Biography of Babe Ruth, Home Run King

The 'Sultan of Swat' hit a then-record 60 homers in 1927 alone

Babe Ruth at the plate

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Babe Ruth (February 6, 1895–August 16, 1948) is often referred to as the greatest baseball player who ever lived. In 22 seasons, Ruth hit a record 714 home runs. Many of his numerous records for both pitching and hitting lasted for decades.

Ruth won many honors during and after his baseball career, including being named to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team and the Major League Baseball All-Time Team. In 1936, Ruth was among the first five inductees into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Fast Facts: Babe Ruth

  • Known For: Member of the New York Yankees who became the "Home Run King"
  • Also Known As: George Herman Ruth Jr., Sultan of Swat, the Home Run King, Bambino, the Babe
  • Born: February 6, 1895 in Baltimore, Maryland
  • Parents: Katherine (Schamberger), George Herman Ruth Sr.
  • Died: August 16, 1948 in Manhattan, New York
  • Published Works: Playing the Game: My Early Years in Baseball, The Babe Ruth Story, Babe Ruth's Own Book of Baseball
  • Awards and Honors: Monument Park honoree (plaque at open-air museum at Yankee Stadium), Major League Baseball All-Century Team, Major League Baseball All-Time Team, Major League Baseball Hall of Fame
  • Spouses: Helen Woodford (m. 1914–1929), Claire Merritt Hodgson (m. April 17, 1929–August 16, 1948)
  • Children: Dorothy
  • Notable Quote: “Never let the fear of striking out get in your way.”

Early Years

Ruth, born as George Herman Ruth Jr., and his sister Mamie were the only two of George and Kate Ruth's eight children to survive childhood. George's parents worked long hours running a bar, and so little George ran the streets of Baltimore, Maryland getting into trouble.

When Ruth was 7 years old, his parents sent their "incorrigible" son to St. Mary's Industrial School for Boys. With only a few exceptions, George lived at this reformatory school until he was 19 years old.

Learns to Play Baseball

It was at St. Mary's that George Ruth developed into a good baseball player. Although George was a natural as soon as he stepped onto the baseball field, it was Brother Matthias, the prefect of discipline at St. Mary's, who helped George fine-tune his skills.

The New Babe

By the time George Ruth was 19, he had drawn the eyes of minor league recruiter Jack Dunn. Jack liked the way George pitched and so he signed him to the Baltimore Orioles for $600. George was ecstatic to get paid to play the game he loved.

There are several stories about how George Ruth got his nickname "Babe." The most popular is that Dunn was often finding new recruits and so when George Ruth showed up at practice, another player called out, "he's one of Dunnie's babes," which eventually was just shortened to "Babe."

Jack Dunn was great at finding talented baseball players, but he was losing money. After only five months with the Orioles, Dunn sold Ruth to the Boston Red Sox on July 10, 1914.

The Red Sox

Although now in the major leagues, Ruth didn't get to play much in the beginning. Ruth was even sent to play for the Grays, a minor league team, for a few months.

It was during this first season in Boston that Ruth met and fell in love with the young waitress Helen Woodford, who worked at a local coffee shop. The two married in October 1914.

By 1915, Ruth was back with the Red Sox and pitching. Over the next few seasons, Ruth's pitching went from great to extraordinary. In 1918, Ruth pitched his 29th scoreless inning in a World Series. That record stood for 43 years.

Things changed in 1919 because Ruth demanded to spend more time hitting and thus less time pitching. That season, Ruth set a new record by hitting 29 home runs.

The House That Ruth Built

Many were surprised when it was announced in 1920 that Ruth had been traded to the New York Yankees for a whopping $125,000 (more than twice the amount ever paid for a player).

Ruth was an extremely popular baseball player, and he seemed to succeed at everything on the field. In 1920, he broke his own home run record and hit an amazing 54 home runs in one season.

The following season, he eclipsed his own mark with 59 home runs.

Fans flocked to see the amazing Ruth in action. Ruth drew in so many fans that when the new Yankee Stadium was built in 1923, many called it "The House That Ruth Built."

In 1927, Ruth was part of the team that many consider the best baseball team in history. It was during that year that he hit 60 home runs in a season — a mark that stood for 34 years.

Living the Wild Life

There are nearly as many stories of Ruth off the field as there are on it. Some people described Ruth as a boy that never really grew up; while others just considered him vulgar.

Ruth loved practical jokes. He frequently stayed out late, completely ignoring team curfews. He loved to drink, ate copious amounts of food, and slept with a large number of women. He often used profanities and loved to drive his car fast. More than a couple of times, Ruth crashed his car.

His wild life put him at odds with many of his teammates and definitely with the team's manager. It also greatly affected his relationship with his wife Helen.

Since they were Catholic, neither Ruth nor Helen believed in divorce. However, by 1925 Ruth and Helen were permanently separated, with their adopted daughter living with Helen. When Helen died in a house fire in 1929, Ruth married model Claire Merritt Hodgson, who tried to help Ruth curb some of his worst habits.

Popular Stories

One of the most famous stories about Ruth involves a home run and a boy in the hospital. In 1926, Ruth heard about an 11-year-old boy named Johnny Sylvester who was in the hospital after an accident. The doctors weren't sure if Johnny was going to live.

Ruth promised to hit a home run for Johnny. In the next game, Ruth not only hit one home run, he hit three. Johnny, upon hearing the news of Ruth's home runs, started to feel better. Ruth later went to the hospital and visited Johnny in person.

Another famous story about Ruth is one of the most famous stories of baseball history. During the third game of the 1932 World Series, the Yankees were in a heated competition with the Chicago Cubs. When Ruth stepped up to the plate, Cubs players heckled him and some fans even threw fruit at him.

After two balls and two strikes, the incensed Ruth pointed out to center field. With the next pitch, Ruth struck the ball exactly where he had predicted in what has been termed the "called shot." The story became immensely popular; however, it's not exactly clear whether Ruth meant to call his shot or was just pointing at the pitcher.

The 1930s

The 1930s showed an aging Ruth. He was already 35 years old and although he was still playing well, younger players were playing better.

What Ruth wanted to do was manage. Unfortunately for him, his wild life had caused even the most adventurous team owner to consider Ruth unsuitable to manage an entire team. In 1935, Ruth decided to switch teams and play for the Boston Braves with the hope of having a chance to be assistant manager. When that didn't work out, Ruth decided to retire.

On May 25, 1935, Ruth hit his 714th career home run. Five days later, he played his last game of major league baseball. (Ruth's home run record stood until broken by Hank Aaron in 1974.)

Retirement and Death

Ruth didn't stay idle in retirement. He traveled, played a lot of golf, went bowling, hunted, visited sick children in hospitals, and played in numerous exhibition games.

In 1936, Ruth was chosen to be one of the first five inductees to the newly created Baseball Hall of Fame.

In November 1946, Ruth entered a hospital after suffering a monstrous pain above his left eye for a few months. The doctors told him he had cancer. He underwent surgery but not all of it was removed. The cancer soon grew back. Ruth died on August 16, 1948, at age 53.

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