Official site of
|George Herman "Babe" Ruth
Ruth, George Herman ("Babe") (Feb. 6, 1895 - Aug. 17, 1948), baseball player, was born in
Baltimore, Md., the son of George Herman Ruth and Katherine (Shamborg or Schamberger)
Ruth, who were both of German ancestry. He was the oldest of their eight children, but only he
and a sister survived infancy. Ruth's father worked unsuccessfully at various jobs including
bartending and slaughter-house work, and young George had a deprived childhood. A swearing,
stealing, tobacco-chewing boy, he ran wild in the city streets, frequenting saloons and pool halls.
At the age of seven his parents had him legally committed to the St. Mary's Industrial Home for
Boys in Baltimore, a Roman Catholic institution run by the Xaverian Brothers. The home became
his training ground and, when the ne'er-do-well father found that he could escape tuition
payments, it became his legal guardian as well. Ruth's mother died when he was seventeen, and
his father four years later.
As surrogate parents, the Xaverian Brothers exerted a powerful influence on Ruth. He was taught
shirtmaking, cabinetmaking, and cigarrolling, tasks that he handled capably. Placed under a rigid
regimen of shopwork and skimpy meals, he learned to finish his work quotas quickly to gain time
for sports. Baseball was then the favorite at St. Mary's and Ruth quickly became the school's star
player, satiating his appetite by playing as many as two hundred games a year. At the age of
twelve he was, in the opinion of one of the brothers, "a natural . . . born to the game." Physically
he was big. "Not fleshy, in fact more on the wiry side. . . . He had a mop of thick darkbrown hair.
He was livelier than most . . . full of mischief . . . aggressive, shouting . . . always wrestling . . ."
He developed a strong admiration for Brother Matthias, one of his teachers, and adopted his
habit of walking with toes pointed inward, a characteristic stride that later delighted Ruth's fans.
When Ruth was nineteen, word of his prowess as a left-handed pitcher reached Jack Dunn, the
highly successful owner-operator of the Baltimore club of the International League. After scouting
Ruth in 1914, Dunn agreed to become his legal guardian in order to acquire his pitching services.
It was one of Dunn's coaches who dubbed the young protégé with his lifelong nickname of
"Babe." A financial squeeze, however, forced Dunn to sell Ruth the same year to the
major-league Boston Red Sox for $2,900. In the remaining weeks of play in 1914, Ruth won two
games for Boston and was sent for further seasoning to the Providence (R.I.) team of the
International League. With a brilliant overall record for 1914, his major-league career was
launched. On October 17 of that same year, Ruth married Helen Woodford, a Boston waitress.
They had no children, but in 1920 they adopted a baby, Dorothy, from an orphanage. In 1928
Ruth and his wife were separated, and in early 1929 she died in a fire at Waterloo, Mass. Over
the next four years, as a regular Red Sox pitcher, Ruth helped Boston win three American League
pennants and three World Series titles. A strong left-hander, he had speed and a good curve ball.
In the World Series of 1918 he pitched a shutout; he later extended a string of scoreless pitching
in World Series play into a record that held for almost fifty years. Overall, his six years as a
Boston pitcher showed eighty-nine victories and forty-six losses, a pace which, if continued,
would surely have ranked him as one of baseball's greatest pitchers.
But Ruth's versatility ended his pitching. His exceptional abilities as a hitter prompted Boston
manager Ed Barrow in 1918 to place him full-time in the outfield, where he played thereafter. By
then Ruth stood six feet two inches tall and weighed 185 pounds. He was brawny in the chest and
inclined toward fatness, but he was muscular and, notwithstanding a pair of incongruously slim
legs, a fast runner. Unlike Ty Cobb, who employed the "scientific" choke-hitting style, Ruth was a
free swinger who gripped a heavy bat at the end and used body weight and wrist leverage to
power the ball. When he connected, the ball flew far, and, even when he missed, his swing was
an electrifying sight. In 1918 he batted 300 and hit eleven homers; a year later he astounded the
baseball world by clubbing a record twenty-nine homers on a .322 batting average.
Such feats made him a superstar. When in 1919 Boston owner Harry Frazee, needing money to
promote a musical play, sold Ruth to the New York Yankees for $125,000 and a loan, Boston
fans were enraged. Ruth soon won the adulation of New York fans and the powerful New York
press. During the 1920 season he hit fifty-four homers and quickly overshadowed the great Ty
Cobb as the hero of baseball. In so doing he revolutionized the style of baseball play, popularizing
the explosive, decisive, high-scoring game of the home run. With Ruth as the unparalleled
exponent, the "big bang" style came to dominate baseball strategy. Since his rise to fame occurred
soon after the "Black Sox" scandal, with its revelations of bribery and corruption, some historians
give Ruth credit for reviving a flagging public interest in baseball; but attendance figures in the
years 1919 and 1920 show that he merely escalated an already rising tide.
Ruth was the dominant figure in American baseball from 1920 to 1935, leading the New York
Yankees to seven league pennants and five World Series championships. His salary rose from
$20,000 in 1920 to a peak of $80,000 in 1930-1931. Altogether he earned $1 million in salary in
twenty-two seasons, a sum that he doubled by endorsements and public appearances. He had
become a national celebrity. In the fall of 1927, after hitting his all-time seasonal high of sixty
homers, Ruth toured the Far West and attracted adoring crowds and banner headlines. Returning
home, he signed a $100,000 vaudeville contract. Two years later, on Apr. 17, 1929, Ruth
married Mrs. Claire Merritt Hodgson, a widow who had been an actress and professional model,
and whose daughter, Julia, he adopted.
As an American folk hero, Ruth found that his private life attracted attention, and his misdeeds
became public knowledge. During World War I he was widely censured as a draft dodger. Later,
sharp criticism focused on his high salary and his gambling, drinking, and wenching, and he was
obliged to adjust his behavior somewhat to fit his public image. A lavish spender, Ruth learned to
depend on financial advisors to curb his prodigality. Though unschooled and unmannered in
middle-class etiquette, Ruth was no boorish lout. An idol of American boys, he was frequently
photographed in their company, and often appeared at the bedsides of hospitalized youths,
gestures that enriched his appeal and atoned for his crudities. One such visit elicited a vivid
description from the writer Paul Gallico: "The door opened and it was God himself who walked
into the room . . . God dressed in a camel's hair polo coat and flat, camel's hair cap, God with a
flat nose and little piggy eyes, a big grin, and a fat black cigar sticking out of the side of it." By
1930 Ruth was said to be the most photographed hero of the day, eclipsing presidents, royalty,
dictators, and prizefighters.
As a player Ruth was hard to manage, often brawling with fellow players and contending with
managers and baseball officials. When he defied the ruling of Commissioner Kenesaw M. Landis
against postseason barnstorming, Ruth was fined and barred from playing a third of the 1922
season, an action that cost him the home-run title that year. In 1925, stricken with what
newspapers at first called a "big belly ache," he was hospitalized and underwent surgery for an
intestinal abscess. Incapacitated for much of that season, he returned in a garrulous mood,
quarreled with his manager, Miller Huggins, and was fined $5,000--the heaviest fine in baseball
history. Sobered at last, Ruth submitted to discipline. He engaged a trainer to help him lose weight
and effected a comeback that added to his luster. Over the seasons of 1926-1928 he led the
Yankees to three straight pennants.
In a fifteen-year career as a Yankee, Ruth set many records. As of 1973, his lifetime slugging
average of .690 still led all others, as did his lifetime total of 714 home runs, his 2,216 runs batted
in, and the 2,056 bases on balls that cautious pitchers awarded him. His overall performance was
the more remarkable since he had spent a quarter of his big-league career as a pitcher. His .342
lifetime batting average ranks ninth best in baseball history. But he also struck out often, and his
1,330 strikeouts put him in third place in that category. Ruth inevitably left many legends, none
more famous than his "called-shot" home run in the 1932 World Series, when, after being heckled
by the Chicago Cubs, he gestured toward the fence and on the next pitch hit a home run.
Despite his tremendous popularity among fans, Ruth found no secure place in major-league
baseball in his later years. When his physical prowess waned, the Yankee management offered
him a chance to manage in the minor leagues. Ruth spurned the offer, and the Yankees in 1935
released him to the Boston Braves. The Boston opportunity turned out to be a crude publicity
stunt aimed at exploiting his drawing power; disillusioned, Ruth quit in midseason. In 1936 he was
elected a charter member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Two years later he accepted a coaching
offer from the Brooklyn Dodgers, but resigned before the end of the season for the same reason
that had made him leave the Boston Braves. His last years became increasingly embittered as he
awaited the managerial offer that never came. Still in the public eye, he appeared in movies, sold
bonds during World War II, and became director of the Ford Motor Company's junior baseball
program. In 1948, shortly before his death, he saw himself portrayed in a Hollywood film, The
Babe Ruth Story. Ruth had invested in annuities and remained well-off financially; he continued to
be the favorite of baseball fans, who roared affectionate greetings at his public appearances.
In 1946 Ruth developed cancer of the throat. Despite surgical and X-ray treatment, he died two
years later in New York City's Memorial Hospital at the age of fifty-three. American baseball
officials gave him the equivalent of a state funeral, placing his casket in the rotunda of Yankee
Stadium where a hundred thousand people passed by his bier. After services in St. Patrick's
Cathedral, he was buried in the Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Westchester County, N.Y.
"George Herman Ruth."Dictionary of American Biography, Supplement 4: 1946-1950. American
Council of Learned Societies, 1974. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington
Hills, Mich.: The Gale Group. 2003.