Babe Ruth: Breaking Boundaries on the Field, Facing Boundaries Off
"Yeah, she even signed her name on it…some lady named…Ruth. Baby Ruth.”
“BABE RUTH?”- The Sandlot 1993
This is the greatest time of the year. Yes, spring training has begun. So it is time to talk baseball and my favorite player, George Herman Ruth Jr.
The Sultan of Swat, the Colossus of Clout, the King of Swing, the Babe, the Great Bambino. He has many names, and has been idolized for years. He has been featured in the all-time greatest baseball movie, The Sandlot. Babe Ruth. George Herman Ruth Jr. If you do not know who this is, I strongly suggest that you do some light reading.
Ruth was born in Baltimore Maryland and was raised by the Catholic orphanage of St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boy’s. This is where he learned about baseball and realized he had exceptional skills. At 19 he was signed professionally and eventually called up to the Boston Red Sox.
Despite being known as the King of Swing, Ruth began his career as a left-handed pitcher. And he was amazingly good. At least partly due to his valuable arm, the Red Sox were the winners of three world championships. For the Sox he pitched 135 total games, winning 89 and only losing 46 times. Yep, He was amazing!
Ruth was then sold to the Yankees for $100,000 to pay off a debt that Harry Frazee (owner of the Boston Red Sox) had acquired. If you have ever heard of the Curse of the Bambino, that’s where it came from. It is considered by some the second worst trade in MLB history. After Ruth was sold, the Red Sox went into an 86 year dry spell without winning a World Series. That ended in 2004 when the Red Sox overcame n 0-3 deficit to defeat the New York Yankees in the 2004 American League Championship and then swept the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. Ironic isn’t it? The Sox lost Babe to the Yankees and then beat them to win the series (Yes, 86 years later).
It is with the Yankees that Ruth was moved off the mound and made into an everyday player. And as a hitter, he was amazing. In 1920 -- his first season with the Yankees -- Ruth hit 54 homeruns. No team in the American League managed to hit more than 50 home runs. Yes, by himself Ruth hit more than any other team in the American League. Think about that for a moment. This past season the Toronto Blue Jays led the American League with 232 home runs. Imagine a player hitting more than 232 home runs.
That is essentially what Ruth did in 1920.
With the Yankees, the Sultan of Swat kept swatting home runs. Twelve different times Ruth led the American League in home runs. And Ruth wasn't just a home run hitter. He also had seasons where he led in runs, runs-batted-in, walks, batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging average. One might think such a player would also dominate when it comes to pay. In one sense, Ruth did. In 1930, Ruth was paid $80,000. At that time, the President of the United States was paid $70,000. The Sultan of Swat had no issues with accepting a paycheck greater than the President's. He stated that he had a ‘better year than [Hoover]!' And Ruth did! In 1930, the economy was in the Great Depression. And Ruth -- with a batting average of .359 and 153 RBI’s - was hardly depressing!
Although $80,000 was more than the what President Hoover got paid, it is not much compared to what players get today. Adjusted for inflation, $80,000 in 1930 is only worth $1.1 million today. In other words, compared to today's players Ruth wasn't paid much at all. And that's because Ruth was never able to sell his services on an open market. Because Ruth was only able to negotiate with the team that held his rights, his salary was -- like the economy of 1930 -- quite depressed.
Ruth didn't just face problems with respect to his pay. The King of Swing was diagnosed with intestinal disorders which hindered his ability to play ball. He only played 98 games 1925 and hit 25 home runs.. Ruth was just off his game. That same year, he was divorced from his first wife whom later died in 1929. He then remarried to Helen Hodgson and adopted her daughter Julia as his own. Needless to say, he took some hits during his career. He was forced to stop playing ball for a while, but he sure did overcome that forced break. When his career ended, he clearly was considered one of the greatest players in the game's history.
“To understand him you had to understand this: he wasn't human.” - Joe Dugan.
To this day, not many people do understand him, and that is what still makes him interesting. His lifetime statistics are still prestigious to this day, with 2,873 hits, 506 doubles, 2,174 runs, 2,213 runs and a .342 batting average.
“It wasn't that he hit more home runs than anybody else, he hit them better, higher, farther and with more theatrical timing and a more flamboyant flourish,” said Red Smith, which held true for a long time.
Babe Ruth and his history inspired people to get out and play ball. Ruth was all about getting gloves into every kid’s hands and having them swing bats too. He thought that nobody should quit until the baselines feel like they’re up hill. Ruth thought that baseball “was, is and always will be the best game in the world [and it] deserves the best you can give it."
“Never let the fear of striking out keep you from coming to bat.”- George Herman Ruth Jr.
And remember, “There's heroes and there's legends. Heroes get remembered but legends never die, follow your heart kid, and you'll never go wrong.”- “The Babe”, Sandlot 1993.
You can follow the author of this article on Twitter at @AwkwardAmanda_.