Ruth, George

Ruth, (George Herman) “Babe”

(1895–1948) baseball player; born in Baltimore, Md. He was born in a poor waterfront neighborhood and at age eight was sent by his saloonkeeper father to St. Mary's Industrial School for Boys, where a priest encouraged his interest in baseball. As a teenager, his baseball exploits caught the attention of the minor league Baltimore Orioles, where he starred as a left-handed pitcher in 1914. Later that year, he was promoted to the major league Boston Red Sox, where he remained until 1919, becoming one of the best pitchers of the time. But he was also demonstrating his power with the bat, and, when in 1920 he was sold to the New York Yankees for a record $100,000, he was made a full-time outfielder. With the Yankees (1920–34), he became the game's preeminent player and such a drawing card that the new Yankee Stadium (1923) was dubbed "the house that Ruth built." During the 1920s he was legendary for his large appetite and high living—he even appeared in several movies—and in the decades thereafter he came to assume almost mythic status, nicknamed "The Bambino" and "The Sultan of Swat." In 1927, he slammed 60 homeruns, a record that stood until Roger Maris hit 61 in 1961. Ruth holds most of baseball's important slugging records, including most years leading a league in homeruns (12), and most total bases in a season (457) and highest slugging percentage for a season (.847), both set in 1920. He retired from the Boston Braves in June 1935 with 714 career homeruns, a record that was broken by Hank Aaron in 1974. He was a coach with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1938 but never achieved his goal of managing a major league team. He gave much of his time in his last years to charitable events. He was one of the first five players elected to the Hall of Fame in 1936. He died of cancer in 1948, leaving much of his estate to the Babe Ruth Foundation, for underprivileged children.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.