Ruth, Babe

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Ruth, Babe

Babe Ruth (George Herman Ruth), 1895–1948, American baseball player, considered by many the greatest of all baseball players, b. Baltimore.

Early Life

When he was seven years old his parents placed him in St. Mary's Industrial School (Baltimore), an institution for underprivileged boys. His days at St. Mary's were spent learning the tailor's trade and practicing baseball in his spare time. He began to play semiprofessional ball in Pennsylvania and was signed by the Baltimore Orioles (International League) in 1914. That same year he was sold as a pitcher to the Boston Red Sox of the American League.

Major-League Career

Ruth, a left hander, proved to be (1914–19) a formidable pitcher for the Red Sox and one of the most successful in major-league baseball, winning 87 and losing 44 games and winning three World Series games (one in 1916, two in 1918). However, because pitchers do not play in every game, in 1919 Ruth was shifted to the outfield, where his hitting prowess could be used consistently.

The following year he was sold to the New York Yankees of the American League, and because of his batting feats and attractive public personality he greatly helped to salvage baseball's popularity, weakened by revelations that gamblers and players, in the so-called Black Sox scandal, had successfully conspired to influence the results of the 1919 World Series. Ruth hit the most home runs per season for several years (1919–21, 1923–24, 1926–30), tied for the home run lead in 1918 and 1931, and set a record of 60 home runs in a 154-game season in 1927. (In 1961 Roger Maris hit 61 in a 162-game season, in 1998 Mark McGwire hit 70, and in 2001 Barry Bonds hit 73.) Ruth hit 714 home runs in major league play, a record that held until 1974, when Hank Aaron surpassed it. Ruth led the Yankees to seven pennants (1921–23, 1926–28, 1932), and Yankee Stadium, built in 1923, came to be known as "the house that Ruth built."

He was the highest-paid player of his era, but toward the end of his career he took several salary cuts before he was traded by the Yankees to the Boston Braves (National League) in 1935. He played with the Braves while serving as assistant manager but soon (June, 1935) was released.

Ruth was an unmistakable figure with his large frame and spindle-thin legs, and his talented and colorful play captured baseball fans' imagination. For example, in the third game of the 1932 World Series he appeared to indicate a spot in the stands of the Chicago Cubs' ball park where he would hit the ball and promptly blasted it there for a home run. Off the playing field "the Bambino," as he was affectionately called, made headlines for his charitable actions, such as visiting sick children in hospitals, as well as for his prodigious appetites and flamboyant lifestyle.

In 1936, Ruth became the second player to be elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame; Ty Cobb was the first. A year before he died he established and endowed the Babe Ruth Foundation to aid underprivileged youth. He wrote How to Play Baseball (1931).

See biography by L. Montville (2006).

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