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Babe Ruth did not have an ideal or even average American childhood. George Herman Ruth, Jr. was born on February 6, 1895 on the second story of his grandmother's house on in Baltimore, Maryland. Ruth did not have a happy childhood. Ruth fended for himself most of his childhood while his parents worked in their saloon (http://www.baberuth.com, 1). Mr. and Mrs. Ruth had seven children after Ruth but only one survived, his sister Mary Margaret. By the time Ruth was five he was a very rebellious child, he skipped school, stole, drank, and, participated in many adult behaviors. Looking back on these days Ruth told Fred Lieb, "I learned early to drink beer, wine, whiskey, and I think I was about five when I first chewed tobacco. There was a lot of cussin' in Pop's saloon, so I learned a lot of swear words, some really bad ones" (http://fsweb.wm.edu, 1). When Ruth was seven his father sent him to St. Mary's Industrial School for Boys, and signed custody over to the Xaverian Brothers, a Catholic order of Jesuit missionaries who ran St. Mary's. Ruth did not like the strict atmosphere at St. Mary's. Jackie Stelle quotes Ruth in his biography, "it was like a prison to me. St. Mary's had a stone wall that surrounded us, and guards that were always on duty" (http://www.
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In 1914 Babe Ruth signed with Jack Dunn into the minors, but Ruth was only in the minors for five months. At the age of nineteen he signed with the Boston Red Sox. He remained with the team for six seasons, switching positions as pitcher and outfielder (http://www.baberuth.com). With his talent for pitching and batting, and his friendly personality, he was quickly on his way to greatness. In December of 1919, the Boston Red Sox sold Ruth to the New York Yankees. Ruppert, the owner, bought Ruth for over $100,000, which was a huge amount then (http://www.babe-ruth.com). When Ruth first joined the Yankees they were one of the lousiest teams in baseball, never having won a world series; Ruth came from a team that had five under its belt, the most in baseball. Earlier that year, the White Sox had been accused of throwing the World Series. This story was a headline across the United States. Eight of their players were accused and were banned from ever playing professional ball. After the scandal America's faith in baseball was weakened and Americans needed a hero (http://www.babe-ruth.com). Ruth took on the role and had a breakthrough season in 1920, his first season with the Yankees. That year Ruth led the league in runs, RBIs and walks, and he also shattered the record of homeruns in a single season, twenty-nine set by himself the previous year, raising it to fifty-four. The next closest competitor achieved a mere nineteen. He also set the single season slugging percentage at .847, which stood for eighty-one years.
The second year Ruth played for the Yankees they won the American league and Ruth's fourth year they won the World Series. Before Ruth's arrival as a star, attendance had declined greatly due to the Black Sox, but thanks to Ruth in 1920, the Yankees became the first team to host one million fans, double the numbers set by other teams. On April 4, 1923 the Yankees finally had a stadium they could call their home. Babe Ruth was so popular that on opening day he attracted 74,000 people. The stadium was eventually known as "The House That Ruth Built," and on opening day, Ruth hit the first home run in Yankee Stadium, the first of many to come. (http://www.babe-ruth.com/). Ruth's ability to make any team successful and attract fans is what made "The Babe" unique.
Ruths numbers slowed as he grew older, but he still continued to add to his record high career totals. In 1931, Ruth started his twelfth season with the Yankees, and it also marked the rise of Lou Gehrig, a rookie teammate. In 1933 Ruth realized that his playing days were numbered. He told the Yankees that if they did not give him an opportunity to become a manager, he would leave. When the Yankees turned down his request in 1934, Ruth left them. Two years later, the Boston Braves offered Ruth a part-time player's position, bribing him with an eventual assistant-manager position. He accepted the position, but his decision resulted in mixed feelings for New York fans. Some thought that he was deserving of the opportunity, and others felt that he was just going where the best offer was. After three months Ruth realized that the Braves only wanted him for his popularity with crowds. His last game as a player was in May of 1935, when he retired with 714 career home runs (a record that was broken by Hank Aaron in 1974). In 1936, Ruth was with the first group placed in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, along with Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Walter Johnson, and Christy Mathewson. Ruth coached with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1938, but never became a manager for a major league team, like he wanted to.
Ruth brought to life a new style of baseball play and the new role of a superstar in society. Ty Cobb showed his discontent for the new version of baseball when he stated, "Babe Ruth has changed baseball. I guess more people would rather see Babe hit one over the fence than see me steal second. I feel bad about it, for it isn't the game I liked to see or play" (Hayes, B9). Ruth did change the game, as people showed their appreciation for him as a slugger. Baseball managers and owners realized that the home run was now a huge part of baseball and began to bring up the young sluggers from the minors. Not only was he a star on the field, he was also a celebrity off the field. Ruth truly was a man of large appetites in all areas of life. He led an extravagant lifestyle and that led him to show up at many games with a hangover, in the days of prohibition, and he also would commonly order a half dozen hotdogs before a game. Eleanor Gerhrig, Lou's wife, once described Ruth as, "A huge man and a small child combined in one runaway personality" ( Dickson, 151). Ruth was such a kind man and had such a deep love for children; that aspect of him mixed with his free spirited partying made him fun, exiting and loveable. Even today when baseball enthusiasts hear "home run" or the number 714, "The Babe" comes to mind.
Many consider Babe Ruth to be the best player of all time, and I agree. I don't know any other player in any sport who has even been remotely as successful at all the extremes of a sport. Ruth was out standing in baseball, with his pitching, power hitting, as well as fielding. Ruth has set records in a variety of areas, most homerun titles, thirteen; highest single season slugging percentage, .847; twenty-nine and two thirds scoreless innings in the world series, a record he held for forty-three years; and less commonly known two fielding records that held up for forty-eight years (Berke, 105-106). Though Ruth's career home run total was passed by Hank Aaron, statistically speaking, if Ruth had had the extra 3,000 at bats Aaron did he would have hit over 1,050 home runs (http://www.diamondicons.addr.com/RuthBiography.htm). Aaron was truly an amazing home run hitter, but I believe Ruth was, and is, the best. I admire Babe Ruth because he was the first big homerun hitter and he set standards that are still sought after by pros today. Babe Ruth dominated his era like no other player ever has and he will always be the greatest in my mind.
Babe Ruth is still remembered today for his amazing talents and his loving personality that grew from an abandoned and troubled childhood. Harry Hooper recalls how unique Ruth's life story is when he accurately states:
You know I saw it all happen from beginning to end. But some times I still can't believe what I saw: this nineteen year old kid, crude, poorly educated, only lightly brushed by the social veneer we call civilization, gradually transformed into the idol of American youth and the symbol of baseball the world over- a man loved by more people and with an intensity of feeling that perhaps has never been equaled before or since (Dickson,
During this era, every American was hoping to crawl out of the Depression and Ruth was an example of a man that came from so low to achieve so many great things. There has never been and there may never be another superstar as diversely skilled, influential, and socially intriguing as Babe Ruth.
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