Babe Ruth was big. Not just his body, which to modern eyes looks like a shapeless lump perched precariously on fragile legs. The Babe was one of the big personalities of 20th century America. You could say he singlehandedly made baseball the National Pastime. But he was bigger than the game.
He was a fun-loving guy whose career peaked in the 1920s, a fun-loving decade. His enthusiasm for baseball and for life was evident to all, and was contagious. He also changed baseball from what we now call “small ball”, singles and sacrifices and stolen bases, and brought about a fascination with the home run. Consider this, from the Babe Ruth official Web site (yes, of course there’s an official Web site, are you kidding?):
“In 1927, Babe Ruth’s 60 home runs accounted for 14% of all home runs in the American League that year. To put that figure in modern perspective, a player would need to hit over 340 home runs in a season to account for 14% of the American League’s total home run output.”
Kids loved the Babe, and he often visited hospitals to see children without anyone knowing. He came from a tough, working-class neighborhood, and he never forgot how far his accomplishments had taken him.
And what accomplishments! Single-season home run record of 60 lasted 34 years. Career total of 714 homers lasted 39 years. The Sporting News ranked him the number one baseball player of all time. The Associated Press named him Athlete of the Century. ESPN Sports Century named him number two, to Michael Jordan. Idiots.
Babe died of throat cancer at the age of 53. Here’s a newsreel of his farewell to the fans, and his fans saying farewell to the Babe.