On February 6, 1895, George Herman Ruth Jr. was th

e first child bornto 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.

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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 Ruth arrived in New
York. “What caused the explosion?” Robert Creamer asks, “The end of the
war, Ruth, money and the lively ball”. While Ruth’s seemingly effortless
ability to hit home runs did much to attract a record 38,600 spectators to
Polo Grounds one Sunday afternoon during his first season, his timing also
had a profound effect on his success. Ruth arrived in New York after World
War I, when the Yankees had money and were financially able to take
advantage of the widespread interest in their newly acquired sensation.

“The result was a rising zest for public spectacles, and Ruth rose with the
flood, in just the right place”. Other hitters also seemed anxious to
“rise with the flood,” by copying Ruth’s full swing, causing batting
averages to jump from .250 in the fifteen seasons before 1919, to above
.285 by 1921, and they remained in the .280s through the 1930’s.

While with the Yankees, Babe also met with his share of trouble, but
his rebel streak lent itself quite nicely to his emerging larger-than-life
heroic image. In 1922, he was suspended five times for “objectionable”
behavior, which included bad-mouthing umpires and chasing after an abusive
fan. By 1925, Babe’s first marriage to Helen Woodford was falling apart
amid rumors of his affair with the woman who was to become his second wife,
he was betting on horse races, drinking heavily, speeding, sleeping with
“an endless parade of women,” and missing much of the season due to various
illnesses. In Field of Screams: The Dark Underside of America’s National
Pastime, Richard Scheinin has this to say about “The Bambino’s” behavior:
Red Smith once wrote, “Many players are physical animals with a layer
of muscle enclosing the intellect.” That describes Babe Ruth to a T. He
was a man-child, egocentric and out of control: the very prototype for the
modern athlete, drunk on headlines, who can’t get enough money, enough
drink or drugs, enough women. These characters had been in the game all
along, but Ruth truly delivered the whole ball of wax. He set the

Smelser, M. (1975), The Life That Ruth Built: A Biography

The Life That Ruth Built: A Biography

Richard Marth
3rd Period


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