Tag Archives: Babe Ruth

Film: The Natural

The New York Daily News and ESPN both named The Natural as the sixth-best sports movie of all time. Uploaded by robertedwardauctions.com.

Robert Redford was at his best as Roy Hobbs, the “natural” baseball player whose career was changed forever by an encounter with a deranged fan. Years go by, and Hobbs finally gets a second chance at the big leagues.

Uploaded by images.sodahead.com.

The movie is told almost as myth, with supernatural elements in many scenes. As a boy, Hobbs carved a bat from a branch of a tree split by lightning. He carves a lightning bolt into it, and calls it “Wonderboy.” There’s a wonderful scene in which Hobbs, as a pitcher, strikes out “The Whammer,” an obvious doppelganger for Babe Ruth. And the final scene is over the top as a badly hurt Hobbs hits a home run to win the pennant as lightning flashes in the sky.

The Natural was directed by Barry Levinson, a director who was hot in the 1980s (Diner, Tin Men, Rain Man, Good Morning, Vietnam).  It had an excellent cast, featuring Glenn Close (Academy Award nomination), Barbara Hershey, Wilford Brimley, Robert Duvall (Great American Things, August 21, 2009), and Darren McGavin.

Both the New York Daily News and ESPN named The Natural as the number 6 sports movie of all time.

Sports: Baseball All-Star Game

Major League Baseball began playing its Midsummer Classic, the All-Star Game, back in 1933. Babe Ruth hit a home run in the first game. Uploaded to Flickr by B.Smile.

Baseball has been playing an All-Star game since 1933, and though there have been some bumps along the way, for the most part it’s been done with integrity. The other major sports followed baseball’s lead, but their all-star games are all a big joke. This is one of the few ways that baseball still gets it right.

Uploaded to Flickr by guyonthecomputer.

Fans vote in the starting lineups for both the American and National League teams, players pick most of the reserves, and managers fill out the roster. This process changes from time to time, but giving the paying public the ability to choose the starters earns the game popular support, even if the best players are sometimes left off in favor of the most popular ones.

There have been some wonderful moments in All-Star game history. In 1934, Carl Hubbell struck out Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmy Foxx, Al Simmons and Joe Cronin in a row – five future hall-of-famers. In 1955, Stan Musial hit a walk-off homer in the bottom of the 12th to give the Nationals a victory. In 1970, Pete Rose bowled over catcher Ray Fosse, also in the bottom of the 12th, causing the catcher to drop the ball and the National League gained another win. And in 2001, in what everyone knew was his final All-Star game appearance, Cal Ripken homered to bring a fairy-tale conclusion to his storied career in the Midsummer Classic…

Americana: Louisville Slugger

We're not sure who J. Fred Hillerich of Louisville made his first Slugger for, but we know it's been used by the greats from Babe Ruth to Derek Jeter. Uploaded by farm3.static.flickr.com.

J. Fred Hillerich of Louisville, Kentucky, wanted nothing to do with baseball bats. On that, everyone agrees. He focused his woodworking shop on more profitable things, such as bedposts, tenpins, and a swinging butter churn. A patented swinging butter churn, no less.

His son, Bud, had other ideas. Maybe he made the first bat for a local pro named Pete Browning. Maybe he made it for a visiting player, Arlie Latham of the St. Louis Browns. Or maybe he made it for a little green man from Mars. Does it matter? What America knows is that baseball players all the way from Babe Ruth (Great American Things, Aug. 3, 2009) to Derek Jeter have relied on Louisville Sluggers.

Uploaded by apwa.net.

One factor in the company’s success has been that amateur players could swing a bat endorsed by the top Major Leaguers. Honus Wagner was the first to sign a sponsorship contract, which was also the first product endorsement in American sports history.

Of course, each Louisville Slugger is unique. The heaviest ever ordered was 48 ounces, used by Ed Roush of the Cincinnati Reds. The lightest came in at only 30 ounces – Billy Goodman of the Boston Red Sox used it in 1950 to win the American League batting crown. And Al Simmons used the longest bat, at 38 inches.

It’s with a heavy heart that I report that Hillerich & Bradsby (the corporate name of the manufacturer) also makes – it really pains me to say this – aluminum bats as well. No doubt the aluminum bats make the profit that allows the company to continue making wood bats, when few amateur groups still use them.

I still remember using Louisville Sluggers in my youth baseball days. Ah yes, the many home runs that…oh, all right, the many doubles I hit with my Al Kaline and Richie Ashburn models…

Oh, and Carrie Underwood reminds us of another use for these bats:

Sports: Baseball Hall of Fame

The centerpiece of the Hall of Fame is the first-floor gallery, featuring the plaques of all 292 members. Uploaded by sports.espn.go.com.

Today’s post is another that honors two interconnected ideas – in this case, the museum in Cooperstown, New York and also the selection of players who are enshrined there. While these two are related, they are still separate entities.

It was said that Cooperstown became the site of the Hall of Fame because Abner Doubleday invented the game of baseball there. But he really didn’t. And that was pretty well established by the time the museum opened. In reality, local people who knew Cooperstown needed an economic boost in the midst of the Depression conceived the idea for the Hall.

A gallery featuring the plaques of all 292 Hall of Famers is the centerpiece of the museum. That’s 203 former Major League players, 30 Negro League veterans, 26 executives or pioneers, 19 managers, and nine umpires. The museum is full of fascinating baseball artifacts, as well as a variety of exhibits. These include “Diamond Dreams: Women in Baseball,” “Pride and Passion: The African-American Baseball Experience,” “The Records Room,” and many others.

Uploaded by paulmunsey.com.

The first five players selected for the Hall were in its first class (1936) were Babe Ruth (Great American Things, August 3, 2009), Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, and Honus Wagner. Until 1946, elections were held every three years, but have been conducted annually since. While the qualifying criteria have changed from time to time, a player has to have participated in at least part of 10 seasons and been retired for five years to be eligible.

In addition to biographical plaques of its inductees, the hall includes a baseball museum that has a collection of balls, bats, and other equipment, baseball cards, trophies, and photographs. Its research library contains a complete set of baseball guides, scrapbooks, newspaper clippings, record books, photos, tapes, and phonograph records.

If you love baseball, making a pilgrimage to Cooperstown has to be on your bucket list. The biggest crowds come each year when new members are inducted, and a host of other HOF players appear. If you want to go this year, circle July 23-26 on your calendar…

Sports: Hank Aaron

Hank Aaron is Major League Baseball’s legitimate all-time leader in home runs. Of course I say “legitimate” because he has since been passed by Barry Bonds, who took advantage of baseball’s passive acceptance of steroids to…but wait, I don’t want to get distracted from the achievements of Aaron.

Aaron never really had the spotlight that his remarkable career deserved. All he did was play baseball the way it was meant to be played for 23 seasons. While he played he was overshadowed by flashier stars such as Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle. When he finally found the spotlight near the end of his playing days, he was reviled for having the nerve to break the career home run record set by baseball’s greatest icon, Babe Ruth (Great American Thing No. 117).

Though he dealt with physical intimidation and death threats, Aaron endured with grace and dignity. Now we can look back and see both his accomplishments and his character in a fresh light.

He not only held the record for the most home runs, but probably more significantly, still has the most RBIs in history. He hit more than 30 home runs for 15 seasons. He has the most extra base hits ever. He’s in the Hall of Fame, of course. But here’s an interesting factoid – of his 755 home runs, 70 came off of pitchers who are fellow Hall of Famers. Tell that to today’s stars who are hitting against essentially minor league pitchers in the big leagues because of the dilution of talent.

Aaron is the last Negro League player to move to the Majors, having played one season for the Indianapolis Clowns. Following that year, he was offered contracts by the New York Giants and the Boston Braves. He later said, “I had the Giants’ contract in my hand. But the Braves offered fifty dollars a month more. That’s the only thing that kept Willie Mays and me from being teammates — fifty dollars.”

Sports: Babe Ruth

This photo of Babe's farewell won the Pulitzer Prize. Uploaded by yale.edu.

This photo of Babe's farewell won the Pulitzer Prize. Uploaded by yale.edu.

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.”

The Babe, uploaded to Flickr by ceetard.

The Babe, uploaded to Flickr by ceetard.

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.