Babe Ruth

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Babe Ruth : biography

6 February 1895 – 16 August 1948

Once the regular season began, Ruth became a star pitcher who was also dangerous at the plate. The team performed well, but received almost no attention from the Baltimore press. A third major league, the Federal League, had begun play, and the local franchise, the Baltimore Terrapins, restored that city to the major leagues for the first time since 1902. Few fans visited Oriole Park, where Ruth and his teammates labored in relative obscurity. Ruth may have been offered a bonus and a larger salary to jump to the Terrapins; when rumors to that effect swept Baltimore, giving Ruth the most publicity he had had to date, a Terrapins official denied it, stating it was their policy not to sign players under contract to Dunn.Creamer, pp. 72–77.Montville, pp. 38–40.

The competition from the Terrapins caused Dunn to sustain large losses. Although by late June the Orioles were in first place, having won over two-thirds of their games, the paid attendance dropped as low as 150. Dunn explored a possible move by the Orioles to Richmond, Virginia as well as the sale of a minority interest in the club. These possibilities fell through, leaving Dunn with little choice than to sell his best players to major league teams to raise money.Creamer, pp. 78–80. He offered Ruth to the World Series champions, Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics, but Mack had his own financial problems.Wagenheim, p. 26. The Cincinnati Reds and New York Giants expressed interest in Ruth, but Dunn sold his contract, along with those of pitchers Ernie Shore and Ben Egan, to the Boston Red Sox on July 4. The sale price was announced as $25,000 but various later stories lower the amount to half that, or possibly $8,500 plus the cancellation of a $3,000 loan. Ruth remained with the Orioles for several days while the Red Sox completed a road trip, and reported to the team in Boston on July 11.Montville, pp. 40–41.

Contemporary impact

Ruth was the first baseball star to be the subject of overwhelming interest by the public. Baseball had seen star players before, such as Cobb and "Shoeless Joe" Jackson, but both men had uneasy relations with fans, in Cobb’s case sometimes marked by violence. Ruth’s biographers agree that he benefited from the timing of his ascension to "Home Run King", with an America hit hard by both the war and the 1918 flu pandemic longing for something to help put these traumatic events behind it. He also resonated in a country which felt, in the aftermath of the war, that it took second place to no one. Montville notes that as a larger-than-life figure capable of unprecedented athletic feats in what was the nation’s largest city, Ruth became an icon of the significant social changes which marked the early 1920s.Reisler, pp. xii–xiii.Montville, pp. 106–107. According to Creamer, "Babe Ruth transcended sport, moved far beyond the artificial limits of baselines and outfield fences and sports pages".Creamer, p. 16. Wagenheim stated, "He appealed to a deeply rooted American yearning for the definitive climax: clean, quick, unarguable."Wagenheim, p. 6. Reisler notes that recent sluggers who surpassed Ruth’s 60 home run mark, such as Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds, generated much less excitement than when Ruth repeatedly broke the single-season home run record in the 1920s; Ruth dominated a relatively small sports world, while Americans of the present era have many sports to choose to watch.Reisler, p. xv.

According to sportswriter Grantland Rice, a contemporary, only two sports figures of the 1920s approached Ruth in popularity—boxer Jack Dempsey and racehorse Man o’ War.Reisler, p. 200. One of the factors that caused Ruth to gain his broad appeal was the uncertainty that surrounds his early life and his family. It allowed Ruth to exemplify the American success story, that even an uneducated, unsophisticated youth, without any family wealth or connections, can do something better than anyone else in the world. Montville notes that "the fog [surrounding his childhood] will make him forever accessible, universal. He will be the patron saint of American possibility."Montville, pp. 13–14. Similarly, the fact that Ruth played when a relatively small portion of his fans had the opportunity to see him play in the era before television coverage of baseball allowed his legend to grow through word of mouth and the hyperbole of sports reporters.Wagenheim, pp. 6–7.