Babe Ruth

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Babe Ruth : biography

6 February 1895 – 16 August 1948

On July 4, 1939, Ruth spoke on Lou Gehrig Day at Yankee Stadium as members of the 1927 Yankees and a sellout crowd turned out to honor the first baseman, forced into premature retirement by a disease which would kill him in two years and which is often called by his name. The next week, Ruth went to Cooperstown, New York for the formal opening of the Baseball Hall of Fame—he had been one of the first five players elected three years previously. As radio broadcasts of baseball became popular, he sought a job in that field, arguing that his celebrity and knowledge of baseball would assure large audiences, but he was made no offers.Wagenheim, pp. 247–249. During World War II, he made many personal appearances to advance the war effort, including his last appearance as a player at Yankee Stadium, in a 1943 exhibition for the Army-Navy Relief Fund. He hit a long ball off of Walter Johnson; the blast left the field, curving foul, but Ruth circled the bases anyway. In 1946, he made a final effort at a job in baseball, contacting new Yankees boss MacPhail, but was sent a rejection letter.Montville, pp. 355–356.

As early as the war years, doctors had cautioned Ruth to take better care of his health, and he grudgingly followed their advice, limiting his drinking and not going on a proposed trip to support the troops in the South Pacific.Wagenheim, pp. 252–253. In 1946, Ruth began experiencing severe pain over his left eye, and had difficulty swallowing. In November 1946, he entered French Hospital in New York for tests, that revealed Ruth had an inoperable malignant tumor at the base of his skull and in his neck. His name and fame gave him access to experimental treatments, becoming one of the first cancer patients to receive both drugs and radiation treatment simultaneously.Montville, pp. 357–358. He was discharged from the hospital in February, having lost , and went to Florida to recuperate. He returned to New York and Yankee Stadium after the season started, the new commissioner, Happy Chandler (Judge Landis had died in 1944), proclaimed April 27, 1947 Babe Ruth Day around the major leagues, with the most significant observance to be in the Bronx. A number of teammates and others spoke in honor of Ruth, who briefly addressed the crowd of almost 60,000.Creamer, pp. 418–419.

Around this time, developments in chemotherapy offered some hope, and Ruth, who had not been told he had cancer out of his family’s fear he might do himself harm, was put on teropterin, a folic acid derivative, and may have been the first human subject. He showed dramatic improvement during the summer of 1947, so much so that his case was written up by his doctors, without using his name. He was able to travel around the country, doing promotional work for the Ford Motor Company on American Legion baseball. He appeared again at another day in his honor at Yankee Stadium in September, but was not well enough to pitch in an old-timers game as he had hoped.Creamer, pp. 418–420.Montville, p. 360.

The improvement was only a temporary remission, and by late 1947, Ruth was unable even to help with the writing of his autobiography, The Babe Ruth Story, which was almost entirely ghostwritten. In and out of the hospital in New York, he left for Florida in February, doing what activities he could, and returned to New York after six weeks to appear at a book-signing party. He also went to California to witness the filming of the book.Montville, pp. 361–362.

On June 13, 1948, Ruth visited Yankee Stadium for the final time in his life, appearing at the 25th anniversary celebrations of "The House that Ruth Built". By this time he had lost much weight and had difficulty walking. Introduced along with his surviving teammates from 1923, Ruth used a bat as a cane. The photo of Ruth taken from behind, standing near home plate and facing "Ruthville" (right field) became one of baseball’s most famous and widely circulated photographs, and won the Pulitzer Prize.Wagenheim, pp. 267–268.

Ruth made one final trip on behalf of American Legion baseball, then entered Memorial Sloan–Kettering Cancer Center, where he would die. He was never told he had cancer, but before his death, had surmised it. He was able to leave the hospital for a few short trips, including a final visit to Baltimore. On July 26, 1948, Ruth left the hospital to attend the premiere of the film The Babe Ruth Story, a biopic about his own life. William Bendix portrayed Ruth. Shortly thereafter, Ruth returned to the hospital for the final time. He was barely able to speak. Ruth’s condition gradually became worse; only a few visitors were allowed to see him, one of whom was National League president and future Commissioner of Baseball, Ford Frick. "Ruth was so thin it was unbelievable. He had been such a big man and his arms were just skinny little bones, and his face was so haggard", Frick said years later.Creamer, pp. 423–424.