Category Archives: Biography

Celebrity Babe of the Month: February

After a one-month babe-of-the-month hiatus, we’re back with…

Babe Ruth

(Were you concerned I might forget about him?)

I'd like to see the guy on the mound about to pitch three baseballs at once.

I’d like to see the guy on the mound about to pitch three baseballs at once.

Real Name: George Herman Ruth

Babe-ification story:

Jack Dunn, who recruited 19-year old George for the Baltimore Orioles, had to become George’s legal guardian in order for the contract to be valid.  The Orioles players started calling George “Jack’s newest babe,” and the name stuck.

Celebrification story:

In Which a Legendary Baseballer is Born, but Nobody is All That Impressed Yet Because He’s Not Actually Very Well-Behaved as a Child

Babe’s story begins in Baltimore in 1895. Of George and Kate Ruth’s eight children, Babe  (then George, Jr.) and his sister Mamie were the only ones who survived. The Ruths worked long hours, leaving George, Jr., and Mamie without adult supervision much of the time. George, Jr., proved to be a bit of a hooligan, so when he was 7, his parents opted to provide him with a more structured environment by sending him to St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys. This is where George, Jr., shaped up and fell head over heels for baseball.

George Herman Ruth, back left corner, with his St. Mary's teammates

George, Jr., back left corner, with his St. Mary’s teammates

In Which a Legend is (Nick)Named

Brother Matthias, one of the monks at St. Mary’s, took George, Jr., under his wing. He began working with him on baseball skills like hitting and fielding. Eventually Brother Matthias realized George, Jr.’s exceptional skill and invited Jack Dunn, manager of the Baltimore Orioles, to come watch George play. After watching the boy for less than an hour, Jack Dunn offered him a contract to play with the Orioles. He became George’s legal guardian so the contract could be completed, and a legend was born.

Babe Ruth with the Orioles

Babe Ruth with the Orioles

In Which a Legend Reaches the Adolescence of His Legend-ness

Babe played well for the Orioles, leading the Boston Red Sox to buy him later that year. He pitched for the Red Sox for a few games but there wasn’t space on their roster for him, so he landed on their minor league team, the Providence Grays. The next year he was back on the Sox. Though he didn’t spend much time at the plate, he spent enough to prove himself. By 1918 he was playing daily, and in the 1919 season he hit a record 29 home runs.

Babe becomes a Red Sox. (Er...a red sock?)

Babe becomes a Red Sox. (Er…a red sock?)

In Which a Legend Becomes…a Legend*

The 1919 season was Babe’s last with the Sox; that year, he was sold to the New York Yankees. I’ll spare you the stats, which you can find elsewhere; but in the lovely phrasing of’s biography, Yankee Babe proceeded with “an assault on baseball’s most hallowed records.” Basically he hit a frickin’ cornucopia of home runs. (I will include one blinding stat that reminds me of another Babe we’ve celebrated: in 1920, Ruth’s home run count not only tripled the highest number hit by any other individual player, but also exceeded the number hit by any whole team.) The Yankees, a team that hadn’t won any titles before Babe, went on to capture seven pennants and four World Series titles with him at the helm. His career home run record – 714 – wasn’t broken until 1974 when Hank Aaron hit his 715th.

babe ruth hitting action

Ruth knocks a moon shot.

*I was going to call this section “A Legend is Born,” but since I already had Babe the human (in contrast to Babe the legend) being born up there in the first section, I thought it might be confusing. Then I was going to call it “A Legend is Born Again,” but I didn’t want to imply that I was adding to Babe’s biography a previously unknown conversion to evangelical Christian belief. Thus concludes the brief glimpse into the meta-framework of an EWR post.

Nat Fein's Pulitzer Prize-winning photo of Ruth

Nat Fein’s Pulitzer Prize-winning photo of Ruth

In Which a Legend Outlives Death, in the Way We Typically Expect Legends to Do

As his skills eventually began to dwindle, Babe spent a short stint playing for and managing the Boston Braves.

"Well, boys...this seems awkward..."

“Well, boys…this seems awkward…”

In 1946, he was diagnosed with a malignant tumor in his neck. Two years later, on August 16, 1948, Babe died of cancer, just months after the Yankees had retired his jersey number (3). His body spent two days at Yankee Stadium for viewing, during which almost 80,000 people came to pay their respects. He is still one of the most recognizable figures in sports and is widely regarded as one of the best athletes who ever lived.

babe ruth baseball card

Ruth and Gehrig, a pair of Murderers

Ruth and Gehrig, a pair of Murderers

More Babe Stuff

  • The Yankees moved to a new stadium in 1923; it was known as “The House that Ruth Built.”
  • Zillions of baseball fans still consider the 1927 Yankees to be the greatest team in the history of baseball.
  • Nicknames (besides Babe, of course) include Jidge (bastardization of George), the Sultan of Swat, the Bambino or the Great Bambino (bambino is Italian for baby), and the Colossus of Clout. (Please refer to The Sandlot for a spirited listing of nicknames.)
  • Babe Ruth was one of the first five inductees into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
  • The first six hitters in the 1927 Yankees lineup, which included Babe as well as Lou Gehrig, were referred to as “Murderers’ Row.”
  • Babe was married twice and had two adopted daughters, Dorothy (adopted with his first wife, Helen) and Julia (biological daughter of his second wife, Claire).
  • There is no candy bar named after Babe Ruth. (Baby Ruth is named after Grover Cleveland’s daughter.)
  • Babe was a lefty.
babe ruth puffed wheat


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Celebrity Babe of the Month: December

Congratulations, you survived the end of the world!

BUT. Survival skills are still essential for…er, survival. If you ever find yourself in a situation requiring you to obtain your own food from the wild, there’s a man you need to know about.

Babe Winkelman

Al...? Al Borland? No, that's Babe Winkelman, king of the outdoors.

Al…? Al Borland? No, that’s Babe Winkelman, king of the outdoors.

Real Name: None ‘a ya business (Seriously, the man deserves his privacy.)

(not Babe Winkelman)

(not Babe Winkelman)

Babe-ification Story:

When The-child-who-would-be-known-as-Babe was a year and a half, his father bestowed upon him his first baseball and bat. He dragged them around with him everywhere he went and played with them constantly, so his dad started calling him Babe (after the Great Bambino, of course).

For a guy who’s 6’3” and 250 pounds, a nickname like Babe works out just fine. But growing up, Babe had to issue a few forceful reminders that he was not, in fact, named after Baby Huey

Celebrification Story:

Babe Branches Out

Although he started out constructing buildings, Babe’s heart was always in the outdoors. Growing up on a farm, he was in constant contact with nature and taught himself to fish. Six years after starting the Winkelman Building Corporation with his father, he sold his shares in the company and pursued a career in two seemingly disparate media: television, and the wild.

winkelman fish

Hey! Good Fishing!

Babe Winkelman Productions formed in the early 1970s, and by 1980 he had started hosting “Good Fishing” – tagline: “Until then…hey! Good fishing!”  The show was picked up for syndication in ‘85 and is still America’s most-washed fishing show. He also brought hunting back to television in the late ‘80s with “Outdoor Secrets” – tagline: “Master the patterns of nature.”

That deer’s like, “Oh. Em. Gee. Seriously? Just after being shot? Do. Not. Tag me. In that photo.”

The Patterns of Nature

Babe credits his outdoor prowess (and, consequently, his television success) to his early discovery that wildlife operates in predictable cause-and-effect patterns. His mastery of the patterns of human nature may be a bit more dubious; he’s currently on marriage #3 (although with five daughters, it seems like by now he ought to be pretty good at predicting the cause-and-effect patterns of women).

More Babe Stuff:

  • Babe’s television shows are a family affair. Some of his daughters have hunted with him, his wife Kris does a cooking segment, and his brother wrote and performed the original theme song for “Outdoor Secrets.”
  • The Winkelmans live on 260+ acres of woodland in Minnesota, where Babe has established a bird sanctuary and is working on a native tallgrass prairie.
  • Watch Babe wrestle a massive sturgeon on an episode of “Good Fishing.”
Master of camouflage.Kidding. This is actually Babe with one of the thousands of trees he has planted.

Master of camouflage!
Kidding. This is actually Babe with one of the thousands of trees he has planted.

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The Real Live True Not-Fake Prophecies for December 21, 2012

So what exactly’s gonna happen on December 21, 2012?

Haven’t you heard? THE WORLD’S GOING TO END.

Stop reading this and go buy batteries, for crying out loud!

Seriously, this kit needs some batteries. And board games.

Seriously, this kit needs some batteries. And Mad Libs.

Mayan calendarOnly kidding, folks. It’s just the end of a super-long Mayan calendar cycle. Well, actually it’s a cycle in the Mesoamerican Long Calendar, but this is widely associated with the Mayan civilization.

See, the Mayans believed that the gods had created three worlds before ours, but they’d all failed. The fourth one was a success, presumably related to the fact that the Mayans were in it. According to a commonly accepted conversion from the Mayan calendar to our Gregorian calendar, this fourth world, or cycle, began August 11, 3114 BC, and lasts 13 b’ak’tuns (a unit of time), and we’re coming up on the end of it this month.

December 21, as a matter of fact.

The pessimists will tell you this marks the literal end of all creation, the apocalypse. But I’m pretty sure they’re the same folks who bought cave real estate in 1999. The rest of us woke up on time and went to work the morning Y2K rolled around, just like we will on December 22 this year. In the same way your house doesn’t explode when you flip over your last calendar page of the year or decade or century (despite how much fun that would be), it’s likely that our planet will keep on existing at the end of this Mayan calendar cycle.

A map of the 13 b'ak'tun cycle that's about to end.

A map of the 13 b’ak’tun cycle that’s about to end. (Click for larger version.)

It makes sense to assume that since the Mayans believed in cycles previous to this one, they also believed that another cycle would begin after this one is through.

Ask an optimist (or a Mayan scholar), and they’ll tell you the more likely story: the end of a cycle would be a time of great celebration for the Mayans. After all, 13 b’ak’tuns is a long time – probably somewhat comparable to the amount of time you would wait in line at the DMV on an average day. Getting to the end of that calls for a major party.

What luck to be alive for it!

Yeah, but just in case the world does end, how will it happen?

All the theories I’ve seen involve astronomical anomalies which, were they actually impending, would probably have been on the NASA radar for quite some time now.

Of course, there is the possibility that it’s not on NASA’s radar because it’s sneaking up on us from behind.

That’s silly, though. There’s probably just a massive government cover-up.

But I know you like to be prepared, so here’s a smattering of doomsday predictions the government doesn’t want you to know about but the discerning users of the world wide web have been diligent enough to sniff out (ahem, completely fabricate) and publicize.

Thanks to the movie 2012, we know exactly what it'll look like when...well, when whatever is going to happen happens.

Thanks to the movie 2012, we know exactly what it’ll look like when…well, when whatever is going to happen happens.

  • Planet X, or Nibiru, may be heading our way and collide with us. Or some other rogue planet. Or a big asteroid. Basically, something huge might hit us. (You can thank self-declared psychic Nancy Leider for the Nibiru thing, although she originally predicted it for May 2003. She had to change it to December 2012 when June 2003 arrived as usual.)
  • Sudden and intense solar storms could burn us to a crispy little ball of ash.
  • The north and south poles could reverse (in an instant!). I’m not quite sure how this is supposed to happen in one day or specifically how it would destroy the world (especially since it’s happened before and we’re still here); but it’s clear that it would not be a positive development.
  • We could get caught in a gravitational tug-of-war between the sun and a black hole called Sagittarius A.

There are more various and disastrous galactic alignments that might spell our doom, but the ones above are the most commonly expressed online, and therefore the most likely.

Pardon me, but you’ve said nothing so far about Nostradamus…?

To be honest, I think you might be a little disappointed if I tell you about this guy.

What's with the pouty face? Perhaps this is his old MySpace profile picture...?

Nosty’s old MySpace profile picture (see emo pout)

No, you still want to hear?

Okay then, Nostradamus (or Nosty, as I like to call him, because it sounds like “nasty” with a British accent and that’s funny) was a prophet way back in the 16th century. He made, like, a zillion prophecies, mostly because he lost his wife and kids to the plague and didn’t know what else to do with himself. (After all, when you’re trying to make a living as a healer, which he was, and then your whole family succumbs to the bubonic plague, which they did…might as well throw yourself headlong onto another career path. Which he did.) Most of his predictions are so vague that they could be adequately applied to a whole slew of events that have happened since. Among the events people claim Nostradamus foresaw are the French Revolution, the rise of Adolf Hitler, the assassination of JFK, and the September 11 bombings.

But did he prophesy the end of the world in 2012?

About as much as he prophesied any of those other things. I was going to give you the actual prophecy of his that people are claiming predicts the 2012 armageddon…but I could not, in fact, find any two sources that agreed.

Hey, I warned you this would be a let-down, but you wanted to press on.

To see if you can guess which of Nosty’s prophecies foretold which events, try this quiz. Good luck.

In conclusion, I’m really not that worried about the end of the world. I figure the TARDIS will probably arrive just in time to save us all. And if not…well, it’s been fun.

P.S. If you’re still around on December 22nd, be sure to check back in for the third installment of the Celebrity Babe of the Month series.

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Celebrity Babe of the Month: November

Babe the Blue Ox

Real Name: Babe the Blue Ox

Babe-ification story:

It was so cold that winter that the snow had turned blue (The Winter of the Blue Snow, they called it). Paul Bunyan was taking a walk in the woods when he found a baby ox nearly frozen. Even after he warmed it up, the critter stayed as blue as the snow. Paul fell for that baby ox and decided to take care of it forever…thus, Babe the Blue Ox.

Celebrification story:

Being raised in Paul’s camp, Babe grew to epic (literally) proportions. Though he certainly made a name for himself around the camp, it wasn’t until he started helping out with Paul’s logging jobs that his fame grew to match his size.

For Babe’s first truly incredible feat, Paul hitched him to the crooked logging roads and had him tug until he’d pulled them tight, creating a straight shot to the lumberyards and leaving enough leftover road to lay some down into new timberland.

Meta-Celebrification story:

There are as many stories about Babe the Blue Ox and Paul Bunyan as there are people to tell them.

Although there is speculation that the seeds of the legend may have been sown during Canada’s Papineau Rebellion, most sources agree that the stories first circulated orally in logging camps starting around the 1880s. James McGillivray is credited with the tales’ transition into print, publishing selections in a Michigan newspaper in 1906 and four years later expanding them in a long rhyming story called “The Round River Drive” (Babe appears in TRRD, but not by name).

But Paul and Babe didn’t hit the big time until 1914, when William Laughead (Loghead?) of the Red River Lumber Company commandeered them for a new line of work: advertising.

The logging industry had fallen on hard times, and Paul and Babe were the icons that could give it a lift. Featuring stories and illustrations of the lumberjack and his ox, Laughead’s Red River Lumber pamphlets reached beyond industry insiders and made their way to a wide readership. Laughead was also responsible for saddling the ox with a permanent moniker. By 1922, Paul and Babe were household names.

To naysayers and those who claim Paul and Babe are “fakelore,” website has this answer, a quote from Carl Sandburg’s The People, Yes:

Who made Paul Bunyan, who gave him birth as a myth, who joked him into life as a the Master Lumberjack, who fashioned him forth as an apparition easing the hours of men amid axes and trees, saws and lumber? The people, the bookless people, they made Paul and had him alive long before he got into the books for those who read. He grew up in shanties, around the hot stoves of winter, among socks and mittens drying, in the smell of tobacco smoke and the roar of laughter mocking the outside weather. And some of Paul came overseas in wooden bunks below decks in sailing vessels. And some of Paul is old as the hills, young as the alphabet.

Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox in Bemidji, Minnesota

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Celebrity Babe of the Month: October

Babe Didrikson Zaharias

Real Name: Mildred Ella Didriksen

Babe-ification story:

As the 6th of 7 children, she was called “Baby” as an infant. By the time #7 came along, the neighborhood boys had already adjusted Mildred’s nickname to Babe (after Babe Ruth) because she hit so many home runs in their sandlot baseball games.

Celebrification story:

The Early Years

During high school, Babe was recruited by Employers Casualty Insurance Company’s sports manager Colonel Melvin J. McCombs to play basketball for the company’s women’s team, the Golden Cyclones. After a smashing season, the Golden Cyclones also competed in swimming, baseball, and tennis. Then McCombs had Babe compete in the AAU National Championship track meet…as a one-woman team.

The One-Woman Team

She won. At 21 years old, she competed in eight of the meet’s ten events and singlehandedly outscored the 2nd place team (which had over 20 members) 30 to 22. She placed first in five events and tied for first in another. In the process, she broke four world records (three of which belonged to her already) and qualified for the 1932 Olympics.

The 1932 Olympics

Babe competed in three events and medaled in all of them. In the javelin throw and the 80-meter hurdles, she took gold and broke (her own) world records. In the high jump, she and an opponent cleared the same height in a jump off but Babe was awarded the silver medal due to controversy about the legality of her form. (The Fosbury flop was still more than three decades in the future.) Coming off her unprecedented victories in track and field, she seemed unstoppable…until it was time to go pro.

Going Pro

Babe floundered after making the decision to earn money as an athlete. She dabbled in show business, spending a week as the star of a vaudeville act and participating in exhibition games in billiards, basketball, and baseball. But by the end of 1934, she had been taking lessons and keeping a strenuous training schedule, and she was ready to compete in the next sport…

The Next Sport

…golf. She entered and won her first tournament in Fort Worth, Texas. Babe went on to win 82 golf tournaments in her career, including 17 amateur women’s tournaments in a row (which hasn’t been done since). By 1950 she had won every golf title available to women at the time. She is now remembered primarily for her career on the green.

More Babe Stuff

  • Babe met professional wrestler George Zaharias when they were partnered for a golf tournament and married him in 1938. Although their marriage was not always happy, they remained loyal to one another.
  • When a friend introduced her to teenage golfer Betty Dodd, the two became fast friends (often arousing George’s jealousy) for the rest of Babe’s life. Dodd even lived with the Zahariases for a while.
  • She was instrumental in founding the Ladies PGA.
  • Babe’s confidence was as wide as her native Texas, and her verbal swagger matched it. She was known to shout to competitors before a match, “Okay, Babe’s here! Now who’s gonna finish second?”
  • She received the Associated Press’s Woman Athlete of the Year award six times, a record still unmatched today.
  • She was proficient on the harmonica, which she played on stage in her one week of vaudeville and later with Betty Dodd, who sang and played guitar.
  • In 1953 she underwent surgery for colon cancer. She went on to win the U.S. Women’s Open shortly thereafter. Her cancer had spread to her lymph nodes, but that information was kept from her until it became evident. She was in and out of the hospital during her last year of life and finally succumbed in 1956 at age 45.

Babe’s legacy includes more than athletic accomplishments: she spent much of her career bucking the notion that women did not belong in sports. Up until a year before she competed in the Olympics, the inclusion of women’s sports in the Games was still a subject of heated debate. Later, when Babe was touring with a men’s baseball team, newspaper columnist Joe Williams wrote of her, “It would be much better if she and her ilk stayed home, got themselves prettied up and waited for the phone to ring.” But sportswriter and fan Grantland Rice lauded Babe as “the most flawless section of muscle harmony, of complete mental and physical coordination the world of sport has ever known.” By her unflagging pursuit of her own ambitious athletic goals, Babe helped to open up the world of professional sports for future women athletes.

Note: I highly recommend Russell Freedman’s Babe Didrikson Zaharias: The Making of a Champion, which was my principal source for this post. I found the chapter about Babe as a one-woman track team especially entertaining.

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