The Great Bambino

The Great Bambino
AP Photo, File

Nineteen twenty-seven was a magical year for Babe Ruth. The New York Yankees right-fielder had a .358 batting average, hit 60 home runs (a single-season record that would last for 34 years), scored 158 runs, and drove in 165. In the Yankees' four-game World Series sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates, he batted .400, hitting the only two home runs of the series.

What immediately followed this triumphant season is the framework of Jane Leavy's The Big Fella: Babe Ruth and the World He Created. On October 10, 1927, Ruth and his teammate Lou Gehrig began a three-week, cross-country barnstorming tour in Providence, Rhode Island. The tour was the brainchild of Christy Walsh, a representative of Ruth and Gehrig who promoted the tour as a continuation of that season's home run chase between his two clients. In addition to heading squads of local players at each stop of the tour—with Ruth's Bustin' Babes facing off against Gehrig's Laruppin' Lous—the stars visited hospitals and orphanages, gave speeches and radio interviews, attended banquets, and signed autographs. Combined with the World Series win, Leavy notes, the successful tour made for “the best month of [Ruth's] life.”

That life began when George Herman Ruth, Jr., was born in a modest Baltimore row house on February 6, 1895. An unruly child who was starved for affection (“I think my mother hated me,” he said years later), Ruth was seven when his parents deposited him at St. Mary's Industrial School for Orphans, Delinquent, Incorrigible, and Wayward. It was during his nearly 12-year stay at St. Mary's that he met Brother Matthias, a 6'4”, 225-pound father figure of sorts who introduced the Babe to baseball. Late in life Ruth credited Brother Matthias with “teaching me how to play ball—and how to think…[he was] the greatest man I've ever known.” Within eight months of leaving the school, Ruth joined the Boston Red Sox, for whom he made his major-league debut on July 11, 1914, at age 19.  Nicknamed “Babe” by teammates because of his youth, he was traded to the New York Yankees five years later.

 

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