Babe Ruth

Ruth batting for the Yankees
Ruth batting for the Yankees

George Herman Ruth, (February 6, 1895August 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 30, 40 and 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."

As discussed in the 1988 book, The Babe: A Life in Pictures, by Lawrence Ritter and Mark Rucker, it is more than mere statistical records that make Babe Ruth unequivocally the greatest baseball player of all time. In several ways, he changed the nature of the game itself. His exploitation of the "power game" compelled other teams to follow suit, breaking the monopoly of the "inside game" that had been the primary strategy for decades. Ruth was the focal point of the start of what has become statistically the greatest sports dynasty in history, the New York Yankees. His international fame helped fuel the rising interest in sports during the Roaring Twenties as the fan base expanded significantly and triggered major expansion of nearly all the ballparks in the major leagues.


Early days

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. Only Babe and his sister, Mary, survived infancy.

Young George was known for mischievous behavior. He skipped school, ran the streets, and committed petty crime. By age seven, he was drinking, chewing tobacco, and had become difficult 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.

Babe Ruth, full-length portrait, standing, facing front, holding up bat, in baseball uniform, on field
Babe Ruth, full-length portrait, standing, facing front, holding up bat, in baseball uniform, on field

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. By July 4, the Orioles had a record of 47 wins and 22 losses, 25 games over .500; but their finances were not in such good shape. In 1914 the breakaway Federal League, a rebel major league which would last only 2 years, placed a team in Baltimore, across the street from minor league Orioles, and the competition hit Orioles' attendance significantly. 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.

Babe Ruth started on his annual job today at the Washington Ball Park)
Babe Ruth started on his annual job today at the Washington Ball Park)

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".

Missing image
Yale student George H. W. Bush meets Babe Ruth.

Despite the box office appeal of Ruth, the Red Sox were in a perilous 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's sale to the Yankees started a phenomenon known to many sports fans as the "Curse of the Bambino" as well as one of the most heated rivalries in professional sports. Many fans believed "The Curse" to be the impetus behind the Red Sox being unable to win a World Series until the 2004 World Series.

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 in 1920 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 Ruth's 1920 season turned into one that no one had ever come close to seeing before in baseball. He hit 54 home runs, smashing his year-old record, batted .376, and led the league in runs (158), RBI's (137), walks (148), and his slugging average of 847 was a major league record for over 80 years (Barry Bonds eclipsed it with a .860 mark in 2001). Perhaps the most incredible statistic of the season however was that Ruth out-homered all but one team in baseball, only the Philadelphia Phillies with 64 hit more home runs than Ruth.

Ruth's remarkable season had the Yankees in a serious pennant chase for the first time since 1904 (a year famous for Jack Chesbro's wild pitch that costed the Yankees, then called the Highlanders, the pennant.) The Yankees battled the entire season with the Cleveland Indians, player-managed by Tris Speaker, Ruth's old Red Sox teammate, and the Chicago White Sox, the infamous "Black Sox scandal" team.

The season was noted for one tragic incident that occurred on August 16, 1920, when the Indians were playing the Yankees in New York. Yankee pitcher Carl Mays threw a pitch that hit Indian shortstop Ray Chapman in the temple, knocking him to the ground. Chapman was helped up by teammates and began walking to the clubhouse in centerfield, but as they reached the outfield grass, Chapman fell again, and now had to be carried off the field. Taken to a hospital, Chapman died the next morning after an operation. (Chapman's death remains the only major league player fatality to occur on the field.) The Indians seemed galvanized by Chapman's death, and held off the White Sox and Yankees to win the pennant, and eventually the World Series.

He followed the unprecedented success of 1920 with more of the same the following year. Hitting .378 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 seemingly preternatural gifts. As some have written, perhaps teammate Joe Dugan put it best: "Born? Hell, Babe Ruth wasn't born! The son of a bitch fell from a tree!"


The 1921 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 even though Commissioner Landis had warned Ruth about the trip, Ruth went ahead 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.

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), but 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. Ruth's suspensions and injuries led him to playing in only 110 games, which hurt the Yankees on the field, but despite this, they had just enough to get past George Sisler and the heavy-hitting St. Louis Browns for the pennant. Ruth's sub-par season continued into the World Series. Giant manager John McGraw had instructed his pitchers to throw Ruth nothing but curve balls, and Ruth never adjusted. He went just 2-17, with a single and double, and the Yankees were again defeated by the New York Giants (4-0, with one tie) in the World Series for the second straight year.

The House That Ruth Built

Ruth regrouped from his troubled 1922 season. He worked out hard in the off-season, came into the 1923 season in good shape, and it showed in his play. He batted .393 (it would be the highest of his career, although he lost the batting title to Harry Heilmann who hit .403), and his home run total of 41 (a modest total for him) led the majors. Ruth also led the A.L. in walks (170, a single-season record not broken until Barry Bonds 177 walks in 2001, runs (131), RBI's (151), extra-base hits (99), slugging average (.764), and on-base percentage (.545). He also only missed two games, having missed over 40 games the previous season. Ruth had returned to his dominant form, and the Yankees easily returned to the World Series.

The 1923 season also saw the opening of Yankee Stadium. The Yankees had been sharing the Polo Grounds with the Giants since 1913, but since Ruth arrived, the Yankees had badly been outdrawing the Giants. With increased revenue and team success, as well as a threat of eviction from the Polo Grounds by the Giants, the Yankees needed a new home. In 1921, Yankee owner Jacob Ruppert bought a small piece of land in the Bronx for $600,000 from the Astor estate. After a year of construction and a cost of $2.5 million (a huge sum at the time), the 62,000 seat Yankee Stadium opened on April 18, 1923. Fittingly, in the first game played there, Ruth hit the stadium's first home run, and it was sportswriter Fred Lieb who soon nicknamed Yankee Stadium "The House That Ruth Built".

Detractors of the stadium, and perhaps of Ruth also, would call it "The House Built for Ruth", and "Ruthville", as the short 295-foot distance to right-field seemed tailor made for some "cheap" home runs for the left-handed pull hitting Ruth. In time, this argument would have little support statistically. From 1923-1932, in his prime home run hitting years at Yankee Stadium, Ruth hit more home runs on the road, and in his 60 home run season of 1927, he hit 32 of those on the road.

For the third straight year the Yankees faced the Giants in the World Series. Ineffective in his last 2 series, Ruth was the best player on the field in this series. He went 7-19, a .368 average, slugged 1.000, walked 8 times, scored 8 runs, hit 3 home runs, and led the Yankees to a 4-2 series victory. The Yankees had their first World Series title, and the start of what became the most successful major sports team in North America. From 1923 to the present, the Yankees have averaged about one World Series title every 3 years.


The 1925 season, Ruth's worst season by far, proved to be an aberration, as in 1926 he rebounded back to being the best player in baseball. Ruth led the league in home runs, rbi's, runs scored, walks, slugging average, and was 2nd in batting average. The Yankees also bounced back, going from a 7th place finish in 1925 all the back to the World Series, where they met the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Cardinals were led by star player-manager Rogers Hornsby, who for him, had bad year at the plate, hitting just .317 (he had averaged .401 the previous five seasons). The Cardinals had other fine players, including Jesse Haines, Jim Bottomley, Chick Hafey, and Grover Alexander, now a 39 year-old epileptic and alcoholic who a decade earlier was the best pitcher in baseball.

The Yankees had been heavy favorites in the series, but the Cardinals pushed the series to a 7th game. The highlights of the series up this point had been Ruth's 3-home run game in game 4 (the first time a player hit 3 home runs in a World Series game), and Alexander's clutch pitching, as he started and won games 2 and 6.

In game 7, the Cardinals clinged to a 3-2 lead in the 7th inning, when the Yankees loaded the bases with two outs. The stage was now set for one of the classic moments in baseball history. Hornsby removed starting pitcher Haines, who had developed a blister on his finger, and summoned Alexander from the bullpen. Alexander was napping in the bullpen at the time, and according to some accounts, may have been suffering the effects of a hangover from the previous night celebration of his game 6 win. Facing rookie star Tony Lazzeri, Alexander's first pitch was a ball. The next pitch was a low fastball that was called a strike. The next pitch sailed near Lazzeri's head for ball two. Lazzeri almost assured himself baseball immortality on the next pitch, which he lined to left field that just went foul, missing a home run by a couple of feet. With the count now 2-2, Alexander struckout Lazzeri swinging, ending the Yankee rally.

Alexander retired the side in the 8th, and the first 2 men in the 9th, when Ruth came up to bat. Pitching carefully to him, Alexander walked Ruth. With Bob Meusel at bat, and Lou Gehrig in the on-deck circle, Ruth pulled the most notable gaffe of his career. He inexplicably took off trying to steal 2nd, and was easily thrown out by catcher Bob O'Farrell, ending the game and giving the Cardinals the World Series. Alexander's strikeout of Lazzeri would go down in baseball lore, and Ruth, despite an oustanding series, was perceived as a goat by some. Those in Ruth's defense would say the was Alexander was pitching, the Yankees were not likely goint to start a rally anyway, and maybe a steal of second might have upset Alexander, in which case then just a single could have tied the game. Ruth did not dwell on the play much, as his baseball mentality his entire career was such that he was never afraid of looking bad and failing.

A Team for the Ages

In 1927, the Ruthian Yankees reached a peak that few teams in baseball history have ever equaled. They went 110-44, winning the A.L. pennant by 19 games, and then proceeded to sweep the Pittsburgh Pirates in the World Series. Only four teams have won more games. The 1906 Chicago Cubs, who won 116, the 1954 Cleveland Indians, who won 111, the 1998 Yankees, who won 114 and the 2001 Seattle Mariners who won 116 games (although the latter two played in 162-game seasons). The Cubs and Indians however both lost in the World Series, and the Mariners were defeated before even reaching the World Series, effectively removing them from a debate of the greatest team ever.

The '27 Yankees batted .307, slugged .489, scored 975 runs, and outscored their opponents by a record 376 runs. The Yankees did not just beat teams, they demoralized them, and the powerful line-up was being nicknamed "Murderers' Row". Centerfielder Earl Combs had a career year, batting .356 with 231 hits, and leftfielder Bob Meusel and secondbaseman Tony Lazzeri each drove in over 100 runs. The pitching staff led the league in ERA at 3.20, and included future hall-of-famers Waite Hoyt, who went 22-7, and Herb Pennock who went 19-8. It was Lou Gehrig though who broke through and established himself as a great player. Gehrig had one of the greatest seasons of any hitter. He batted .373, with 218 hits, 52 doubles, 18 triples, 47 home runs, 175 RBI's, slugged at .765, and was voted A.L. MVP.

It was also a magical year for Ruth. As late as August 10, Gehrig had the home run lead over him, 38-35. Gehrig hit only 9 the rest the season, but Ruth went on a home run tear. By the next to last game of the season, he was at 59 homers. On September 30, he lined a shot down the line into the right-field stands for number 60 off Washington Senators pitcher Tom Zachary. Zachary argued to umpire Bill Dineen the ball was foul, but Dineen upheld the home run. Ruth had set his home run record of 59 in 1921, and had been unable to even approach it until this season. After his 60th, an elated Ruth shouted in the clubhouse, "Sixty, count 'em sixty! Let's see some son of a bitch top that!" In addition to the home runs, Ruth batted .356 and drove in 164 runs.

The Yankees met the Pirates in the World Series, who were just two years removed from a World Series title. The Pirates since had added high average hitting brothers Paul Waner and Lloyd Waner. Before game 1, it was said the Yankees smashing balls over the wall in spacious Forbes Field during batting practice had the Pirate players awestuck and beaten before the series even started. The series though was not a Yankee offensive onslaught. Two of the games were decided by one run, the Yankees batted just .279 with 2 home runs (both by Ruth), and averaged fewer runs per game than their season average. As far as combined batting average, the Waner brothers outhit Ruth and Gehrig. It would be the Yankee pitching that actually dominated the series. Their team ERA was 2.00, and the Pirates batted just .223 and scored only 10 runs in the 4 games.

The 1927 Yankees, as every team in history, had their weaknesses. They were just average defensively, with mediocre players at thirdbase, shortstop and catcher, and had a weak bench. The pitching staff was solid, but not dominating. Nevertheless, many present day baseball historians cite the 1927 Yankees as the greatest baseball team of all-time.

1928: Repeat

The Yankees dominance of 1927 carried over to the first half of 1928 season, where they built a 13 game lead in July. The Yankees then became hit by some key injuries, inconsistent play, and a rising Philadephia Athletics team started to quickly close the gap. In early September, the A's took over first place with a 1-game lead, but in a pivotal series later that month, the Yankees took 3 out of 4 games and held on to win the pennant by 2.5 games.

Ruth's play in 1928 mirrored his teams play. He got off to a hot start, and on August 1, had 42 home runs, well ahead of the pace of his record 60 home run season set the previous season. Ruth's power though fell off, and he he hit just 12 home runs the last two months, but still ended the season with an impressive 54, the fourth (and last) time he passed 50 home runs in a season.

The Yankees had a World Series rematch with the St. Louis Cardinals, who had upset them in the 1926 series. The Cardinals had the same core players and the 1926 team, except Frankie Frisch was now playing secondbase instead of Rogers Hornsby, as the two had been traded for each other before the 1928 season.

The series was no contest. The Yankees swept the Cardinals, no game was close, and Ruth and Gehrig demolished Cardinal pitching. Ruth went 10-16, a .625 average (still a record for average in World Series play), and hit 3 home runs, all hit in game 4, and the second time he hit 3 homers in a World Series game. Gehrig was just as great, going 5-11, a .545 average, with 4 home runs, 9 RBI's, and a slugging average of 1.727. The Yankees also extracted some revenge on Grover Alexander, who went 0-1, with and ERA of 19.80 in 5 innings pitched. The Yankees had their second straight title, and the 4 game sweeps in back-to-back World Series has been only accomplished one other time, by the 1938 and 1939 Yankees.

Death of Helen

On January 11, 1929, Ruth's former wife Helen died in a house fire in Watertown, Massachusetts. She had been living there with her husband, a dentist Dr. Edward Kinder, who was away at the time of the fire. The fire started in the first floor, and must have spread quickly preventing her escape, as her body was found upstairs on the second floor. It was later determined by fire examiners that the house had been electrically wired improperly. The circuits had been overloaded and the fuses were too strong. When the circuits did overheat, the fuses did not blow and shut off the power. Helen Kinder had taken her husband's last name, and after her death, Dr. Kinder was quite shocked to learn that his wife was once the wife of Babe Ruth. She and Babe had separated some three years before, but did not seek a divorce because they were Catholic. Despite their separation, Ruth cried when he heard the bad news, and a few days later, he and a number of Yankee players and personnel attented her funeral. Helen was just 31.

New Marriage

By the time of Helen's death, Ruth was involved with a widowed socialite named Claire Merritt Hodgson, a woman he first met in 1923. Claire was educated, socially sophisticated, and a somewhat strong-minded woman who proved to be an ideal fit for Ruth. Helen's death cleared the way for Ruth to marry Claire, and they took their wedding vows on April 17, 1929. Upon marriage, Claire took complete control of their finances, and managed Babe's often free-wheeling spending, although he never had any finanical problems. She frequently traveled with the team on road trips, and curtailed some of his late-night social activities. She also helped manage his diet, even though she did little cooking herself. His food portions were cut down, she reduced his starchy foods and desserts, and forced him to eat more meat and vegetables. Ruth loved to drink, and even though it never controlled him, Claire put a limit on it. Claire and Babe stayed together until his death, and she did what seemed to many impossible, keep the high-flying home run king grounded.


In 1929, the Yankees World Series run ended, and the three years period from 1929-1931 would be the longest sretch (excluding his ending years 1933-1935) a Ruth team did not win a pennant. The offense was still highly productive, and in fact the 1930 and 1931 teams outscored the great 1927 team, but the pitching fell off badly. The Philadelphia Athletics overtook the Yankees, and for the next three years won the A.L. pennant. Manager Connie Mack had rebuilt the A's into one of the best teams ever, and they won the World Series in 1929 and 1930, although lost the 1931 series in seven games. The powerful lineup was led by Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons, Mickey Cochrane, and the pitching was anchored Lefty Grove, who undoubtedly was the best pitcher of his era, and one of the greatest pitchers of all-time. Although the Yankees slipped, Ruth continued to put up stellar numbers, and led or tied the league in home runs all three of these years.

It was during the 1929 season that another tragedy struck close to Ruth. Yankee manager Miller Huggins developed an ugly looking carbuncle on his face that turned out to be a symptom of erysipelas, a streptococcal infection of the skin. The bacterial infection had been left untreated for too long, and sepsis developed, which proved fatal for Huggins in September. Huggins had been the only manager Ruth had as a Yankee, and, despite many run-ins with the feisty Huggins, Ruth had great admiration and respect for him. After hearing of his death, Ruth and several Yankee players cried, and the league paid its respect by cancelling all games the day after his death.


The Yankees were back on top in 1932. The team went 107-47, and easily won the pennant under manager Joe McCarthy, who had taken over in 1931 (a job Ruth had eagerly wanted). The Philadelphia Athletics run ended, and soon the team was broken up as difficult economic times made it impossible for the A's to meet their stars salary demands. Since their last pennant four years earlier, the Yankees had added future hall of fame players which included pitchers Red Ruffing and Lefty Gomez, infielder Joe Sewell, and catcher Bill Dickey.

For Ruth, it was the last year at producing at a high level. He hit .341, with 41 home runs and 137 RBI's, but it was the first time since 1918 that Ruth did not lead the league in home runs when playing nearly a full season of games. Jimmie Foxx nearly equaled Ruth's 60 mark with 58 home runs in 1932, and it was apparent that Ruth was no longer the home run king. Ruth also missed 21 games, and at the end of the year had missed a couple of weeks due to severe abdominal pains that left him weakened before the start of the World Series.

The Yankees opponents in the World Series were the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs were playing just a little better than mediocre ball much of the season, but in a weak year in the National League, they were still in first place with a 53-46 record under manager Rogers Hornsby. After a heated argument with Cubs president William Veeck, Hornsby was fired and replaced by Charlie Grimm, the Cubs firstbaseman. Grimm led the cubs to a 37-18 record the rest the season, and they edged out the Pittsburgh Pirates for the pennant. The Cubs built their team on pitching, and led by Lon Warneke, Guy Bush, and Charlie Root, let the league in ERA. The everyday lineup also had fine players, such as Billy Herman, Kiki Cuyler, and Gabby Hartnett.

The 1932 World Series was noted for some raucus bench jockeying from both sides that eventually even had some unruly fans involved. The heated atmosphere started before the series began. The cause was over former Yankee shortstop Mark Koenig, whom the Cubs picked up in late August. Koenig batted .353, played solid in the field, but the Cub players voted him only half a share of their World Series money. When some of Koenig's Yankee friends heard of this, they began criticizing the Cub players. Ruth's remarks seemed to especially set the Cubs off when he called them "cheapskates". The Cub players retaliated with their own insults on the field, the great majority of it directed at Ruth, and the banter lasted all series. The series had became especially rowdy when the Yankees went to Chicago. The city was in a riled up state, and people directed their displeasure at Ruth. While Ruth was leaving a Chicago hotel with his wife Claire, someone spat on her, and when Ruth was warming up before game 3, fans threw lemons from the stands at him.

On the field, the Yankees dispatched of the Cubs in 4 games with one of the greatest offensive displays in a World Series, certainly the best in a 4-game series. The Yankees batted .313, averaged over 9 runs a game, and Lou Gehrig did much of the damage. Gehrig went 9-17, a .529 average, scored 9 runs, drove in 8, and hit 3 home runs.

The series however is remembered for one memorable incident that occurred in game 3 of the series. It would be Babe Ruth's last great moment on the baseball stage, when he hit his final Series home run, an event that came to be known as Babe Ruth's Called Shot.

Decline and end with Yankees

Despite his heroics in the 1932 Series, Ruth was informed in 1933 by Ed Barrow that his salary would be cut 33%, from $75,000 to $50,000 a year. Ruth's salary had been cut before the 1932 season, but it was only a $5,000 cut. It was the Great Depression, and teams were losing money, although the Yankees themselves were still making a profit. Barrow and owner Jacob Ruppert were also looking to phase Ruth out from the Yankees. In these days, even players who had been superstars were often subject to having their salaries cut for even slightly diminished productivity, and sometimes for no reason at all. As it had been in baseball up to this time, (and would continue until the mid-1970's) owners had a virtual stranglehold over players in negotiations. The only recourse a player had in those times was to hold out (almost always only an option when the player was in his prime) and hope public pressure from teammates, fans, and media might make the owners give in somewhat, but this was no guarantee. The real problem was baseball's reserve clause, which a player was locked with his team until he was traded or released. Even with all his stature, Ruth was not immune from this. Ruth eventually settled to play for $52,000, although he was still the highest paid player in the game. Ruth was quite unhappy with the pay cut, but in economic times that forced thousands of banks to close, the dust bowl ruining farmers lives, and 25% of Americans unemployed in 1933, no one felt sorry for him.

Ruth remained productive in 1933, batting .301, with 34 home runs, 103 RBI's, and led the league in walks with 114. Although most major league players could only dream about these type of numbers, they were well below Ruth's previous standards. The batting average and slugging average were down over 40 points and 100 points respectively from his career averages, and he was slow in the field. It was clear Father Time was eroding Ruth's skills. The Yankees did finish 2nd to the Washington Senators, but never seriously threatened to win the pennant. At least to Barrow and Ruppert, Ruth and the Yankees season justified his pay cut, and the next year, Ruth took another big pay cut down to $25,000 a year, a 50% cut.

One highlight of the season was Ruth hitting the very first home run in the very first All-Star game, held July 6, 1933 at Comiskey Park in Chicago. His 2-run shot of Bill Hallahan helped the A.L. to a 4-2 win over the N.L., and he also made a fine defensive catch in the game.

After the season Ruth continued to press Barrow for a chance to manage the Yankees, but Barrow had no intentions of getting rid of manager Joe McCarthy. Ruth never got along well with the disciplinarian style of McCarthy, and had stated he could do a better job managing the team, but the Yankees never gave him the chance. The most they offered him was a chance to manage the Yankees farm team in Newark, New Jersey, an offer Ruth scoffed at with justification. Players such as Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, and a 26-year-old Joe Cronin had been given big league managerial jobs with no previous managing experience. At one point Frank Navin, owner of the Detroit Tigers, seemed serious about hiring Ruth to player manage the Tigers. Ruth however put off a meeting with Navin to take a trip to Hawaii, and Navin, never a particularly congenial man anyway, essentially retracted any meeting with Ruth. Ruth never received a chance to manage, as owners apparently took to heart a statement Barrow had made about Ruth when he said, "How can he manage other men when he can't even manage himself?"

Ruth's play continued downward in 1934, finishing with a .288 average and 22 home runs. It was understood during the season it would be Ruth's last season in a Yankee uniform, and Ruth himself stated it might be the last year he played.

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 14 players who played a series of 22 games. 17 of the games were played in Japan, and the reception there was completely enthusiastic. Ruth was by far the most popular player there. Baseball had been big in Japan for decades, so many Japanese baseball fans were well aware of Babe Ruth. Riding in a car, Ruth waved the American and Japanese flags, and a crowd of Japanese waved American flags back at him. The games were played in two different stadiums: Tokyo's Meiji-Jingu Stadium which held over 60,000 fans and Koshien Stadium near Kobe which held over 80,000. Both sites had been sold out for weeks. Ruth would excite the crowds with 13 home runs in the 17 games. The tour was a complete success in Japan, and in just a couple years, Japan organized its first professional baseball league, the Japan Professional Baseball Association.

The Last Act: Return to Boston

In 1935, Boston Braves owner Emil Fuchs was looking to jumpstart the Braves franchise. A perenial bottom dwelling team, the Braves had improved somewhat, but the Depression killed off attendance, and Fuchs was desperate to revive fan interest and hence revenue. Fuchs was very interested in Ruth and a complex deal was worked out with Barrow and Ruppert, both eager to get Ruth out of McCarthy's hair and off the Yankees. The deal was finalized in February 1935, an offer which Fuchs promised Ruth a share in the teams profits, an assistant managerial job to Braves manager Bill Mckechnie, (with a good chance to succeed him next year), and Ruth could play whenever he wanted. All parties seemed happy with the deal, and with much media hoopla, Ruth returned to the city that gave him his major league start.

On opening day, before a home capacity crowd of over 25,000, Ruth was responsible for all the Braves runs in a 4-2 win over Carl Hubbell and the New York Giants. Fan excitement for the Braves was as high as it had ever been, but the euphroria quickly died away. Ruth completely stopped hitting, was clumsy in the field, and soon missed a dozen or so games. The Braves were as bad as they had ever been, and the few fans that showed up booed the team. Ruth was also miffed Mckechnie managed the way he wanted, ignoring any advice from Ruth. Soon Ruth realized Fuch's promise to a stake in the profits was hot air, as who would want to invest in a losing team.

On May 25, 1935, at Forbes Field, Pittsburgh, Ruth gave one last glimpse of how great a player he was. He went 4-4, drove in 6 runs, and hit 3 home runs in an 11-7 loss to the Pirates. The last homer would be the longest ball ever hit at Forbes Field. It was his 714th and last home run, and his last hit. He hung on another few days, and on May 30 in Philadelphia, played in his last major league game. He struck out in the first, and playing the field the same inning, hurt his knee and left the game. He would never play another big league game.

Fuchs and Ruth's relationship soured badly. Fuchs blamed Ruth for the failures of the Braves, and Ruth believed Fuchs had lied to him about the Braves franchise. After another argument with Fuchs, Ruth stated to reporters, "I'm quitting." The experiment with Fuchs, Ruth and the Braves was a complete failure for all parties. Fuchs, who had borrowed much money, saw revenue and attendance continue to fall, and soon lost ownership control of the team. Ruth had played in only 28 games, and batted a dismal .181 in 72 at-bats (striking out 24 times) in his last season as a player. The season for the Braves was a complete disaster, as they finished 38-115, a .248 winning percentage, the third worst percentage in major league history.

Later Years

In 1939, the years of fast living began to show signs of catching up with Ruth. During a round of golf with his playing partner Ben Curry, Ruth said to him, "I feel terrible." He was taken to the clubhouse where a doctor observed his condition. It wasn't diagnosed then, but Ruth probably suffered a mild heart attack. About a year later, he suffered a similar attack. By this time Ruth's weight had ballooned to over 270 pounds.

In 1942 Ruth was asked to play a part (as himself, in his athletic prime) in the film The Pride of the Yankees, a film biography of Lou Gehrig, who had passed away from ALS in June of 1941. Ruth would need to lose a great deal of weight to play the role, and a vigorous workout schedule had him losing 40 pounds. He did a respectable job of acting in a bit part, but the strict hours of filming did not suit his night life. He caught a bad cold (he caught frequent colds his whole life), which developed into pneumonia. At one point, a report circulated that he was near death, but he recovered in a couple of weeks, finished the film part, and was soon back to playing golf again.

During World War II, Ruth did some charity work for the Red Cross, and himself bought over $100,000 in war bonds. He even organized a charity golf game with his old rival Ty Cobb (the two had despised each other in their playing days). Ruth appeared at many benefits during the war, and a few times donned his old baseball uniform. During one benefit at Yankee Stadium, he batted against the former great pitcher Walter Johnson, and another time, pinch hit in a game made up of teams from the armed forces. Later, in 1943, in another charity game at Yankee Stadium, he pinch hit, drew a walk, but tore cartilage in his knee when running the bases, and this would be the last time he would play in a formal game.

After the war, Ruth continued to look for a chance to manage in the big leagues, something he had wanted to do even as a player during his heyday. While times before he had essentially been blackballed by owners, who for various reasons didn't trust him, this time it was his health that would prevent the opportunity. In 1946, he began experiencing severe pain over his left eye. He wasn't concerned, thinking it was sinus problems, but this situation would be much more grave than his health problems of the past. In November, 1946, a visit to French Hospital in New York revealed Ruth had a malignant tumor in his neck that had encircled his left carotid artery, and he would need surgery to have the cancerous growth removed. During the surgery, part of his nerves that led to the larynx had to be cut, and as a result his voice (which some have compared to Clark Gable's) was reduced to a whisper. He would be unable to swallow foods, and had to be fed with feeding tubes. He also was given radiation therapy, then a relatively new approach to fighting cancer, to control the cancer doctors could not remove.

Released from the hospital in February 1947, Ruth was now 80 pounds lighter. Although he regained some of his strength to play golf, hunt, and other activities he had enjoyed, it was still obvious to all those who saw him that his health was not good. The tumor had continued to grow, and he was in so much pain he required morphine. He did manage to attend Babe Ruth Day, an appreciation of what Ruth had done for the game, held April 27th, 1947 at Yankee Stadium. It was on this occassion where Ruth spoke in a disheartening croaking voice to a capacity crowd of 60,000. He made an impromptu speech, which included the line "The only real game in the world, I think, is baseball."

In June, 1947, Ruth was in so much pain physicians tried and experimental new drug on him, a drug that was a synthetic form of folic acid. The ongoing treatments seemingly improved Ruth so much, his case was cited at an International Cancer Congress held in St. Louis. He seemed to have recovered some of his health, and with renewed energy started the Babe Ruth Foundation, a charity for disadvantaged children. Another Babe Ruth Day held at Yankee Stadium in September helped raise money for his newest charity.

Unfortunately, the apparent recovery was only a brief remission of the cancer. His health gradually declined, and he became sick and was in as much pain as he had ever been. On June 13, 1948, a weak Ruth barely was able to attend the Yankee's 25th anniversary celebration of the opening of Yankee Stadium. He met old teammates from the 1923 Yankee team, and stood for photographs. The highlight of the day was when his name was announced over the loudspeaker, and the crowd erupted into a loud roar. Ruth spoke a few words a the microphone, saying how much he enjoyed seeing his old teammates and being a Yankee. After a 2-inning game played by the old players, Ruth left Yankee Stadium for the last time. Shortly before, he had a conversation with former teammate Joe Dugan. Ruth told Dugan, "Joe, I'm gone, I'm done Joe", a confession which had Ruth breaking down and crying, and Dugan crying with him.

There can be little doubt the cause of Ruth's throat cancer was a lifelong habit of tobacco use. He chewed tobacco, smoked cigars, and used snuff in such large amounts that the dust would clog his nasal passages. Ruth's lifelong problems with colds and other respitory problems can also likely be tied to this habit. The direct link between tobacco use and cancer seemed to be medically conclusive in the 1920's (medical evidence of the link even goes back to the 18th century), but due to various reason, the public was largely unaware of the risks of tobacco use until several decades later. This evidence, even if known during Ruth's lifetime, probably would have not influenced its use by Ruth or other ballplayers, since the baseball culture of tobacco use had been ingrained since baseball's beginings.


Shortly after the event, Ruth was again back in the hospital. By now, he knew it was cancer, even if no one had told him, which apparently no one ever did since his cancer was diagnosed back in 1946. He received hundreds of well-wishing letters daily, many requesting autographs and photos, and with his wife Claire's help, made sure he answered every one. He was still able to walk and get out even nearing his end. On July 26, 1948, he attended the premier of the film about his life, The Babe Ruth Story, which starred William Bendix (ironically Bendix had been a Yankee bat boy in the 1920's.) Ruth however was feeling very ill, and left well before the film was finished.

Ruth returned to the hospital, and this time he would never leave. The cancer had eaten away at his body, leaving him with an emaciated appearance, and his voice was reduced to a bare whisper. Only a few visitors were allowed to see him, one of whom was the current National League President and future Commissioner of Baseball, Ford Frick. Frick had been a good friend of Ruth's since Ruth's early days as a Yankee and the ghostwriter for various articles supposedly written by Ruth. In the last days, scores of reporters had hovered around the hospital, almost anticipating the end. The day after Frick's visit, Babe Ruth was dead at the age of 53. He was buried in the Cemetery of the Gate of Heaven in Hawthorne, New York (about 25 miles North of New York City.) His wife Claire was buried next to him on upon her death in 1976.

Ruth's birthplace has been preserved as a combination Babe Ruth museum and Baltimore Orioles museum, and is just a short walk from Oriole Park at Camden Yards.


Career Statistics:

2,503 8,399 2,873 506 136 714 2,174 2,213 2,062 1,330 .342 .474 .690 1.164


94 46 163 148 107 17 4 1,221.1 441 488 2.28 1.16

Notes and Trivia

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.

Ruth was a member of the Roman Catholic fraternal organization the Knights of Columbus.

He 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.

In 1929, the Yankees became the first team to regularly use uniform numbers (the Cleveland Indians used them briefly in 1916). Since Ruth batted third in the order, he was assigned number 3. Eventually, uniform numbers were associated with players without regard to the batting order. The Yankees retired Ruth's number "3" on June 13, 1948. The first number the Yankees had retired was Lou Gehrig's number "4".

Ruth's wife Claire was a cousin of baseball slugger Johnny Mize.

Ruth's 1919 contract that sent him from Boston to New York was auctioned off for $996,000 at a Sotheby's auction on June 10, 2005. Most of the money will go to an organization that fights world hunger.

The Infamous Asterisk

In the middle of the 1961 season, while both Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris were chasing Ruth's home run record of 60, Ford Frick made a ruling that if a new record of 61 were set, it would have to be done in 154 games or less. If it were set in more games (the 1961 season was 162 games), the two records would be shown separately in the record books. It is an urban legend, probably originating with a New York sportswriter named Dick Young who first used the word "asterisk", that an asterisk was literally used to distinguish the new record. Major League baseball itself, however, had (and has) no official record book of its own, and Frick later acknowledged that there was never any official qualification of Maris' accomplishment. For several years, various record books did indeed show the two totals, one for a 162-game season, one for a 154-game season (the The Sporting News Record Book showed it that way for decades), but eventually Ruth's earlier figure of 60 disappeared entirely and Maris was shown as being the exclusive record holder. Maris' record has now been surpassed several times since 1998 but Maris is still the American League record holder.

See also


"Babe: The Legend Comes to Life" (1973) Robert W. Creamer

"The Baseball Biographical Encyclopedia" (2000)

"Encyclopedia of World Sport" (1996)

"The World Series" (1979) Richard Cohen

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