Category Archives: Sports

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 baberuth.com’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

Cha-CHING!

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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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