Photo Of The Day

Babe Ruth Bows Out. New York. Nat Fein, New York Herald Tribune. His jersey number 3 was retired at his last appearance at Yankee Stadium on June 13, 1948, which also commemorated the stadium's 25th anniversary. Ruth died on August 16, 1948. More than 100,000 people paid their respects at Yankee Stadium and at his funeral at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City.

Babe Ruth Bows Out. New York. Nat Fein, New York Herald Tribune. His jersey number 3 was retired at his last appearance at Yankee Stadium on June 13, 1948, which also commemorated the stadium’s 25th anniversary. Ruth died on August 16, 1948. More than 100,000 people paid their respects at Yankee Stadium and at his funeral at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City.

Babe Ruth Bows Out

It was a gloomy dismal day in New York. June 13, 1948. The day that Babe Ruth announced his retirement to the Yankees due to illness. George Herman ‘Babe’ Ruth would die two months after this photo was taken. The day was not only his last day in uniform but also the 25th anniversary of Yankee Stadium, the House that Ruth built. It was also the day that the number three, Babe Ruth’s number, was retired along with him. Thin and frail as a result of a long illness, Ruth emerged from the dugout into the caldron of sound he must have known better than any other man.

The field was swarming with photographers, and one Nat Fein (the N.Y. Herald Tribune) took the rear-angled composition that effectively captured the significance of the anniversary of the stadium, of the retired number and uniform and stooping figure of sick Babe Ruth. Ruth’s identity was unmistakable even without the sight of his face. Fein refused to use flash on that overcast day and used f5.6 and 1/25 shutter speed to slowly take the picture.

His picture caught the whole essence of what Babe Ruth was… and it allows the reader to take his own imagination and experience into the story. The Babe Bows Out won a Pulitzer Prize for Fein, the only sports related photograph to win the Pulitzer. The magnificent photograph is featured in the Smithsonian Institute and the National Baseball Hall of Fame, besides the immortal uniform.

In all of baseball history, there has never been anyone like Babe Ruth. Yes, he was an athlete of imposing skills, but we have had plenty of those. He was a grand performer in the arena of professional sports, but there seems to be a new one of those every weekend.

He forever changed the way baseball was played, inventing the home run as an offensive weapon, but some authorities will tell you that if it hadn’t been Ruth, it would have been someone else. What made him so unique and endearing was the way all these things were wrapped up in one boyish, fun-loving package.

He arrived in New York City, the nation’s noisiest and busiest town as the Roaring Twenties started. Lest we forget, he was a major force in making them roar. No other city on the continent could have contained him. No other place and no other time could have satisfied his exorbitant and exuberant tastes. Along with his immense accomplishments on the field and outrageous escapades off it, he was immensely lovable in everything he did.

Because of his unmistakable face and form, Ruth was more than just a great athlete and world-renowned character. He was a presence. He was instantly recognizable (who besides his own father ever really looked like Babe Ruth?), and he made you think of everyone’s fun-loving, favorite uncle.

Biographer Lawrence Ritter described the impact he had on people in the stands:

“On a baseball field he was, for almost twenty years, the center of attention no matter what he was doing: from the time he first stepped out of the dugout for batting or fielding practice, hours before a game was scheduled to begin, until the last out in the ninth inning, most of the audience seemed mesmerized by his presence. Fans in the box seats and bleachers alike, at home or away, spent most of their time watching his every move.”

On February 6, 1895, George Ruth Jr. — who would eventually be known as Babe — came into this world, the first of eight children born to George Ruth Sr. and Kate Schamberger Ruth.

As an adult, the Babe would have strikingly similar features to his father, George, Sr.: a round face with a wide nose and mouth. Babe’s mother was a tiny woman, standing only 4’10”. She was just 19 years old when Babe was born and would not live to see 36.

But before her death, Kate would give birth to seven other children: three more boys, including one set of twins, and four girls, also with one set of twins. Even with her short life, she would outlive all of them except Babe and his sister Mary, nicknamed Mamie by her older brother.

The Ruth family had a tough life. George Sr., after trying his hand at several businesses (including his father’s somewhat questionable lightning rod operation), was a saloonkeeper. According to Ruth biographer Marshall Smelser, peddling food and drinks was a highly competitive enterprise in Baltimore at that time. Smelser says there were “licensed sellers of legal beverages for each 105 Baltimoreans, the highest known ratio in the country.”

In addition, the economic panic of 1893, which shut the doors of more than 500 banks and 15,000 businesses across the nation, had thrown many locals out of work, making it even harder to earn a living owning a saloon.

George and Kate did the only thing they could: work harder. They kept the bar open longer hours so as not to miss any prospective customers. Work weeks that consisted of 100 hours of labor were the rule. Their young son was largely left to fend for himself.

The youngster found his fun in the rough-and-tumble world of the Baltimore harbor, where he was a quick study. He learned the street skills of rowdiness and petty larceny, running and romping with older boys, breaking windows, and engaging in other high-spirited (but largely harmless) hijinks.

It would be hard to claim that Ruth was truly a delinquent. Of course he was full of boyish pranks, and the older boys he hung out with weren’t good influences. He had a taste for chewing tobacco by the time he reached seven years old.

George Jr.’s main problem was that he was a boy without a real family to keep him in line and teach him how to behave. One of his favorite tricks was to swipe money from the cash drawer at the family bar and use it to treat the neighborhood kids to ice cream. He grew fast — in body and in the ways of the world. The one thing he couldn’t stomach was school. Truancy was his way of life.

The public schools at the time were awful places to be. They were often overcrowded, dirty, and run by teachers who weren’t good enough to find work at the higher-paying private schools. Classrooms were no fun, especially for an energetic young lad like George, with his fondness for street-style rowdy behavior.

His parents, committed by necessity to long work hours and debilitated by his mother’s increasingly frail condition, couldn’t pull in the reins on this youngster. Ruth didn’t seem to understand his family’s financial plight or his mother’s ill health. Years later he said, “I think my mother hated me.”

Unable to control their young son, Mr. and Mrs. Ruth took a drastic step.

Because they simply were unable to handle their oldest son, in 1902, Ruth’s father, mother, and a Justice of the Peace filed the form that legally labeled the seven-year-old George Ruth Jr. “incorrigible and vicious…beyond the control” of his parents.

He was committed to the St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys and legally removed from his parents’ care, becoming a ward of the Xaverian Brothers who operated the school. On Friday, June 13, George Ruth Sr. took his tearful son by the hand and delivered him to St. Mary’s.

A young star in Boston. Transcendental Graphics / Getty Images. From 1914 to 1919, Ruth starred for the Boston Red Sox as a pitcher. He led the Sox to three World Series titles, in 1915, 1916 and 1918.

A young star in Boston. Transcendental Graphics / Getty Images. From 1914 to 1919, Ruth starred for the Boston Red Sox as a pitcher. He led the Sox to three World Series titles, in 1915, 1916 and 1918.

The youngster begged to return home with his father and probably vowed by all he knew as holy to mend his ways. His tears had no effect; his rowdiness and truancy had cost him, and he entered St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys.

George Ruth Jr. would spend most of his next 12 years inside the walls of St. Mary’s. When he left for good, it would be because he had signed a professional baseball contract.

St. Mary’s, located a few miles outside downtown Baltimore, consisted of six gray buildings on several acres with a large open space that fit two ballfields, the Big Yard and the Little Yard. Although it was surrounded by a wooden fence, and the boys there called themselves “inmates,” it was less a prison than some have said. (St. Mary’s did become a true reformatory in the 1930s.)

Some of the more than 800 students, like George, had been committed there by the courts for minor offenses.The remainder of the student population was comprised of some who were true delinquents, others who were orphans (this is how the “Orphaned Ruth” myth came about), and still others who were actually boarders whose attendance was paid for by their parents.

The Brothers of the Order of St. Francis Xavier who ran the school, however, made no distinction. To the Brothers they were all the same: boys without families. All were there to benefit from the discipline, activity, education, and training made available.

The Brothers were strict, but they were fair. Punishment was seldom corporal. The usual penalty for bad behavior by any of the boys was the withholding of some privilege. One of the most effective punishments (as Ruth would find out later) was being forbidden from taking part in the ballgames. Desertions from the school were actually quite rare. The boys were expected to stay there until they turned 21.

The core mission of the Xaverian Brothers was (and still is) working with disadvantaged youth, usually in cities. What they taught the wild young Ruth changed him forever. The Brothers operated with a simple premise: idleness breeds trouble. So the boys were kept busy on a rigorous schedule that seldom varied. School, training, prayer, work, and play were all parts of the minute-by-minute daily routine.

A typical day there: “Up at six to wash and dress for Mass and breakfast…Classes — academic or vocational — from breakfast until 10 in the morning. Recess from 10 to 10:30. School or work from 10:30 to 11:30. Dinner and free time from 11:30 to 1:30. School again until 3:15, after which there was a class in Catholic doctrine, required of Catholics only.

From then until supper at six the boys played, the small boys in the Little Yard, and the boys of fifteen or older in the Big Yard.” After supper the boys were supposed to read in bed from 7:30 until lights out 45 minutes later.

Ruth smokes a pipe as he plays a piano while his wife, Helen, stands alongside, circa 1915.Transcendental Graphic / Getty Images.

Ruth smokes a pipe as he plays a piano while his wife, Helen, stands alongside, circa 1915.Transcendental Graphic / Getty Images.

The Brother who stood largest in the young Ruth’s life (and in the sight of everyone there) was Brother Matthias. Matthias was well-equipped for his duties as prefect of discipline and assistant to Brother Herman, director of athletics. A 6′ 6″ pear-shaped giant who weighed around 250 pounds, Brother Matthias was quietly stolid, but his commanding physical presence was enough to quell schoolyard mutinies without saying a word.

Brother Matthias became teacher, mentor, coach, and friend to the young truant. This bond, forged early on, stayed with Babe Ruth his entire life — even after baseball fame arrived. In 1947, when he was writing his autobiography with Bob Considine, Ruth said, “It was at St. Mary’s that I met and learned to love the greatest man I’ve ever known. His name was Brother Matthias. He was the father I needed. He taught me to read and write — and he taught me the difference between right and wrong.”

George Ruth would be an “inmate” of St. Mary’s for seven and a half of the next dozen years. He was released to his parents on several occasions. However, regular school still wasn’t to his liking, and before long he’d be carted back to the Brothers by the truant officers. For 10 years the young Ruth could visit his family only for the holidays; nearly every weekend, though, his mother and sister Mamie came to visit him.

Then, around 1910, his mother died. From that point until he left the school to become a baseball player, he never had another visitor. He felt the snub keenly. “I guess I’m too ugly,” he told a friend, in a totally unRuthian display of self-deprecation.

Each boy under the supervision of the Xaverian Brothers was allowed to choose a trade. From a long list that included printer, shoemaker, electrician, carpenter, florist, and launderer, Ruth elected to learn how to sew shirts. Most of the shirts were made for the boys at the school to wear; some were sold to outside vendors. Each boy was paid a small amount for the shirts he made. Ruth routinely spent all his at the candy store and spread his sweet earnings among the smaller kids.

George’s concern for the young lads at the school was heartfelt and natural. On chilly days in the yard, he was seen blowing on the hands of cold youngsters to warm them. Throughout his life, Ruth never outgrew his love for children, perhaps because he never really outgrew being a kid himself.

Young George had certain innate abilities. For example, with his natural superiority in hand-eye coordination, the youngster was a superb shirtmaker. According to Smelser, he “claimed he could sew a shirt in less than a quarter of an hour,” which prompted the biographer to suggest: “If he had stayed with his trade, he could have made as much as $20 a week.” Before long $20 would be the tip Babe Ruth left for breakfast.

More than a talented shirtmaker, young George Ruth Jr. soon discovered another skill he possessed.

Ruth visits his locker one last time on June 13, 1948, during the Yankee Stadium Silver Anniversary celebration. That same day, the Yankees retired his jersey, No. 3. Only two months later, Ruth passed away on Aug. 16, 1948, at 53, after battling throat cancer.

Ruth visits his locker one last time on June 13, 1948, during the Yankee Stadium Silver Anniversary celebration. That same day, the Yankees retired his jersey, No. 3. Only two months later, Ruth passed away on Aug. 16, 1948, at 53, after battling throat cancer.

Despite the considerable promise he showed as a shirtmaker, it was on the baseball field that young George Ruth Jr. truly excelled. Sports were a vital part of life at St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys, and although there were seven team sports played, baseball was the game of choice.

One of the Xaverian Brothers at St. Mary’s was quoted as saying, “Play is the eighth sacrament.” Baseball tournaments between different dormitories and trade groups went on as long as the weather would permit.

Large for his age, and with his remarkable athletic gifts, Ruth was playing with the 12-year-olds by the time he was eight or nine, and with the 16-year-olds when he was just 12. He was on the varsity team, playing with men as old as 20, at the tender age of 16.

Ruth learned through long hours of practice. The sessions of fungo catching were usually hosted by the imposing Brother Matthias, who would wear a glove on his left hand, toss the ball out of it, and slug a fly with the bat in his right hand. Some say the huge Matthias had once injured a boy when he swung the bat with both hands. “He was a great hitter,” Ruth later remembered.

Matthias also taught Ruth how to run: pigeon-toed. The theory is that running that way makes you faster, because you can push off with all five toes. It seemed to work for the gangly kid. Ruth’s famous pigeon-toe trot became part of his legend.

Young George was capable of playing any position on the baseball diamond, even though his left-handedness meant he had to play with a right-hander’s glove. His chosen position was catcher, and he demonstrated a great arm in that position.

One fellow student described in later years how Ruth dealt with attempted base stealers from behind the plate: “He would catch the ball in the glove on his left hand, toss the ball straight up, drop the mitt on the ground, catch the ball again in his bare left hand and throw.”

In retrospect, it seems unlikely that this kind of performance was standard operating procedure for Ruth, although the teammate’s description proved he could have done it when he chose. It’s more likely that he did what lefthanders forced to deal with right-handed gloves have done since baseball gloves were invented: he simply wore the mitt designed for the left hand on his right hand. Some photographs taken while he was at St. Mary’s indicate that was his style.

Ruth said himself that hitting came naturally to him, but it was the tutelage of Brother Matthias that gave him the discipline to become a good fielder as well. Ruth was the star catcher for the Red Sox, one of St. Mary’s intramural teams (all were named after major league nines), when he first became a pitcher.

There are two stories of how George Ruth Jr. took the mound for the first time. In one, the Red Sox hurler, the delightfully named Congo Kirby, lost his baseball privileges for some misdemeanor, and Ruth asked Brother Matthias if he could take over the pitching duties.

In the other, pitcher Kirby was being battered around in one game, and Ruth found it terribly amusing. In the eternal style of parents and teachers throughout the ages, Brother Matthias chided the wisecracking youth with, “If you know so much about pitching, why not do it yourself?” A superstar hurler was born.

Ruth’s performances on the diamond quickly began to attract notice. In 1912, the St. Mary’s newspaper reported a game in which the 17-year-old batted leadoff and rapped a homer, a triple, and a double. In the same game, he played third base, caught, and even pitched, fanning six batters.

By the summer of the following year, the walls of St. Mary’s were too small for Ruth’s prodigious talent. As a pitcher that season he was undefeated. When he wasn’t pitching, he was the catcher. He batted .537. In one intramural game he struck out 22 batters. Newspaper sources appear to indicate that the 18-year-old Ruth was being allowed to play for semipro teams in the area.

A local article referred to a pitcher for the St. Patrick’s Catholic Club named “Roth,” bestowing the nickname “the speed boy,” for Ruth’s fastball was noteworthy. At 6′ 2″ and 150 pounds, George had the size to deliver the smoke. While newspaper reports from this time are a bit sketchy, Ruth does show up in the boxscore for another semipro team, the Bayonnes, that year.

In a February 1918 interview in Baseball Magazine, the then-24-year-old Ruth reminisced about his ballplaying days at school. “I wasn’t a pitcher in those days until I was pretty nearly through my course. My main job was catching… I used to hit .450 and .500. I kept track one season and found that I made over 60 home runs. The last two years I pitched and got along pretty well, but I never lost my taste for hitting and don’t expect to.”

The Ruth being interviewed had hit just nine major league home runs at the time; he was strictly a pitcher. His comments about loving hitting — even mentioning the magical 60-homer number, which no one in baseball history had ever hit half of, and which even Ruth wouldn’t reach for nearly 10 more years — seem strangely prophetic.

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The Xaverian Brothers also ran a boys’ college, Mount St. Joseph’s, not far from St. Mary’s. There was good-natured competition between the two schools. The Industrial School boys took the collegians for snobs; the college kids saw their counterparts as ruffians.

Mount St. Joseph’s was boasting of their own star pitcher at the time, a young man named Bill Morrisette, who in the 1913 season used his spitball to throw a no-hitter, a one-hitter, a three-hitter, and a five-hitter against competition such as Holy Cross, Georgetown, and Bucknell. (Morrisette would go on to a 13-game major league career.)

As part of the commencement day festivities for Mount St. Joseph’s, the Brothers cooked up a plan to have Ruth pitch against Morrisette.

For the first time anyone knows, the man who would be the mighty Babe Ruth was noticeably frightened by the pressure of this upcoming challenge. His fear overtook him, and 10 days before the game, he ran away from St. Mary’s, the first time he had left in two years.

The boys at the school were aghast. The gossip spread concerning his disappearance. He was gone for two days before being corralled by the school’s probation officer and night watchman, who found him in his old haunts on the piers.

The official word that he had returned voluntarily was treated with scorn by the other boys. Ruth received a severe punishment for his desertion. For five days, he was forbidden to play ball, and instead he had to “stand guard” on the road between the Big Yard and the Little Yard and watch the others. When Ruth’s penance had been paid, Brother Matthias reminded him the big game was just two days away and encouraged him to start throwing again immediately.

The precise details of the challenge contest were never recorded. One thing stands out crystal clear, however. Ruth dominated — striking out at least 14 of the Mount St. Joseph’s players and allowing no runs. Morrisette was racked for six runs, maybe more.

By now, not even the professionals could ignore young George’s amazing baseball stats.

At the time of St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys’ baseball team’s victory over St. Joseph’s — with George Ruth Jr. as pitcher — Baltimore had a very successful minor league baseball team, the Orioles, owned by a former big league player named Jack Dunn.

He became the Orioles manager in 1907, and by 1910 he owned the team.

Dunn had a keen eye for baseball talent and was a shrewd businessman. While his team was a success on the field and at the box office, his greatest source of income came from selling his players to the majors. Certainly Dunn, the savvy operator that he was, had heard of “the speed boy” playing at St. Mary’s.

His ears were open to men like Mount St. Joseph’s Brother Gilbert; to Joe Engel, a former major league pitcher and alumnus of Brother Gilbert’s school; and, according to Babe Ruth biographer Marshall Smelser, to “assorted Baltimore bartenders George Herman Ruth Sr.”

Although he missed the Morrisette/Ruth matchup, Brother Gilbert had seen two typical Ruthian performances in September 1913. In one, when Ruth came to bat the first time, the opposing rightfielder moved all the way from his normal position in the Big Yard to near second base in the Little Yard, 280 feet away from Ruth’s bat. (The boys in the Little Yard stopped play; they knew who was up.) George didn’t disappoint, slugging the ball off the Little Yard’s farthest fence, quite a poke with the “dead ball” of the day. In another game attended by Brother Gilbert, Ruth belted a pair of homers.

There was no mistaking the fact that the young man named Ruth was something special on a baseball diamond. He already possessed an athlete’s calm and keen grace. He was relaxed and poised, both at the bat and on the mound.

Perhaps more importantly, the Brothers who taught him thought highly of his character. The wild, tobacco-chewing urchin of the docks who had been brought there 12 years earlier was now a responsible young man. Yet while Ruth had grown physically and mentally, his fun-loving nature was still intact.

Dunn, who had recently signed Morrisette, was invited to St. Mary’s to give the youth a tryout. Arriving with Brother Gilbert and Yankee infielder Fritz Maisel on February 14, 1914, Dunn was introduced to Ruth’s mentor, Brother Matthias.

Dunn explained why he was there. The Brother offered one terse comment, “Ruth can hit.”

Then Dunn asked, “Can he pitch?”

“Sure, he can do anything,” the king-size Brother replied.

No assessment ever contained truer words. After half an hour of throwing the ball around, Dunn decided to sign Ruth on the spot. Because Ruth was still the legal ward of the school’s head, Brother Paul, Dunn had to assume guardianship in order to sign him, but this was a common practice used by the Brothers to “graduate” their boys to full-time employment.

George Herman Ruth Jr. (he had taken Herman as his Confirmation name, in honor of one of the Brothers at St. Mary’s and because it was his father’s middle name) was signed to play for Dunn’s Baltimore Orioles for the sum of $100 per month — $600 for the full season.

For the young man, whose previous experience with money was change he pilfered from the family till or “candy credits” he earned by sewing shirts, this must have seemed a king’s ransom! By the time Dunn and Ruth left Brother Paul’s office after the signing, word had already spread. A cluster of St. Mary’s “inmates” were waiting outside. Someone was heard to say, “There goes our ball club.”

Two weeks later, Ruth visited with his father in the family home above the saloon on his final weekend in Baltimore. He had been instructed to report to the Keenan Hotel on Monday afternoon, March 2. From there he was to join up with a group of pitchers and catchers and head south to the Oriole spring training camp in Fayetteville, North Carolina.

As George Herman Ruth Jr. spent a last weekend with his father and prepared to join his new Oriole teammates in North Carolina, Baltimore gave the Babe a noisy send-off.

The train, remarkably, left for Fayetteville on time that evening, with Ruth and about a dozen others aboard. Among those who were travelling were Bill Morrisette (who had been the losing pitcher in the St. Mary’s vs. St. Joseph’s baseball game), another young Baltimore player by the name of Allen Russell, and a lefthanded pitcher named Klingelhoefer, who had been anointed with the baseball-perfect nickname of “Smoke.”

Babe Ruth.Tom Sande / Associated Press. On July 11, 1914, George Herman "Babe" Ruth Jr. made his major league debut with the Boston Red Sox. Ruth's baseball career -- spanning 21 years and including 714 home runs -- remains relevant in the American consciousness a century later.

Babe Ruth.Tom Sande / Associated Press. On July 11, 1914, George Herman “Babe” Ruth Jr. made his major league debut with the Boston Red Sox. Ruth’s baseball career — spanning 21 years and including 714 home runs — remains relevant in the American consciousness a century later.

George Ruth Jr. had never been on a train before. He asked about the purpose of the unusual hammock-like device that hung from the ceiling of his berth. While well-traveled people would know it was to store clothes, the Babe had no clue. One of the old-timers told him it was there as a special rest for pitchers’ arms. Ruth tried to sleep with his left arm hanging in the thing and wound up with a stiff shoulder for several days.

Ultimately, it didn’t matter. While the weather in Fayetteville wasn’t blizzard-like, it still wasn’t right for playing baseball. Cold, rainy, and windy, it would be a week before the team could practice on the field. In the meantime, they spent a few hours in the local armory, tossing balls around and playing handball.

The young Ruth was itching to play, but he certainly wasn’t bored. Suddenly freed from the protective eyes of the Brothers, he took boyish delight in his exciting new life. He especially loved the elevator, begging the operator to teach him to run it, and riding up and down for hours at a time.

On one occasion, he had his head stuck out of the doors when he accidentally engaged the motor, and the elevator began to rise. Only the frightened shouts of nearby teammates saved him from possible decapitation.

Ruth arose early every morning to go down to the train yards and watch the five o’clock steam engine roll through. After his sojourn to the railyards, he was first in line when the hotel kitchen opened for breakfast. Wide-eyed Ruth was amazed and delighted that he could simply sign for the meals and the ball club would pick up the tab. So great was his appetite that it soon became a long-running joke among his mates on the team.

Rookies of the time, particularly those as green as Ruth, were viciously hazed by the team’s veterans for any behavior that seemed even somewhat inappropriate (or for no reason at all). So the kid’s huge tastes kept the older pros in stitches and earned him many smart comments. The Orioles, incidently, were not a young team; and six men on their roster had played in the majors. Five others in this group were more than 30 years old.

The razzing was merciless, until, the story goes, one of the team’s coaches admonished the veterans to let up on hassling Ruth, because “he’s one of Jack Dunn’s babes.” In other words, the boss thinks he’s something special. The veterans picked up on the term, and a legendary nickname was born; the young Mr. Ruth would never be George again.

The moniker wasn’t original at all, of course. At that time, William “Babe” Borton was a major league first baseman, and Charles “Babe” Adams was one of the best pitchers in the National League. Two other “Babes,” Danzig and Towne, had previously appeared in the majors.

Somehow, though, this nickname fitted Ruth better than anyone could have imagined. The big kid, with his childlike wonder at a world so new to him, his thunderous adolescent appetites for food and baseball, and his fresh-faced, innocent love of life, became “the Babe” as no other ever would or could.

Soon the weather improved enough for the Orioles to move their workouts outside, but many of Dunn’s players were stuck up north by the awful weather and couldn’t get to Fayetteville. By March 7, they had 17 men in camp, so they recruited a sportswriter, Roger Pippen (who had been assigned as a protective measure to be Ruth’s roommate), to play center field. They finally had a game.

It was in that game that the newly christened Babe Ruth did what he would do over a thousand times more in big league parks, on ballfields, and on sandlots all around the world: He belted a monumental home run.

Ruth, playing for the Buzzards against the Sparrows, went two-for-three as the shortstop and pitcher. The home run he unloaded was called “the longest hit ever seen by Fayetteville fans.” (The previous longest hit was by Jim Thorpe.)

The ball was hit so far into the right-center alley in the Cape Fear Fairgrounds that Bill Morrisette (stationed in right) hadn’t even picked up the ball by the time Ruth reached home. Sportswriter Pippen measured the distance: 350 feet.

After one week of professional baseball, players were comparing Ruth’s swing to that of slugger Joe Jackson, even though Ruth had never seen “Shoeless Joe” play. The next day the Baltimore Sun ran a ­two-column headline: “Homer by Ruth Feature of Game.”

Some 38 years later, a man who had been batboy for the game persuaded the government of Fayetteville to erect a marker at the spot honoring Babe Ruth’s first home run in professional baseball, even though the Fairgrounds themselves were long gone.

In intrasquad games involving the entire roster over the next week, Ruth made headlines one way or another nearly every day: impressive strikeouts when he pitched, excellent fielding when he played short, even a surprising drag bunt for a hit. In a March 14 article discussing the Oriole pitchers, the Sun said this:

“Ruth Impresses Dunn. George Ruth has impressed Dunn most, and before he was at training camp a week he decided that he will be a regular whether or not he strikes his stride. The Oriole magnate predicts that Ruth will develop into a Rube Waddell, for he possesses every mark of a successful pitcher.”

The Waddell comparison is especially intriguing, because that astonishing pitcher’s career was drastically shortened by his inability to control his moods and appetites. Babe, of course, would face many of the same difficulties, but with dramatically different results.

Two days later a Sun headline read: “Dunn Praises Ruth: Jack Declares He Is the Most Promising Youngster He Ever Had.”

Dunn was quoted in the article as calling Babe, “a whale with the willow…some of the drives he is making in practice would clear the right field fence at Oriole Park.” To his friend Brother Gilbert, Dunn wrote, “Brother, this fellow Ruth is the greatest young ball player who ever reported to a training camp.”

It had been only 14 days since Ruth boarded his first train to become a professional baseball player.

Wave that cap, Babe. FPG / Archive Photos.

Wave that cap, Babe. FPG / Archive Photos.

“Babe Ruth,” was the first sports superstar. He might have become baseball’s greatest left-handed pitcher. Instead, he moved to the outfield and became its greatest hitter. After leading the Boston Red Sox to two World Series victories, he was traded to the New York Yankees following the 1918 season. The Yankees, who had never won a pennant before, became perennial American League and World Series champions. The Red Sox did not win another World Series until 2004.

Ruth spent only five months with the Orioles before he was sold to the Boston Red Sox. During three seasons in Boston, Ruth was primarily a pitcher. In his first World Series, he pitched 29 2/3rds scoreless innings, breaking Christy Mathewson’s record and setting a mark that would stand for 43 years. The Red Sox won the World Series that year and again in 1918. In three regular seasons, Ruth had compiled a record of 94 wins and 46 losses, but despite his stellar performance as a pitcher, he was already developing a greater reputation as a hitter. He played some outfield and some first base during the 1918 season. Playing exclusively outfield for the first time in 1919, he set the major league record with 29 home runs, but the Red Sox finished far behind in the pennant race.

Following the 1919 season, Red Sox owner Harry Frazee sold Ruth to the New York Yankees to raise money for his Broadway theatrical productions. The sale price of $125,000 was more than double what any team had paid for any baseball player prior to that time, but it would prove to be one of the worst business decisions in history. Prior to the trade, the Red Sox had won five of the modern, post-1903, World Series. The Yankees had never appeared in one, let alone won one. It took the Red Sox until 2004 to win their sixth World Series. With Ruth, the Yankees won their first pennant in 1921, won another in 1922, and their first World Series in 1923. In 1920, the Yankees became the first team in baseball history to attract a million paying fans to its stadium, the Polo Grounds, which they shared with the New York Giants. When Yankee Stadium was opened in 1923, it became known, with good reason, as “The House that Ruth Built.”

Babe could never get enough attention and admiration from his fans – he thrived on their enthusiasm. It probably made him an even better, more motivated player as a result. Although he could be exuberant and somewhat cocky in personality, Babe normally didn’t take his fame or fortune for granted.

Many times he gave to others who were less fortunate, most particularly to children. Children were Babe’s biggest fans, who loved and admired him unconditionally throughout his life, and Babe always loved children in return. Even as a child himself, Babe was looking out for the younger and less fortunate children at St. Mary’s. It was said that in wintertime that Ruth would run around the courtyard of St. Mary’s, rubbing and blowing on the hands of the younger kids, trying to keep them warm.

Later in life, during his baseball career and retirement, Babe always made efforts with kids and those who helped him. The stories abound. At the height of his fame, Babe hardly ever passed up a request to visit an orphanage or a sick child in the hospital. He always spent time patiently signing baseballs for each and every youngster who waited for him before and after games, as well as in public appearances later in life. As another example, St. Mary’s Industrial School in Baltimore suffered a major fire in the 1930′s, which caused significant damage to the main building. In response, Babe organized a fundraising drive that generated over $100,000 – a substantial amount of money in those days — for repairs and rebuilding.

After several spectacular years, Ruth had health problems in 1925 and his home run output declined to 25. Some people began to suggest that Babe was past his prime, but Ruth returned to form in 1926 and in 1927 set a single season home run record of 60 that would not be topped until Roger Maris hit 61 in 1961, in a season that was eight games longer.

In 1930, Ruth was earning a salary of $80,000 a year, a spectacular number in that era. A reporter suggested that perhaps he was overpaid, since Herbert Hoover was only getting $75,000 as president of the United States. Ruth is reported to have replied, “Why not? I had a better year than he did.” There have been several reported variations of the statement.

In game three of the 1932 World Series against the Chicago Cubs, Babe was batting in the fifth inning. After pitcher Charlie Root took him to a count of two strikes and two balls, he appeared to point to center field and to shout something at Root. He hit the next pitch about 500 feet into the stands behind center field, the longest home run ever hit at Wrigley Field.

Ruth wanted desperately to become a manager; unfortunately, no one was interested. He was offered a minor league job managing a Yankee farm team in Newark, but he turned it down: “I’m a big leaguer!” According to his wife, Claire, the Babe never stopped waiting and watching and hoping for the phone to ring with a call for that managing offer he wanted so badly.

A wealthy man with no financial worries, Ruth spent the final 13 years of his life basically filling in the hours, with no goal or purpose to speak of. And so he fished. His daughter Dorothy fondly remembers her dad going off for 3 or 4 days on a “fishing expedition,” but catching nothing. Stopping at some market on the way home, he bought a batch of fish; upon arriving home, he slapped the fish on their kitchen counter as if he were an ace fisherman.

Ruth enjoyed hunting as well, and his daughter remembers him waking her up early in the morning and cooking her a special egg-and-toast creation before he left with his hunting rifle.

He bowled too, and was a good, if not great, bowler, with a 177 average. Ruth would check into a local bowling alley at 1 p.m. and leave promptly at 5 p.m. He bowled alone, preferring not to keep score, but instead liked adding up the “total pins” he had knocked down. (“I knocked down 7,000 pins in five weeks.”)

 

Babe Ruth with former NY Gov. Al Smith at the Biltmore Hotel and Country Club in Coral Gables, FL (1930). Photo from the Florida Memory Project at the State Archives of Florida.

Babe Ruth with former NY Gov. Al Smith at the Biltmore Hotel and Country Club in Coral Gables, FL (1930). Photo from the Florida Memory Project at the State Archives of Florida.

Ruth was also an avid golfer — “I played 365 rounds of golf last year. Thank God for whoever invented golf. I’d be dead without it.”

He enjoyed listening to the radio, especially tuning into his beloved The Lone Ranger. Ruth, along with millions of other Americans, listened to Orson Welles’ legendary War of the Worlds broadcast and bought into it. “Hide under the bed!” he yelled to his wife and daughters as he nervously looked out the curtains of their Riverside Drive apartment.

He liked his booze, drinking his beloved highballs among other alcoholic treats. He still followed baseball, of course, and had a lifetime free pass to ballgames.

A notorious ladies’ man, Babe Ruth never got women out of his mind.

After spending a day golfing with his pal Buzzie Bavasi at the all-male St. Andrews Golf Club, Ruth told him, “Buzzie, thanks for a wonderful day, you have a great golf club here, but it’s not for me. No broads.”

Anyone, even in the most secure of circumstances, will be faced with some sadness, and Babe Ruth was no exception.

Claire’s brother Eugene, who had been gassed in World War I and had never been healthy since, jumped from the Ruths’ 15th story window to his death after a battle with severe depression. Ruth rushed home from his vacation in Florida to take care of all the funeral arrangements.

In 1938, Ruth’s daughter Julia was in medical trouble with strep throat. Her father rushed to the hospital and donated blood to help.

The same year, Ruth was hired for his last official baseball job, as a coach for the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Babe was mostly looked on as a “gate attraction” and a curiosity. He still harbored a secret hope to be hired as the manager of the team, but when the season ended the job went to Leo Durocher (whom Ruth hated) instead. Ruth left the Dodgers bitterly disappointed.

Probably bored and frustrated, Ruth swallowed his pride and asked Yankee management about the long ago offer to manage the minor league Newark club. But no, it was too late, and the offer was no longer available.

Soon after the end of the war, Ruth began getting severe headaches and pains in his neck, and went to the hospital for observation. According to daughter Dorothy, the headaches were so severe “he threatened to kill himself.”

Ruth was diagnosed with throat cancer, although he was not told of the diagnosis. Sadly, he was never to be out of pain for the final 21 months of his life.

Babe Ruth made his final appearance at Yankee Stadium on June 26, 1948.

His old number 3 uniform hung limply on his body, now ravaged by cancer. Ruth croaked out a hoarse, raspy speech of gratitude to the packed house and shuffled off. The crowd of 58,339 gave him a standing ovation.

Bob Feller, the Cleveland pitcher that day, remembers letting Ruth use his bat to lean on like a cane.

Ruth spent his last days in the hospital. He received the new treatment, chemotherapy, and various other experimental treatments. Gifts and mail flooded in from all quarters. Toward the end, Ruth pinned a medal he received in the mail on his pajamas.

When famed manager Connie Mack came to visit, Ruth told him, “The termites have got me, Mr. Mack.”

On August 16, 1948, Ruth said his prayers and passed away quietly in his sleep.

On August 16, 1948, Ruth said his prayers and passed away quietly in his sleep.

BABE RUTH’S (1932 WS) CALLED HOME RUN SHOT’ RARE V

Babe Ruth – Baseball Player – Biography.com

Babe Ruth | Official Site

Ruth, Babe | Baseball Hall of Fame

Biography | Babe Ruth

Babe Ruth Statistics and History | Baseball-Reference.com

Babe Ruth retires – Jun 02, 1935 – HISTORY.com

 


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  • gerard

    A top man.

  • Wolfman Jack

    great post.

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