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The Babe

By April 23, 2024Commentary

My latest sojourn through a famous person’s life takes a detour to sport, for a read of The Big Fella by Jane Leavy.  This biography of Babe Ruth is a familiar portrait to the biographies of many famous people in the broadly defined entertainment industries.  Immense achievement coupled with little happiness.  Ruth was born in Baltimore in bad circumstances.  Neither his mother nor father really seemed to care for him and his father ended up abandoning him to an institution for “troubled” children.  It was the parents that were troubled.  As you might imagine, such an experience leaves you scarred for life.

The Babe learned to play baseball and relatively quickly made it to the majors.  Highlights were being responsible for the Boston Red Sox curse after they traded him to the Yankees and obviously hitting a lot of home runs.  He was fairly large for his day, but he was an outstanding athlete, with tremendous reflexes and vision.  Ruth succeeded as a pitcher and as an outfielder, in addition to his accomplishments at the plate.  He made the Yankees a lot of money and brought them several World Series titles.  He and Lou Gherig are among the most fearsome batting duos.  As Ruth aged and his health declined, the Yankees dumped him unceremoniously and showed little gratitude for what he produced on their behalf, until he was near death.

People say that Ruth only accomplished what he did because he played in an era in which African-Americans could not play in the majors.  That is hardly fair.  Among other things, Ruth himself thought African-Americans should be allowed in the majors and he played a number of exhibitions against Negro league teams, holding his own just fine.  If Ruth played today, with all the facility and coaching and conditioning advantages, he likely would have done as well, if not better.  His superior athleticism would have shown through as or more clearly.

Ruth was, as many celebrities are, his own worst enemy.  Drinking, bad diet, lack of exercise, smoking and carousing took a toll from early on, and undoubtedly detracted from his record.  He was a notorious womanizer and had trouble creating a stable family situation.  He was always generous with the public and especially with the young boys who flocked to see him.  He never forgot his own upbringing and raised huge amounts of money to benefit orphans and abandoned children and for other causes.  He died young, at age 53, following a horrific bout with mouth, head and neck cancer.  Smoking will do that too you.  But he deserves to be viewed as an almost mythic legend, a man who despite his devils, rose to the highest levels of baseball achievement.

And here is a little nugget you may not have known.  The Baby Ruth candy bar was clearly made to take advantage of his fame, but was not authorized or licensed by him and he got nothing from it, because at the time, there were not laws protecting a person’s rights in their own name and fame.  So some slickster made a lot of money for years trading on Babe Ruth’s notoriety.  We have come a long way to college athletes getting a fortune on name, image and likeness deals.

Join the discussion One Comment

  • John Oh says:

    Thanks! Good start to a tough day! When I think of Ruth showing up to the park hung over and then eating 11 hot dogs and then going 3 for 4 with a home run, I can’t help but wonder how he would have performed without the depressants. It’s sort of sad to see his accomplishments in the same column of statistics with guys that abused steroids or used amphetamines. He is one of the few athletes that would excel anytime, anywhere, against any competition.

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