George Herman “Babe” Ruth

George Herman “Babe” Ruth was an American icon or symbol just as Uncle Sam was; the Babe started it all. He was the best pitcher in his day and still remains the strongest slugger in the game. Ruth had power, strength, an appetite and a desire for the game that no other player would ever have. It was “Babe Ruth, a hero of prowess who had achieved greatness by the sheer extent of his extraordinary ability” that put a smile on all the youngsters faces. No matter where he was the fans would follow; the attendance was always the greatest in his presence.

After the 1919 World Series scandal by the “Black Sox”, along with the problems in the National Commission, professional baseball was reorganized and a new commissioner was appointed. In 1921 the new ball, which is also the current ball, was introduced; this new ball was tightly wound which made it much easier for more home runs and created more of an active game; this also was the year which Ruth’s home runs increased from twenty-nine to fifty-nine, hitting a career total of 714. With an increase in the action of the game, the media coverage increased drastically as well, including both paper coverage and radio coverage.

The idea of the home run was more of a new concept and with Ruth’s improvement it became a symbol of The Babe. The idea of the home run also symbolized the creation of a strong willed nation and self-confident young men, enforcing the idea that innovations and expansion would constantly be occurring. It was believed that by watching baseball, youngsters would learn to be better people because they would begin to imitate the professionals who became their heroes. Baseball taught quick decision making skills, competitiveness, how to sacrifice for the team, as well as how to accept authority.

Hugh Fullerton, a modern student of baseball at the time, spoke of his thoughts of baseball: Baseball to my way of thinking, is the greatest single force working for Americanization. No other game appeals so much to the foreign born youngsters and nothing, not even the schools, teaches the American spirit so quickly, or inculcates the idea of sportsmanship or fair play as thoroughly. No matter where Babe Ruth was, be it on the diamond or of the diamond, the fans respected him, forgetting his flashy ways and brash behaviour. Ruth helped socialize and bring together all Americans, sports lovers, baseball lovers and non sports lovers alike.

Fans were able to participate in Sunday baseball and it grew to become a more democratic and a larger spectator sport. Because of George Herman Ruth, baseball remains the national pastime with a strong sense of competition. There were three rulers of the baseball diamond, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Jimmie Foxx, but only Ruth had the power in his arms. George Herman Ruth was born in Baltimore in 1894, and grew up around his father’s downtown Baltimore bar. He was sent to St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys, but in 1914 left school to join a minor league baseball team, much to his father’s dismay.

Ruth started his minor league career with the Baltimore Orioles as a pitcher in the “Golden Age of Sport”. With his talent and strength he was sent to the major leagues to play with the Boston Red Sox, before the end of the season, sold by Jack Dunn (owner of the International League’s Baltimore Orioles) for $2,500. At 19 years old, the young pitcher, George Herman Ruth hit his first home run at Maple Leaf Park in Toronto, and on September 5, 1914 he hit a three-run shot on Ellis Johnson of Toronto, over the fence in right field. Billy Kelly was the only Toronto player to take a hit from Ruth throughout this game.

The Monday morning after this game, Toronto’s Globe and Mail featured an article on Babe Ruth stating that “this youngster is not yet old enough to vote but he can heave that old pill and the Boston Americans made no mistake when they bought him from Baltimore”. Ruth had twenty-two wins that year which put him at the top of the league. In 1919 Ruth was traded to the New York Yankees for $125,000 and played in right field, taking the advice of Edward Barrow. Ruth now receiving $20,000 from the Yankees put him at the top of the payroll list, which began his glamorous and flashy lifestyle.

The trade of Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees was the best thing that ever happened to both the team and baseball as a whole. After the Black Sox Scandal fans never believed that there was hope for the rest of their culture or their society, but in 1920 the Yankees brought in a record amount of money, of $373,862, strictly because of the new right fielder, Babe Ruth. In the same year, because there were still three teams within the city, the rivalry between the Yankees, the Giants and the Dodgers was still brewing. The Yankees believed it was time to get their own stadium.

On February 6, 1921 Jacob Ruppert (a wealthy beer baron) announced that a good site was found in the Bronx and it was bought for $675,000. The new site was situated on 161st Street, just sixteen minutes from downtown Manhattan, by the Harlem River. In 1922, Ruppert broke the ground and in 1923 a $2. 5 million, three deck stadium was built. Seating over 60,000 spectators, “Yankee Stadium” opened on April 18, 1923. With Ruth opening Yankee Stadium, the Bronx finally boomed, bringing fans in from all around the country.

After the grand opening, with Ruppert’s good financing, and great marketing techniques, the average Yankee player in 1923 made approximately $5,000 and in 1929 around $7,500 but Ruth’s pay increased to $80,000. He made “more than the president earned, but the Ruth had a better year”. Not only were the salaries increasing, but the style and pace of play was as well. In 1927 the Yankees were well known for their “Murderers Row” consisting of the Babe, Bob Meusel, Earle Combs, Bob Shawkey, Tony Lazzeri, Mark Koenig, Joe Dugan, George Pipgras, Benny Bengough, Hero Pennock, and Waite Itoyle.

Averages were growing, bases were being circled more often, there was much more play in the outfield and 1930 became “the year of the hitter”. In 1930 the American League’s batting average was . 288, whereas the Yankees average grew to . 309, the highest in Yankee league history. At thirty-five years old, having already played for sixteen years, was at his prime. Ruth had already hit forty-nine home runs, leading the league, with 153 runs batted in, and a batting average of . 359. The Babe had become a “pitcher’s nightmare”, but there was a new star up and coming Jimmie Foxx seen as “the right-handed Babe Ruth”.

Ruth didn’t let down though, in 1931 he was even better and it became Babe Ruth’s season. Tying Lou Gehrig for the league lead in home runs, Ruth hit forty-six of them, with 163 runs batted in, and a batting average of. 373. Within Babe’s season he had hit is 600th home run attracting the crowds as never before. The Indian’s manager, Roger Peckin, speaking of both the Yankees and the A’s believed that “with those monsters in the league, you started off the season fighting for third place”, but unfortunately for the Indians, the Washington Senators took third.

The Indians would have to try again in 1932. The Yankee lineup in 1932 still included Ruth and his “crown prince” Lou Gehrig. Ruth, now being thirty-seven years old, was beginning to slow down but he still had a . 341 batting average, forty-one home runs with 137 runs batted in; the Yankees were never shut out, and Ruth’s home run record of sixty from 1927 was still standing. Even though Ruth was getting older attendance was remaining steady in New York, while the American League attendance was suffering drastically. The 1932 World Series tried to correct all this.

This time it was New York versus Chicago but things started going wrong. There was bantering between games, name calling during the games and Ruth was the target and the center of it all. During the fifth inning of the third game fruits and vegetables began to fly onto the field towards Ruth. Ruth’s next at bat created baseball history. He was frustrated, upset with the fans, with two strikes against him, and then he gestured towards the outfield. Ruth was calling his shot. “The Ball disappeared from the premises in a high, sizzling line, carrying an incredible distance in an incredibly short time.

Many people did not understand. Was Ruth pointing at Root, the pitcher? Was Ruth pointing to the center field stands or was he announcing a home run? Ruth answered all these questions by saying that sometimes he was calling his run and sometimes he just laughed saying that it was really nothing. In 1933 a new game was created in baseball, the All-Star Game. The All-Star Game was supposed to be a one time thing on July 6th at Chicago Comiskey Park. Because of Babe Ruth the American League won, but his energy was decreasing.

In 1933 Ruth only hit thirty-four home runs, 103 runs were batted in and a batting average of . 301. Ruth remained part of the All-Star team until 1934, which also became his last year in New York. On July 13th Ruth hit his 700th home run but at the age of thirty-nine, he believed he was too old to do it anymore. In the winter of 1934 the Babe signed with the Boston Braves, but couldn’t finish the season due to irresolvable problems between himself and McCarthy, the Braves general manager.

Retiring on June 2nd after seventy-two at bats, thirteen hits, including six home runs, and a . 1 batting average, Ruth always wanted to be a manager, but Ed Barrow (Yankee general manager) stated that if he could not even take care of himself then there would not be a chance of him taking on a manager’s position. George Selkirk, and Dixie Walker replaced Ruth in right field. On May 25th at Pittsburgh Forbes Field, Babe had is farewell. Out of his six final home runs, three occurred on this day, but according to Cub’s Fred Linstrom “it was like watching a monument beginning to shake and crack, you were waiting for it to topple”.

From the time Babe Ruth left New York players found that the Yankees were not as scary without him, and fans did not find baseball as interesting. Attendance dropped by 200,000 people and George Selkirk was constantly heckled not only for taking the Babe’s position but for wearing his number as well. Many believed that this would be the last of the Babe, but Ruth proved them wrong. Ruth was too flashy of a guy to disappear into the wings; he still wanted to be under the spotlight enjoying his public life of leisure.

In 1936, elections were to be held for the first baseball figures to be put into the Hall of Fame and Ruth received 215 votes to Ty Cobb’s 222, who were both inducted. The dedication party was held that year and the crowed roared when Ruth stepped off the train. No matter where he was, fans would follow. Along with Ruth were Cobb, Wagner, Johnson, Collins, and Young creating a quite large cross section of players. Four years after he retired, marked twenty-five years since his professional pitching debut and Ruth was still a crowd pleaser.

To mark the occasion Cobb and Ruth donned their uniforms at the Knox Girls’ School gym. Cobb, keeping up his competitive spirit, put a note in Ruth’s cleats saying “I can beat you any day in the week and twice on Sunday at the Scottish game”. Tensions between the two of them were decreasing over the years and Cobb actually found that he liked the Babe and they remained friends until Ruth’s death in 1948. Both players took up golf and in 1941 participated in charity matches in the Boston, New York and Detroit areas where Cobb led two games to one.

The next year, the Hall of Famers all got together to play a charity game impersonating the two original baseball teams, the Knickerbockers and the Excelsiors. The captains of the teams were Honus Wagner and Eddie Collins and Ruth played for Wagner. Cobb, joking with Babe who was 44 years old at the time, stated that he should not be playing at all, but should be in the old timers game. Ruth made his appearance in the fifth inning, pinch-hitting for Danny MacFayden, and emerged from the dugout wearing his baggy uniform from his 1934 Japanese tour, with the American Shield and his own number three on his back.

He popped the ball but the fans were yelling for the outfielder to drop it. The Ball was caught but the crowd cheered anyways, they just were just there to see the players. The Wagner team won the game four to two in six and a half innings and remained Babe Ruth’s last competitive event. The Babe came out on Babe Ruth Day in Yankee Stadium on April 27, 1947 as well as two months before he died in June 1948, but they were visits strictly to watch the game. Ruth never lost his touch with the fans.

Eleven years after the grand opening of the Hall of Fame, a room in the building was named after him and in 1983 he was honoured with a United States postage stamp. Even though his life outside baseball was not flattering, his rough manner and speech were all ignored; his unique play of the game made up for it all. Ruth changed baseball from a dirty game of trickery to a masterful game of power. He never played a bad game according to the fans; he always played at a high standard. He dominated the diamond with both his style, his power, and with his statistics.

Ruth’s 1927 sixty home run record in one season and his 714 home runs still remained until the 1960’s. With his distinctive baseball style and his flashy lifestyle, Ruth was popular with not only true baseball fans, but non-fans as well. Ruth was a man that could represent the old style of baseball but could also follow the new style in which he ended his career. George Herman “Babe” Ruth had spirit, charisma and glamour; Ruth was a star and is still a star. The Babe was the American Dream.

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