George Herman Ruth, Jr. was born on February 6, 1895 in Baltimore, Maryland. His parents were Kate Schamberger-Ruth and George Herman Ruth, Sr., who tended bar and eventually owned his own tavern near the Baltimore waterfront. The Ruth’s had eight children, but only two survived past infancy. They had a daughter named Mamie and a son named George, Jr.--the boy who would grow up to become an American hero.
George Jr. did not have a happy childhood. His parents worked long hours in the tavern, leaving their son to take care of himself much of the time. Eventually, when Babe was seven years old, his father took him to St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys, a reformatory and orphanage. There he signed custody over to the Xaverian brothers, Catholic missionaries who ran the school.
Babe Ruth during his Yankee career
During his 12 years at St. Mary’s, young George rarely saw his family. They did not come to visit on holidays or on the one Sunday per month when family could visit the boys at the school. Little George was an unruly student, infamously classified as “incorrigible.” Much of this was due the young man’s inability to adapt to the regimented and structured environment or St. Mary’s.
Estrangement from his parents led George, Jr. to find a father figure in Brother Matthias, the Prefect of Discipline at St. Mary’s school. Brother Mathias would have a very positive influence on George’s life, despite his reputation for unruliness. Brother Matthias, a very large, muscular man, became an inspiration to George in baseball as well as in other aspects of his life. The time spent with Brother Matthias not only helped hone George’s swing, but the guidance and encouragement gave him much needed support that would translate into George’s unfettering love of children in later years.
Jack’s Newest Babe
George’s talent was apparent at an early age. During his years at St. Mary’s, he continued to play a variety of positions on the school baseball teams. He played catcher most often during those years, until he started pitching around the age of 15. His pitching prowess was immediately noticeable, and he alternated at both catcher and pitcher on St. Mary’s varsity team.
When George was 19, Jack Dunn, owner and manager of the Baltimore Orioles (a Boston Red Sox minor league team at the time), recognized the young man’s talent and signed him to a contract. Jack was widely known as one of the best scouts in baseball. When the other players saw the strapping young Ruth, they referred to him as “Jack’s newest babe.” George Herman Ruth, Jr. was known as the “Babe” ever since.
After only five months with the Baltimore Orioles, The Boston Red Sox purchased Babe’s contract, and he became a Major Leaguer at the tender age of 19. He pitched and played outfield for the Red Sox for the next six years. Ruth made an immediate impact both on and off the field. Stories of his off-the-field eating and drinking escapades have become as legendary as his baseball accomplishments.
He will always be remembered as one of the greatest hitters of all time, but he was an equally adept pitcher. In his first World Series game for Boston in 1916, Babe set a record that still stands today. Ruth took the mound in Game 4 against the National League Champion Brooklyn Robins. He got off to a hard start in the first inning by giving up a quick run, but settled down to pitch 13 scoreless innings for the 2-1 win. The 14-inning gem stands as the longest complete game in World Series history.
Two years later, now the ace of the Boston staff, the Babeorchestrated another pitching masterpiece in Game 1 by pitching a complete game 1-0 shutout. He was called to the mound again in Game 4 against the Chicago Cubs. Once again, it seemed like Ruth was untouchable. He went eight strong innings, until giving up two runs in the top of the 8th. However, The Red Sox stormed back in their half of the inning with one run to put them up 3-2, and give Ruth his 3rd win in 3 World Series games. Most importantly, combined with his shutout innings in 1916, the nine scoreless innings in Game 1 of the 1918 World Series, and the eight scoreless innings in Game 4, Ruth notched a total of 29 2/3 scoreless World Series innings, breaking Christy Mathewson’s record. This great record stood for 43 years. A hard to beat streak also began after that World Series win: It would be the last World Series title the Red Sox would win until 2004.
The next season the Red Sox
finished with a dismal 66-71 record, 6th place in the American
League. Not only did Babe win nine of his 17 starts but he smashed
29 home runs, dismantling Buck Freeman’s single season home
run record by four long balls. However, new ownership took hold for
the Boston ball club, and Ruth’s career was about to take an
historic turn. In December 1919, new owner Harry Frazee sold the
emerging superstar to the Yankees for $100,000 and a $350,000 loan
to finance Frazee’s Broadway production interests. Many
consider this the most lopsided deal in the history of professional
The Yankees knew they were getting a star when they purchased Babe Ruth from the Red Sox, but they had no idea they were changing the course of modern sports history. In what became known as the “Curse of the Bambino,” the New York Yankees would go on to win 39 American League Pennants and 26 World Series Titles. The Red Sox, on the other hand, did not win another World Series until 2004.
In 1920, his first season in New York, Babe destroyed his own home run record he set the year before. He slammed an astounding 54 home runs, nearly double his previous record of 29. When Ruth joined the Yankees, the team shared the Polo grounds with the New York (baseball) Giants. Within a short time, Babe’s sensational home run hitting and undeniable candor became the biggest ticket in New York City. Soon, the Yankees drew so many fans that the team could afford to build Yankee Stadium, which opened in 1923. The famous stadium became known as “The House that Ruth Built.” Fittingly, he hit a home run on opening day. Later that season the Yankees began a tradition of excellence that continues today by winning their first World Series title.
Off the Field
Regardless of Babe’s on-field accomplishments, his personal life continued to be turbulent. He married 17-year-old waitress Helen Woodford in October 1914. By 1919, Babe made enough money for the couple to buy a country house in Sudbury, Massachusetts, in addition to their New York City home. In 1921 they adopted a baby girl named Dorothy. Ultimately the relationship failed and the couple got divorced in 1925. After the separation, Helen and Babe remained married because their religious beliefs did not encourage divorces. Tragically, in 1929 Helen was killed in a house fire. Dorothy, who had been living with her mother, came to stay with Babe. Babe married actress and model Claire Hodgson a few months later in April 1929, the day before the Yankees’ opening game against the Boston Red Sox. Babe hit a homer out of Yankee Stadium for his new bride on his first at-bat.
The Called Shot
Perhaps the most famous moment in baseball history, and certainly of Babe’s career, came during Game 3 of the 1932 World Series against the Chicago Cubs. In 5th inning, after he had already hit one homer, Babe came up to bat. He ran the count to two balls and two strikes. Before Cubs pitcher Charlie Root hurled the next pitch, amid the heckling of Cubs fans, Babe pointed to the center field bleachers. Then he slammed what is believed to be the longest home run ever hit out of Wrigley Field, directly above the spot where he had pointed. This story has been as debated as often as it has been celebrated. Did he really call his shot, or was he simply pointing at the pitcher? The world may never know. However, to many fans this moment symbolizes the golden age of baseball. The Yankees went on to win the 1932 World Series, their third sweep in four years.
The Beginning of the End
After the death of Yankees manager Miller Huggins in 1929, Babe expressed an interest in managing the team. Joe McCarthy, former Chicago Cubs manager, was chosen instead. Babe and McCarthy did not get along. Babe still harbored hopes to manage a Major League team while continuing his playing career as the most popular player of all time. In 1935, Babe thought he would get the chance to manage the National League Boston Braves. He retired from the Yankees and signed on as a player and first base coach with the understanding that he would become the Braves’ manager the next season. However, once again, his managerial hopes were dashed. In one of his final Major League games, he crushed three homers in Pittsburgh. On the final trip around the bases, the Babe tipped his cap to the somber crowd of 10,000 at Forbes Field. That home run would be number 714, the last of his amazing career.
He retired three days later in Boston, still holding out hope that the Yankees would hire him as manager. Instead, they offered him the managerial position of the Newark Bears, one of their minor league franchises. He defiantly turned down the job arguing that many other players jumped directly from their playing days into managing.
Major League Baseball came knocking one last time in 1938 when the Brooklyn Dodgers hired Ruth as a first base coach. Again, he believed that he would take over for Burleigh Grimes as manager after the season ended. Once again, his heart would be broken as Leo Durocher was named manager the following season. Never again would Babe don a Major League uniform.
In the fall of 1946, Babe was diagnosed with throat cancer and spent three months in the hospital. The operations impaired his voice, caused him to lose 80 pounds, and rendered him nearly immobile. The following year April 27 was declared Babe Ruth Day for every organized baseball league in the U.S. and Japan. Babe’s health continued to decline and on June 13, 1948 he made his last appearance at the stadium where his legend was born. On the 25th anniversary of the opening of Yankee Stadium the Yankees honored the player that made them the most recognizable team in the world by retiring his number 3. This would be the last time the Babe was ever seen in the famous pinstripes.
Babe Ruth died on August 16, 1948 at Memorial Hospital in New York City at age 53. His body lay in state at the entrance of Yankee Stadium on August 17 and 18, where over 100,000 people came to pay their final respects. Thousands of fans surrounded New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the route to the Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne, New York on the day of his funeral, as the world mourned the passing of Babe Ruth.
Of all the players in baseball history, none has ever reached the mythic status of Babe Ruth. Since his death, Babe continues to be formally recognized for his accomplishments. A fewexamples of the posthumous awards Babe received were The Associated Press’s Athlete of the Century in 1999 and The Sporting News’ Greatest Player of All-Time. These awards gave babe Ruth the title of one of the greatest players in baseball history.
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