George Herman Ruth, (February 6, 1895 - August 16, 1948), better known as Babe Ruth and also commonly known by the nicknames The Bambino and The Sultan of Swat, was an American baseball player and United States national icon. He was one of the first five players elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame and he was the first player to hit over 50 home runs in one season. His record of 60 home runs in the 1927 season stood for 34 years until it was broken by Roger Maris in 1961. He also was a member of the original American League All-Star team in 1933. In 1998, The Sporting News named Ruth as Number One in its list of "Baseball's 100 Greatest Players."
He was born at 216 Emory Street in south Baltimore, Maryland. The house was rented by his maternal grandfather, Pius Schamberger, a German immigrant who eked out a living as an upholsterer. Babe's parents, Kate and George Sr., lived above the saloon they owned and operated on Camden Street. Kate would walk to her father's home each time she gave birth to a child, eight in all. Sadly, only Babe and his sister, Mary, survived infancy.
To say young George was mischievous would be an understatement. He skipped school, ran the streets, and committed petty crime. By age seven, he was drinking, chewing tobacco, and had become impossible for his parents to control. Mary recalled how their father would beat Babe in a desperate attempt to bring the boy into line, but to no avail. He was finally sent to St. Mary's Industrial School for Boys, a school run by Catholic brothers. Brother Matthias, a Roman Catholic priest, and the school's disciplinarian, became the major influence on his life, the one man Babe respected above all others. It was Brother Matthias who taught him baseball, working with him for countless hours on hitting, fielding and later, pitching.
Because of his toughness, George became the team's catcher. He liked the position because he was involved in every play. One day, as his team was getting pounded, Babe started mocking his own pitcher. Brother Matthias promptly switched George from catcher to pitcher to teach him a lesson. But, instead of getting his comeuppance, Babe shut the other team down.
Brother Matthias brought Babe to the attention of Jack Dunn, owner and manager of the minor-league Baltimore Orioles , and the man often credited with discovering him. In 1914 Dunn signed 19-year-old Ruth to pitch for his club, and took him to spring training in Florida, where a strong performance with bat and ball saw him make the club, while his precocious talent and childlike personality saw him nicknamed "Dunn's Babe". On April 22, 1914 "The Babe" pitched his first professional game, a six-hit, 6-0 victory over the Buffalo Bisons, also of the International League.
Through the first half of the season, the Orioles were the best team in the league, and by July 4 they had a record of 47 wins and 22 losses, 25 games over .500; but their finances were not in such a good shape. In 1914 the breakaway Federal League, a rebel major league which would last only 2 years, placed a team in Baltimore, and the competition hit Orioles' attendances badly. To make ends meet, Dunn was obliged to dispose of his stars for cash, and sold Ruth's contract, with two other players to Joseph Lannin, owner of the Boston Red Sox, for a sum rumored to be between $20,000 and $35,000.
The Red Sox Years
Though Ruth was a skillful pitcher, the Red Sox's starting rotation was already stacked with lefties, so they initially made little use of him. With a 1-1 record, he was benched for several weeks before being sent to the International League with the Providence Grays of Providence, Rhode Island. Pitching in combination with the young Carl Mays, Ruth helped the Grays win the pennant. At the end of the season the Red Sox recalled him, and he was in the majors permanently. Shortly afterwards, Ruth proposed to Helen Woodford , a waitress he met in Boston, and they were married in Baltimore on October 14, 1914.During spring training the next season, Ruth secured a spot as a starter. With such talents as Rube Foster, Dutch Leonard and a rejuvenated Smokey Joe Wood the pitchers carried the Red Sox to the pennant. Ruth won 18 games and lost 8 and helped himself with the bat, hitting .315 and slugging his first four major league home runs. The Red Sox won the World Series by 4 games to 1, but because manager Bill Carrigan preferred right-handers, Ruth did not pitch and grounded out in his only at bat.
|Ruth pitching for the Red Sox|
In 1916 he returned to the rotation, although the team's offense had been weakened by the sale of Tris Speaker to the Cleveland Indians. After a slightly shaky spring, he would make a case as the best pitcher in the American League. Ruth's 1.75 ERA was best in the AL, and was over a run below the league average. He won 23 games, lost 12 and threw nine shutouts, still the best mark for a left hander as well as a Red Sox record. Pitching again took the light-hitting Sox to the World Series, in which Ruth pitched a 14-inning complete game to beat the Brooklyn Robins as Boston again won by 4 games to 1. He repeated his strong performance in 1917, going 24-13, but the Red Sox, who could not keep pace with the Chicago White Sox and their 100 wins, missed out on a third straight postseason appearance. More importantly, however, Ruth began to show his true skill as a hitter, compiling a .325 batting average and sending 11 of his 40 hits for extra bases.
It was apparent Ruth was more valuable in the lineup as an everyday player. In 1918, he began playing in the outfield more and pitching less. His contemporaries thought this was ridiculous: former teammate Tris Speaker speculated the move would shorten Ruth's career. By 1919, Ruth was basically a fulltime outfielder, pitching in only 17 of the 130 games in which he appeared. He set his first single-season home run record that year, smacking 29 with the Red Sox, breaking the previous record, while hitting .322 and driving in 114 runs. News of his batting feats spread rapidly, and wherever he played large crowds turned out to see him. As his fame spread, so did his waistline. Since his time as an Oriole, teammates had marveled at Ruth's capacity for food and by 1919 his physique had changed from the tall athletic frame of 1916 to a rotund shape with which he was usually associated. Beneath his barrel shaped body, his powerful muscular legs seemed strangely thin, but he was still a capable base-runner and outfielder. His contemporary Ty Cobb would later remark that Ruth "ran OK for a fat man".
Despite the box office appeal of Ruth, the Red Sox were in a parlous financial position. In his desire to attract the best players, owner Harry Frazee had paid relatively large salaries throughout the war years. However, the team's failure to make the 1919 World Series and Frazee's own failings as a theater promoter meant that by the end of the year, he needed an influx of cash to stay afloat. His only available source of money was his players, and so he offered the best of them to the New York Yankees, until then a perennial second division team. For a sum of $125,000 and a loan of more than $300,000 (secured on Fenway Park itself), Ruth was sold to the Yankees on January 3.
Ruth The Yankee
Almost immediately, Ruth began to pay off on his investment. He trained extensively over the winter, which was by no means always the case, and turned up at spring training in fine condition. As a result, he supplanted a rather average outfielder who went on to forge the Chicago Bears and the NFL. George Halas was miffed about being cut, so he gave up on baseball when Ruth took his roster spot. When the season started, it was clear that the more hitter-friendly Polo Grounds suited him, and that he would soon eclipse his previous mark for home runs. As rumors of the Black Sox scandal slowly leaked out, Ruth was terrorizing opposing pitching, and putting together an offensive season that stands among the finest ever recorded. In addition to hitting 54 home runs, smashing his year-old record, he hit .376 (4th in the league), drove in 137 runs and scored 150 (both best in the league) and his 150 walks contributed to him getting on base in more than half his plate appearances. He stole 14 bases and his slugging percentage (a monumental .847) set a record that would not be beaten for over 80 years (Barry Bonds eclipsed it in 2001).
He followed the unprecedented success of 1920 with more of the same the following year. Hitting .376 in 152 games, he drove in 171 runs and scored 177, and finished just percentage points below his 1920 figures for slugging and reaching base. Most astonishingly, he broke the home run record for the third straight year, clouting 59 round trippers. Along with the pitching of Carl Mays, Waite Hoyt and Bob Shawkey, the bats of Ruth and Bob Meusel would carry the Yankees to their first ever World Series, a 5-3 loss to their NY rival Giants. Game 4 also saw Ruth hit his first post season home run.
During 1921, Ruth was invited to Columbia University for a battery of tests. The findings were illuminating. Doctors discovered that the pitch he could hit hardest was just above the knees, on the outside corner. And when he hit perfectly, in still air, with the bat moving at 110 ft/s (34 m/s), the ball would carry 450 to 500 feet (140 to 150 m). In a clinical test of steadiness, by inserting a charged rod successively into small holes of different sizes, Ruth proved to be the best of 500 volunteers. His eyes responded to flashing bulbs in a darkened chamber 20 ms quicker than the average person -- very valuable for picking up a ball as it left a pitcher's hand. Science corroborated what baseball fans already knew: Babe Ruth was born with preternatural gifts. Perhaps teammate Joe Dugan put it best: "Born? Hell, Babe Ruth wasn't born! The son of a bitch fell from a tree!"
The World Series appearance would lead to problems for Ruth. Seeking to avoid diminishing the meaning of the fall classic, organized baseball prohibited World Series players from playing in exhibition games during the off-season. Ruth, typically, decided this rule did not apply to him and embarked on his usual lucrative barnstorming tour with two teammates. Commissioner Landis came down hard on the recalcitrant players, suspending Ruth for the first six weeks of what was to be a turbulent 1922 season. On his return the Yankees management named Ruth their first on-field captain. Five days later, on May 25, he was ejected for arguing an umpire's call at third, and exacerbated the situation by climbing into the seats to confront a heckling fan. The captaincy was stripped, and Ruth's aggressiveness would see him suspended three more times in 1922, for arguing with umpires.
While Ruth suffered his first professional setback, his personal life was in a worse state. Helen, who disliked the celebrity lifestyle to which the Babe was drawn, lived on their farm near Boston with their adopted daughter, Dorothy. Free from the eyes of his wife, Ruth embraced the lifestyle even more fully. His love of fine food, undiminished over the years, was matched only by his appetites for then-illegal liquor, nightlife and casual sex.
Helen died in a house fire on January 11, 1929. She and Babe had separated some years before, but did not seek a divorce because they were Catholic. By the time of her death, Ruth was involved with a widowed socialite named Claire Merritt Hodgson . They married that April 17, and stayed together until his death. Claire - a cousin of Hall of Fame slugger Johnny Mize - was a sophisticated and somewhat hard lady who managed to do what no other woman before her had - keep the high-flying home run king grounded.
His boisterous social life, as well as missed playing time, seemed to affect his on-field play. His batting, on-base and slugging averages all fell dramatically (to a still-impressive .315/.434/.672) and for the first time since he became a full-time outfielder he failed to win the home run title, hitting 35, two fewer than Tilly Walker of the Philadelphia Athletics. His poor form would continue into the World Series, when the Yankees were again defeated by the Giants (4-0, with one tie) in a series in which Ruth hit only one single and one double in 17 at-bats.
In 1929, the Yankees introduced uniform numbers. Since Ruth batted third in the order, he was assigned number 3. Eventually, uniform numbers were associated with players without regard to batting order, but Babe Ruth was associated with number 3 and the Yankees retired the number on June 13, 1948 - the second uniform number (the previous one being Lou Gehrig's) to be retired by the Yankees.
- 1920-23 - amazing seasons
- 1925 - "the bellyache heard round the world"
- 1926 - return to peak
- 1927 - 60 home runs; "Murderers' Row"
Did Ruth Call His Shot? In Game Three of the 1932 World Series, with Ruth's Yankees playing the Chicago Cubs, Ruth hit one of the most famous home runs in baseball history, a ball which he appeared to "call" ahead of time. According to the version told by Ruth in a 1945 interview, he took the first two strikes, holding up one finger after the first ("That's one") and two after the second ("That's two"). He then said he pointed toward the outfield fence, and then hit the next pitch into the stands.
There is no doubt Ruth hit the home run, his second of the game. (Lou Gehrig, the next batter, also homered -- "the thunder after the lightning", as one sportswriter put it.) What has been argued since is this: did Ruth really point to the fence? Charlie Root, the Cubs pitcher, angrily denied Ruth "called his shot" and pointed out that he would have brushed Ruth back had he done anything of the kind. (Root was nicknamed "Chinski" for his tendency to throw at batters.) But Root had an odd habit of turning slightly around between pitches and others at the game said that Root had simply missed the Babe's gesture. There is no official film of the home run. A home movie taken by a fan in the stands is inconclusive.
End of the Line
Ruth left the Yankees acrimoniously after the 1934 season, after it was clear he was not going to be made manager, which Ruth seemed to consider his right. He signed with the Boston Braves as a player and assistant manager. Ruth hoped to be able to transition to a managerial post. It quickly became clear, however, that the Braves ownership was more interested in using Ruth as a drawing card than giving him any managerial responsibilities. At Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on May 25, 1935, Ruth hit his 714th and last home run, setting a baseball record that stood for 39 years. That June 2 he announced he was going to retire from the sport.
Ruth was one of the five initial inductees to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1936. He took another coaching position with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1938 in the hope of replacing Burleigh Grimes as manager, but retired again after the position went to Leo Durocher instead.
Ruth was diagnosed with throat cancer in late 1946. He underwent an early form of radiation therapy, but died in New York City on August 16, 1948 and was interred in the Cemetery of the Gate of Heaven in Hawthorne, New York.
The Babe Ruth Museum is located at his birthplace on 216 Emory Place in downtown Baltimore, two blocks northwest of Camden Yards. The modern ballpark stands on the site of the saloon that Ruth's parents ran in his early childhood.
For the first 40 years of his life many people, Ruth included, believed his birthdate to have been February 7, 1894. Most contemporary accounts, therefore, will contain inaccurate accounts of Ruth's age.
Threw and batted lefthanded, but wrote righthanded.
In her book, "My Dad, The Babe," his adopted daughter Dorothy claimed she was his biological child, the product of an affair between Ruth and a long-time family friend.
- Baseball Hall of Fame
- Baseball-Reference.com - career statistics and analysis
- Quotecafe - Quotes by Babe Ruth
- Lovable Ruth was everyone's Babe , an ESPN article by Larry Schwartz