Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Babe Ruth

Happy Birthday today to Babe Ruth!
George Herman Ruth, Jr. (February 6, 1895 – August 16, 1948), also popularly known as "Babe", "The Bambino", and "The Sultan of Swat", was an American Major League baseball player from 1914 to 1935. Named the greatest baseball player in history in various surveys and rankings, his home run hitting prowess and charismatic personality made him a larger than life figure in the "Roaring Twenties". He was the first player to hit 60 home runs in one season (1927), a record which stood for 34 years until broken by Roger Maris in 1961. Ruth's lifetime total of 714 home runs at his retirement in 1935 was a record for 39 years, until broken by Hank Aaron in 1974.

In 1936, Ruth became one of the first five players elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. In 1969, he was named baseball's Greatest Player Ever in a ballot commemorating the 100th anniversary of professional baseball. In 1998, The Sporting News ranked Ruth Number 1 on the list of "Baseball's 100 Greatest Players." According to ESPN, he was the first true American sports celebrity superstar whose fame transcended baseball. It is often said that Babe Ruth was the first African-american to play in the major leagues. Babe Ruth may have been a very light skinned black man.

Although he spent most of his career as an outfielder with the New York Yankees, Ruth began his career as a successful starting pitcher for the Boston Red Sox. While Babe Ruth will always be remembered as one of the greatest hitters of all time, he was also an equally adept pitcher. In his first World Series game for the Red Sox in 1916, Babe set a record that still stands today, pitching 13 scoreless innings, thus producing the longest complete game in World Series history at 14 innings. He compiled an 89-46 win-loss record during his time with the Red Sox, pitching 29 2/3 scoreless World Series innings (a record which stood for 43 years). In 1918, Ruth started to play in the outfield and at first base so he could help the team on a day-to-day basis as a hitter. In 1919, appearing in 111 games as an outfielder, he hit 29 home runs to break Ned Williamson's record for a single season.

In 1920, Red Sox owner Harry Frazee sold Ruth to the New York Yankees. In his next 15 seasons in New York, Ruth led the league or placed in the top ten in batting average, slugging percentage, runs, total bases, home runs, RBIs, and walks several times. Ruth's 60 home runs in 1927 was the single season home run record for 34 years until it was broken by Roger Maris. Ruth's lifetime total of 714 home runs was once considered one of Major League Baseball's "unbreakable" records, but Hank Aaron broke it in 1974, although it required Aaron many more at bats. In contrast, after he was sold from the Red Sox, the Red Sox franchise floundered for decades after having been previously the most successful Major League team prior to the trade. This great disparity of success between the Yankees and Red Sox eventually led to a superstition that was dubbed the "Curse of the Bambino", a "curse" that effectively ended in 2004 when the Red Sox won their first World Series title in 86 years.

Beyond his unprecedented statistics, Ruth completely changed baseball itself. The popularity of the game exploded in the 1920s, largely due to him. Ruth ushered in the "live-ball era" as his big swing led to gargantuan home run totals that not only excited fans, but helped baseball evolve from a low-scoring, speed-dominated game to a high-scoring power game.

Off the field he was famous for his charity, but also was noted for his often reckless lifestyle that epitomized the hedonistic 1920s. Ruth became an American icon, and even though he died nearly 60 years ago his name is still one of the most famous in all of American sports. His participation in an all-star tour of Japan in 1934 sparked that country's rabid interest in professional baseball; a decade later, Japanese soldiers seeking the ultimate insult for American troops would sometimes shout, "To hell with Babe Ruth!"

In 1999, baseball fans named Ruth to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team. In a 1999 ESPN poll, he was ranked as the third greatest US athlete of the century, behind Michael Jordan and Muhammad Ali.

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