The Life That Ruth Built: A Biography


On February 6, 1895, George Herman Ruth Jr. was the first child born to a saloonkeeper and his wife in Baltimore, Maryland. The family lived upstairs over the bar, and Mrs. Ruth had seven children after Babe, although only one, a daughter Mary Margaret, called "Mamie," survived. Babe was an absolute terror as a child. At the tender age of seven, he was playing hooky from school, stealing fruits and vegetables, chewing tobacco, and drinking his father\'s whiskey. He told Fred Lieb, "I learned early to drink beer, wine, whiskey, and I think I was about five when I first chewed tobacco. There was a lot of cousin’s in Pop\'s saloon, so I learned a lot of swear words, some really bad ones". Finally, his parents were no longer able to force him to go to school and sent him away to receive formal training and reform at St. Mary\'s Industrial School for Boys. While living at "The Home," Babe took up baseball and was a left-handed catcher on the school championship team, the Red Sox, and he soon became the school\'s best player. After several failed "parole" attempts and the death of his mother in 1910, Ruth was released from St. Mary\'s at the age of nineteen and found that his reputation as a baseball player had spread.


Jack Dunn\'s Baltimore Orioles, then a minor league team, signed Ruth to a $600 contract in February of 1914. Barely a week later, he hit his first home run, which prompted one newspaper reporter to remark, "The hit will live in the memory of all who saw it. The ball carried so far to right field that [Ruth] walked around the bases". Despite his powerful bat, however, while with the Orioles, Ruth was considered strictly a pitcher and managed to win 14 games (and acquire his nickname "Babe") before Dunn sold him to the Boston Red Sox in July of the same year. Ruth kept up his amazing left-handed pitching, winning 18 games in 1915 and 23 in 1916, and in the 1918 World Series, he pitched 29 consecutive scoreless innings, a record that lasted more than 40 years.


By 1919, Ruth had cemented his reputation as a great hitter as well, hitting 29 home runs in a single season, breaking the major-league record. Also in 1919, a Red Sox owner sold Ruth, who was by then a national celebrity, to the New York Yankees desperate for cash. The Babe and New York City was a perfect match. In his first season, Ruth belted an unheard of 54 home runs. In 1921, he hit 59. In only three seasons, Babe had amassed a whopping 124 home runs, more than any other batter had hit in an entire season. Attendance soared and Babe began to react and play to his fans, especially those of the opposing team. While playing for the Yankees in the 1928 World Series in St. Louis, Ruth was "booed cheerfully" by Cardinal fans as he trotted to left field to take his position. He grinned playfully and pointed beyond the right field wall, indicating the destination of his forthcoming hit. In his next at bat, Babe delivered on his promise, (his alleged "Called Shot" would not take place until 1932), then again, and again, and by the end of the game he had hit three home runs, the second time he\'d managed to do so in a single World Series game. Between 1926 and 1931, Babe averaged 50 home runs a year, including 60 in 1927, as a member of the infamous "Murderer\'s Row." He led the American League in home runs 12 out of 14 seasons. On January 16, 1920, eleven days after the announcement of Babe Ruth\'s sale to the New York Yankees, Prohibition went into effect in the United States. The country was nearly on the verge of social revolution, and accordingly, baseball had already begun to experience an explosive "revolution" of its own. In the first half of the century, a "safe," "scientific" strategy, low scores, and effective pitching had dominated the game. Standout players like Cobb, Wagner, and others could certainly hit, however, the emphasis was on team scoring rather than individual performance. Then Babe