The Babe's Monster Deal; Ruth's Contract Set the Standard

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 8, 2009 | Go to article overview
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The Babe's Monster Deal; Ruth's Contract Set the Standard


The game's greatest slugger reached for the sheaf of papers and scribbled his name on the bottom line - George Herman Ruth. The date was March 8, 1930, and the Babe had just signed the biggest contract in baseball history: $80,000 for each of two seasons. Said his immediate boss, general manager Ed Barrow of the New York Yankees: No one will ever be paid more.

It was a terrible guess, but Barrow had no way of knowing that 79 years later the Yankees would be giving Alex Rodriguez about $25 million a season - or more for about three days than Ruth earned for a season.

This was early in what came to be known as the Great Depression, and bread lines were forming across the country.

You know what, Babe, a man is supposed to have told Ruth. You're making more than the president of the United States [Republican Herbert Hoover, who earned $75,000 a year].

The Babe, an ardent Democrat, scowled. So what? he is supposed to have replied. I had a better year than Hoover did.

No argument there. In 1929, Ruth batted .345 with 46 home runs and 154 RBI, though the Yankees failed to win the American League pennant for the first time in four years. The luckless Hoover had been president for only seven months when Wall Street collapsed that October, sending the nation reeling toward financial ruin.

Ruth was 35 then and still in his prime despite years of indulging in wine, women and song. He rewarded the Yankees with two more epic seasons (.359, 49, 153 in 1930; .373, 46, 163 in 1931) before approaching an inevitable decline that led to his retirement in 1935.

Yet the Yankees did not dominate baseball in those years as they had in the 1920s. Connie Mack's Philadelphia Athletics beat them out of pennants both seasons despite the Babe's heavy hitting. Meanwhile, Ruth became a bitter, sulking man after the Yankees snubbed him in 1931 to pick career minor leaguer Joe McCarthy as manager.

In the spring of 1930, though, all was just dandy with the Babe's world although there was a comic opera touch to his signing. Back then, there were no player agents or free agency. Yet the largely uneducated Ruth proved effective in negotiating with Barrow and Col. Jacob Ruppert, the Yankees' millionaire owner.

If you're scoring at home, give an assist on the play to the Babe's second wife, Claire, a no-nonsense former showgirl who probably prodded him into his unprecedented salary demands.

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