When he was seven years old his parents placed him in St. Mary's Industrial School (Baltimore), an institution for underprivileged boys. His days at St. Mary's were spent learning the tailor's trade and practicing baseball in his spare time. He began to play semiprofessional ball in Pennsylvania and was signed by the Baltimore Orioles (International League) in 1914. That same year he was sold as a pitcher to the Boston Red Sox of the American League.
Ruth, a left hander, proved to be (1914-19) a formidable pitcher for the Red Sox and one of the most successful in major-league baseball, winning 87 and losing 44 games and winning three World Series games (one in 1916, two in 1918). However, because pitchers do not play in every game, in 1919 Ruth was shifted to the outfield, where his hitting prowess could be used consistently.
The following year he was sold to the New York Yankees of the American League, and because of his batting feats and attractive public personality he greatly helped to salvage baseball's popularity, weakened by revelations that gamblers and players, in the so-called Black Sox scandal, had successfully conspired to influence the results of the 1919 World Series. Ruth hit the most home runs per season for several years (1919-21, 1923-24, 1926-30), tied for the home run lead in 1918 and 1931, and set a record of 60 home runs in a 154-game season in 1927. (In 1961 Roger Maris hit 61 in a 162-game season, in 1998 Mark McGwire hit 70, and in 2001 Barry Bonds hit 73.) Ruth hit 714 home runs in major league play, a record that held until 1974, when Hank Aaron surpassed it. Ruth led the Yankees to seven pennants (1921-23, 1926-28, 1932), and Yankee Stadium, built in 1923, came to be known as "the house that Ruth built."
He was the highest-paid player of his era, but toward the end of his career he took several salary cuts before he was traded by the Yankees to the Boston Braves (National League) in 1935. He played with the Braves while serving as assistant manager but soon (June, 1935) was released.
Ruth was an unmistakable figure with his large frame and spindle-thin legs, and his talented and colorful play captured baseball fans' imagination. For example, in the third game of the 1932 World Series he appeared to indicate a spot in the stands of the Chicago Cubs' ball park where he would hit the ball and promptly blasted it there for a home run. Off the playing field "the Bambino," as he was affectionately called, made headlines for his charitable actions, such as visiting sick children in hospitals, as well as for his prodigious appetites and flamboyant lifestyle.
In 1936, Ruth became the second player to be elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame; Ty Cobb was the first. A year before he died he established and endowed the Babe Ruth Foundation to aid underprivileged youth. He wrote How to Play Baseball (1931).
See biography by L. Montville (2006).
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George Herman Ruth, Jr. (February 6, 1895 – August 16, 1948), also popularly known as "Babe", "The Bambino", and "The Sultan of Swat", was an American Major League baseball player from to . Named the greatest baseball player in history in various surveys and rankings, his home run hitting prowess and charismatic personality made him a larger than life figure in the "Roaring Twenties". He was the first player to hit 60 home runs in one season (1927), a record which stood for until broken by Roger Maris in 1961. Ruth's lifetime total of runs at his retirement in 1935 was a record for until broken by Hank Aaron in 1974. Unlike many power hitters, Ruth also hit for average: his .342 lifetime batting is tenth highest in baseball history, and in one season (1923) he hit .393, a Yankee record. His .690 career slugging percentage, and 1.164 career OPS remain the major league records.
Ruth dominated in the era in which he played. He led the league in home runs during a season twelve times, slugging percentage thirteen times, OPS thirteen times, runs scored eight times, and RBIs six times. Each of those totals represents a modern record (and also an all-time record, except for RBIs).
In , Ruth became one of the first five players elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. In , he was named baseball's Greatest Player Ever in a ballot commemorating the 100th anniversary of professional baseball. In , The Sporting News ranked Ruth Number 1 on the list of "Baseball's 100 Greatest Players." In 1999, baseball fans named Ruth to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team. According to ESPN, he was the first true American sports celebrity superstar whose fame transcended baseball. In a 1999 ESPN poll, he was ranked as the third greatest US athlete of the century, behind Michael Jordan and Muhammad Ali.
Beyond his statistics, Ruth completely changed baseball itself. The popularity of the game exploded in the 1920s, largely due to him. Ruth ushered in the "live-ball era," as his big swing led to escalating home run totals that not only excited fans, but helped baseball evolve from a low-scoring, speed-dominated game to a high-scoring power game.
Off the field he was famous for his charity, but also was noted for his often reckless lifestyle. Even though he died more than 60 years ago, his name is still one of the most famous in American sports. His participation in an all-star tour of Japan in 1934 sparked that country's interest in professional baseball; a decade later, Japanese soldiers seeking the ultimate insult for American troops would sometimes shout, "To hell with Babe Ruth!
Ruth's parents worked long hours and had little time to take care of him. When he was seven years old, they sent him to St. Mary's Industrial School for Boys, a reformatory and orphanage, and signed custody over to the Catholic missionaries who ran the school. Ruth remained at St. Mary's for the next 12 years, rarely visited by his family. At St. Mary's, a man by the name of Brother Matthias became a father figure in his life. Brother Matthias taught Ruth the game of baseball. He worked with Ruth on hitting, fielding and, later, pitching. Although Ruth batted and threw left-handed, he wrote right-handed.
In early 1914, a teacher at St. Mary's brought Ruth to the attention of Jack Dunn, owner and manager of the then minor-league Baltimore Orioles. After watching Ruth pitch, Dunn signed Ruth to a contract. Since Ruth was only 19 years old, Dunn had to become Ruth's legal guardian as well; at that time, the age of majority was 25. When the other players on the Orioles caught sight of Ruth, they nicknamed him "Jack's newest babe." The reference stayed with Ruth the rest of his life, and he was most commonly referred to as Babe Ruth from then on.
On July 7, 1914, Dunn offered to trade Ruth, along with Ernie Shore and Ben Egan, to Connie Mack of the Philadelphia Athletics. Dunn asked $10,000 for the trio, but Mack refused the offer. The Cincinnati Reds, who had an agreement with the Orioles, also passed on Ruth. Instead, the team elected to take George Twombley and Claud Derrick.
Two days later, on July 9, Dunn sold the trio to Joe Lannin and the Boston Red Sox. The amount of money exchanged in the transaction is disputed.
During spring training in 1915, Ruth secured a spot in the Red Sox starting rotation. He joined a pitching staff that included Rube Foster, Dutch Leonard, and Smokey Joe Wood. Ruth won 18 games, lost eight, and helped himself by hitting .315. He also hit his first four home runs. The Red Sox won 101 games that year on their way to a victory in the World Series. Ruth was not a factor; he did not pitch in the series, and he grounded out in his only at-bat.
In 1916, after a slightly shaky spring, he went 23–12, with a 1.75 ERA and 9 shutouts. On June 27, he struck out 10 Philadelphia A's, a career high. On July 11, he started both games of a doubleheader, but the feat was not what it seemed; he only pitched a third of an inning in the opener because the scheduled starter Rube Foster was having trouble getting loose. Ruth then pitched a complete game victory in the nightcap. Ruth had unusual success against Washington Senators star pitcher Walter Johnson, beating him four times in 1916 alone, by scores of 5–1, 1–0, 1–0 in 13 innings, and 2–1. Johnson finally outlasted Ruth for an extra-inning 4–3 victory on September 12; in the years to come, Ruth would hit 10 home runs off Johnson, including the only two Johnson would allow in 1918–1919. Ruth had nine shutouts in 1916, an AL record for left-handers that was unmatched until Ron Guidry tied it in 1978.
Despite a weak offense and hurt by the sale of Tris Speaker to the Indians, the Red Sox still made it to the World Series. They defeated the Brooklyn Robins four games to one. This time Ruth made a major contribution, pitching a 14-inning complete-game victory in Game Two.
Ruth went 24-13 with a 2.01 ERA and 6 shutouts in 1917, and hit .325, but the Sox finished second, nine games behind the Chicago White Sox. Ruth's most memorable game of the season was one he had very little part in playing. On June 23 against the Washington Senators, after walking the leadoff hitter, Ruth erupted in anger, was ejected, and threw a punch at the umpire (he'd be suspended for 10 games). Ernie Shore came into the game as an impromptu replacement, and pitched a perfect game the rest of the way. Ruth's outburst was an example of self-discipline problems that plagued Ruth throughout his career, and is regarded as the primary reason (other than financial) that then-owner Harry Frazee was willing to sell him to the Yankees two years later.
Less than three weeks later, June 11 was an example of why Ruth was so valuable to Boston. The left-hander was pitching a no-hitter in a 0–0 game against the Detroit Tigers, before a single deflected off his glove in the 8th inning. Boston finally pushed across a run in the 9th, and Ruth held onto his 1–0 victory by striking out Ty Cobb. In 1942, Ruth called this game his greatest thrill on the field.
In 1918, Ruth pitched in 20 games, posting a 13–7 record with a 2.22 ERA. He was mostly used as an outfielder, and hit a league-leading 11 home runs. His statistics were curtailed slightly when he walked off the team in July following an argument with Boston's manager.
Ruth threw a 1–0 shutout in the opener of 1918 World Series, then won Game Four in what would be his final World Series appearance as a pitcher. In three games, Ruth was 3–0 with an 0.87 ERA, allowing 19 hits in 31 innings. Ruth extended his World Series consecutive scoreless inning streak to 29⅔ innings, But since left-handers Hippo Vaughn and Lefty Tyler pitched nearly all the innings for the Cubs, Ruth, who batted left-handed, registered only five at-bats in the Series.
In 1918, he began playing in the outfield more and pitching less, making 75 hitting-only appearances. His contemporaries thought this was ridiculous; former teammate Tris Speaker speculated the move would shorten Ruth's career, but Ruth himself wanted to hit more and pitch less. In 1918, Ruth batted .300 and led the A.L. in home runs with 11 despite having only 317 at bats, well below the total for an everyday player.
During the season, Ruth threw a pitch in only 17 of his 130 games. He also set his first single-season home run record that year with 29, including a game-winning walkoff homer on a September "Babe Ruth Day" promotion. It was Babe Ruth's last season with the Red Sox.
On December 26, 1919, Frazee sold Ruth to the New York Yankees. Popular legend has it that Frazee sold Ruth and several other of his best players to finance a Broadway play, No, No, Nanette (which actually didn't debut until 1925). The truth is somewhat more nuanced.
After the 1919 season, Ruth demanded a raise to $20,000 -- double his previous salary. However, Frazee refused, and Ruth responded by letting it be known he wouldn't play until he got his raise. He'd actually jumped the team several times, including the last game of the 1919 season.
Frazee finally lost patience with Ruth, and decided to trade him. However, he was effectively limited to two trading partners--the Chicago White Sox and the then-moribund Yankees. The other five clubs rejected his deals out of hand under pressure from American League president Ban Johnson, who never liked Frazee and was actively trying to "Yank" the Red Sox out from under him. The White Sox offered Shoeless Joe Jackson and $60,000, but Yankees owners Jacob Ruppert and Tillinghast L'Hommedieu Huston offered an all-cash deal--$100,000.
Frazee, Ruppert and Huston quickly agreed to a deal. In exchange for Ruth, the Red Sox would get $125,000 in cash and three $25,000 notes payable every year at 6 percent interest. Ruppert and Huston also loaned Frazee $300,000, with the mortgage on Fenway Park as collateral. The deal was contingent on Ruth signing a new contract, which was quickly agreed to, and Ruth officially became property of the Yankees on December 26. The deal was announced ten days later.
In the January 6, 1920 edition of the Boston Globe, Frazee described the transaction:
However, the January 6, 1920 New York Times was more prescient:
It also turns out that there was a solid basis for the No, No, Nanette story. As Leigh Montville discovered during research for his book, The Big Bam: The Life and Times of Babe Ruth (Random House, 2006, p.161-164), No, No, Nanette had originated as a non-musical stage play called My Lady Friends, which opened on Broadway in December 1919. His research indicated that that play had, indeed, been financed as a direct result of the Ruth sale to the Yankees.
In 1920, his first year with the Yankees, Ruth hit 54 home runs and batted .376. His .847 slugging average was a Major League record until 2001, when it was broken by Barry Bonds. Aside from the Yankees, only the Philadelphia Phillies managed to hit more home runs as a team than Ruth did as an individual, slugging 64 in hitter-friendly Baker Bowl.
In , Ruth improved to arguably the best year of his career, hitting 59 home runs, batting .378 and slugging .846 (the highest with 500+ at-bats in an MLB season) while leading the Yankees to their first league championship. On July 18, 1921, Babe Ruth hit career home run #139, breaking Roger Connor's record of 138 in just the eighth year of his career. (This was not recognized at the time, as Connor's correct career total was not accurately documented until the 1970s. Even if the record had been celebrated, it would have been on an earlier date, as Connor's total was at one time thought to be only 131.)
Ruth quickly became synonymous with the home run, because he led the transformation of baseball strategy from the "inside game" to the "power game", and because of the style and manner in which he hit them. His ability to drive a significant number of his home runs in the 450–500 foot range and beyond resulted in the lasting adjective "Ruthian," to describe any long home run hit by any player. Probably his deepest hit in official game play (and perhaps the longest home run by any player), occurred on July 18, at Detroit's Navin Field, in which he hit one to straightaway center, over the wall of the then-single-deck bleachers, and to the intersection, some 575 feet from home plate.
As impressive as Ruth's 1921 numbers were, they could have been more so under modern conditions. Bill Jenkinson's 2006 book, The Year Babe Ruth Hit 104 Home Runs, attempts to examine each of Ruth's 714 career home runs, plus several hundred long inside-the-park drives and "fair-foul" balls. Until 1931 in the AL, balls that hit the foul pole were considered ground-rule doubles, and balls that went over the wall in fair territory but hooked foul were ruled foul. Many fields, including Ruth's home Polo Grounds, had exceptionally deep center fields--in the Polo Grounds' case, nearly five hundred feet. The author concluded that Ruth would have been credited with 104 home runs in 1921, if modern rules and field dimensions were in place. Still, Ruth set Major League records in total bases (457), extra base hits (119) and times on base (379), all of which still stand to this day.
The Yankees had high expectations when they met the New York Giants in the 1921 World Series, and the Yankees won the first two games with Ruth in the lineup. However, Ruth badly scraped his elbow during Game 2 sliding into third base (he had walked and stolen both second and third). After the game, he was told by the team physician not to play the rest of the series. Although he did play in Games 3, 4 and 5, and pinch-hit in Game 8 of the best-of-9 Series, his productivity was diminished, and the Yankees lost the series. Ruth hit .316, drove in five runs and hit his first World Series home run. (Although the Yankees won the fifth game, Ruth wrenched his knee and did not return to the Series until the eighth [last] game.)
Ruth's appearance in the 1921 World Series also led to a problem and triggered another disciplinary action. After the series, Ruth played in a barnstorming tour. A rule at the time prohibited World Series participants from playing in exhibition games during the off-season. The purpose of the rule was to prevent Series participants from "restaging" the Series and undermining its value. Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis suspended Ruth for the first six weeks of the season. Landis had made his point about adhering to the letter of the rules, but he also recognized that the rule was no longer needed, and rescinded it.
Ruth's off-the-field life often interfered with his performance, and sometimes he just proved to be a thorn in the side of his manager, Miller Huggins. A policeman pulled Ruth over one night for driving up a one-way street, and Babe protested, "Well, I was only going one way!" But Huggins saw nothing funny about it--Ruth was supposed to be in the hotel room at the time, not out carousing. When he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame years later, he was present for the posthumous induction of Huggins. Ruth admitted, Huggins "was the only one who could handle me.
Despite his suspension, Ruth started his 1922 season on May 20 as the Yankees' new on-field captain. But five days later, he was ejected from a game for throwing dirt on an umpire, and then climbed into the stands to confront a heckler; Ruth was subsequently stripped of the captaincy. In his shortened season, Ruth appeared in 110 games, hit 35 home runs and drove in 99 runs. Despite Ruth's partial absence, the Yankees still made it to the 1922 World Series. Ruth had just two hits in seventeen at-bats, and the Yankees lost to the Giants for the second straight year.
In 1923, the Yankees moved from the Polo Grounds, where they had sublet from the Giants, to their new Yankee Stadium, which was quickly dubbed "The House That Ruth Built". Characteristically, he hit the stadium's first home run on the way to a Yankees victory. Ruth finished the 1923 season with a career-high .393 batting average and major-league leading 41 home runs. For the third straight year the Yankees faced the Giants in the 1923 World Series. Ruth batted .368, walked eight times, scored eight runs, hit three home runs and slugged 1.000 during the series. The Yankees won their first World Series title by 4 games to 2, and the groundwork for the Yankees dynasty had been established.
Ruth narrowly missed winning the Triple Crown in 1924. He hit .378 to lead the American League in batting, led the Major Leagues with 46 home runs, and batted in 121 runs to finish second to Goose Goslin's 129. Ruth's on-base percentage was .513, the fourth of 5 years in which his OBP exceeded .500. However, the Yankees finished second, 2 games behind the Washington Senators, who went on to win their first and only World Series while based in D.C.
During spring training in 1925, Ruth fell ill, and returned to New York for what was reported as stomach surgery. The press dubbed Ruth's ailment as "the bellyache heard round the world," and wrote about an alleged hot dog binge. However, the exact nature of his ailment has never been confirmed. Playing just 98 games, Ruth finished the season with a .290 average and 25 home runs. The team finished next to last in the American League with a 69-85 mark. It would be 40 years before a Yankees team would again experience such a poor season.
Ruth was the leader of the famous 1927 Yankees, also known as Murderer's Row because of the strength of its hitting lineup and its effect on opposing pitchers. The team won a then AL-record 110 games (The 2001 Seattle Mariners now hold the record with 116 wins, though they played eight more games), took the AL pennant by 19 games, and swept the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1927 World Series.
With the race long since decided, the nation's attention turned to Ruth's pursuit of his own home run mark of 59. Early in the season, Ruth expressed doubts about his chances: "I don't suppose I'll ever break that 1921 record. To do that, you've got to start early, and the pitchers have got to pitch to you. I don't start early, and the pitchers haven't really pitched to me in four seasons. I get more bad balls to hit than any other six men...and fewer good ones." Ruth was also being challenged for his slugger's crown by teammate Lou Gehrig, who nudged ahead of Ruth's total in midseason, prompting the New York World-Telegram to anoint Gehrig the favorite. But Ruth caught Gehrig (who would finish with 47), and then had a remarkable last leg of the season, hitting 17 home runs in September. His 60th came on September 30, in the Yankees' next-to-last game. Ruth was exultant, shouting after the game, "Sixty, count 'em, sixty! Let's see some son-of-a-bitch match that!" In later years, he would give Gehrig some credit: "Pitchers began pitching to me because if they passed me they still had Lou to contend with." In addition to his career-high 60 home runs, Ruth batted .356, drove in 164 runs and slugged .772.
The following season started off very well for the Yankees, who led the AL by 13 games in July. But the Yankees were soon plagued by some key injuries, erratic pitching and inconsistent play. The Philadelphia Athletics, rebuilding after some lean years, erased the Yankees' big lead and they even took over first place briefly in early September. The Yankees however took over first place for good when they beat the A's 3 out of 4 games in a pivotal series later that month.
Ruth's play in 1928 mirrored his team's performance. He got off to a hot start and on August 1, he had 42 home runs. This put him ahead of his 60 home run pace from the previous season. But Ruth was hobbled by a bad ankle the latter part of the season, and he hit just 12 home runs in the last two months of the regular season. His batting average also fell to .323, well below his career average. Nevertheless, he ended the season with 54 home runs and had his typical impressive slugging average, runs scored, walk and RBI totals. His 54 home runs was also the fourth (and last) time he passed 50 home runs in a season.
The Yankees had a 1928 World Series rematch with the St. Louis Cardinals, who had upset them in the 1926 series. The Cardinals had the same core players as the 1926 team, except for Rogers Hornsby, who was traded for Frankie Frisch after the 1926 season. Despite the Yankees struggles in the latter part of the season, they had no problems with the Cardinals. Ruth batted an amazing .625 (the second highest average in World Series history), including another 3-home run game (in game 4), Gehrig batted .545, and the Yankees demolished the Cardinals in four games with no game being close. The Yankees' thus became the first Major League team to sweep their opponents in consecutive World Series.
Also in 1929, the Yankees became the first team to use uniform numbers regularly (the Cleveland Indians used them briefly in 1916). Since Ruth normally batted third in the order (ahead of Gehrig), he was assigned number 3 (to Gehrig's 4). The Yankees retired Ruth's number on June 13, 1948; however, it was kept in circulation prior to that.
In 1930, which was not a pennant year for the Yankees, Ruth was asked by a reporter what he thought of his yearly salary of $80,000 being more than President Hoover's $75,000. His response: "I know, but I had a better year than Hoover." Ruth had supported Al Smith in the 1928 Presidential election. That quote has also been rendered as, "How many home runs did he hit last year?" Three years later, Ruth would make a public appearance with the ex-President at a Stanford – USC football game.
In the season, the Yankees went 107–47 and won the pennant under manager Joe McCarthy. Ruth did his part by hitting .341, with 41 home runs and 137 RBIs. Ruth did miss 21 games on the schedule that year; this included the last few weeks of the season.
The Yankees faced the Chicago Cubs in the 1932 World Series. The Yankees dispatched the Cubs in 4 games and batted .313 as a team. During Game 3 of the series, after having already homered earlier in the game, Ruth hit what has now become known as Babe Ruth's Called Shot. During the at-bat, Ruth supposedly gestured to the deepest part of the park in center-field, predicting a home run. The ball he hit traveled past the flagpole to the right of the scoreboard and ended up in temporary bleachers just outside Wrigley Field's outer wall. The center field corner was 440 feet away, and at age 37, Ruth had hit a straightaway center home run that was perhaps a 490 foot blow. It was Ruth's last Series homer (and his last Series hit), and it became one of the legendary moments of baseball history.
Ruth remained productive in 1933, as he batted .301, with 34 home runs, 103 RBIs, and a league leading 114 walks. But these statistics, impressive for virtually every other player, for him showed he was clearly nearing the end of his career. Elected to play in the first All-Star game, he hit the first home run in the game's history on July 6, 1933, at Comiskey Park in Chicago. His two-run home run helped the AL to a 4–2 victory over the NL, and Ruth also made a fine defensive catch in the game. Film footage of his All-Star game home run revealed the 38-year-old Ruth had become noticeably overweight. Late in the 1933 season, he was called upon to pitch in one game and pitched a complete game victory, his final appearance as a pitcher. For the most part, his Yankee pitching appearances (five in fifteen years) were widely-advertised attempts to boost attendance. Despite unremarkable pitching numbers, Ruth had a 5–0 record in those five games, raising his career totals to 94-46, an exceptionally high winning percentage.
In 1934, Babe Ruth recorded a .288 average, 22 home runs, and made the All-Star team for the second consecutive year. During the game, Ruth was the first of five consecutive strikeout victims (all 5 being future Hall of Fame players) of Giants pitcher Carl Hubbell, perhaps the most famous pitching feat in All-Star game history. In what turned out to be his last game at Yankee Stadium, only about 2,000 fans attended. By this time, Ruth had reached a personal milestone of 700 home runs and was about ready to retire.
After the 1934 season, Ruth went on a baseball barnstorming tour in the Far East. Players such as Jimmie Foxx, Lefty Gomez, Earl Averill, Charlie Gehringer, and Lou Gehrig were among 14 players who played a series of 22 games, with many of the games played in Japan. Ruth was quite popular in Japan, as baseball had been popular in Japan for decades. Riding in a motorcade, Ruth was greeted by thousands of cheering Japanese people. The tour was considered a great success for further increasing the popularity of baseball in Japan, and in 1936 Japan organized its first professional baseball league.
Ruppert finally found a taker in Boston Braves owner Emil Fuchs. Even though the Braves had fielded fairly competitive teams in the last three seasons, Fuchs was sinking in debt and couldn't afford the rent on Braves Field. Fuchs thought Ruth was just what the Braves needed, both on and off the field.
After a series of phone calls, letters and meetings, the Yankees traded Ruth to the Braves on February 26, 1935. It was announced that in addition to remaining as a player, Ruth would become team vice president and would be consulted on all club transactions. He was also made assistant manager to Braves skipper Bill McKechnie. In a long letter to Ruth a few days before the press conference, Fuchs promised Ruth a share in the Braves' profits, with the possibility of becoming co-owner of the team. Fuchs also raised the possibility of Ruth becoming the Braves' manager, perhaps as early as .
Amid much media hoopla, Ruth played his first home game in Boston in over 16 years. Before an opening-day crowd of over 25,000, Ruth accounted for all of the Braves' runs in a 4–2 defeat of the New York Giants. The Braves had long played second fiddle to the Red Sox in Boston, but Ruth's arrival spiked interest in the Braves to levels not seen since their stunning win in the 1914 World Series.
But this couldn't last. That win proved to be the only time the Braves were over .500 that year. By May 20, they were 7–17, and their season was effectively over. While Ruth could still hit, he could do little else, and soon stopped hitting as well. His conditioning had deteriorated so much that he could do little more than trot around the bases. His fielding was dreadful; at one point, three of the Braves' pitchers threatened not to take the mound if Ruth was in the lineup. Ruth was also miffed that McKechnie ignored most of his managerial advice. He soon discovered that he was vice president and assistant manager in name only, and Fuchs' promise of a share of team profits was also hot air. In fact, Fuchs expected Ruth to invest some of his money in the team.
On May 25, at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, Ruth went 4-for-4, drove in 6 runs and hit 3 home runs in an 11–7 loss to the Pirates. These were the last three home runs of his career. His last home run cleared the roof at the old Forbes Field—he became the first player to accomplish that feat. Five days later, in Philadelphia, Ruth played in his last Major League game. He struck out in the first inning and, while playing the field in the same inning, hurt his knee and left the game.
Two days after that, Ruth summoned reporters to the locker room after a game against the Giants and announced he was retiring. He'd wanted to retire as early as May 12, but Fuchs persuaded him to stay on because the Braves hadn't played in every National League park yet. That season, he hit just .181 with six home runs in 72 at-bats. The Braves season went as bad as Ruth's short season. They finished 38–115, the third-worst record in Major League history, just a few percentage points fewer than the infamous 1962 New York Mets. Fuchs finally caved in under mounting debt and lost control of the Braves with just over two months left in the season.
Babe Ruth had two daughters. Dorothy Ruth was born in 1921 to mistress Juanita Jennings Jennings apparently allowed her daughter to be adopted and raised by Helen and Babe Ruth. Dorothy was raised believing that Helen was her real mother. Helen died in a fire in 1929 when Dorothy was 8. It wasn't until 1980 at the age of 59 that Dorothy learned her real mother's identity. It isn't clear how much of the truth about Dorothy's origins Helen Ruth actually knew. While growing up, Dorothy knew her biological mother Juanita, only as a close family friend. Dorothy married and became Mrs. Pirone, and she wrote a book about her father, My Dad, the Babe, co-authored by Chris Martens and published on the 40th anniversary of her father's death, Aug. 16, 1988.
Babe Ruth's other daughter was Julia Ruth. Born in 1917 to Claire Hodgson, Babe's second wife; Julia was 12 when her mother married the Babe. She currently resides in Arizona, and threw out the ceremonial first pitch before the final game in the original Yankee Stadium on September 21, 2008.
Ruth married actress and model Claire Hodgson in April 1929.
Ruth and Claire regularly wintered in Florida, frequently playing golf during the off-season and while the Yankees were spring training in St. Petersburg, Florida. After retirement, he had a winter beachfront home in Treasure Island, Florida, near St. Petersburg.
His film roles included a cameo appearance as himself in the Harold Lloyd film Speedy (1928). His first film appearance occurred in 1920, in the silent movie Headin' Home. He made numerous other film appearances in the silent era, usually either playing himself or playing a ballplayer similar to himself. Ruth's voice was said by some biographers to be similar to that of film star Clark Gable, although that was obviously not evident in the silent film era. He had an appropriate role, as himself, in Pride of the Yankees, the story of his ill-fated teammate Lou Gehrig. Ruth had three scenes in the film: One in which he appeared with a straw hat. He said "If I see anyone touch it, I'll knock his teeth in!" The teammates convinced young Gehrig (Gary Cooper) to chew the hat up; he got away with it. In the second scene, the players go to a restaurant, where Babe sees a side of beef cooking and jokes, "Well, I'll have one of those..." and, the dramatic scene near the end, where Gehrig makes his speech at Yankee Stadium ending with "I consider myself the luckiest man..."
In 1936, Ruth was one of the first five players elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Two years later, Larry MacPhail, the Brooklyn Dodgers general manager, offered him a first base coaching job in June. Ruth took the job but quit at the end of the season. The coaching position was his last job in Major League Baseball. His baseball career finally came to an end in . In a charity game at Yankee Stadium, he pinch hit and drew a walk.
In 1947, he became director of the American Legion's youth baseball program.
Around this time, developments in chemotherapy offered some hope. A new drug named teropterin, a folic acid derivative, was developed by Dr. Brian Hutchings of the Lederle Laboratories. It had been shown to cause significant remissions in children with leukemia. Ruth was administered this new drug in June 1947. He was suffering from headaches, hoarseness and had difficulty swallowing. He agreed to use this new medicine but did not want to know any details about it. All the while he was receiving this experimental medication, he did not know it was for cancer. On June 29, 1947, he began receiving injections and he responded with dramatic improvement. He gained over 20 pounds (9 kg) and had resolution of his headaches. On September 6, 1947, his case was presented anonymously at the 4th Annual Internal cancer Research Congress in St. Louis. Teropterin ended up being a precursor for methotrexate, a now commonly used chemotherapeutic agent.
It is now known that Ruth suffered from nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPCA), a relatively rare tumor located in the back of the nose near the eustachian tube. Contemporary management for NPCA includes concurrent chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
On April 27, 1947, the Yankees held a ceremony at Yankee Stadium. Despite his health problems, Ruth was able to attend "Babe Ruth Day". Ruth spoke to a capacity crowd of more than 60,000, including many American Legion youth baseball players. Although lacking a specific memorable comment like Gehrig's "Luckiest man" speech, Ruth spoke from the heart, of his enthusiasm for the game of baseball and in support of the youth playing the game. ()
Later, Ruth started the Babe Ruth Foundation, a charity for disadvantaged children. Another Babe Ruth Day held at Yankee Stadium in September 1947 helped to raise money for this charity.
After the cancer returned, Ruth attended the 25th anniversary celebration of the opening of Yankee Stadium on June 13, 1948. He was reunited with old teammates from the 1923 Yankee team and posed for photographs. The photo of Ruth taken from behind, using a bat as a cane, standing apart from the other players, and facing "Ruthville" (right field) became one of baseball's most famous and widely circulated photographs. It won the Pulitzer Prize.
Shortly after he attended the Yankee Stadium anniversary event, Ruth was back in the hospital. He received hundreds of well-wishing letters and messages. This included a phone call from President Harry Truman. Claire helped him respond to the letters.
On July 26, 1948, Ruth attended the premiere of the film The Babe Ruth Story, a biopic about his life. William Bendix portrayed Ruth. Shortly thereafter, Ruth returned to the hospital for the final time. He was barely able to speak. Ruth's condition gradually became worse, and in his last days, scores of reporters and photographers hovered around the hospital. Only a few visitors were allowed to see him, one of whom was National League president and future Commissioner of Baseball, Ford Frick. “Ruth was so thin it was unbelievable. He had been such a big man and his arms were just skinny little bones, and his face was so haggard,” Frick said years later.
On August 16, the day after Frick's visit, Babe Ruth died at age 53. His body lay in repose in Yankee Stadium. His funeral was two days later at St. Patrick's Cathedral, New York. Ruth was then buried in the Cemetery of the Gate of Heaven in Hawthorne, New York. At his death, the New York Times called Babe Ruth, "a figure unprecedented in American life. A born showman off the field and a marvelous performer on it, he had an amazing flair for doing the spectacular at the most dramatic moment.
Films have been made featuring Ruth, or a Ruth-like figure ("The Whammer" in The Natural, for example).
As a sidelight to his prominent role in changing the game to the power game, the frequency and popularity of Ruth's home runs eventually led to a rule change pertaining to those hit in sudden-death mode (bottom of the ninth or later inning). Prior to 1931, as soon as the first necessary run to win the game scored, the play was over, and the batter was credited only with the number of bases needed to drive in the winning run. Thus, if the score was 3-2 with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth, and the batter smacked an "over the fence home run", the game would end at 4-3, with the batter only allowed a double, and the runners officially stopped on 2nd and 3rd (since they weren't needed to win the game). The new rule allowed the entire play to complete, justified on the grounds that the ball was dead and that all runners could freely advance, thus granting the full allotment of HR and RBI to the batter, as we know it today. Several players lost home runs that way, including Ruth, whose career total would have been changed to 715 if historians during the 1960s had been successful in pursuing this matter. Major League Baseball elected not to retrofit the records to the modern rules, and Ruth's total stayed at 714.
Another rules change that affected Ruth was the method used by umpires to judge potential home runs when the batted ball left the field near a foul pole. Before 1931, i.e. through most of Ruth's most productive years, the umpire called the play based on the ball's final resting place "when last seen". Thus, if a ball went over the fence fair, and curved behind the foul pole, it was ruled foul. Beginning in 1931 and continuing to the present day, the rule was changed to require the umpire to judge based on the point where the ball cleared the fence. Jenkinson's book (p.374-375) lists 78 foul balls near the foul pole in Ruth's career, claiming that at least 50 of them were likely to have been home runs under the modern rule.
Ruth's 1919 contract that sent him from Boston to New York was sold at auction for $996,000 at Sotheby's on June 10, 2005. The most valuable memorabilia item relating to Ruth was his 1923 bat which he used to hit the first home run at Yankee Stadium on April 18, 1923. Ruth's heavy Louisville Slugger solid ash wood bat sold for $1.26 million at a Sotheby's auction in December 2004, making it the second most valuable baseball memorabilia item to date, just behind the famous 1909 Honus Wagner baseball card.
Ruth was mentioned in the poem "Lineup for Yesterday" by Ogden Nash:
Ruth was 89-46 with the Red Sox, 5-0 with the Yankees overall.
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