He could not have been made up. His talents while unique made him far from perfect. His desire to live was unrestrained and his appetite for life was uncontrollable. Someone once said, “He would eat anything that wouldn’t eat him.” That face made him impossible not to recognize and to this day, no one has ever looked the same. He never seemed to know what he was doing, he just did it. He may have been the first professional athlete to figure out that people come to the ballpark to be entertained; that baseball was show business. Could he have been some sort of alien?
Most people want to be in the presence of greatness and this was no different. The cranks would watch with anticipation as he swung two bats in the on-deck circle. As he made his way to the plate, people began to stand and clap; he hadn’t done anything yet, but still they applauded. There, he would kick the dirt a bit and smile at the pitcher. Pitchers hated facing him. Even the best twirlers would lose sleep the night before the game.
As the pitcher delivered the baseball, he would take that long stride, moving towards the ball with a little hop and immense power. The sound at impact was unheard of, before. When he connected with the ball, it went boom, bam, pow. Fans would turn their heads, looking upward towards the sky. Some people would be so frightened from the sound, they would duck. The ball would continue its upward flight, far into the afternoon sunlight, where it would most likely land in “Ruthville,” the right field bleachers of Yankee Stadium.
His thin legs and fragile ankles now moved opposite of each other but in unison, to carry him around the base path. Like a prancer, he would run on his tiptoes, with his head down, until reaching third base where he would doff his cap and wave to the fans before crossing home plate and disappearing into the dugout.
The most exciting thing in baseball was to see “Babe” Ruth hit a home run and the second most exciting thing was watching him strike out. Teammate Lou Gehrig once said, “I batted behind Ruth. It made no difference what I did; the fans were still talking about what he had just done.” All he did was invent the home run.
Ruth played at a time where writers of the day would cover up his excesses instead of taking time to dig them up. Newspaper men like Grantland Rice, Damon Runyon, Jimmy Cannon, and Paul Galico helped fuel the story of this mortal man who had become a god in a wool uniform. Some would have you believe that he was one of the few players who actually lived up to the hype.
It’s true that he was the first player to hit thirty home runs, forty home runs, fifty home runs and sixty. In fact, he set all the hitting records, most of the pitching records and in many ways, has never left the game. But Babe Ruth was more than baseball. He was a great dancer and he loved to listen to the Lone Ranger on the radio. He loved kids of all ages and backgrounds. He lent money to many of his teammates and showered his two wives and two daughters with anything they wanted. Most of all Babe Ruth was a consumer. He consumed food, drink, women, and life in large quantizes. The only thing that the Babe would not get, that he wanted badly, was a managerial job in baseball. It seemed that no one wanted a manager that they couldn’t control, and he was the only one of the original five Hall-of-Fame inductees that did not get a chance to manage. Sadly, no one realized that without baseball, the Babe had nothing. Baseball was all he knew. Ruth kicked around after baseball. Speaking engagements, advertising promos, and spring training appearances kept him going. He experienced tremendous headaches which led to the doctors finding throat cancer and surgery, but Ruth was never told he had cancer. He would later return to the hospital for the last time.
If anything could have saved the Babe, prayers would have done it, as millions of fans hit their knees every night and prayed for Ruth. The “Sultan of Swat” died of throat cancer on August 16, 1948. Over one hundred and fifty thousand fans lined up to pay their respects to the “Big Bam.” Say and write whatever you want about other baseball players, but Ruth will always be the symbol of baseball, as long as the game is played. Remember, he invented the home run.
Andy Purvis is a local author. His books "In the Company of Greatness" and "Remembered Greatness" are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble, at Beamer's Sports Grill 5922 S Staples, and online at many different sites including Amazon, bn.com, booksamillion, Google Books, etc. They are also available in e-reader format. Contact him at www.purvisbooks.com, firstname.lastname@example.org.