George Herman (Babe) Ruth overshadowed the game. He remains to this day the very soul of baseball. His career, on and off the field, made him one of the most legendary Americans to have ever lived.
Babe was born in 1895 in Baltimore. His parents, Katherine (née Schamberger) and George Herman Ruth Sr., were both of German descent. As per the 1880 census, his parents were born in Maryland, while his paternal grandparents were from Prussia and Hanover.
It is uncertain how Ruth came to play baseball. According to one account, Babe was constantly at odds with authorities as he repeatedly broke Baltimore’s windows with long hits while playing streetball. Another account has it that Babe was told to join a baseball team on his first day at school.
Making Baseball A Career
In 1914 Jack Dunn, who owned a local minor-league Baltimore Orioles franchise, signed Babe to a contract for $600. Ruth got the nickname “Babe” when a sportswriter described him as one of “Dunn’s babes”.
For his day, Ruth was quite a large man. Babe was more than six feet tall and weighed more than 200 pounds. Before the end of the 1914 season, his performance as a pitcher was so remarkable that Dunn sold Ruth to the American League Boston Red Sox.
Babe Ruth became the first star of a world where practically every citizen was able to share in common media experiences. Ruth’s legend was founded on the diamond. After three dominant seasons with the Red Sox in Boston as a pitcher – where he won 65 games between 1915 and 1917 and was also widely considered the game’s best left-hander – Ruth moved into the outfield. Here he led the American League in home runs with 11 in 1918 before reaching a record 29 home runs in 1919.
Before the 1920 baseball season, the Red Sox sold Ruth to the Yankees and so planted the seeds of a dynasty. With 54 home runs in 1920 – as well as 59 more in 1921 – Ruth captured the attention of a nation. While playing in New York, Babe Ruth had a lot of supporters from the Italian community. Bambino means baby boy in Italian.
Many of the records which Ruth set stayed in place for decades. His career home run record remained unbeaten until 1974 when it was broken by Hank Aaron. Babe Ruth’s record of 60 home runs in one single season (1927) of 154 games wasn’t topped until 1961 when Roger Maris hit 61 home runs in an extended season of 162 games. The Sultan of Swat’s (which was one of the many, many nicknames that Ruth earned) career slugging percentage of .690 is still the highest in Major League history.
Ruth succumbed to throat cancer at the young age of 53 on 16 August 1948, in New York City. He was given the honour of his body lying in state at Yankee Stadium in NYC for two days, where over 100 000 fans came to pay their final respects.