George "Babe" Ruth
February 6, 1895 - August 16, 1948
The Home Run Kingby Rit Nosotro First Published:: 2003
In a baseball era plagued by steroid abuse, human growth hormone injections, and other sneaky ways to improve performance, it is truly amazing that records from the glory days of baseball still hold fast. That is exacly why George Herman Ruth is the “Great Bambino”. Before the 1900's the single season home run record was 27 for a single player, but once the Babe got his hands on a bat, this record was blown away in the dust. Born in a time where baseball was a “science” and home runs were freak occurrences, the Babe forever changed the game and forged himself a top spot among the legends of baseball.
George Herman Ruth Jr., the first of eight children, was born in Baltimore, Maryland on February 6, 1895. Although he was one of only two surviving children, his parents found that running a tavern left no time for child rearing and so, at the tender age of seven, George was taken to an orphanage named St. Mary's Industrial School for Boys. Although labeled “incorrigible” upon admission, and having already earned a reputation for mischievousness outside the home, he would find the loving father figure he lacked in one of the teachers at St. Mary's, Brother Matthias. Under Brother Matthias' tutelage George would not only learn books, but also the great game of baseball. The school had two baseball fields where the boys would often play, and it is here that the Babe discovered his ability to pitch and hit. It was also this same Brother Matthias that signed as George's legal guardian at age nineteen so that he could avoid having to stay at the orphanage until the age of twenty one, as was the rule. This allowed George the opportunity to sign with famous baseball scout Jack Dunn, where he received the nickname, “Jack's Newest Babe”. The name stuck, and George has been known as the Babe ever since.
Shortly after signing with the Boston Red Sox's minor league team the Baltimore Orioles, the Babe's talent was recognized and Boston purchased him within six months. Although he began his professional career as a pitcher, nobody could deny his exceptional hitting ability. Even with his limited plate appearances he produced a .315 batting average in his first full year as a Red Sox player. Because pitchers rarely ever hit, the Babe started playing outfield occasionally to allow him more opportunities to bat. In his final years with Boston, the team had Ruth playing more and more outfield and less pitching. His last year with the Red Sox was his best one as a part of that organization, and he broke the previous single season home run record with 29 round-trippers. Though the Babe was just warming up, it would be his last year with the New England ballclub.
After 1919, Babe's best season up to that point, he felt he deserved a larger salary. Boston, however, did not agree and as a result sold him to their rivals the New York Yankees. This is where Boston's troubles began. As legend has it, the Boston Red Sox were cursed by making this trade, and as a result would not win another World Series title. Curse or no curse, Babe's departure began a losing streak that would last 86 years. On the other hand, the Yankees went on to win four championship titles with Ruth, and twenty-two afterwards.
Once in New York, Babe Ruth focused on playing outfield and first base, with the exception that he pitched 5 successful games over his 15 seasons with the Yankees. In his first year with the new team, he hit a .376 batting average and 54 home runs, blowing away the previous record, which was also his own. In 1921, his second year as a Yankee, he again improved with a .378 average and 59 home runs. He continued to bat well, and in 1923 he achieved his personal batting average record of .393. Four years later the “Great Bambino” slammed 60 homers, a record that would stand for 34 years. Over his 22 year long major league career, the Babe would come to accumulate 714 home runs (currently 3rd all time), 2213 RBI's (currently 2nd all time), a .690 slugging percentage (currently 1st all time), and a lifetime .342 batting average.
Before the Babe came, baseball was more of a science than a power game. Pitchers could do just about anything they wanted to the baseball they were pitching; from scuffing to spitting to sandpapering, nothing was beyond trying if it might make the ball more elusive to hit. This created a huge disadvantage for the hitters, and as a result the batters had to try and find the most consistent way to score runs. This way, for many people, was to hit little singles, steal some bases, and score on other people's singles. Home runs were rare and definitely not the aim of anyone's game. Because people thought he was playing the game in a way that it shouldn't be: with brute force, Babe's unconventional approach to hitting earned him disrespect from some. Eventually, however, there was no denying his great hitting ability, even though his techniques may have differed from most other players. Although some baseball critics disliked Babe Ruth for his hitting style, it ultimately influenced a change in the game's manner of playing.
Not only was Ruth a superstar player, he was also every child's idol. Kids grew up wanting to be like the Babe, and he didn't mind. He sacrificially gave of his time to people others viewed as inferior, specifically children. Whenever kids wanted autographs, he did his best to give them. He was especially nice to ill children. There was one instance where he visited a sick child in the hospital, and the lad asked Babe Ruth to try and hit him a home run. “To my sick little pal, I will try to knock you another homer, maybe two today,” he responded, and he ended up hitting three. He also loved to encourage others. He once said, “Never let the fear of striking out keep you from coming up to bat,” a motto he tried to live out.
In 1935 at age 40, Babe Ruth's major league career came to an end. His retirement plans were to manage a professional baseball team. Sadly, this dream never came true. However, in 1936 Babe Ruth was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Ten years later, Ruth was diagnosed with cancer of the throat. Operations in attempt to help Babe only caused his voice to become impaired. Then, on August 16, 1948, the fabulous baseball player died. For two days his body laid at the entrance of Yankee Stadium, where over 100,000 people came to pay their final respects. Then, on August 19th, his funeral was held. He is buried in Hawthorne, New York at Gate of Heaven Cemetery. Babe Ruth's death did not stop his legend from spreading. Ruth was born the same year U.S. boxing champion Jack Dempsey was born, and died the same year U.S. general John Pershing died. The memories of heros survive. There is no doubt that the “Home Run King” changed baseball forever.
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