe" Ruth, Jr. (February 6, 1895 – August 16, 1948), nicknamed "the Bambino" and "the Sultan of Swat", was an American professional baseball player. He was a Major League Baseball (MLB) pitcher and outfielder who played for 22 seasons on three teams, from 1914 through 1935. He was known for his hitting brilliance setting career records in his time for home runs (714, since broken), slugging percentage (.690), RBI (2,213, since broken), bases on balls (2,062, since broken), and on-base plus slugging (OPS) (1.164). Ruth originally entered the major leagues with the Boston Red Sox as a starting pitcher, but after he was sold to the New York Yankees in 1919, he converted to a full-time right fielder. He subsequently became one of the American League's most prolific hitters and with his home run hitting prowess, he helped the Yankees win seven pennants and four World Series titles. Ruth retired in 1935 after a short stint with the Boston Braves, and the following year, he became one of the first five players to be elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Ruth was the first player to hit 60 home runs in one season (1927), a mark not surpassed until another Yankee right fielder, Roger Maris, hit 61 in 1961. Ruth's lifetime record of 714 home runs stood until 1974, when it was surpassed by Hank Aaron. Unlike many power hitters, Ruth also hit for a high batting average: his .342 lifetime average ties him with Dan Brouthers for ninth highest in baseball history,[1] and in one season (1923) he batted .393, a Yankee record.[2] Ruth dominated the era in which he played. He led the league in home runs during a season twelve times, slugging percentage and OPS thirteen times each, runs scored eight times, and RBIs six times. Each of those totals represents a modern record.[3]

Ruth is credited with changing baseball itself. The popularity of the game exploded in the 1920s, largely due to his influence. Ruth ushered in the "live-ball era", as his big swing led to escalating home run totals that not only excited fans, but helped baseball evolve from a low-scoring, speed-dominated game to a high-scoring power game. He has since become regarded as one of the greatest sports heroes in American culture.[4] Ruth's legendary power and charismatic personality made him a larger than life figure in the "Roaring Twenties",[5] and according to ESPN, he was the first true American sports celebrity superstar whose fame transcended baseball.[6] Off the field, he was famous for his charity contributions which included helping children to learn and play baseball, but also was noted for his often reckless lifestyle. He has been repeatedly voted onto teams made up of the sport's greats, and is considered by many to be the greatest baseball player and hitter of all time.

Early years

Birthplace of Babe Ruth in Baltimore, Maryland

George Herman Ruth, Jr., was born at 216 Emory Street in Pigtown, a rough neighborhood of Baltimore, Maryland. Ruth's parents, George Herman Ruth, Sr., and Katherine (Schamberger) Ruth, were both German-American. George Ruth, Sr., had a series of jobs, including as a lightning rod salesman and on Baltimore's streetcars, before working as a counterman in a combination grocery and saloon on Frederick Street, which was owned by relatives. George Jr. was born in the house of his maternal grandfather, Pius Schamberger, a German immigrant and trade unionist.[7][8] Only one of Ruth's seven siblings, his sister Mamie, survived infancy.[9]

There are many things unknown about the circumstances of Ruth's childhood; even the date of his parents' marriage is undiscovered.[10] Few other personal details regarding his parents are extant. The family moved to 339 South Goodyear Street, not far from the rail yards, when young George was a toddler; by the time he was six, his father had a saloon with an upstairs apartment at 426 West Camden Street. Details of why he was sent, at the age of seven, to St. Mary's Industrial School for Boys, a reformatory and orphanage, are similarly scanty. Babe Ruth, as an adult, suggested that not only was he running the streets and rarely attending school, he was drinking beer when his father was not looking. There are also stories that after a violent incident at the saloon, the city authorities decided the environment was unsuitable for a small child. At St. Mary's, which he entered on June 13, 1902, he was recorded as "incorrigible"; he would spend much of the next twelve years there.[11][12][13]

Although St. Mary's inmates were educated, a substantial amount of time was devoted to work, especially once the boys turned 12. Ruth became a shirtmaker during his time there, and was also proficient as a carpenter. As a baseball player, making a large salary, he would adjust the collars of his shirts himself, rather than having a tailor do it. The boys, aged 5 to 21, did most work around the facility, from cooking to shoemaking; when St. Mary's was renovated in 1912, the work was done by the residents. The food was simple, and the Xaverian brothers who ran the place insisted on strict discipline; corporal punishment was omnipresent. Ruth's nickname among the boys was "Niggerlips", as he had large facial features and was darker than most boys at the all-white reformatory.[14]

Ruth (top row, far left) at St. Mary's Industrial School for Boys in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1912

Ruth was sometimes allowed to rejoin his family, or was placed at St. James's Home, a supervised residence with work in the community, but he was always returned to St. Mary's.[15][16] George rarely was visited by his family; his mother died when he was 12 and by some accounts, he was permitted to leave St. Mary's only to attend the funeral.[17] How Ruth came to play baseball there is uncertain; by one account one of the misdeeds that led to his placement at St. Mary's was repeated breaking of Baltimore's windows with long hits while playing street ball; by another, he was told to join a team by the school's athletic director, Brother Herman, on his first day, becoming a catcher although left-handers rarely play that position. During his time there he would also play third base and shortstop, again unusual for a left-hander, and forcing him to wear mitts and gloves made for righties. He was encouraged in his pursuits by the school's Prefect of Discipline, Brother Matthias Boutlier, a native of Nova Scotia. A large man, Brother Matthias was greatly respected by the boys both for his strength and for his fairness. For the rest of his life, Ruth would praise Brother Matthias, and his running and hitting styles would closely resemble his teacher's.[18][19] Ruth stated, "I think I was born as a hitter the first day I ever saw him hit a baseball."[20] The older man became a mentor and role model to George, whose biographer Robert W. Creamer commented on the closeness between the two:

Ruth revered Brother Matthias ... which is remarkable, considering that Matthias was in charge of making boys behave and that Ruth was one of the great natural misbehavers of all time. ... George Ruth caught Brother Matthias' attention early, and the calm, considerable attention the big man gave the young hellraiser from the waterfront struck a spark of response in the boy's soul ... [that may have] blunted a few of the more savage teeth in the gross man whom I have heard at least a half-dozen of his baseball contemporaries describe with admiring awe and wonder as "an animal."[20]

The school's influence remained with Ruth in other ways: a lifelong Catholic, he would sometimes attend Mass after an all-night bender, and he became a well-known member of the Knights of Columbus. He would visit orphanages, schools, and hospitals throughout his life, often avoiding publicity.[21] He was generous to the school as he became famous, donating money and his presence at fundraisers, and spending $5,000 to buy Brother Matthias a Cadillac in 1926—and then replacing it when it was destroyed in an accident. Nevertheless, his biographer Leigh Montville suggests that many of the off-the-field excesses of Ruth's career were driven by the deprivations of his time at St. Mary's.[22]

Most of the boys at St. Mary's played baseball, with organized leagues at different levels of proficiency. Ruth later estimated that he played 200 games a year as he steadily climbed the ladder of success there. Although he played all positions at one time or another (including infield positions generally reserved for right-handers), he came to star as a pitcher. According to Brother Matthias, Ruth was standing to one side laughing at the bumbling pitching efforts of fellow students, and Matthias told him to go in and see if he could do better. He not only became the best pitcher at St. Mary's, but by 1913 at age 18 was allowed to leave the premises to play weekend games on teams drawn from the community. He received several newspaper mentions, for both his pitching prowess and an ability to hit long home runs.[23][24]

Baltimore Orioles

In early 1914, Ruth was signed to a professional baseball contract by Jack Dunn, owner and manager of the minor-league Baltimore Orioles, an International League team. How it was that Dunn signed Ruth cannot be stated with certainty, with historical fact obscured by stories that cannot all be true. By some accounts, Dunn was urged to attend a game between an all-star team from St. Mary's and one from another Xaverian facility, Mount St. Mary's College. Some versions have Ruth running away before the eagerly-awaited game, to return in time to be punished, and to then pitch St. Mary's to victory as Dunn watched. Others have Washington Senators pitcher Joe Engel, a Mount St. Mary's graduate, pitching in an alumni game after watching a preliminary game between the college's freshmen and a team from St. Mary's, including Ruth. Engel watched Ruth play, then told Dunn about him at a chance meeting in Washington. Others involve Brother Gilbert, baseball coach at Mount Saint Mary's, said to have told Dunn about Ruth to appease him after a Gilbert-coached prospect refused to leave school to join the Orioles. Ruth, in his autobiography, stated that he worked out for Dunn for a half hour, and was signed.[25][26][27] Dunn also became his guardian. According to Ruth biographer Kal Wagenheim, there were legal difficulties to be straightened out as Ruth was supposed to remain at the school until he turned 21.[28] Ruth was to receive a salary of $250 per month.[29]

Baltimore Orioles Team Photograph with Babe Ruth, far right.

The train journey to spring training in Fayetteville, North Carolina in early March was likely Ruth's first outside the Baltimore area.[30] The rookie ballplayer was the subject of various pranks by the veterans, who also most likely gave him his famous nickname. There are various accounts of how Ruth came to be called Babe, but most center around him being referred to as "Dunnie's babe" or a variant. "Babe" was at that time a common nickname in baseball, with perhaps the most famous to that point being Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher and 1909 World Series hero Babe Adams, who appeared younger than he was.[31][32]

Babe Ruth's first game as a professional ballplayer was an intersquad game on March 7, 1914. Ruth played shortstop, and pitched the last two innings of a 15-9 victory. In his second at bat, Ruth hit a long home run to right, which was locally said to be longer than a legendary shot hit in Fayetteville by Jim Thorpe.[33] His first appearance against a team in organized baseball was an exhibition against the major-league Philadelphia Phillies; Ruth pitched the middle three innings, giving up two runs in the fourth, but then settling down and pitching a scoreless fifth and sixth. The following afternoon, Ruth was put in during the sixth inning against the Phillies and did not allow a run the rest of the way. The Orioles scored seven runs in the bottom of the eighth to overcome a 6-0 deficit, making Ruth the winning pitcher.[34] On April 5, 1914, he defeated the major-league Brooklyn Dodgers, in an exhibition played in Baltimore, with a performance that demonstrated his pitching, hitting and fielding skills, throwing five strikeouts, hitting a triple, and taking part in a rare, bases-loaded 1-2-3 double play.[35][36]

Once the regular season began, Ruth became a star pitcher who was also dangerous at the plate. The team performed well, but received almost no attention from the Baltimore press. A third major league, the Federal League, had begun play, and the local franchise, the Baltimore Terrapins, restored that city to the major leagues for the first time since 1902. Few fans visited Oriole Park, where Ruth and his teammates labored in relative obscurity. Ruth may have been offered a bonus and a larger salary to jump to the Terrapins; when rumors to that effect swept Baltimore, giving Ruth the most publicity he had had to date, a Terrapins official denied it, stating it was their policy not to sign players under contract to Dunn.[37][38]

The competition from the Terrapins caused Dunn to sustain large losses. Although by late June the Orioles were in first place, having won over two-thirds of their games, the paid attendance dropped as low as 150. Dunn explored a possible move by the Orioles to Richmond, Virginia as well as the sale of a minority interest in the club. These possibilities fell through, leaving Dunn with little choice than to sell his best players to major league teams to raise money.[39] He offered Ruth to the World Series champions, Connie Mack's Philadelphia Athletics, but Mack had his own financial problems.[40] The Cincinnati Reds and New York Giants expressed interest in Ruth, but Dunn sold his contract, along with those of pitchers Ernie Shore and Ben Egan, to the Boston Red Sox on July 4. The sale price was announced as $25,000 but various later stories lower the amount to half that, or possibly $8,500 plus the cancellation of a $3,000 loan. Ruth remained with the Orioles for several days while the Red Sox completed a road trip, and reported to the team in Boston on July 11.[41]

Major League career

Boston Red Sox (1914–1919)

Ruth pitching for the Red Sox at Comiskey Park in Chicago in 1914.

Ruth appeared in five games for the Red Sox in 1914, pitching in four of them. He picked up the victory in his major league debut on July 11. The Red Sox had many star players in 1914, so Ruth was soon optioned to the minor league Providence Grays of Providence, Rhode Island, for most of the remaining season. Behind Ruth and Carl Mays, the Grays won the International League pennant.

During spring training in 1915, Ruth was envisioned as a relief pitcher. The Red Sox pitching staff was considered one of the best in baseball history. It included Dutch Leonard, who broke the record for the lowest earned run average in a single season (0.96) the previous year and Smokey Joe Wood, who won 34 games in 1912. Early injuries to Leonard and Mays, alongside Wood ineffective pitching however, secured Ruth a spot in the Red Sox' starting rotation.[42] On May 6, in a game against the New York Yankees, Ruth hit his first career home run against Jack Warhop which flew into the upper right field stands.[43] Ruth pitched 13 innings that day, but lost 4–3. The New York Times however, made note of powerful homer calling it a "mighty rap".[44] His forth home run against the St. Louis Browns was the longest ever hit out of Sportsman's Park. Batting against Bill James, the home run ended up in a Chevrolet dealership across the street.[29] Ruth finished the season with a 18-8 win-loss record with a 2.44 earned run average. As a batter, Ruth helped his pitching performances by hitting .315 and his first four home runs. The Red Sox won 101 games that year on their way to a victory in the World Series. Ruth did not pitch in the series, and grounded out in his only at-bat.

In 1916, after a slightly shaky spring, he went 23–12, with a 1.75 ERA and nine shutouts, both of which led the league. On June 27, he struck out ten Philadelphia A's, a career high. On July 11, he started both games of a doubleheader, but the feat was not what it seemed; he pitched only one third of an inning in the opener because the scheduled starter, Foster, had trouble getting loose. Ruth then pitched a complete-game victory in the nightcap. Ruth had unusual success against Washington Senators star pitcher Walter Johnson, beating him four times in 1916 alone, by scores of 5–1, 1–0, 1–0 in 13 innings, and 2–1. Johnson finally outlasted Ruth for an extra-inning 4–3 victory on September 12; in the years to come, Ruth would hit ten home runs off Johnson, including the only two Johnson would allow in 1918–1919. Ruth's nine shutouts in 1916 set an AL record for left-handers which would remain unmatched until Ron Guidry tied it in 1978.

Despite a weak offense, hurt by the sale of Tris Speaker to the Indians, the Red Sox made it to the World Series. They defeated the Brooklyn Robins four games to one. This time Ruth made a major contribution, pitching a 14-inning complete-game victory in Game Two.

Ruth in 1918, his penultimate year with the Red Sox

Ruth went 24–13 with a 2.01 ERA and six shutouts in 1917, and hit .325. But the Sox finished second in the league, nine games behind the Chicago White Sox. Ruth was involved in a combined no-hitter that year. On June 23 against the Washington Senators, after walking the leadoff hitter, Ruth erupted in anger, was ejected, and threw a punch at the umpire, which would result in a ten-game suspension. Ernie Shore came in to replace Ruth and retired all twenty-six batters he faced, for which he was credited with a perfect game until the 1990s. Ruth's outburst was an example of self-discipline problems that plagued Ruth throughout his career, and is regarded as the primary reason (other than financial) that then-owner Harry Frazee was willing to sell him to the Yankees two years later.

The left-hander was pitching a no-hitter in a 0–0 game against the Detroit Tigers on July 11, before a single deflected off his glove in the eighth inning. Boston finally pushed across a run in the ninth, and Ruth held onto his 1–0 victory by striking out Ty Cobb. In 1942, Ruth called this game his greatest thrill on the field.

In 1918, Ruth pitched in 20 games, posting a 13–7 record with a 2.22 ERA. He was mostly used as an outfielder, and hit a league-leading eleven home runs. His statistics were curtailed slightly when he walked off the team in July following an argument with Boston's manager.

Ruth threw a 1–0 shutout in the opener of the 1918 World Series, then won Game Four in what would be his final World Series appearance as a pitcher. Ruth won both his starts, allowing two runs (both earned) in seventeen innings for an ERA of 1.06. Ruth extended his World Series consecutive scoreless inning streak to 29⅔ innings, a record that would last until Whitey Ford broke it in 1961.

Emergence as a hitter

In the years 1915–1917, Ruth had been used in just 44 games in which he had not pitched. After the 1917 season, in which he hit .325, albeit with limited at bats, teammate Harry Hooper suggested that Ruth might be more valuable in the lineup as an everyday player.

In 1918, he began playing in the outfield more and pitching less, making 75 hitting-only appearances. Former teammate Tris Speaker speculated that the move would shorten Ruth's career, though Ruth himself wanted to hit more and pitch less. In 1918, Ruth batted .300 and led the A.L. in home runs with eleven despite having only 317 at-bats, well below the total for an everyday player.

During the 1919 season, Ruth pitched in only 17 of his 130 games. He also set his first single-season home run record that year with 29 surpassing Ned Williamson's 27 in 1884 and batted .322, which convinced Red Sox manager Ed Barrow that Ruth was more useful as an everyday outfielder.[45] His 4 grand slams in that one season is still the Red Sox team record.

Sold to New York

Ruth circa 1920, the year he joined the Yankees.

On December 26, 1919, Frazee sold Ruth's contract to the New York Yankees.[46] The transaction is still clouded in mystery. The popular legend of its day was that Frazee sold Ruth and several other of his best players to finance a play, No, No, Nanette, which did not premiere in Broadway until 1925.[47] Another speculation concerns Ruth's demand for a $20,000 raise ($230,000 raise in current dollar terms), double his previous salary.[48] Frazee refused, and Ruth let it be known he would not play until he got his raise, suggesting that he might retire to undertake other profitable ventures.[49] A third explanation involved a debt Frazee had with former Red Sox owner Joseph Lannin in regards to Frazee's purchase of the club in 1916.[50][51] He owed Lannin $125,000 and after the sale, the two businessmen settled the debt out of court.[50]

Whatever the reason, Frazee had made his decision to trade Ruth. However, he was effectively limited to two trading partners—the Chicago White Sox and the then-moribund Yankees. The other five clubs rejected his overtures out of hand under pressure from American League president Ban Johnson, who had never liked Frazee and was actively trying to remove him from ownership of the Red Sox.[52] The White Sox offered Shoeless Joe Jackson and $60,000 ($700,000 in current dollar terms), but Yankees owners Jacob Ruppert and Tillinghast L'Hommedieu Huston offered an all-cash deal—$100,000 ($1.17 million in current dollar terms), a record at the time for any ballplayer.[53] The trio agreed to a deal. In exchange for Ruth, the Red Sox would get $125,000 ($1.46 million in current dollar terms) in cash and three $25,000 ($290,000 in current dollar terms) notes payable every year at 6 percent interest. Ruppert and Huston also loaned Frazee $300,000 ($3.5 million in current dollar terms), with the mortgage on Fenway Park as collateral.[54] The deal was contingent on Ruth signing a new contract, which was quickly accomplished, and Ruth officially became a member of the Yankees on December 26. The deal was announced ten days later.[55]

In the January 6, 1920, edition of The Boston Globe, Frazee described the transaction:

I should have preferred to take players in exchange for Ruth, but no club could have given me the equivalent in men without wrecking itself, and so the deal had to be made on a cash basis. No other club could afford to give me the amount the Yankees have paid for him, and I don't mind saying I think they are taking a gamble. With this money the Boston club can now go into the market and buy other players and have a stronger and better team in all respects than we would have had if Ruth had remained with us.

However, the January 6, 1920, The New York Times was more prescient:

The short right field wall at the Polo Grounds should prove an easy target for Ruth next season and, playing seventy-seven games at home, it would not be surprising if Ruth surpassed his home run record of twenty-nine circuit clouts next Summer.[55]

New York Yankees (1920–1934)

1920–1925

After moving to the Yankees, Ruth's transition from a pitcher to a power-hitting outfielder became complete. In his fifteen-year Yankee career, consisting of over 2,000 games, Ruth re-wrote the record books in terms of his hitting achievements, while making only five widely scattered token appearances on the mound, winning all of them.

Babe Ruth in 1921.

In 1920, his first year with the Yankees, Ruth hit 54 home runs and batted .376. His .847 slugging average was a Major League record until 2001. Aside from the Yankees, only the Philadelphia Phillies managed to hit more home runs as a team than Ruth did as an individual, slugging 64 in hitter-friendly Baker Bowl.

In 1921, Ruth improved to arguably the best year of his career, hitting 59 home runs, batting .378 and slugging .846 (the highest with 500+ at-bats in an MLB season) while leading the Yankees to their first league championship. On July 18, 1921, Babe Ruth hit career home run No. 139, breaking Roger Connor's record of 138 in just the eighth year of his career.

Ruth's name quickly became synonymous with the home run, as he led the transformation of baseball strategy from the "inside game" to the "power game", and because of the style and manner in which he hit them. His ability to drive many of his home runs in the 450–500 foot range and beyond resulted in the lasting adjective "Ruthian", to describe any long home run hit by any player. Probably his deepest hit in official game play (and perhaps the longest home run by any player), occurred on July 18, at Detroit's Navin Field, in which he hit one to straightaway center, over the wall of the then-single-deck bleachers, and to the intersection, some 575 feet (175 m) from home plate.

The Yankees had high expectations when they met the New York Giants in the 1921 World Series, and the Yankees won the first two games with Ruth in the lineup. However, Ruth badly scraped his elbow during Game 2, sliding into third base (he had walked and stolen both second and third). After the game, he was told by the team physician not to play the rest of the series. Although he did play in Games 3, 4 and 5, and pinch-hit in Game 8 of the best-of-9 Series, his productivity was diminished, and the Yankees lost the series. Ruth hit .316, drove in five runs and hit his first World Series home run. (Although the Yankees won the fifth game, Ruth wrenched his knee and did not return to the Series until the eighth [last] game.)

Babe Ruth in the stands on Opening Day, April 12, 1922 at Griffith Stadium

Ruth's appearance in the 1921 World Series also led to a problem and triggered another disciplinary action. After the series, Ruth and teammates Bob Meusel and Bill Piercy participated in a barnstorming tour throughout the Northeast.[56] A rule then in force prohibited World Series participants from playing in exhibition games during the off-season, the purpose being to prevent Series participants from "restaging" the Series and undermining its value. Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis suspended the trio for the first seven weeks of the 1922 season.[57] Landis had made his point about adhering to the letter of the rules, but he also recognized that the rule was no longer needed, and rescinded it.

Despite his suspension, Ruth was named the Yankees' new on-field captain prior to the 1922 season.[58] However, five days after he returned from his suspension, he was ejected from a game for throwing dirt on an umpire, and climbing into the stands to confront a heckler; Ruth was subsequently fined and stripped of the captaincy.[59] In his shortened season, Ruth appeared in 110 games, batted .315, with 35 home runs and drove in 99 runs, but compared to his previous two dominating seasons, the 1922 season was a disappointment for Ruth. Despite Ruth's off-year, Yankees managed to win the pennant to face the New York Giants for the second straight year in the World Series. In the series, Giants manager John McGraw instructed his pitchers to throw Ruth nothing but curveballs, and Ruth never adjusted. Ruth had just two hits in seventeen at-bats, and the Yankees lost to the Giants for the second straight year by 4–0 (with one tie game).[60]

In 1923, the Yankees moved from the Polo Grounds, where they had sublet from the Giants, to their new Yankee Stadium, which was quickly dubbed "The House That Ruth Built".[61] Ruth hit the stadium's first home run on the way to a Yankees victory over the Red Sox. Ruth finished the 1923 season with a career-high .393 batting average and major-league leading 41 home runs. For the third straight year, the Yankees faced the Giants in the World Series. Rebounding from his struggles in the previous two World Series, Ruth dominated the 1923 World Series. He batted .368, walked eight times, scored eight runs, hit three home runs and slugged 1.000 during the series, as the Yankees won their first World Series title, four games to two.[62]

New York Army National Guard

Ruth after losing consciousness from running into the wall at Griffith Stadium during a game against the Washington Senators on July 5, 1924. Ruth insisted on staying in the game despite evident pain and a bruised pelvic bone and hit a double in his next at-bat.

Ruth narrowly missed winning the Triple Crown in 1924. He hit .378 for his only American League batting title, led the major leagues with 46 home runs, and batted in 121 runs to finish second to Goose Goslin's 129. Ruth's on-base percentage was .513, the fourth of five years in which his OBP exceeded .500. However, the Yankees finished second, two games behind the Washington Senators, who went on to win their only World Series while based in D.C. Ruth enlisted in the New York Army National Guard for three years and served in the 52nd Field Artillery Brigade, 104th Field Artillery Regiment, 27th Infantry Division[63][64][65]

During spring training in 1925 concern over Ruth's weight was a major topic of discussion. While playing in Hot Springs, Arkansas, he developed a mild case of influenza, but felt well enough to travel with the team to Asheville, North Carolina. On his arrival at the team hotel he collapsed in front of Yankees main scout Paul Krichell.[66] A local physician attributed the fainting episode to flu, and recommended that Ruth return to New York to rest. News of his illness quickly spread among the sports journalism community. A rumor circulated that he had died, prompting British newspapers to print a premature obituary.[67] In New York, Ruth collapsed again and was found unconscious in his hotel bathroom. He was taken to a hospital where he suffered multiple convulsions.[68] After sportswriter W. O. McGeehan wrote that Ruth's illness was due to binging on hot dogs and soda pop before a game, it became known as "the bellyache heard 'round the world".[69] However, the exact cause of his ailment has never been confirmed and remains a mystery.[70] Playing just 98 games, Ruth had what would be his worst season as a Yankee; he finished with a .290 average and 25 home runs. The Yankees finished next to last in the American League with a 69–85 mark, their last season with a losing record until 1965.

1926–1929

Babe Ruth performed at a much higher level during 1926, batting .372 with 47 home runs and 146 RBIs. The Yankees won the AL pennant and advanced to the World Series, where they were defeated by Rogers Hornsby and the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games. In Game 4, he hit three home runs, the first time any player achieved this in a World Series game. Despite his batting heroics, he is also remembered for a costly base running blunder. Ruth had a reputation as a good but overaggressive base runner (he had 123 stolen bases, including ten steals of home, but only a 51% career percentage). With two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning of the decisive seventh game and with the Yankees trailing 3–2, Ruth tried to steal second base. However, he was thrown out by ten feet, ending the game and the Series. (Yankee team president Ed Barrow later called this the only on-field boner Ruth ever made in his career.) This remains the only time that the final out of a World Series was a "caught stealing".

The 1926 series was also known for Ruth's promise to Johnny Sylvester, a seriously ill 11-year-old, that he would hit a home run on his behalf.[71]

Ruth was the leader of the famous 1927 Yankees, also known as Murderer's Row because of the strength of its hitting lineup. The team won a then AL-record 110 games(a mark for a 154-game season eventually surpassed by the 1954 Cleveland Indians), took the AL pennant by 19 games, and swept the Pittsburgh Pirates in the World Series.

With the race long since decided, the nation's attention turned to Ruth's pursuit of his own home run mark of 59. Early in the season, Ruth expressed doubts about his chances: "I don't suppose I'll ever break that 1921 record. To do that, you've got to start early, and the pitchers have got to pitch to you. I don't start early, and the pitchers haven't really pitched to me in four seasons. I get more bad balls to hit than any other six men ... and fewer good ones." Ruth was also being challenged for his slugger's crown by teammate Lou Gehrig, who nudged ahead of Ruth's total in midseason, prompting the New York World-Telegram to anoint Gehrig the favorite. But Ruth caught Gehrig (who would finish with 47), and then had a remarkable last leg of the season, hitting 17 home runs in September. His 60th came on September 30, in the Yankees' next-to-last game. Ruth was exultant, shouting after the game, "Sixty, count 'em, sixty! Let's see some son-of-a-bitch match that!"[72] In later years, he would give Gehrig some credit: "Pitchers began pitching to me because if they passed me they still had Lou to contend with." In addition to his career-high 60 home runs, Ruth batted .356, drove in 164 runs and slugged .772.

The 1927 New York Yankees, one of the greatest baseball teams of all-time (Ruth is on top row, fifth from the left.)

The following season started off well for the Yankees, who led the AL by 13 games in July. But the Yankees were soon plagued by some key injuries, erratic pitching and inconsistent play. The Philadelphia Athletics, rebuilding after some lean years, erased the Yankees' big lead and even took over first place briefly in early September. The Yankees, however, took over first place for good when they beat the A's three out of four games in a pivotal series at Yankee Stadium later that month.

Ruth's play in 1928 mirrored his team's performance. He got off to a hot start and on August 1, he had 42 home runs. This put him ahead of his 60 home run pace from the previous season. But Ruth was hobbled by a bad ankle the latter part of the season, and he hit just twelve home runs in the last two months of the regular season. His batting average also fell to .323, well below his career average. Nevertheless, he ended the season with 54 home runs, which would be the fourth (and last) time he hit 50 home runs in a season.

Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig at West Point, New York in 1927.

The Yankees had a 1928 World Series rematch with the St. Louis Cardinals, who had upset them in the 1926 series. The Cardinals had the same core players as the 1926 team, except for Rogers Hornsby, who was traded for Frankie Frisch after the 1926 season. Ruth batted .625 (the second highest average in World Series history), including another three-home run game (in game 4), Gehrig batted .545, and the Yankees demolished the Cardinals in four games. The Yankees thus became the first major league team to sweep their opponents in consecutive World Series.

In 1929, the Yankees failed to make the World Series for the first time in four years, and it would be another three years before they returned. Although the Yankees had slipped, Ruth led or tied for the league lead in home runs each year during 1929–1931. At one point during the 1930 season, as a stunt, Ruth was called upon to pitch for the first time since 1921, and he pitched a complete-game victory.

Also in 1929, the Yankees became the first team to use uniform numbers regularly (the Cleveland Indians had used them briefly in 1916). Since Ruth normally batted third in the order (ahead of Gehrig), he was assigned number 3 (to Gehrig's 4). The Yankees retired Ruth's number on June 13, 1948; however, it was kept in circulation prior to that.

1930–1934

Babe Ruth and Al Smith.

In 1930, Ruth was asked by a reporter what he thought of his yearly salary of $80,000 ($1,117,928 in current dollar terms) being more than President Hoover's $75,000 ($1,048,058 in current dollar terms). His response: "I know, but I had a better year than Hoover."[73] Three years later, Ruth would make a public appearance with the ex-President at a Stanford – USC football game. Ruth led the league in home runs with 49, but the Yankees finished a distant third in the standings, 16 games behind the Athletics. As a response, owner Jacob Ruppert fired manager Bob Shawkey, who Ruth had a friendly relationship. After the season ended, Ruth approached Ruppert and Barrow about the managerial position. He volunteered to offer his services as a player-manager, claiming that they had a history of winning pennants. Ruppert gave little consideration, telling Ruth that "how can you manage the team if you can't manage himself".[74]

In the 1932 season, the Yankees went 107–47 and won the pennant under manager Joe McCarthy, as Ruth hit .341, with 41 home runs and 137 RBIs.

The Yankees faced Gabby Hartnett's Chicago Cubs in the 1932 World Series. The Yankees swept the Cubs and batted .313 as a team. During Game 3 of the series, after having already homered, Ruth hit what has now become known as Babe Ruth's Called Shot. During the at-bat, Ruth supposedly gestured to the deepest part of the park in center-field, predicting a home run. The ball he hit traveled past the flagpole to the right of the scoreboard and ended up in temporary bleachers just outside Wrigley Field's outer wall. The center field corner was 440 feet away, and at age 37, Ruth had hit a straightaway center home run that was perhaps a 490 foot blow.[75] It was Ruth's last Series homer (and his last Series hit), and it became one of the legendary moments of baseball history.

Ruth remained productive in 1933, as he batted .301, with 34 home runs, 103 RBIs, and a league-leading 114 walks. He was selected to play right field by Athletics manager Connie Mack in the first Major League Baseball All-Star Game, held on July 6, 1933, at Comiskey Park in Chicago. He hit the first home run in the game's history, a two-run blast against Bill Hallahan during the third inning, which helped the American League win the game 4-2.[76] During the final game of the 1933 season, as a publicity stunt organized by his team, Ruth was called upon and pitched a complete game victory against the Red Sox, his final appearance as a pitcher.[77] Despite unremarkable pitching numbers, Ruth had a 5–0 record in five games for the Yankees, raising his career totals to 94–46.

In 1934, Ruth had his last complete season. By this time, years of high living were starting to catch up with him. His conditioning had deteriorated to the point that he could no longer field or run.[78] Nonetheless, he could still handle a bat, recording a .288 batting average with 22 home runs, statistics that were stated as "merely mortal".[79] He was selected to the American League All-Star team for the second consecutive year. During the game, New York Giants pitcher Carl Hubbell struck out Ruth and four other victims in consecutive fashion, each of whom were later elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. On September 30, 1934, in what turned out to be his last game at Yankee Stadium, Ruth went 0 for 3 in front of only about 2,500 fans. By this time, he had reached a personal milestone of 708 home runs and was ready to retire.

Ruth in Japan with Japanese baseball-kids in 1934.

After the 1934 season, Ruth went on a baseball barnstorming tour in the Far East. Players such as Jimmie Foxx, Lefty Gomez, Earl Averill, Charlie Gehringer, and Lou Gehrig were among fourteen players who played a series of 22 games, with many of the games played in Japan. Ruth was popular in Japan, as baseball had been popular in Japan for decades. Riding in a motorcade, Ruth was greeted by thousands of cheering Japanese. The tour was considered a great success for further increasing the popularity of baseball in Japan, and in 1936 Japan organized its first professional baseball league.

Boston Braves (1935)

Although Ruth knew he was nearly finished as a player, he desired to remain in baseball as a manager. He was often spoken of as a possible candidate as managerial jobs opened up, but in 1932, when he was mentioned as a contender for the Red Sox position, stated that he was not yet ready to leave the field. Ruth was spoken of as likely to be hired each time when the Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Detroit positions became available. He received none of them.[80]

Just before the 1934 season, Ruppert offered to make Ruth manager of the Yankees' top minor-league team, the Newark Bears, but he was talked out of it by his wife, Claire, and his business manager. Early in the 1934 season, Ruth began openly campaigning to become manager of the Yankees. However, the Yankee job was never a serious possibility. Ruppert always supported McCarthy, who would remain as Yankees manager for another 12 seasons. Ruth and McCarthy had never gotten along, and Ruth's managerial ambitions further chilled their relations.[78] By the end of the season, Ruth hinted that he would retire unless Ruppert named him manager of the Yankees.[81] For his part, Ruppert wanted his slugger to leave the team without drama and hard feelings when the time came.[80]

During the 1934–1935 offseason, Ruth circled the world with his wife, including a barnstorming tour of the Far East. At his final stop before returning home, in the United Kingdom, Ruth was introduced to cricket by Australian player Alan Fairfax, and after having little luck in a cricketer's stance, stood as a baseball batter and launched some massive shots around the field, destroying the bat in the process. Although Fairfax regretted that he could not have the time to make Ruth a cricket player, Ruth had lost any interest in such a career upon learning that the best batsmen made only about $40 per week.[82]

Also during the offseason, Ruppert had been sounding out the other clubs in hopes of finding one that would be willing to take Ruth as a manager and/or a player. However, the only teams that seriously considered hiring Ruth were the Philadelphia Athletics and Detroit Tigers. A's owner/manager Connie Mack gave some thought to stepping down as manager in favor of Ruth, but later dropped the idea, saying that Ruth's wife would be running the team in a month if Ruth ever took over.[78]

While the barnstorming tour was underway, Ruppert began negotiating with Boston Braves owner Judge Emil Fuchs, who wanted Ruth as a gate attraction. Although the Braves had enjoyed modest recent success, finishing fourth in the National League in both 1933 and 1934, the team performed poorly at the box office. Unable to afford the rent at Braves Field, Fuchs had considered holding dog races there when the Braves were not 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 stated that he would not release Ruth to go to another team as a player. For this reason, it was announced that in addition to playing, Ruth would become a team vice president and would be consulted on all club transations. He was also made assistant manager to Braves skipper Bill McKechnie. In a long letter to Ruth a few days before the press conference, Fuchs promised Ruth a share in the Braves' profits, with the possibility of becoming co-owner of the team. Fuchs also raised the possibility of Ruth succeeding McKechnie as manager, perhaps as early as 1936. Ruppert called the deal "the greatest opportunity Ruth ever had".[78][83]

There was considerable attention as Ruth reported for spring training. He did not hit his first home run of the spring until after the team had left Florida, and was beginning the road north in Savannah. He hit two in an exhibition against the Bears.[84] Amid much press hoopla, Ruth played his first home game in Boston in over 16 years. Before an opening-day crowd of over 25,000, including five of New England's six governors, Ruth accounted for all of the Braves' runs in a 4–2 defeat of the New York Giants, hitting a two-run home run, singling to drive in a third run and later in the inning scoring the fourth. Although age and weight had slowed him, he made a running catch in left field which sportswriters deemed the defensive highlight of the game.[85]

Although Ruth had two hits in the second game of the season, the season soon settled down to a routine of Ruth performing poorly when he played at all, and the Braves losing most games. As the spring progressed, Ruth's deterioration became even more pronounced. He remained productive at the plate early on, but could do little else. His conditioning had deteriorated to the point that he could do little more than trot around the bases. His fielding had become so poor that three Braves pitchers threatened not to take the mound if he was in the lineup. Before long, Ruth stopped hitting as well. He grew increasingly annoyed that McKechnie ignored most of his advice. (McKechnie later said that Ruth's presence made enforcing discipline nearly impossible.)[78]

Ruth soon realized that Fuchs had deceived him, and had no intention of giving him off-the-field responsibility or the manager's job. He later stated that his duties as vice president consisted of making public appearances and autographing tickets.[86] Ruth also found out that rather than give him a share of the profits, Fuchs wanted him to invest some of his money in the team in a last-ditch effort to improve its balance sheet.[78] As it turned out, both Fuchs and Ruppert had known all along that Ruth's non-playing positions were meaningless.[87]

By the end of the first month of the season, Ruth believed he was finished even as a part-time player. As early as May 12, he asked Fuchs to let him retire.[78] Ultimately, Fuchs persuaded Ruth to remain at least until after the Memorial Day doubleheader in Philadelphia. In the interim was a western road trip, at which the rival teams had scheduled days to honor him. In Chicago and St. Louis, Ruth performed poorly, and his batting average sank to .155, with only three home runs. In the first two games in Pittsburgh, Ruth had only one hit, though a long fly caught by Paul Waner probably would have been a home run in any other ballpark besides Forbes Field.[88]

Ruth played in the third game of the Pittsburgh series on May 25, 1935, and added one more tale to his playing legend. Ruth went 4-for-4, including three home runs, though the Braves lost the game 11-7. The last two were off Ruth's old Cubs nemesis, Guy Bush. The final one, both of the game and of Ruth's career, sailed over the upper deck in right field and out of the ballpark, the first time anyone had hit a fair ball completely out of Forbes Field. Ruth was urged to make this his last game, but he had given his word to Fuchs and played in Cincinnati and Philadelphia. The first game of the doubleheader in Philadelphia—the Braves lost both—was his final major league appearance. On June 2, after an argument with Fuchs, Ruth retired. He finished 1935 with a .181 average—easily his worst as a full-time position player—and the final six of his 714 home runs. The Braves, 10–27 when Ruth left, finished 38–115, at .248 the worst winning percentage in modern National League history.[89] Fuchs gave up control of the Braves before the end of the season, insolvent like his team; the National League took over the franchise at the end of the year.[90]

MLB retirement

1935–1946

Although Fuchs had given Ruth his unconditional release, no major league team expressed an interest in hiring him in any capacity. Ruth still hoped to be hired as a manager if he could not play anymore, but only one managerial position, Cleveland, became available between Ruth's retirement and the end of the 1937 season. Asked if he had considered Ruth for the job, Indians owner Alva Bradley replied in the negative. Ruth played much golf and in a few exhibition baseball games, demonstrating a continuing ability to draw large crowds. This was a major factor in his hiring, as first base coach by the Dodgers in 1938. Brooklyn general manager Larry MacPhail made it clear when Ruth was hired that he would not be considered for the job if manager Burleigh Grimes retired at the end of the season as expected. Although much was said about what Ruth could teach the younger players, in practice, Ruth's duties were to appear on the field in uniform and encourage base runners—he was not called upon to relay signs. He got along well with everyone except team captain Leo Durocher, who was hired as Grimes' replacement at season's end. Ruth returned to retirement, never again to work in baseball.[91]

On July 4, 1939, Ruth spoke on Lou Gehrig Day at Yankee Stadium as members of the 1927 Yankees and a sellout crowd turned out to honor the first baseman, forced into premature retirement by a disease which would kill him in two years and which is often called by his name. The next week, Ruth went to Cooperstown, New York, for the formal opening of the Baseball Hall of Fame—he had been one of the first five players elected three years previously. As radio broadcasts of baseball became popular, he sought a job in that field, arguing that his celebrity and knowledge of baseball would assure large audiences, but he was made no offers.[92] 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 a 1943 exhibition for the Army-Navy Relief Fund. He hit a long fly ball off Walter Johnson; the blast left the field, curving foul, but Ruth circled the bases anyway. In 1946, he made a final effort at a job in baseball, contacting new Yankees boss MacPhail, but was sent a rejection letter.[93]

Cancer and death (1946–1948)

As early as the war years, doctors had cautioned Ruth to take better care of his health, and he grudgingly followed their advice, limiting his drinking and not going on a proposed trip to support the troops in the South Pacific.[94] In 1946, Ruth began experiencing severe pain over his left eye, and had difficulty swallowing. In November 1946, he entered French Hospital in New York for tests, that revealed Ruth had an inoperable malignant tumor at the base of his skull and in his neck. His name and fame gave him access to experimental treatments, becoming one of the first cancer patients to receive both drugs and radiation treatment simultaneously.[95] He was discharged from the hospital in February, having lost 80 pounds (36 kg), and went to Florida to recuperate. He returned to New York and Yankee Stadium after the season started, the new commissioner, Happy Chandler (Judge Landis had died in 1944), proclaimed April 27, 1947, Babe Ruth Day around the major leagues, with the most significant observance to be in the Bronx. A number of teammates and others spoke in honor of Ruth, who briefly addressed the crowd of almost 60,000.[96]

Around this time, developments in chemotherapy offered some hope, and Ruth, who had not been told he had cancer out of his family's fear he might do himself harm, was put on teropterin, a folic acid derivative, and may have been the first human subject. He showed dramatic improvement during the summer of 1947, so much so that his case was written up by his doctors, without using his name. He was able to travel around the country, doing promotional work for the Ford Motor Company on American Legion baseball. He appeared again at another day in his honor at Yankee Stadium in September, but was not well enough to pitch in an old-timers game as he had hoped.[97][98]

The improvement was only a temporary remission, and by late 1947, Ruth was unable even to help with the writing of his autobiography, The Babe Ruth Story, which was almost entirely ghostwritten. In and out of the hospital in New York, he left for Florida in February, doing what activities he could, and returned to New York after six weeks to appear at a book-signing party. He also went to California to witness the filming of the book.[99]

BabeRuth3.jpg
Babe Ruth's number 3 was retired by the New York Yankees in 1948.
Nat Fein's Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of Ruth at Yankee Stadium, June 13, 1948. This was his last public appearance before his death two months later.

On June 5, 1948, a "gaunt and hollowed out" Ruth visited Yale University to donate a manuscript of The Babe Ruth Story to the school's library; the gift was accepted by the captain of the Yale baseball team, George Bush, who would later become President of the United States.[100] On June 13, he visited Yankee Stadium for the final time in his life, appearing at the 25th anniversary celebrations of "The House that Ruth Built". By this time he had lost much weight and had difficulty walking. Introduced along with his surviving teammates from 1923, Ruth used a bat as a cane. The photo of Ruth taken from behind, standing near home plate and facing "Ruthville" (right field) became one of baseball's most famous and widely circulated photographs, and won the Pulitzer Prize.[101]

The Babe Ruth grave site in Hawthorne, New York.

Ruth made one final trip on behalf of American Legion baseball, then entered Memorial Sloan–Kettering Cancer Center, where he would die. He was never told he had cancer, but before his death, had surmised 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 film The Babe Ruth Story, a biopic about his own life. William Bendix portrayed Ruth. Shortly thereafter, Ruth returned to the hospital for the final time. He was barely able to speak. Ruth's condition gradually became worse; only a few visitors were allowed to see him, one of whom was National League president and future Commissioner of Baseball 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 haggard", Frick said years later.[102]

Death

Thousands of New Yorkers, including many children, stood vigil outside the hospital in Ruth's final days. On August 16, 1948, at 8:01 p.m., Babe Ruth died in his sleep at the age of 53. Instead of a wake at a funeral home, his casket was taken to Yankee Stadium, where it remained for two days; 77,000 people filed past to pay him tribute. His funeral Mass took place at St. Patrick's Cathedral, outside of which a crowd estimated at 75,000 waited. Ruth rests with his second wife, Claire, on a hillside in Section 25 at the Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne, New York.[103]

Radio and films

Ruth made many forays into various popular media. He was heard often on radio in the 1930s and 1940s, both as a guest and on his own programs with various titles: The Adventures of Babe Ruth was a 15-minute Blue Network show heard three times a week from April 16 to July 13, 1934. Three years later, he was on CBS twice a week in Here's Babe Ruth which was broadcast from April 14 to July 9, 1937. That same year he portrayed himself in "Alibi Ike" on Lux Radio Theater. His Baseball Quiz was first heard Saturdays on NBC June 5 to July 10, 1943 and then later that year from August 28 to November 20 on NBC, followed by another NBC run from July 8 to October 21, 1944.

His first film appearance unofficially occurred in 1920, when a newly formed company called Educational Pictures decided to take advantage of Ruth's growing popularity by creating a series of "educational films" based on Ruth. Ruth never committed to the project or compensated for the series, and decided to take Educational Pictures to court. However the judge cited with the company stating that Ruth was a "public figure", and anybody were allowed to film Ruth without requiring permission.[104] The matter was dropped when the series did poorly at the box office. However the case convinced Ruth to sign a film contract as the star of the silent movie Headin' Home, also made in 1920.[104] His film roles included a cameo appearance as himself in the Harold Lloyd film Speedy (1928). He made numerous other film appearances in the silent era, usually either playing himself or playing a ballplayer similar to himself. For his final film, an out of shape Ruth was contacted to appear as himself in the 1942 biopic about Lou Gehrig, Pride of the Yankees, in which he lost 40 pounds for the role.[105]

Personal life

Ruth met Helen Woodford in a coffee shop in Boston, and they were married on October 17, 1914.[106] They adopted a daughter, Dorothy, in 1921. Babe and Helen separated c. 1925 reportedly due to his repeated infidelities.[107] Their last public appearance together came during the 1926 World Series.[108] Helen died in a fire in Watertown, Massachusetts in 1929, in a house owned by Edward Kinder, a dentist with whom she had been living as "Mrs. Kinder". Kinder identified her body as being that of his wife, then went into hiding after Helen's true identity was revealed; Ruth was forced to get authorities to issue a new death certificate in her legal name, Margaret Helen Woodford Ruth.[109] In her book, My Dad, the Babe,[110] Dorothy claimed that she was Ruth's biological child by a girlfriend named Juanita Jennings.[111] She died in 1989.[112]

The first morals clause for a professional athlete appears to be a November 11, 1922 contract addendum for Babe Ruth. Language of the clause: "It is understood and agreed by and between the parties hereto that the regulation above set forth, numbered '2' shall be construed to mean among other things, that the player shall at all times during the term of this contract and throughout the years 1922, 1923 and 1924, and the years 1925 and 1926 if this contract is renewed for such years, refrain and abstain entirely from the use of intoxicating liquors and that he shall not during the training and playing season in each year stay up later than 1 o'clock A.M. on any day without the permission and consent of the Club's manager, and it is understood and agreed that if at any time during the period of this contract, whether in the playing season or not, the player shall indulge in intoxicating liquors or be guilty of any action or misbehavior which may render him unfit to perform the services to be performed by him hereunder, the Club may cancel and terminate this contract and retain as the property of the Club, any sums of money withheld from the player's salary as above provided."[113]

Apparently, Colonel Jake Ruppert (owner of the Yankees) had also hoped to curtail the Babe's notorious womanizing. Ruth is quoted as replying "I'll promise to go easier on drinking and to get to bed earlier, but not for you, fifty thousand dollars, or two-hundred and fifty thousand dollars will I give up women. They're too much fun."[114]

On April 17, 1929, Ruth married actress and model Claire Merritt Hodgson and adopted her daughter, Julia. Julia Ruth Stevens threw out the ceremonial first pitch before the final game in the original Yankee Stadium on September 21, 2008.[115]

By one account, Julia and Dorothy were, through no fault of their own, the reason for the seven-year rift in Ruth's relationship with teammate Lou Gehrig. Sometime in 1932 Gehrig's mother, during a conversation which she assumed was private, remarked, "It's a shame [Claire] doesn't dress Dorothy as nicely as she dresses her own daughter." When the comment inevitably got back to Ruth, he angrily told Gehrig to tell his mother to mind her own business. Gehrig in turn took offense at what he perceived as Ruth's disrespectful treatment of his mother. The two men reportedly never spoke off the field from that moment until the famous "bear hug" in Yankee Stadium on Lou Gehrig Day in 1939.[116]

Ruth and Claire regularly wintered in Florida, frequently playing golf during the off-season and while the Yankees were spring training in Tampa, Florida. After retirement, he had a winter beachfront home in Treasure Island, Florida, near St. Petersburg.

Contemporary impact

Ruth was the first baseball star to be the subject of overwhelming interest by the public. Baseball had seen star players before, such as Cobb and "Shoeless Joe" Jackson, but both men had uneasy relations with fans, in Cobb's case sometimes marked by violence. Ruth's biographers agree that he benefited from the timing of his ascension to "Home Run King", with an America hit hard by both the war and the 1918 flu pandemic longing for something to help put these traumatic events behind it. He also resonated in a country which felt, in the aftermath of the war, that it took second place to no one. Montville notes that as a larger-than-life figure capable of unprecedented athletic feats in what was the nation's largest city, Ruth became an icon of the significant social changes which marked the early 1920s.[117][118] Ruth became such a symbol of the United States that during World War II, Japanese soldiers yelled in English "To hell with Babe Ruth" to anger American soldiers.[6] (Ruth replied that he hoped that "every Jap that mention[ed] my name gets shot".[119])

According to Creamer, "Babe Ruth transcended sport, moved far beyond the artificial limits of baselines and outfield fences and sports pages".[120] Wagenheim stated, "He appealed to a deeply rooted American yearning for the definitive climax: clean, quick, unarguable."[121] Reisler notes that recent sluggers who surpassed Ruth's 60 home run mark, such as Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds, generated much less excitement than when Ruth repeatedly broke the single-season home run record in the 1920s; Ruth dominated a relatively small sports world, while Americans of the present era have many sports to choose to watch.[122]

According to sportswriter Grantland Rice, a contemporary, only two sports figures of the 1920s approached Ruth in popularity—boxer Jack Dempsey and racehorse Man o' War.[123] One of the factors that caused Ruth to gain his broad appeal was the uncertainty that surrounds his early life and his family. It allowed Ruth to exemplify the American success story, that even an uneducated, unsophisticated youth, without any family wealth or connections, can do something better than anyone else in the world. Montville notes that "the fog [surrounding his childhood] will make him forever accessible, universal. He will be the patron saint of American possibility."[124] Similarly, the fact that Ruth played when a relatively small portion of his fans had the opportunity to see him play in the era before television coverage of baseball allowed his legend to grow through word of mouth and the hyperbole of sports reporters.[125]

Ruth's penchant for hitting home runs altered how the game is played. Prior to 1920, home runs were unusual, and managers tried to win games by building a run by getting a runner on base, and bring him around to score through such means as the stolen base, the bunt, and the hit and run. Advocates of what was dubbed "inside baseball", such as Giants manager McGraw, disliked the home run, considering it a blot on the purity of the game.[126] According to sportswriter W. A. Phelon after that season, Ruth's breakout performance in 1920 and the public response in excitement and attendance, "settled, for all time to come, that the American public is nuttier over the Home Run than the Clever Fielding or the Hitless Pitching. Viva el Home Run and two times viva Babe Ruth, exponent of the home run, and overshadowing star."[127] While a few, such as McGraw and Cobb, decried the passing of the old-style play, teams quickly began to seek and develop sluggers.[128]

One long-term survivor of the craze over Ruth may be the Baby Ruth candy bar. Although the original company to market the confectionary, the Curtis Candy Company, maintained that the bar was named after Ruth Cleveland, daughter of former president Grover Cleveland, Ruth Cleveland had died in 1904 and the bar was first marketed in 1921, at the height of the Ruth craze.[129] The slugger later sought to market candy bearing his name; he was refused a patent because of the existence of the Baby Ruth bar. Corporate files from 1921 are no longer extant; the brand has changed hands several times and is now owned by the Nestlé company. Due to a marketing arrangement, in 2005, the Baby Ruth bar became the official candy bar of Major League Baseball.[130]

Legacy

Claire Ruth (widow) at the unveiling of a Babe Ruth memorial plaque in Baltimore's old Memorial Stadium in 1955.)

Creamer termed Ruth "a unique figure in the social history of the United States".[120] Ruth has even entered the language: a dominant figure in a field, whether within or outside sports, is often referred to as "the Babe Ruth" of that field.[120] Montville noted in 2006 that more books have been written about Ruth than about any other member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. At least five of these books (including Creamer's and Wagenheim's) were written in 1973 and 1974, timed to capitalize on the increase in public interest in Ruth as Henry Aaron approached his career home run mark, which he broke on April 8, 1974.[131] Aaron stated as he approached Ruth's record, "I can't remember a day this year or last when I did not hear the name of Babe Ruth."[120]

Montville suggests that Ruth is probably even more popular today than he was when his career home run record was broken by Aaron. The longball era which Ruth started continues in baseball, to the delight of the fans. Owners build ballparks to encourage home runs, that each evening during the season are featured on such programs as SportsCenter and Baseball Tonight. The questions of performance enhancing drug use which have dogged recent home run hitters such as McGwire and Bonds do nothing to diminish Ruth's reputation; his overindulgences with beer and hot dogs seem part of a simpler time.[132] Reisler suggests that the poor quality of film depictions of Ruth, both in the 1948 The Babe Ruth Story (starring William Bendix) and the 1992 film, The Babe, (starring John Goodman) have perpetuated fictions about Ruth, and in the case of the latter film, the impression that Ruth was overweight throughout his career, rather than just in the later part of it.[133]

Ruth has been named the greatest baseball player of all time in various surveys and rankings. In 1998, The Sporting News ranked him number one on the list of "Baseball's 100 Greatest Players".[134] In 1999, baseball fans named Ruth to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team.[135] In 1969, he was named baseball's Greatest Player Ever in a ballot commemorating the 100th anniversary of professional baseball. In 1993, the Associated Press reported that Muhammad Ali was tied with Babe Ruth as the most recognized athletes in America.[136] In a 1999 ESPN poll, he was ranked as the second-greatest U.S. athlete of the century, behind Michael Jordan.[137]

Montville noted the continuing relevance of Babe Ruth in American culture, over three-quarters of a century after he last swung a bat in a major league game:

The fascination with his life and career continues. 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.[138]

Baseball awards & honors

For records and achievements, see List of career achievements by Babe Ruth

Memorial & museum

Monument Park

Tribute to Babe Ruth, Monument Park, as seen at the old Yankee Stadium

Yankee Stadium, "The House that Ruth Built", survived until 2009, replaced after the 2008 season by a new Yankee Stadium, across the street from the old. The site of the stadium in which Ruth played is today a park at which youth baseball is played. Moved from old stadium to new were the tributes to Ruth housed in Monument Park, which remains in center field in the new ballpark, as it was in the old. Ruth's uniform number 3 is among those of Yankee greats who have had their numbers retired; he is one of five Yankees players or managers to have a granite monument erected to him there. Until the renovation of the old Yankee Stadium in the 1970s, the monument was in play together with similar tributes to Huggins and Gehrig, and a flagpole.[144][145][146]

Babe Ruth Birthplace Museum

The Babe Ruth Birthplace Museum is located at 216 Emory Street, a Baltimore row house where Ruth was born and is located three blocks west of Oriole Park at Camden Yards, where the American League's Baltimore Orioles play.[147][148] The property was restored and opened to the public in 1973, by the non-profit Babe Ruth Birthplace Foundation, Inc.[147] Ruth's widow, Claire, his two daughters, Dorothy and Julia, and his sister, Mamie, helped select and install exhibits for the museum.[147]

MLB all-time ranks

See also

References and notes

  1. ^ "Career Leaders & Records for Batting Average". Baseball-Reference.com. Retrieved November 28, 2013. 
  2. ^ "Official New York Yankees/Major League Baseball Records". MLB.Com. Retrieved August 12, 2010. 
  3. ^ "Most Times Leading League". Baseball-Reference.com. Archived from the original on September 24, 2008. Retrieved October 22, 2008. 
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Bibliography

External links

Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Bob Groom
No-hit game
June 23, 1917
w/Ernie Shore
Succeeded by
Dutch Leonard
Records
Preceded by
Roger Connor
Career home run record holder
1921–1974
Succeeded by
Hank Aaron
Preceded by
Ned Williamson
Single season home run record holder
1919–1960
Succeeded by
Roger Maris
Sporting positions
Preceded by
Roger Peckinpaugh
New York Yankees team captain
May 20, 1922 – May 25, 1922
Succeeded by
Everett Scott