Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Babe Ruth

Born into poverty in 1895 and raised in obscure surroundings among total strangers, GeorgeHerman ‘Babe’ Ruth rose to become a ‘living legend’ and major icon of Roaring Twenties America.

Babe Ruth, the eldest of eight children, was born in his grandparents home and was one of only two babies to survive infancy and reach maturity. Notwithstanding this, he grew up without familial support.

At St. Mary’s Industrial School, a reform institution his parents sent the difficult youngster to be raised in, the left-handed pitcher was spotted by keen observers and the Baltimore Orioles, then playing in a minor league, signed him up in 1914.

Now aged nineteen, George Ruth, earned his first professional baseball contract with Jack Dunn, manager of the Baltimore Orioles, who took an instant personal liking to his newest recruit.

Ruth’s parents had already signed over custody of their son to St. Mary’s while he was a child and he was supposed to remain at the school until he was twenty-one years old. Therefore, Dunn eventually became Ruth’s legal guardian.

Jack Dunn was quite well known for picking up lads he thought showed promising potential. When Ruth appeared with Dunn for training, other players made some jibes and one member said, ‘Well here’s Jack’s newest Babe.’

The remaining players picked up on the label and now frequently referred to Ruth as ‘Babe’ and it was under this name his legend later stuck. Thus, began the meteoric rise and magnetic career of Babe Ruth.

In his first season, he was sold to the Boston Red Sox, where his professional career started in 1915. It was here his batting skills really started to take shape and received substantive public attention.

Throughout his tenure the Red Sox enjoyed enormous success, winning both the league title and World Series in 1915, 1916 and 1918. Initially a left-hander, Ruth was moved to the outfield by 1919 due to his batting performance.

The same year, Ruth hit an amazing 178.9 homer in a Boston Red Sox V’s New York Giants Exhibition match at Tampa, Florida, a record that would remain for years to come.

In December 1919 he was sold again, this time for a World record fee of $125, 000 to the New York Yankees. By now, he was already a great celebrity, both in and out of baseball.

He was then making $10, 000 a year (an enormous sum in those days) and rewarded his new club by helping them to win four World Championships from 1920-1933 and making it a dominant team in the league.

Prior to his arrival, the club had been largely dormant and failed to make a major or lasting impact in the American League (AL) and it is thought may not have won a single title.

In 1921, now aged twenty-six, while playing for the Yankees, Ruth set the first of many professional and personal records by hitting 457 total bases in a season in the American League.

To this day only two players have successfully hit a record-breaking three home runs in a game, and one of them also did it twice in a career, his name was none other than Babe Ruth.  

Ironically, he did it twice within a span of just two years. The first time on 6th October 1926 and then again on 9th October 1928. No other player would be able to it even once until 1977.

His income soon rose to $80, 000 a season, a huge salary at the time, this was despite baseball not being given the same prestige, publicity or credibility as a worthy sport in the same manner as American Football.

Later in 1927, Ruth hit 60 home runs in 154 games for the Yankees. This record also remained unsurpassed until 1961 when Roger Eugene Marris hit 61 home runs, fittingly whilst also representing the New York Yankees.

Babe Ruth himself personally led the American League in home runs for twelve years. He set several baseball records that remained in place for decades and would probably have set more had he continued playing.

He cut short his career only to become a manager of a baseball team, a dream he relished and strongly wanted to pursue, tragically the plan promised to him, for one reason or another, never materialised.

Until 1974 Ruth also held the record for most overall home runs with 714 by the time he retired in 1935. Ruth hit his home runs from 8, 399 times at bat, the highest home run percentage of 8.5%.

His teams rarely saw their star player and now growing attraction, until he turned up at the ground then disappeared again as soon as the game was over. His wife and managers learned to live with his absences.

Off the field, Ruth is credited with inventing the modern baseball bat and the World’s largest-ever replica bat, still in existence, is based on the original ‘R43’ bat made especially for Ruth.

Located in front of bat manufacturers, ‘Hillerich and Bradsby’ Headquarters in America, the king-size model is a permanent reminder of the debt owed to Ruth and baseball of its rise from humble origins.

In 1927, it’s said Ruth strolled into the ‘Hillerich and Bradsby’ building and requested they make him some bats. He then made his record 60 home runs with the resulting bats that year.

Ruth’s impact on baseball remains unsurpassed and he is dubbed ‘the greatest player of all time’. Ruth was, and still is, the best-known name in baseball. He had a rare talent and was a record-breaking pitcher and batter.

Yankee Stadium in New York was famously dubbed, ‘The House that Ruth Built’ when he retired in 1935. Just before his death, Ruth, despite failing health and suffering from cancer, made a special appearance at the stadium.

When he eventually died of throat cancer in 1948 at the age of 53, police estimated more than 100, 000 loyal fans paraded past his funeral bier at the stadium to say their final respects.      

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