Thursday May 6, 2021’s Smile of the Day: Babe Ruth

On this Day:

In 1915, Future Baseball Hall of Fame slugger Babe Ruth hit his first MLB home run in Boston Red Sox 4-3 extra innings loss to the New York Yankees.

George Herman “Babe” Ruth Jr. (February 6, 1895 – August 16, 1948) was an American professional baseball player whose career in Major League Baseball (MLB) spanned 22 seasons, from 1914 through 1935. Nicknamed “The Bambino” and “The Sultan of Swat”, he began his MLB career as a star left-handed pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, but achieved his greatest fame as a slugging outfielder for the New York Yankees. Ruth established many MLB batting (and some pitching) records, including career home runs (714), runs batted in (RBIs) (2,213), bases on balls (2,062), slugging percentage (.690), and on-base plus slugging (OPS) (1.164); the last two still stand as of 2019. Ruth is regarded as one of the greatest sports heroes in American culture and is considered by many to be the greatest baseball player of all time. In 1936, Ruth was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame as one of its “first five” inaugural members.

At age seven, Ruth was sent to St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys, a reformatory where he was mentored by Brother Matthias Boutlier of the Xaverian Brothers, the school’s disciplinarian and a capable baseball player. In 1914, Ruth was signed to play minor-league baseball for the Baltimore Orioles but was soon sold to the Red Sox. By 1916, he had built a reputation as an outstanding pitcher who sometimes hit long home runs, a feat unusual for any player in the pre-1920 dead-ball era. Although Ruth twice won 23 games in a season as a pitcher and was a member of three World Series championship teams with the Red Sox, he wanted to play every day and was allowed to convert to an outfielder. With regular playing time, he broke the MLB single-season home run record in 1919.

After that season, Red Sox owner Harry Frazee sold Ruth to the Yankees amid controversy. The trade fueled Boston’s subsequent 86-year championship drought and popularized the “Curse of the Bambino” superstition. In his 15 years with the Yankees, Ruth helped the team win seven American League (AL) pennants and four World Series championships. His big swing led to escalating home run totals that not only drew fans to the ballpark and boosted the sport’s popularity but also helped usher in baseball’s live-ball era, which evolved from a low-scoring game of strategy to a sport where the home run was a major factor. As part of the Yankees’ vaunted “Murderers’ Row” lineup of 1927, Ruth hit 60 home runs, which extended his MLB single-season record by a single home run. Ruth’s last season with the Yankees was 1934; he retired from the game the following year, after a short stint with the Boston Braves. During his career, Ruth led the AL in home runs during a season 12 times.

During Ruth’s career, he was the target of intense press and public attention for his baseball exploits and off-field penchants for drinking and womanizing. After his retirement as a player, he was denied the opportunity to manage a major league club, most likely due to poor behavior during parts of his playing career. In his final years, Ruth made many public appearances, especially in support of American efforts in World War II. In 1946, he became ill with nasopharyngeal cancer and died from the disease two years later. Ruth remains a part of American culture, and in 2018 President Donald Trump posthumously awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Creamer describes Ruth as “a unique figure in the social history of the United States”. Thomas Barthel describes him as one of the first celebrity athletes; numerous biographies have portrayed him as “larger than life”. He entered the language: a dominant figure in a field, whether within or outside sports, is often referred to as “the Babe Ruth” of that field. Similarly, “Ruthian” has come to mean in sports, “colossal, dramatic, prodigious, magnificent; with great power”. He was the first athlete to make more money from endorsements and other off-the-field activities than from his sport.

In 2006, Montville stated that more books have been written about Ruth than any other member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. At least five of these books (including Creamer’s and Wagenheim’s) were written in 1973 and 1974. The books were timed to capitalize on the increase in public interest in Ruth as Hank Aaron approached his career home run mark, which he broke on April 8, 1974. As he approached Ruth’s record, Aaron stated, “I can’t remember a day this year or last when I did not hear the name of Babe Ruth.”

Montville suggested that Ruth is probably even more popular today than he was when his career home run record was broken by Aaron. The long ball era that Ruth started continues in baseball, to the delight of the fans. Owners build ballparks to encourage home runs, which are featured on SportsCenter and Baseball Tonight each evening during the season. The questions of performance-enhancing drug use, which dogged later home run hitters such as McGwire and Bonds, do nothing to diminish Ruth’s reputation; his overindulgences with beer and hot dogs seem part of a simpler time.

In various surveys and rankings, Ruth has been named the greatest baseball player of all time. In 1998, The Sporting News ranked him number one on the list of “Baseball’s 100 Greatest Players”. In 1999, baseball fans named Ruth to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team. He was named baseball’s Greatest Player Ever in a ballot commemorating the 100th anniversary of professional baseball in 1969. The Associated Press reported in 1993 that Muhammad Ali was tied with Babe Ruth as the most recognized athlete in America. In a 1999 ESPN poll, he was ranked as the second-greatest U.S. athlete of the century, behind Michael Jordan. In 1983, the United States Postal Service honored Ruth with the issuance of a twenty-cent stamp.

Several of the most expensive items of sports memorabilia and baseball memorabilia ever sold at auction are associated with Ruth. As of November 2016, the most expensive piece of sports memorabilia ever sold is Ruth’s 1920 Yankees jersey, which sold for $4,415,658 in 2012 (equivalent to $4.92 million in 2019). The bat with which he hit the first home run at Yankee Stadium is in The Guinness Book of World Records as the most expensive baseball bat sold at auction, having fetched $1.265 million on December 2, 2004 (equivalent to $1.7123 million in 2019). A hat of Ruth’s from the 1934 season set a record for a baseball cap when David Wells sold it at auction for $537,278 in 2012. In 2017, Charlie Sheen sold Ruth’s 1927 World Series ring for $2,093,927 at auction. It easily broke the record for a championship ring previously set when Julius Erving’s 1974 ABA championship ring sold for $460,741 in 2011.

One long-term survivor of the craze over Ruth may be the Baby Ruth candy bar. The original company to market the confectionery, the Curtis Candy Company, maintained that the bar was named after Ruth Cleveland, daughter of former president Grover Cleveland. She died in 1904 and the bar was first marketed in 1921, at the height of the craze over Ruth. He later sought to market candy bearing his name; he was refused a trademark because of the Baby Ruth bar. Corporate files from 1921 are no longer extant; the brand has changed hands several times and is now owned by Ferrero. The Ruth estate licensed his likeness for use in an advertising campaign for Baby Ruth in 1995. Due to a marketing arrangement, in 2005, the Baby Ruth bar became the official candy bar of Major League Baseball.

In 2018, President Donald Trump announced that Ruth, along with Elvis Presley and Antonin Scalia, would posthumously receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Montville describes the continuing relevance of Babe Ruth in American culture, more than three-quarters of a century after he last swung a bat in a major league game:

The fascination with his life and career continues. He is a bombastic, sloppy hero from our bombastic, sloppy history, origins undetermined, a folk tale of American success. His moon face is as recognizable today as it was when he stared out at Tom Zachary on a certain September afternoon in 1927. If sport has become the national religion, Babe Ruth is the patron saint. He stands at the heart of the game he played, the promise of a warm summer night, a bag of peanuts, and a beer. And just maybe, the longest ball hit out of the park. (per Wikipedia).

First, a Story:

A man and his dog walk into a talent agent’s office. 

“All right, let’s make this quick, I have things to do, what’s your talent?” asks the agent. 

The man says, “It’s not me sir, it’s my dog — he talks!” 

“Yeah, right,” says the agent. “I don’t have time for this, now get out of here before I throw you out.” 

“No, wait,” says the man. “I’ll prove it.” He turns to the dog and asks, “What do you normally find on top of a house?” “Roof!” says the dog, wagging his tail. 

“Listen, pal…” says the agent. 

“Wait,” says the man, “I’ll ask another question.” He turns to the dog again and asks, “How does sandpaper feel?” “Rough!” exclaims the dog. 

“Quit wasting my time and get out of here,” says the agent. 

“One more chance,” pleads the man. Turning to the dog again, he asks, “Who, in your opinion, was the greatest baseball player that ever lived?” “Ruth!” barked the dog. 

“Okay, that’s it!” says the agent, and forces the man and the dog out the door. 

The dog sighs, turns to the man, and says: “Maybe I should have said Joe Dimaggio?”

Second, a Song:

Murderer’s Row, The Great American Streetrock band, now 20 years strong! From the back alleys of Troy, New York we supply your need for beer fueled anthems of working class pride, patriotism, chaos and consequence! From our first show at the legendary CBGB’s to our latest virtual live stream, it’s been a wild and bumpy ride, but we trudge on! Our starting line up is backed by professional, musical veterans from our local punk and hardcore scenes. Living the life and throwing back the truth, one bar at a time! (per Facebook.com)

New Babe Ruth song performed by MURDERERS ROW featuring Chris Risola and Chuck Howell. Babe’s Granddaughter, Linda Ruth Tosetti sings harmony. Video made by the group of teens from St. Pete (The TASCO Citywide Teen Program), at a studio in the old Yankee locker room at Crescent Lake Park, where Babe Ruth used to play every Spring, from 1925 to 1934.  It’s now called Stengel-Huggins Field (was first called Crescent Lake Ball Park, until 1931, then Huggins Field, until the ’60s.) Words and music copyright Tim Reid.

I hope you enjoy this!

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JEoI5o8qLMY)

Thought for the Day:

“Never let the fear of striking out get in your way.” – Babe Ruth

Cheers!

Have a great day!

Dave & Colleen

© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky

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