Babe Ruth Retired 84 Years Ago Today; Saved Baseball
Think about this: What if news broke that some NFL players, oh, let's say Tom Brady and a few other Patriots went into a heralded Super Bowl game and lost, then we learned they lost on purpose, because they got paid off by gamblers.
Imagine the furor and the damage to the sport of football, the investigations, the trials, sentences and punishment. How eager would you be to watch another game on a Sunday afternoon?
The Black Sox Scandal Nearly Kills Baseball
In 1919 the Chicago White Socks were a can't miss over the Cincinnati Red Stockings. However gamblers tempted a few of the Chicago players to miss a few swings at bat, drop a fly in the outfield, to lose to the Reds, and they did. And it was found out and you've likely heard of the Black Sox scandals and how some players were drummed out of the sport forever.
Baseball was dead, as dead as the NFL would be today if such a story came out.
One man, a pitcher who still holds many pitching records but is mostly remembered for his bat literally saved the sport.
Babe Ruth the Pitcher
In the years following the scandal, George Herman Ruth emerged as a Hero. His pitching was legendary. For the record Ruth had a career ERA of 2.28, was in the top three of the AL in two of his five seasons as a pitcher, won the most games for a lefty in the majors from 1915-17 and is still 12th all-time for career won/loss percentages.
In the '17 season he won 23 with 170 strikeouts and a 1.75 ERA. That year he pitched 9 shutouts and 23 complete games.
But we remember him for his bat on the field, yes he led the leagues in strikeouts at the plate too. He was swinging that 54 ounce Louisville Slugger. By the bye, most modern major league bats weigh little more than 32-34 ounces. Not many of today's players would attempt swinging the log that Ruth entered the box with.
A Kid in a Mans Body
Off the field he was Santa Claus in real life, especially with children. From an impoverished and often delinquent youth spent mostly in a sort of Catholic reform school, Ruth as an adult was generous to children to a fault. Spending time in hospitals, donating generously to what we now call children's advocacy. Kids followed Ruth everywhere he went because they knew he loved them as much as they loved him.
Ruth, although he was generously blessed with athletic skills, he was not a particularly attractive man by the standards of any age. He was often lonely. Kids were a release for him as well as he for them. Many say Ruth got along with kids so well because he was simply a big grown up child who could play baseball. There's no doubt and tons of evidence he enjoyed his life on and off the field.
He Saved the Sport By Filling the Seats
In the early 1920s following the scandals, as you can imagine attendance at baseball games dropped dramatically some teams folded or relocated to try to build the sport back up. But when Babe Ruth came to town, the old wooden bleacher stadiums were filled to overflowing.
Towns like Chicago, Philadelphia and others might not even have baseball teams today were it not for the large crowds that turned out to see him play, and joke, and clown around and spend hours autographing baseballs with messy old fountain pens.
Babe Ruth was and is an enigma. Yes, his 714 career home runs and even his single season record of 60 have been broken, but except in the case of Roger Maris who eclipsed it with 61, in 1961, some major league records have been tainted by the underscoring of the use of performance enhancing substances in the late 1990s.
Ruth's pregame rituals mostly included beer and hot dogs, not needles and creams.
Babe Ruth Quotes
Like many other colorful baseballers over the years, Yogi Berra, Casey Stengel come to mind, Ruth was highly quotable. The simple statements speak volumes to baseball and life in general;
You just can't beat a person who never gives up.
Every strike brings me closer to the next home run.
I won't be happy until we have every boy in America between the ages of six and sixteen wearing a glove and swinging a bat.
Baseball was, is and always will be to me the best game in the world.
Never let the fear of striking out get in your way.
If I'd tried for them dinky singles I could've batted around six hundred.
When I miss'em I miss'em big, when I hit'em I hit'em big.
Yes sir, you did.
George Herman Babe Ruth, retired June 2nd 1935.