was a circus, a play and a movie, all rolled into one," said
teammate Lefty Gomez. "Kids adored him, Men idolized him.
Women loved him. There was something about him that made him great."
Babe Ruth was more than a great baseball player, he was an American
hero who became a legend and an icon. Long after his last home
run, his name has come to signify greatness and strength.
Early in life it was
not evident that George Herman "Babe" Ruth would be
a slugger of legendary proportions. He was an awkward-looking
young man from the streets of Baltimore, where he grew up in the
care of his father, a saloon-kepper, and later in a boys home,
after his parents gave up trying to keep him out of trouble. It
was in the boys home that Ruth learned to harness his great energy
and play the game of baseball. He signed with the mionor league
Baltimore Orioles in 1912 and by 1914 he was in the major leagues
with the Boston Red Sox, as a pitcher.
The Red Sox were the
best team in the American League, and a perfect place for Ruth
to learn to be a major leaguer. In 1916 he got his first chance
to pitch in a World Series and made the most of his one appearance.
After giving up a run in the first inning, he drove in the tying
run himself, then held the Brooklyn Dodgers scoreless for the
next eleven innings until his team could score the winning run.
In the 1918 World Series he continued his pitching heroics, running
his series record to 29 2/3 scoreless innings, a mark that stood
for forty-three years.
With the talented Sox,
Ruth went 18-8 in 1915, 23-12 (with a league-leading 1.75 ERA
and nine shutouts) in 1916, 24-13 (2.01 ERA) in 1917, and 13-7
in 1918. He was the winningest left-handed pitcher in baseball
from 1915-1917. The Red Sox won the World Series in 1915, 1916
and 1918. Ruth's pitching mark was 89-46 with the Sox, but his
booming bat was too loud to be heard only every four days. Red
Sox manager Ed Barrow, at the suggestion of outfielder Harry Hooper,
began playing the Babe in the outfield in-between his starts.
In 1918, Ruth led the
American League with 11 home runs, despite playing just 59 games
as an outfielder. The next season he started just 15 games on
the mound and led the loop in homers again, with an unheard of
total of 29. He was gaining attention with his home run trot,
rounding the bases with what one observer noted were tiny "debutante"
ankles. In 1919, he played 130 games and was now an everyday player.
He seemed poised to lead the Red Sox to the top of the league
for years to come. But, despite Ruth's obvious value as a slugger,
he was dealt to the New York Yankees prior to the 1920 season,
in a deal that haunted Boston owner Harry Frazee for years to
come. Over the next 15 years, Ruth would hit hundreds of homers
while helping the Yankees to the World Series seven times. The
Red Sox are still waiting to win another World Series title.
Crushed by his sale
to the Yankees, Ruth was unsure of his future in New York. But
his doubts failed to affect his performance in 1920. Ruth's 54
homers surpassed every other team in the majors except one. That
same season, Ruth slugged an astonishing .847, a record that stood
for more than 80 years. In 1920, the Yankees, coincidentally,
became the first team to draw more than one million fans to a
ballpark, more than double the attendance of any other club. As
Yankee manager Miller Huggins said, "They all flock to see
him," because the American fan "likes the fellow who
carries the wallop."
As an encore in 1921,
Ruth outdid himself, setting major league records with his totals
of 59 homers, 457 total bases, 171 RBI and 177 runs scored. He
had at this point in his career already hit more homers than anyone
in baseball history. And he was only 26 years old. Off the field
he was a superstar, the first real sports icon in American history.
He did everything in a big way - he ate, he drank, he chased women,
and he had a great time being "The Babe."
In 1922, Ruth's raucous
ways began to catch up with him. He ignored Baseball Commissioner
Kenesaw Mountain Landis's ban on barnstorming in the off-season
and traveled with his own All-Star team. For his transgression,
he was suspended for 39 days, missing the start of the regular
season. In May, he threw dirt in an umpire's eyes, took off after
a heckler in the stands, and when the crowd booed him, he stood
on the dugout roof shaking his fist and yelling, "You're
all yellow!" Once again he was suspended. In September he
had another run-in with a fan, and was suspended again. He sat
out nearly a third of the 1922 season and still hit 25 home runs,
but he wasn't himself. In the World Series, the Yankees lost to
the Giants and Ruth hit just .118.
Despite the terrible
1922 campaign, Ruth's arrival in New York signaled an era of success
for the Yankees. After winning 95 games in 1920, the Yankees won
the pennant in 1921 and 1922. After losing the World Series twice
to the Giants, the Yanks finally won their first championship
in 1923 - with new Yankee Stadium as the backdrop. Fittingly,
it was dubbed "The House That Ruth Built," and the Babe
blasted the first homer in the new stadium. The Yankees won the
pennant again in 1926, and back-to-back World Series titles in
1927-1928. Ruth was a monster in the post-season, and he hit .516
with five homers, 11 RBI, 13 runs, and a 1.097 slugging percentage
in the '27 and '28 Series combined.
With the Yankees, Ruth
teamed with first baseman Lou Gehrig to launch a dynasty that
would dominate baseball. Starting with their first flag in 1921,
the Yanks won 29 pennants in 44 years from 1921-1964. It all started
with the acquisition of Ruth from the Red Sox.
Ruth reached his apex
of stardom in 1927. Ruth belted a record 60 homers and established
a mark that sluggers would aim at for years to come. The rotund
slugger continued to knock the ball out of the park over the next
few seasons, winning his sixth straight home run title in 1931.
In 1932, the Yankees won their final title with Ruth, defeating
the Cubs in the World Series, which featured Babe's famous "Called
Shot." For the Babe it was his seventh World Series ring.
At the tail end of
his career, Babe Ruth's determination to become a major league
manager prompted him to turn down an offer from the Yankees to
manage their top minor league team, the Newark Bears. Instead,
in the spring of 1935 he joined the worst team in the National
League, the Boston Braves, as an "assistant manager"
and active player, lured by unsubstantiated overtures that he
might become their manager the next season. As a player he was
all but finished. He reported to the team grossly overweight,
which threw his timing off at the plate and made him appear a
buffoon in the outfield. There was a slanting terrace in left
field in Cincinnati that acted as a warning track near the concrete
left-field fence. When Ruth chased fly balls near it, he would
stumble, fall, or catch balls in what appeared to be self defense.
On May 25, 1935, at
Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, Ruth flashed his greatness one final,
glorious time. That afternoon, he hit three home runs; the last
one, the first ball ever to be hit completely out of that park!
He crushed the ball so convincingly that the Pirate players simply
stood and watched it disappear behind the stands. The crowd of
10,000 let loose a mighty roar as the old slugger hobbled around
the bases. When he rounded third, the pitcher, Guy Bush, tipped
his cap to the Babe, who smiled and saluted back. It was the last
home run he would ever hit, number 714. At that point in baseball
history, no other player had ever hit even half that many. It
was a record that would stand for nearly four decades.
A week later, Ruth
announced his retirement from baseball. From that time until the
day he died, he waited and waited for a call from some team, any
team, to become a major league manager. A call that would never
were remarkable. Thirteen times he drove in over 100 runs, with
a high of 171 in 1921. He hit over .300 seventeen times, topping
out at .393 in 1923. Twelve times he led the majors in home runs
and thirteen times he led the majors in slugging. His .690 career
slugging average remains the highest in history. When he retired,
his 714 home runs, 2,174 runs, 2,211 RBI and his 2,056 walks ranked
at the top of the all-time list.
June 13, 1948, was
chosen to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of Yankee Stadium.
Babe Ruth, the man who had hit the first home run in that stadium
was ill with throat cancer, but was determined to be on hand.
His wife and doctors kept the mortal diagnosis from him, but he
knew the end was near. "The termites have got me," he
told Connie Mack when Mack visited him. Surgery had stemmed the
disease for a short time, but had damaged his larynx, shrinking
his exuberant voice to an old man's rasp.
The clubhouse was lined
with his old teammates and survivors of the 1923 team. They played
a two inning exhibition game against veterans from other years.
Ruth was too exhausted to take part. Friends helped him into his
old uniform, which hung on his frail, thin body like a tent. It
was raining that day and someone put a camel's hair coat over
his shoulders. One by one, his old teammates were introduced,
to booming cheers from the adoring crowd. Finally, announcer Mel
Allen's voice called him to home plate. He shuddered out of his
topcoat and using a bat (Bob Feller's) as a cane, walked out to
home plate on the wave of a tumultuous ovation. When it subsided,
he managed to croak a few words into the microphones, expressing
his pride at hitting the first home run there and acknowledging
the presence of some of his friends.
Soon he was back in
the hospital, where he signed autographs, watched baseball on
television, listened to his wife read him some of the hundreds
of letters he got every day, and did his best to keep up a jovial
front when visitors came to call.
Babe Ruth died of cancer
at 8:01 p.m., August 16, 1948. He was only fifty-three years old.
Over 100,000 fans paid their respects at Yankee Stadium, where
he lay in rest. Grieving fathers held up their sons for a final
look at the face of the greatest player in baseball history. Ruth's
old teammates volunteered as pallbearers and the flag at Yankee
Stadium flew at half-mast.
Many of Babe Ruth's
records have been broken in the years since his playing days ended.
But no one has ever come close to diminishing his legacy. His
tremendous achievements and larger than life personality changed
the face of the sport forever. There will never be another Babe
In 1920, Ruth shattered the single season home run mark when he
clubbed 54 for his new team, the Yankees. Though he would later
tie or better that mark three times, he never had a better overall
campaign. He hit .376, fourth best in the league; his slugging
percentage was an absurd .847 - the highest total ever to that
point by almost 200 percentage points. His .530 OBP was the highest
in history to that point. He led the league in extra-base hits,
runs, RBI, walks and total average, which was an all-time high
of 1.934, or nearly two bases for every out made! His efforts
brought the Yankees their first pennant.
On the morning of June 8, 1921, Ruth was arrested for speeding
in New York City. Sitting in jail while he arranged for his release,
Ruth was allowed to change into his uniform in his cell. He arrived
at Yankee Stadium in time to play in New York's 4-3 victory over
Collected home run #600 off George Blaeholder of the St. Louis
Browns on August 21, 1931.
Because he walked so frequently, the Babe rarely enjoyed hitting
streaks of more than 10-15 games. But in 1921, one of his best
seasons, he hit in 21 straight games.
Three home runs in a World Series game twice... The Babe hit 340
solo home runs, 252 two-run shots, and 98 three-run taters. He
also slugged 16 Grand Slams... 51% of his homers came with a man
or men on base... He hit 16 homers in extra-innings, 10 inside-the-park
variety, and one as a pinch-hitter (in 1916 with the Red Sox)...
459 of his career regular season homers came against right-handed
pitchers, or 64%. 219 times he blasted a circuit blow off a lefty...
In six seasons with the Red Sox he hit 49 homers, 11 in Fenway
Park, 38 on the road. With the Yankees in 15 seasons, he slugged
659 long blows, 334 at home, 325 on the road... Ruth hit at least
one home run in 12 different ballparks... 72 times, Ruth slugged
a pair of homers in a game, a major league record that still stands.
He connected for three homers on May 21, 1930, with New York,
and with the Braves on May 25, 1935, including the final homer
of his career, off Pirate Guy Bush... His 686 home runs as an
outfielder are the most by any player at any position. He hit
15 long balls as a pitcher... Collected RBI in 11 consecutive
games in 1931... Stole home 10 times... Won two legs of the Triple
Crown seven times (1919, 1920-1921, 1923-1924, 1926, 1928)...
First player to hit three home runs in a single game in the AL
and NL... 11 consecutive games with at least one extra-base hit
(August 28 to September 8, 1921) the second longest streak in
major league history... Holds the all-time single season record
for most total bases (457 in 1921) and times reached base (375
in 1923)... Three times he had 4 extra-base hits in a game...
Ruth had six five-hit games in his career... Scored five runs
in a game twice... On April 20, 1926, he drove in eight runs,
his career high... Collected more RBI than games played in six