11 facts about Babe Ruth
Sultan of Swat. The Big Bambino. The Caliph of Clout. Babe Ruth has been known by many names, including George Herman Ruth, Jr., which is the name he went by born with February 6, 1895, in Baltimore, Maryland. After a difficult childhood, he would leave his mark not only on American sports, but on a nation emerging from the horrors of World War I and the Great Depression.
With a career A .342 batting average, 714 homers and outsized personality, he became a symbol of bold, decisive victory and explosive swagger. Hall of Famer without the fuss, Ruth is still quite possibly the most famous American baseball player of all time.
Here are 11 facts about The Behemoth of Bust.
Contrary to popular belief, Babe Ruth was not an orphan, although he grew up in a school for orphans. His father, George, Sr., owned a saloon downstairs from the family apartment and, according to some accounts, a concerned neighbor told cops a child lived there after a shooting broke out in the bar. The courts then sent young Ruth back to St. Mary’s Industrial School for Orphans, Delinquent, Incorrigible and Wayward Boys in Baltimore. It is said that his parents will get him temporarily released a few times, but his behavior was too wild for them to control and he would soon be fired.
Other Resources—including Ken Burns Baseball documentary – let’s say Ruth was sent to the orphanage at 7 years old only because of his wild behavior and his abusive father’s inability to handle him. Regardless, Ruth stayed in school on and off until age 19, when he signed with the then-minor league Baltimore Orioles as a pitcher. The final entry of his school file reads, “He’s going to join the Balt. Baseball team.”
There was no doubt that Ruth had a natural talent for the game, but it was nurtured at Saint Mary’s by Brother Mathias, the school disciplinary officer who often pretended to hit improvised balls 350 feet or more into the schoolyard in front of children. It was more than enough to inspire Ruth, who later wrote in the Saturday night post“I think I was born a hitter the first day I saw [Brother Matthias] hitting a baseball.” Later, Ruth would also often appoint Brother Matthias as “the greatest man I have ever known.”
Today there is only one. But when Ruth was playing, the nickname “Babe” has been used for dozens taller guys as well as naive newcomers. It speaks to Ruth’s power as a cultural figure that he was able to convert a nickname used generically for many ballplayers into a monolith that can only refer to the Grand Bambino himself. While there are several fantastic stories about how he got the nickname, the truth, according to Ruth, is that a member of the Baltimore Orioles coaching staff said, “Well, here’s the new baby from Jack now”, when Ruth first showed up at the club. The “Jack” they were talking about was Jack Dunn, manager of the team.
A no-hitter is one of the ultimate achievements for a pitcher, and Ruth has one on the books, despite only pitching against one batter. Ruth was the starting pitcher on June 23, 1917, when the Red Sox faced the Washington Senators, and, after beating the first batter, Ruth got into a fight with the umpire. He was ejected from the game after hitting the poor umpire, and Ernie Shore came on to pitch for the Sox, completing a no-hitter to which Ruth conveniently attached his name.
Babe Ruth is one of the most iconic New York Yankees in history, but he first made waves in sports as a member of the Boston Red Sox, where he played for six seasons. Then, in January 1920, it was announced that Ruth was returning to the Yankees for the grand total of $125,000 (just over $1.6 million today) and $300,000 in loans. Although the exact amount was challenged over the years was a steal for the Yankees, and Ruth would lead the team to four world series victories over the next 15 years.
During the first game of a doubleheader between the New York Yankees and Washington Senators on July 5, 1924, Ruth ran headlong into the concrete wall separating the field from the bleachers while trying to make a catch. He was unconscious for 5 minutes as Yankees coach Doc Woods poured ice water on his face and attempted to revive him. After coming to her senses, Ruth refused to leave the pitch and continued to play despite limping due to a hip injury. He recorded two more hits that game and even managed to play in the second.
Ruth started playing golf in 1915, which was also his first year playing for the Boston Red Sox. It became an obsession for him, to the point where he said he played 365 in some years. Due to his superstar status, he was also able to draw attention to the sport as he struggled with other not very popular hobbies like horse racing and boxing. While Bobby Jones was the best golfer at the time, Doug Vogel, a member of the Society for American Baseball Research, said that “[Ruth] played a big part in making golf a spectator sport in America – arguably bigger than Jones. That’s because Jones was the most talented player in a niche sport, but Ruth was the most famous athlete in the world.
Ruth’s father, George, Sr., was of German descent, and her mother, Katherine, was of German-Irish descent, so little Georgie grew up speaking German in her childhood home in the Pigtown neighborhood. in Baltimore. He would use that legacy and celebrity influence years later when he signed a declaration published in 10 major newspapers denouncing Hitler. His bold public stance came in December 1942 and was meant as an attempt to reawaken American sentiment in favor of rescuing Europe’s Jews and urging German citizens to overthrow Hitler.
It’s one of the most iconic moments in sports: In Game 3 of the 1932 World Series, Ruth stood in the batting box with the Yankees and Cubs tied at 4-4 and pointed the center field fence at Wrigley Field, signaling to everyone in attendance, including pitcher Charlie Root, that he was going to kick a ball into the seats. On the next throw, he succeeded in his bragging. The Yankees won the game and eventually the series.
But the actual meaning behind the pointing gesture has long been disputed. Ruth claimed the point was that he was signaling a home run was on the way. Root would later say that Ruth simply held two fingers to indicate the number of strikes. Many fans and players at the stadium that day sided with Ruth in later interviews and accounts; others said they never saw the point. Most damning, however, is the fact that the sports journalists covering the game – including the legendary Red Smith – made no mention of it in their articles. And the scant video evidence available does not conclusively answer the question; he makes a clear sign Somethingbut we will never quite know what he meant.
In 2020, new evidence came to light in the form of an unearthed Lou Gehrig radio interview that took place days after the game. In it, Gehrig said: “[Ruth] stands up there and tells the world he’s going to put on the next one. And not only that, but he’s telling the world where he’s going to put it, in the center field stands. Seconds later, the ball was exactly where it was pointing, in the center field stands. He called his shot and then made it. I ask you: what can you do with a guy like that?
The interview itself was likely scripted, but for what it’s worth, a biographer of Gehrig, Dan Joseph, who discovered and shared the audio on Twitter, thinks he was candid. “Until I heard the clip, I doubted it was really happening,” Joseph told MLB.com. “I thought it was a sports journalist myth. After hearing Gehrig, who was the batter on the deck, now I tend to believe he did.”
A few months before her death from cancer, Ruth went to Yale to donate a signed copy of her autobiography to the school. The ceremony took place (where else?) on the baseball field, where Ruth presented the manuscript to the captain of the Yale baseball team. That captain was George HW Bush, the future 41st President of the United States. Bush’s account of the event was grim, call him “tragic”, because Ruth looked so fragile from her illness.
Babe Ruth has completed 714 career homers, a record that will stand for nearly 40 years until Hank Aaron arrives. His last big volley came as a member of the Boston Braves on May 25, 1935, in a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. That’s pretty remarkable on its own, but in Bambino fashion, his last home run became legend because it was the first time anyone had seen a ball go past the ball. 86 foot stands at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh. Some claimed he even emptied the bleachers 50 feet.
Whether true or not, the ball definitely landed in a yard four blocks from the stadium, where a young man picked it up and rushed to get Ruth’s signature. The ball is now in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.