Ruth, Babe

views updated May 09 2018

Babe Ruth


American baseball player

As befitting his legendary status in American popular culture, Babe Ruth's exact birth date is a matter of debate. For most of his life Ruth, himself, believed he had been born in Baltimore, Maryland, on February 7, 1894, but when he applied for a passport, the date on his birth certificate read February 6, 1895. Ruth continued to celebrate his birthday on the 7th, and as Robert W. Creamer wrote in Babe: The Legend Comes to Life, "The 1895 birth date is not necessarily the right one. The birth record in Baltimore says only that a male child was born on that day to George and Katherine Ruth." However February 6, 1895 has been recognized as the birth date of George Herman Ruth, Jr. the son of George Herman and Katherine Schamberger Ruth. He was the eldest of eight children though only he and a sister, Mary Margaret, lived past infancy.

George Ruth, Sr. worked at a variety of jobs including a horse driver, a salesman, a streetcar gripman, and a bartender. After working in his own father's saloon (both of Babe Ruth's grandfathers were saloon owners) he eventually ran his own bar on West Camden Street, near the present Camden Yards baseball stadium, home of the Baltimore Orioles.

At age seven Ruth's parents sent him to live at the St. Mary's Industrial School for Boys (whose other notable student was singer Al Jolson), which at that time was both an orphanage and a reform school. Ruth, who was admitted as an incorrigible, spent two separate one-month terms at St. Mary's in 1902, and was a frequent inmate over the next dozen years. In fact, the Xaverian

Brothers who ran St. Mary's actually had custody of Ruth during his youth. In 1904 he reentered St. Mary's where he remained for the next four years. After his mother's death on August 23, 1910, Ruth returned to the Home (as St. Mary's was known) for a year. In 1912 he was again back in St. Mary's where he stayed until 1914 when he signed a contract to play professional baseball.

At St. Mary's, Ruth worked in the shirt factory putting collars on the shirts, a piecework job that earned him six cents per shirt. He also came under the spell of the six foot six inch Brother Mathias, the school disciplinarian and the man Ruth, without irony, later claimed had the greatest influence on him. Ruth played his first organized baseball at St. Mary's; the school teams had major league names and Ruth coincidentally played for the Red Sox. He started out as a catcher, but soon switched to pitcher. By the time he was in his late teens he was not only the school's star player but his name was beginning to become known around Baltimore.

Becomes a Professional Ballplayer

On February 27, 1914, at age 19, Ruth signed his first professional contract with the Baltimore Orioles of the International League (a high-level minor league). The man who signed him was Jack Dunn, a former major leaguer and the owner and manager of the Orioles. After leaving St. Mary's for good Ruth spent some time with his father before embarking with the other pitchers and catchers to Fayetteville, North Carolina for his first spring training. It was at this time the veteran Oriole players hung the name "Babe" on him, because of his youth. Yet Ruth impressed those veterans with his pitching prowess and with his hitting, especially his power. Legend has that he hit the longest home run hit in Fayetteville up to that time, some 60 feet farther than the previous local record hit by Jim Thorpe . So impressive was Ruth against major league teams that when the team returned to Baltimore to begin the season his legend had already begun.


1895Born in Baltimore, Maryland
1902-14Attends St. Mary's Industrial School for Boys; member of its baseball team
1914Signs first professional contract with minor-league Baltimore Orioles
1914Contract sold to the Boston Red Sox
1914Marries Helen Woodford
1915-17Premier left-handed pitcher in the American League
1918Sets record with 29 consecutive shutout innings
1919Sets single season home run record of 29
1919Contract sold to the New York Yankees
1920Sets single season home run record of 54
1921Sets single season home record of 59
1923Leads Yankees to first world championship
1923Wins American League Most Valuable Player (MVP) award
1926Hits three home runs in a World Series game vs. the St. Louis Cardinals
1927Sets single season home record of 60
1928Hits three home runs in a World Series game vs. the St. Louis Cardinals
1929Wife Helen dies in a fire; marries Claire Hodgson
1932Hits so-called "called shot" home run off Charley Root of the Chicago Cubs in the World Series
1935Signs contract to play for the Boston Braves of the National League
1935Retires from baseball
1936Becomes a charter member of the Baseball Hall of Fame
1938Signs contract in June to coach the Brooklyn Dodgers through the end of the season
1948Dies of cancer in New York City

Ruth played for three teams during the 1914 season. He spent the first half of the season with the Orioles, his 14 wins helping to lead them to first place in the International League standings. But these were the years of the Federal League, an unofficial third major league that had signed stars from the American and National leagues and even drawn players from the International League. The Federal League had placed a team in Baltimore, the Terrapins, who played across the street from Dunn's Orioles and continually outdrew them. Dunn quickly felt the financial squeeze and attempted to move his team to Richmond, Virginia, but the Virginia League demanded too high an indemnity payment. Dunn then attempted to persuade the major league owners to halt their drafting of International League players, but to no avail. His only recourse was to sell off some of his players to keep the team afloat. As a result Babe Ruth made his debut with the Boston Red Sox after only half a season of professional baseball.

Ruth was used sparingly by the Red Sox manager, Bill Carrigan, because the team already had good left-handed pitching at that time. He compiled a 2-1 record but actually did not pitch for nearly four weeks in July and August. When he did pitch he was used in two mid-season exhibition games (which he won). Yet Ruth was such a prospect that he was sent down to the minor league Providence Grays to help them win the International League pennant. After Dunn had sold his star players the Orioles had quickly fallen out of the pennant race, replaced by the Providence and Montreal teams. Ruth won nine games in less than two months for Providence (not counting an exhibition victory), and the Grays did indeed win the pennant. That season, 1914, Ruth's International League record was 23-8; his major league record was 2-1; and his exhibition record was 3-0. His total record for his first year of professional baseball was 28-9.

During his time in Boston that first season Ruth frequented Landers' Coffee Shop where he met and fell in love with a young waitress named Helen Woodford. The two were married on October 17, 1914 at St. Paul's Roman Catholic Church in Ellicott City, Maryland.

Ruth was a full-time member of the Red Sox pitching rotation in 1915 and he responded with an 18-8 record and a 2.44 earned run average (ERA). The Red Sox were the American League (AL) pennant winners, but despite his outstanding season Ruth did not pitch in the World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies. Ruth's only appearance in the Series was a pinch hit at bat against Grover Cleveland Alexander in the first game. He grounded out to first base. Even without Ruth the Red Sox won the Series in five games.

World Series Hero

In 1916 the Red Sox repeated as league champs with Ruth's record improving to 23-12 and a 1.75 ERA. He also pitched nine shutouts. Ruth had become the premier lefthander in the American League, and many consider him to have been the best pitcher in the league for the 1916 season. He started the second game of the World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers and went the distance in a 14-inning 2-1 pitchers' duel. After giving up an inside-the-park home run in the first inning, he pitched 13 scoreless innings. It was the only game Ruth appeared in, as the Red Sox once again won the Series in five games.

Career Statistics: Batting

BB: Boston Braves; BOS: Boston Red Sox; NYY: New York Yankees.

When the war in Europe, which had been raging since 1914, finally involved the United States in 1917, many ballplayers enlisted in the reserves or were subject to the military draft. For a time Ruth was exempt from the draft because he was married, but a later ruling exempted only men whose jobs were vital for the national effort, which baseball was not. He later joined a reserve unit. The Red Sox failed to win the league pennant in 1917, but Ruth's pitching continued to dominate the hitters. He posted a 24-13 record, a 2.01 ERA, and six shutouts. In an era when relief pitchers where used sparingly Ruth completed 35 of the 38 games he started that year. He also batted for a .325 average.

In 1918 the Red Sox were once again the AL pennant winners. The season was also a critical one for Ruth as it marked the beginning of his transformation from a star pitcher to a star hitterthe man who more than anyone else influenced (and some contend saved) the game of baseball. That year he started only 19 games as a pitcher, completing 18. His record was 13-7; his ERA was 2.22 and he pitched one shutout. As a batter that season, Ruth compiled 317 at-bats (his previous high was 136). He hit 11 home runsmost of them of the towering kind that sportswriters would take to describing as "Ruthian," drove in 66 runs and hit for a .300 average. What's more, Ruth made it known to his manager, Ed Barrow, that he preferred hitting to pitching. In time, the fans would agree.

In the World Series against the Chicago Cubs, Ruth was used as a pitcher (he had only five at-bats) and he responded masterfully. He won the first game 1-0, pitching a complete game. Ruth then pitched in the fourth game (the Red Sox held a 2-1 Series lead) and shutout the Cubs for seven innings before being relieved in the ninth inning. The Red Sox won the game 3-2. The seven shutout innings, combined with the nine he had pitched in the Series opener and the 13 he had pitched in the 1916 Series, gave him 29 consecutive scoreless World Series innings, a new record. Christy Mathewson had set the previous record of 28 in 1905. Of all his baseball achievements Ruth claimed he was proudest of this record.

The 1918 season had not been a rosy one for Ruth, who never really got along with manager Ed Barrow. Arguments between the two flared up often, and at one point in the season Ruth jumped the team and threatened to play for a semiprofessional team sponsored by the Chester Shipyards in Chester, Pennsylvania. But Harry Frazee, the Red Sox owner, threatened a lawsuit and Ruth came back into the fold. The following year, after Ruth threatened to punch Barrow in the nose, the manager suspended his star player. A contrite Ruth apologized and had his first important season as a hitter.

1919 was the last year Ruth pitched with any regularity, though he did compile a 5-0 record with the Yankees over the years. His indifference to pitching now showed. In 1919 Ruth appeared in only 17 games as a pitcher, 15 of which he started. He had a mediocre (for Ruth) 9-5 record, but his ERA was a respectable 2.97. He also saved a game.

As a hitter he wowed the fans. Ruth smacked a record 29 home runs and drove in 114 runs while batting .322. He also hit four grand slams (home runs with the bases loaded) that year which was another record. It stood as the AL standard for 40 years.

Joins the New York Yankees

Following his tremendous 1919 season Ruth sought a salary increase from $10,000 per season to $20,000. Frazee, however, still owed the previous Red Sox owner, Joseph Lannin, money for his purchase of the team, and his credit was no longer as solid as it had been a few years earlier. Frazee, a New York theatrical producer, was also good friends with Colonel Tillinghast L'Hommedieu Huston, a partner in the Yankees ownership, and when Ruth kept pressuring for more money Frazee decided to sell his star for $100,000 plus a $300,000 loan from the other Yankee owner, Colonel Jacob Ruppert. The collateral on the loan was Fenway Park, where the Red Sox played ball.

Awards and Accomplishments

1923American League MVP
1933-34American League All-Star Team
1936Baseball Hall of Fame
1999Associated Press Athlete of the Century
1999Major League Baseball All-Century Team
1999Sporting News Greatest Player of All-Time

The Colossus

Babe Ruth died of cancer 50 years ago this week, on Aug. 16, 1948. More than 63 years have passed since he made his last appearance as a player, in a Boston Braves uniform, yet he remains the purest original ever to have played big league baseball. For all that he did in his 22 seasons in the majors, surely nothing left a deeper imprint on the game than the force and flair he brought to bear in striking the ball.

In the late teens of [the twentieth century] Ruth was the best left-handed pitcher in the American League. As a member of the Boston Red Sox, he pitched 29 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings in World Series play, a record until Whitey Ford broke it more than 40 years later. But Ruth's pitching feats are footnotes, gathering dust among his batting records.

The irony is that 1927 [Ruth's most memorable year] wasn't his most productive year. No player in history ever had a season like Ruth's in '21. In addition to his 59 homers, he batted .378 and led the league in runs (177), runs batted in (171) and walks (144, many of them intentional), and his colossal slugging percentage of .846 was just a tick behind his 1920 mark of .847, a record that still stands. Yet it's '27 that became Ruth's year, the enduring symbol of the man and his myth. By that season he had altered the balance of the game, raising the home run from its relatively modest role into baseball's most dramatic event and a significant force in determining the outcome of games.

Unlike in 1920, when the Babe was just making his name as a power hitter, in '27 he was the Show. His home run quest was a one-ring traveling circus, the merriest entertainment in sport

Source: Nack, William. Sports Illustrated, August 24, 1998, p.58.

In subsequent years Frazee was demonized for selling Ruth to finance the Broadway show No, No Nanette, but in reality the musical did not open until 1925 (and was successful). Because the Red Sox (as of the 2002 season) had not won another World Championship, the selling of Ruth has taken on mythic proportions of its own and has become known as "The Curse of the Bambino." Indeed, for ten of the next twelve years, Ruth outhomered the entire Red Sox team, which finished in last place most of that time.

During the next two seasons Ruth cemented his legend as the game's greatest slugger. In 1920 he batted.376 with 54 home runs and 137 RBIs. That year he was the first player to hit 30, 40 and 50 home runs in a season. As good as he was in 1920, in 1921 Ruth was even better. His batting average was .378 and he slugged 59 home runs and drove in 171 runs. Only his slugging percentage decreasedand that by one point, from .847 to.846. On July 15, 1921, Ruth slammed his 25th home run of the season, but it was the 138th of his career. That made him the all-time home run champion and every home run he hit for the rest of his career added to his record. (Ruth's all-time record was surpassed in 1975 by Henry Aaron.) Unfortunately for Ruth during these years, there was no Most Valuable Player Award (MVP). It had been awarded in both leagues from 1911 to 1914 (when it was known as the Chalmers Award), but from 1915 to 1921 no award was given. The Chalmers Award was revived in 1922 as the league MVP awards.

In 1920 the Yankees finished in third place, but in 1921 Ruth led them to their first league pennant. New York had its first Subway Series that year with the New York Giants winning the National League (NL) pennant. The Giants, who were the landlords at the Yankees' ball-park, the Polo Grounds, won the World Series five games to three. (Between 1919 and 1921 the World Series was a best five-out-of-nine affair.) Ruth hit .312 with a home run and four RBIs.

The Yankees repeated as AL champions in 1922 with Ruth again leading the way, although his average and power numbers were down from the previous two years. He slugged 35 home runs, had 99 RBIs, and hit for a.315 average. It was the first time since 1918 Ruth had not led the league in home runs (Ken Williams of the St. Louis Browns had 39), and the first time since 1919 he was not the RBI leader. (Williams drove in 155 runs.) Still, the Yankees were the champs and once again faced the Giants, who took the Series 4-0. Ruth had a miserable Series hitting just .118 with no home runs and just one RBI.

As if to make up for his poor World Series performance Ruth tore up the league in 1923. It was the inaugural season for the Yankees' new ballpark in the Bronx, Yankee Stadiumor as it came to be known, "The House That Ruth Built." Fittingly he hit the first home run in the Stadium. That season, Ruth led the league in home runs with 41 and RBIs with 131, and was second in hitting with a .393 average. For his efforts he was awarded the AL MVP. Unfortunately, until 1930 previous MVP award winners were ineligible, which probably deprived Ruth of several more awards during the 1920s. For the third year in a row the Yankees met the Giants in the World Series, but this time the outcome was different. Ruth hit three home runs, all solo homers for his only RBIs of the Series, but he batted .368 and scored eight times. The Yankees took the Series 4-2, and for the first time in their fabled history were champions. And Ruth was the king of them all, the Sultan of Swat.

Career Statistics: Pitching

BOS: Boston Red Sox; NYY: New York Yankees.

Ruth followed up his MVP season with another tremendous year in 1924, but the Yankees finished in second place. It was a disappointment that presaged the collapse of 1925. Ruth reported to spring training that year even more overweight than usual and with a fever. But after the fever subsided and his wife went back to New York, Ruth returned to his carousing ways. However, by the time the Yankees broke camp to head north, a nagging stomach ache finally forced Ruth out of the lineup and into a hospital. Ruth took a separate train to New York where the pain grew so intense emergency surgery was required for an abscess in his intestine. It went down in Ruthian legend as the Big Bellyache, which sportswriters attributed to too many hotdogs.

Ruth didn't really get going until midseason and had only 25 home runs and 66 RBIs that season. As Ruth went so went the Yankees and the team finished seventh.

The Sultan of Swat

But the greatest player could not be held down for long. Over the next seven seasons Ruth averaged 49 home runs, 151 RBIs and a .353 batting average. During that span of time the Yankees won four league pennants and three World Series. The Yankees of these years also boasted future Hall of Famers Lou Gehrig , who joined the team in 1925 and Tony Lazzeri, who became a Yankee in 1926.

In the midst of this run was the magnificent 1927 team, still considered by many as the best baseball team ever assembled. That season Ruth set a single season home run record of 60 that stood for 34 years. He also drove in 164 runs and batted .364 as the team cruised to the pennant and swept the Pittsburgh Pirates in the World Series. During the 1926 World Series and again in 1928, both times against the St. Louis Cardinals, Ruth hit three home runs in a single game.

Throughout these years, at the height of his fame, Ruth's constant womanizing led to an estrangement from his wife, Helen, and their adopted daughter, Dorothy. While Ruth lived in New York his family remained on the farm Ruth had purchased years ago in the Boston suburb of Sudbury, Massachusetts. By 1929 Helen, still married to Ruth, was living in Watertown, Massachusetts with Dr. Edward Kinder. On the night of January 11, 1929, an electrical fire broke out in their home while Kinder was away and Dorothy at boarding school; Helen died of smoke inhalation. Three months later Ruth married Claire Hodgson, a widow with a daughter of her own. Ruth and his new wife each adopted the other's child.

In 1930 Ruth signed a two-year contract that paid him $80,000 per year, more than the president of the United States was paid. When told this he replied in typical Ruthian fashion: "Why not? I had a better year than he had."

The last great Ruthian moment to enter into baseball lore occurred during the 1932 World Series, in which the Yankees swept the Chicago Cubs. Ruth's home run off Charlie Root has gone down as "the called shot," in which he supposedly pointed to a spot in the right field stands moments before he hit the ball there. Most contemporary reports make no mention of the call, yet it has remained ensconced in the Ruth myth.

Disappointment at the End of the Line

Nearing forty years old, Ruth's skills rapidly diminished after 1933 and he began to angle for the Yankee manager's job. However, the Yankee front office wanted no part of Ruth as a manager. After the Yankees gave him his unconditional release prior to the 1935 season, he signed on with the Boston Braves of the National League in hopes of managing in 1936. It did not take long for Ruth to become disillusioned with his new team. He played only 28 games that year and called it quits, knowing he would never manage the Braves.

Over the next seven years, Ruth played in exhibition games and made public appearances while he waited for the call to manage a team. It was a call that never came, though in June 1938 he signed a contract to serve as a coach for the Brooklyn Dodgers for the remainder of the season.

In late 1946 Ruth entered the hospital to have a malignant tumor removed from around his left carotid artery. The operation was only partially successful. April 27, 1947 was declared Babe Ruth Day throughout the major leagues; Ruth himself appeared at Yankee Stadium. On June 13, 1948, a frail Ruth, leaning on a bat for support, made his final public appearance for the twenty-fifth anniversary celebration of the opening of Yankee Stadium. Ruth wore his uniform one last time, and his number three was retired that day. Ruth died of cancer on August 16, 1948.

No other player in the history of baseball affected how the game was played like Babe Ruth did. His prodigious power literally changed baseball from an "inside" little game of scratching for one or two runs to an "outside" game of power; eventually every team sought to sign men who could drive the ball over the fence. With a team's ability to suddenly score two, three, or even four runs at a time came a shift in strategy that continues to this day. In 1936, Babe Ruth was one of the first six players to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. His career statistics read: 714 home runs, 2213 RBIs, a .342 batting average and a .690 slugging percentage. As a pitcher his record was 94 wins, 46 losses and a 2.28 ERA. Among his posthumous honors, Babe Ruth was named to the Major League All-Century Team, Associated Press Athlete of the Century, and The Sporting News Greatest Player of All-Time.


The "Home-run King," or, How Pep Pindar Won His Title, New York: A. L. Burt Company, 1920.

Babe Ruth's Own Book of Baseball, New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1928.

(With Bob Considine) The Babe Ruth Story, New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1948.



Creamer, Robert W. Babe: The Legend Comes to Life, New York: Penguin Books, 1983.


"Babe Ruth," (September 23, 2002).

The Official Babe Ruth Web Site, (September 26, 2002).

"Ruth named AP athlete of the century," USA Today, (October 12, 2002).

Sketch by F. Caso

Ruth, Babe

views updated May 23 2018

Babe Ruth

Born: February 6, 1895
Baltimore, Maryland
Died: August 16, 1948
New York, New York

American baseball player

Babe Ruth, an American baseball player, was one of sport's most famous athletes and an enduring legend.

Early years

George Herman Ruth Jr., later known as Babe Ruth, was born on February 6, 1895, in Baltimore, Maryland, one of George Herman Ruth and Kate Schamberger's eight children. Of the eight, only George Jr. and a sister, Mamie, survived. Ruth's father owned a tavern, and running the business left him and his wife with little time to watch over their children. Young George began skipping school and getting into trouble. He also played baseball with other neighborhood children whenever possible.

At the age of seven Ruth was sent to the St. Mary's Industrial School for Boys, a school that took care of boys who had problems at home. It was run by the Brothers (men who had taken vows to lead religious lives) of a Catholic order of teachers. Ruth wound up staying there off and on until he was almost twenty. At St. Mary's, Ruth studied, worked in a tailor shop, and learned values such as sharing and looking out for smaller, weaker boys. He also developed his baseball skills with the help of one of the Brothers.

Signs baseball contract

Ruth became so good at baseball (both hitting and as a left-handed pitcher) that the Brothers wrote a letter to Jack Dunn, manager of the Baltimore Orioles minor league baseball team, inviting him to come see Ruth. After watching Ruth play for half an hour, Dunn offered him a six-month contract for six hundred dollars. Dunn also had to sign papers making him Ruth's guardian until the boy turned twenty-one.

When Dunn brought Ruth to the Oriole locker room for the first time in 1914, one of the team's coaches said, "Well, here's Jack's newest babe now!" The nickname stuck, and Babe Ruth stuck with the team as well, performing so well that he was moved up later that year to the Boston Red Sox of the American League. Ruth pitched on championship teams in 1915 and 1916, but he was such a good hitter that he was switched to the out-field so that he could play every day. (Pitchers usually play only every four or five days because of the strain that pitching has on their throwing arm.) In 1919 his twenty-nine home runs set a new record and led to the beginning of a new playing style. Up to that point home runs occurred very rarely, and baseball's best players were usually pitchers and high-average "singles" hitters. By 1920 Ruth's frequent home runs made the "big bang" style of play more popular and successful.

Becomes legend with the Yankees

In 1920 Babe Ruth was sold to the New York Yankees for one hundred thousand dollars and a three hundred fifty thousand dollar loan. This was a huge event which increased his popularity. In New York his achievements and personality made him a national celebrity. Off the field he enjoyed eating, drinking, and spending or giving away his money outright; he earned and spent thousands of dollars. By 1930 he was paid eighty thousand dollars for a season, a huge sum for that time, and his endorsement income (money received in return for public support of certain companies' products) usually added up to be more than his baseball salary.

Ruth led the Yankees to seven American League championships and four World Series titles. He led the league in home runs many times, and the 60 he hit in 1927 set a record for the 154-game season. (Roger Maris hit 61 home runs in a 162-game season in 1961.) Ruth's lifetime total of 714 home runs is second only to the 755 hit by Hank Aaron (1934). With a .342 lifetime batting average for 22 seasons of play, many consider Babe Ruth the game's greatest player.

When Ruth's career ended in 1935, he had hoped to become a major league manager, but his reputation for being out of control made teams afraid to hire him. In 1946 he became head of the Ford Motor Company's junior baseball program. He died in New York City on August 16, 1948.

For More Information

Creamer, Robert W. Babe: The Legend Comes to Life. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1974.

Miller, Ernestine G. The Babe Book: Baseball's Greatest Legend Remembered. Kansas City, MO: Andrews McMeel, 2000.

Ritter, Lawrence S. The Babe: The Game That Ruth Built. New York: Total Sports, 1997.

Smelser, Marshall. The Life That Ruth Built: A Biography. New York: Quadrangle/New York Times Book Co., 1975. Reprint, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1993.

Van Riper, Guernsey. Babe Ruth, One of Baseball's Greatest. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1983.

Wagenheim, Kal. Babe Ruth: His Life and Legend. New York: Praeger, 1974. Reprint, Chicago: Olmstead Press, 2001.

George Herman Ruth Jr

views updated Jun 27 2018

George Herman Ruth Jr.

George Herman Ruth, Jr. (1895-1948), American baseball player, was the sport's all-time champion, its greatest celebrity, and most enduring legend.

George Herman Ruth was born on Feb. 6, 1895, in Baltimore, one of eight children of a saloonkeeper. Judged as incorrigible at the age of 7, Ruth was committed to the St. Mary's Industrial School for Boys, where he learned baseball from a sympathetic monk. His left-handed pitching brilliance prompted Jack Dunn of the Baltimore Orioles to adopt him in 1914 to secure his release. That same year Dunn sold him to the American League Boston Red Sox. Ruth pitched on championship teams in 1915 and 1916, but his hitting soon marked him as an outfielder. In 1919 his 29 home runs set a new record and heralded a new playing style. Baseball had been dominated by pitching and offense; by 1920 Ruth's long hits inaugurated the "big bang" style.

In 1920 Babe Ruth was sold to the New York Yankees for $100,000 and a $350,000 loan. This electrifying event enhanced his popularity. His feats and personality made him a national celebrity. An undisciplined, brawling wastrel, he earned and spent thousands of dollars. By 1930 he was paid $80,000 for a season, and his endorsement income usually exceeded his annual income.

Ruth led the Yankees to seven championships, including four World Series titles. He was the game's perennial home run champion, and the 60 he hit in 1927 set a record for the 154-game season (Roger Maris hit 61 home runs in 1961, but on the extended game schedule). His lifetime total of 714 home runs is unsurpassed. With a .342 lifetime batting average for 22 seasons of play, many rate him the game's greatest player.

When his career ended in 1935, Ruth's reputation as being undisciplined frustrated his hopes of becoming a major league manager. In 1946 he became head of the Ford Motor Company's junior baseball program. He died in New York City on Aug. 16, 1948.

Further Reading

So much has been written about Ruth, both in his lifetime and since his death, that it is surprising to find no adequate biography of him. A popular biography of his playing career is by sportswriter Thomas Meany, Babe Ruth: The Big Moments of the Big Fellow (1947). Also useful is Ruth's The Babe Ruth Story as Told to Bob Considine (1948). An intimate, iconoclastic account of Ruth's personal life was written by his wife, Claire M. Ruth (with Bill Slocum), The Babe and I (1959). A Pulitzer Prize—winning sketch of Ruth, written at the height of his career, is included in Laurence Greene, The Era of Wonderful Nonsense: A Casebook of the Twenties (1939). Ruth's impact on baseball history is assessed in David Q. Voigt, American Baseball (2 vols., 1966-1970). □