Who Was Babe Ruth?
Over the course of his career, Babe Ruth went on to break baseball's most important slugging records, including most years leading a league in home runs, most total bases in a season, and highest slugging percentage for a season. In all, Ruth hit 714 home runs—a mark that stood until 1974.
Ruth was born George Herman Ruth Jr. on February 6, 1895, in Baltimore, Maryland. Ruth was raised in a poor waterfront neighborhood in Baltimore, where his parents, Kate Schamberger-Ruth and George Herman Ruth Sr., owned a tavern. Ruth was one of eight children born to the couple, and one of only two that survived infancy.
At the age of 7, the trouble-making Ruth became too much of a handful for his busy parents. Routinely caught wandering the dockyards, drinking, chewing tobacco and taunting local police officers, his parents finally decided he needed more discipline than they could give him. Ruth's family sent him to St. Mary's Industrial School for Boys, a Catholic orphanage and reformatory that became Ruth's home for the next 12 years. Ruth particularly looked up to a monk named Brother Matthias, who became a father figure to the young boy.
Mathias, along with several other monks of the order, introduced Ruth to baseball, a game at which the boy excelled. By the time he was 15, Ruth showed exceptional skill both as a strong hitter and pitcher. It was his pitching that initially caught the attention of Jack Dunn, the owner of the minor league Baltimore Orioles. At the time, the Orioles groomed players for the major league team known as the Boston Red Sox, and Dunn saw promise in Ruth's athletic performance.
Only 19, the law at the time stated that Ruth had to have a legal guardian sign his baseball contract in order for him to play professionally. As a result, Dunn became Ruth's legal guardian, leading teammates to jokingly call Ruth "Dunn's new babe." The joke stuck, and Ruth quickly earned the nickname "Babe" Ruth.
Ruth was only with the club for a short time before he was called up to the majors in Boston. The left-handed pitcher proved immediately to be a valuable member of the team. Over the next five years, Ruth led the Red Sox to three championships, including the 1916 title which saw him pitch a still-record 13 scoreless innings in one game.
With its titles and "the Babe," Boston was clearly the class act of the major leagues. All that would change in 1919, however, with a single stroke of a pen. Faced with financial hardships, Red Sox owner Harry Frazee needed cash to pay off his debts. He found help in the New York Yankees, which agreed in December 1919 to buy the rights to Ruth for the then-impressive sum of $100,000.
The deal came to shape both franchises in unforeseen ways. For Boston, Ruth's departure spelled the end of the team's winning streak. The club wouldn't win another World Series until 2004, a championship drought that later sports writers dubbed "The Curse of the Bambino."
For the New York Yankees, it was a different matter. With Ruth leading the way, New York turned into a dominant force, winning four World Series titles over the next 15 seasons. Ruth, who became a full-time outfielder, was at the heart of all the success, unleashing a level of power that had never been seen before in the game.
Record-Breaking Career and Stats
In 1919, while with the Red Sox, Ruth set a single-season home run record of 29. This turned out to be just the beginning of a series of record-breaking performances by Ruth. In 1920, his first year in New York, he knocked 54 home runs. In his second season he broke his own record by hitting 59 home runs and, in less than 10 seasons, Ruth had made his mark as baseball's all-time home run leader.
Yet the athlete seemed determined to continue breaking his own records. In 1927, he outdid himself again by hitting 60 home runs in a season's time—a record that stood for 34 years. By this time, his presence was so great in New York that the new Yankee Stadium (built in 1923) was dubbed "the house that Ruth built."
Over the course of his career, Ruth went on to break baseball's most important slugging records, including most years leading a league in home runs (12); most total bases in a season (457); and highest slugging percentage for a season (.847). In all he hit 714 home runs, a mark that stood until 1974, when Hank Aaron of the Atlanta Braves surpassed him.
Retirement and Legacy
Ruth's success on the field was matched by a lifestyle that catered perfectly to a pre-Depression America hungry for a fast lifestyle. Rumors of his large appetite for food, alcohol, and women, as well as his tendency toward extravagant spending and high living, were as legendary as his exploits at the plate. This reputation, whether true or imagined, hurt Ruth's chances of becoming a team manager in later life. Ball clubs, wary of his lifestyle, didn't want to take a chance on the seemingly irresponsible Ruth. In 1935 he was lured back to Boston to play for the Braves and for the opportunity, so he thought, to manage the club the following season. The job never materialized.
On May 25, 1935, an overweight and greatly diminished Ruth reminded fans of his greatness one last time when hit three home runs in a single game at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The following week, Ruth officially retired. He was one of the first five players inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1936.
While he eventually earned the title of coach for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1938, Ruth never achieved his goal of managing a major league team. Known throughout his life as a generous man, he gave much of his time in his last years to charitable events instead. On June 13, 1948, he made one last appearance at Yankee Stadium to celebrate the building's 25th anniversary. Sick with cancer, Ruth had become a shadow of his former, gregarious self.
Two months later, on August 16, 1948, Ruth died, leaving much of his estate to the Babe Ruth Foundation for underprivileged children. He was survived by his second wife, Claire, and his daughters, Dorothy and Julia.
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