By Glen Sparks
Do pinstripes make the man slimmer?
One baseball story you often hear is that the New York Yankees added pinstripes to their home uniforms as a way to make a rotund Babe Ruth appear trimmer. The story is worth a chuckle. But, it isn’t true.
The Yankees, actually, still the Highlanders, first wore pinstripes in 1912. At the time, Ruth was just 17 years old and ripping baseballs around the yard at the St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys in Baltimore. George Herman Ruth Jr., a truant and trouble-maker, fit the admission qualifications nicely.
Fashion often being fleeting, the Yankees ditched the pinstripes for their 1913 campaign. That season and in 1914, they stitched an interlocking “NY” onto a plain white home uniform. The pinstripes returned for good on the home unis on this date in 1915.
Ruth was 20 years old and playing in his second season for the Boston Red Sox. He went 18-8 with a 2.41 ERA (114 ERA+) in 217.2 innings. The Babe did not become a full-time hitter until 1919, and he did not move over to the Yankees until 1920, or in year No. 6 of the Pinstripe Era.
Further, images of Ruth as a beer-bellied basher tell only the story of an aging superstar. In his heyday, Ruth did not pack nearly as much weight, or girth, onto his 6-foot-2-inch frame. He was barrel-chested, along with being pigeon-toed, but he was certainly not fat. Babe Ruth was an outstanding athlete.
It also should be noted that the Yanks did not introduce pinstripes to major league uniforms. The Chicago Cubs did that with their road uniforms in 1907.
No team does pinstripes quite like the Yankees, though. Fans talk about Dodger blue, Cardinal red and Yankee pinstripes (navy blue in color). The Bronx Bombers have won a record 40 American League pennants and a record 27 World Series, not one them before going to pinstripes.
Recently retired Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter said: “You say pinstripes and the first thing that comes to most people’s mind is the Yankees. There’s just so much history there and tradition, it makes it special for us as players.”
Maybe the pinstripes did make Babe Ruth look slimmer. Maybe the Babe just looked great in a baseball uniform.
(I had originally planned to publish this Babe Ruth quiz on Saturday, following my article about Ruth’s birthday. Unfortunately, some stuff came up. My bad. Anyway, here it is. The answers are in bold at the end of the article. Good luck!)
By Glen Sparks
- We know that most people called George Herman Ruth Jr. “Babe.” Others called him the Bambino or the Sultan of Swat. Can you name some other Babe Ruth nicknames? Hint: Think alliteration.
- Who was the Red Sox owner who sold Ruth to the Yankees before the 1920 season?
- How many times was Ruth suspended during the 1922 season?
- How many home runs did Ruth hit in the World Series?
- What was Ruth’s highest single-season salary?
- What was Ruth’s career ERA as a pitcher?
- What was the count on Ruth when he hit his so-called “called shot”?
- How many times did Ruth lead the A.L. in batting average? On-base percentage?
- What was the lowest total of home runs that Ruth hit to lead the American League?
- Ruth hit a then-career record 714 home runs. Whose record did he break?
- Here are a few of Ruth’s nicknames: The Wizard of Wham, the Maharajah of Mash, the Rajah of Rap, the Behemoth of Bash, the Prince of Pounders …
- Harry Frazee sold the rights to Ruth for $100,000, plus a $350,000 loan from Yankee owner Jacob Ruppert.
- The Yankees suspended five times in 1922.
- Babe hit 15 home runs in the Fall Classic. He clubbed four in 1924.
- The Babe made $80,000 in 1933 and 1934.
- Ruth’s career ERA was 2.28.
- The count was 2-2. Some people say Ruth was pointing one finger to indicate he still had one strike left.
- Ruth led the league in batting in 1924 (.378). He led the league in on-base percentage 10 times.
- 11, with the Boston Red Sox in 1918. Ruth also led the league with a record 29 in 1919 to lead the league. The Sultan of Swat led the A.L. in home runs 12 times, 10 times with the Yankees and twice with the Red Sox.
- Roger Connor’s. Connor hit 138 home runs, a mark that the Bambino broke in 1921. Ruth extended the record 575 times.
(Yesterday, I wrote about Hank Aaron celebrating a birthday. Today, the birthday cake belongs to Babe Ruth. That’s 1,469 home runs all together if you’re counting from home.)
By Glen Sparks
A path from Oriole Park leads you to Babe Ruth’s Birthplace and Museum in Baltimore. Just follow the painted baseballs; it’s a short walk.
You’ll see the Babe Ruth banner and the red, white and blue bunting outside the handsome, brick row house, one of many in the neighborhood. Take a visit, spend an hour or so. Admission is just $6 for adults, $4 for seniors and $3 for the kids. (Check out the museum for more details and for exact hours.) You’ll learn more about one of sport’s greatest, grandest and mightiest heroes. Former Yankee All-Star and current Dodger manager Don Mattingly once said, “Honestly, at one time I thought Babe Ruth was a cartoon character.” Nope, he was real. And bigger than life.
You can go upstairs at 216 Emory St., in a neighborhood called “Pigtown” and sometimes, more respectfully “Washington Village.” You’ll see where the Babe was born on Feb. 6, 1895, the oldest child of George Herman Ruth Sr. and Katherine Ruth. George Sr. was a lightning rod salesman and a streetcar operator. Later, he operated a nearby grocery store and saloon.
You’ll learn about George Herman Ruth Jr. the ballplayer. One of the current exhibits is “The Ruthian Record”, which answers the perfectly legitimate question: “Why is Babe Ruth the greatest player to ever take the field?”
The museum has a souvenir area, naturally. Get your Babe Ruth T-shirts, magnets and caps. You can also rent out the place for receptions, birthdays and bar mitzvahs. On a weekend night, if you want the entire facility, plus use of the courtyard and Emory Street for four hours (300-person capacity), it will cost you $1,250. Take $250 off for weekday rentals. … What better place to enjoy a beer? Drink one for the Babe.
The Babe, in the fog
During your visit, you might not learn many nitty-gritty details about the Babe’s early life. Leigh Montville, in his fine biography, The Big Bam: The Life and Times of Babe Ruth, writes about how “the fog” so often creeps into the Babe Ruth story. We know little about the Babe’s mom, for instance.
Katherine Ruth (formerly “Schaumberger”) gave birth to eight children. Only two, the Babe and daughter Mary, lived into adulthood.” Mary, or Mamie, passed away at age 91 and only went so far as to say, “Mother was not a well person.” (She also said the Babe was a “very big boy for his age.”) Katherine died at age 39, supposedly of “exhaustion.” The Babe didn’t spill any family secrets either. In his ghostwritten autobiography, he wrote “I hardly knew my parents.”
In 1902, George Sr. took Junior to the exhaustively named St. Mary’s Industrial School for Orphans, Delinquent, Incorrigible and Wayward Boys. The Babe was seven years old and already skipping school, breaking neighborhood windows and sneaking off with some of his dad’s beer. According to the Babe’s book, “I had a rotten start (in life).”
The Babe learned how to hit home runs at St. Mary’s. He belted 714 home runs in the major leagues and was the American League home-run champ a record 12 times. In 1920, the Bambino hit 54 home runs, more than 14 of the game’s 15 other teams. He even went 94-46 as a pitcher in his career.
Babe Ruth played on the greatest team in America’s biggest city. He made movies, appeared on Broadway, played on seven World Series teams, toured the world and hammed it up at rodeos and anywhere else with an audience. He drove fast cars, wore fur coats and had the most famous bellyache the world has ever known. He called a shot (or didn’t), befriended stars and starlets and said that he didn’t mind making more money than President Hoover because “I had a better year.”
Babe Ruth would be 120 years old today, an impossible figure. But, Ruth never came close. He succumbed to throat cancer on Aug. 16, 1948, at the age of 53. He crammed plenty of living, and maybe a few too many cigars, into those 53 years. (The Babe’s dad had died on Aug. 25, 1918, in a fight outside his saloon. He was just 45 years old. The bar was located in what is now centerfield at Oriole Park.)
Following his death, Ruth lay in state for two days at Yankee Stadium. More than 77,000 mourners filed past the casket. A funeral mass was held at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It was hot that day in New York City. Supposedly, former Yankee and pallbearer Joe Dugan said, “I’d give a hundred dollars for a beer.” Legend says that Yankee pitching great Waite Hoyt, another pallbearer, said, “So, would the Babe.”
(Tomorrow, I plan to post a quiz about the Babe. Check back.)
By Glen Sparks
Some of baseball’s greatest players boarded the Empress of Japan ocean liner on Oct. 20, 1934, in Vancouver, British Columbia. Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx and several others were headed for Honolulu and, ultimately, to Japan to play a series of exhibition games.
Connie Mack, owner-manager of the Philadelphia A’s, had organized the trip. Nearly 72 years old, he was mulling over giving up his dugout duties. Mack decided to give Ruth an audition of sorts. He asked the Babe to skipper this group of barnstorming All-Stars. If the trip went smoothly, baseball’s mightiest slugger might be managing the A’s in 1935.
Japan loved Ruth. Fans yelled “Bonsai!” and asked if they could meet “the God of baseball.” The U.S. team enjoyed a ticker-tape parade in Tokyo. Ruth’s squad played 17 games in Japan (Some reports say 18.), to sold-out crowds at Tokyo’s Meiji Stadium and Osaka’s Koshien Stadium, plus five more games in Shanghai, China, and elsewhere. The Babe waited until the fifth game to hit a home run but slugged 13 total. The All-Stars won every game and outscored their opponents 250-45.
The Japanese awarded four brass urns when the tour there ended. They were for highest batting average, longest hit, most runs driven in and best pitching. Ruth took home three urns. Lefty Gomez got the one for pitching.
Ruth, 39 years old and coming off a season in which he hit just 22 home runs for the Yankees, felt invigorated by his trip to the Far East. He announced at one point that he would play baseball “until I’m 100 years old.” Mack commented that Ruth looked better at the plate than he had in at least two years.
Thanks to Foxx’s camerawork, we have some footage of Ruth and the other players. Foxx recorded scenes on the ship, pre-game festivities and a little bit of game action. Robert Fitts, author of a 2012 book Bonsai Babe: Baseball, Espionage and Assassination during the 1934 Tour of Japan, sat down with Tom Shieber from the Baseball Hall of Fame to talk about the film and the expedition. Fitts said the trip had been in the making for a few years. There was only one problem. Ruth couldn’t make it.
“Ruth was paramount to this tour,” Fitts says. “They tried for three years to get him. He finally agreed in ’34.”
The All-Stars were expected to not just play baseball, Fitts says. They also were expected to be great ambassadors. There, they also succeeded. “They took the ambassador role seriously,” Fitts says. “The Japanese newspapers reported how well they behaved.”
Japan was definitely the highlight of the trip for Ruth. The team went from China and then to Java and Bali. Ruth didn’t like the women in either of those two countries. He complained that they walked down the street chewing red tobacco.
Ruth also didn’t care for Paris. No one knew who he was, and the people didn’t know baseball. The kids at the American School couldn’t even throw a baseball the right way. Get back to the U.S., Ruth advised them. Learn the important stuff. High culture can wait.
America’s baseball legend could at least go bob sledding and skiing at St. Moritz, the French mountain resort. The Babe, ever the showman, skied while smoking a cigar.
Finally, the players left for London. Ruth put on some cricket gear, couldn’t get the hang of the game, switched to a baseball stance and began pounding the ball. The Babe liked London.
Ruth and the all-stars cruised into New York harbor on Feb. 20. A band played “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” as the players stepped off the ship.
And Connie Mack managed the A’s for another 16 seasons. Ruth flunked the audition even as he pounded baseballs out of stadiums halfway around the world. The problem was all the other stuff. Mack didn’t like how Ruth and Gehrig barely spoke to one another throughout the ship, their long-time feud still hot. He also didn’t like how the Babe’s wife, Claire, bossed around the A’s would-be manager.
Mack supposedly said, “If I gave the job to him (Ruth), she (Claire) would be managing the team in a month.”
That was that. Ruth, who played just one more season in the majors after his trip to Japan, never managed in the big leagues.
- Fitt’s book focuses on the Babe’s trip. You also can read more about Ruth’s trip to Japan, and his many other adventures, in The Big Bam: The Life and Times of Babe Ruth, by Leigh Montville, and Babe: The Legend Comes to Life, by Robert Creamer. They’re both great reads.
- Ruth wore a Navy blue hat during his tour of Japan, with US emblazoned on the front. The cap recently fetched $303,277 at auction
- You can read my post about the Babe and how he learned that mighty swing that produced 714 career home runs.
By Glen Sparks
George Herman Ruth Jr., being incorrigible and not yet the “Babe”, spent much of his youth at the St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys in Baltimore. George Sr. couldn’t keep Junior out of trouble.
The future home run king, born in 1895, learned important life skills at St. Mary’s, such as ironing and how to sew buttons onto a shirt. Baseball fans, especially those partial to the Yankees, want to know who taught young Ruth how to hit. We can thank a burly Xaverian for that.
Brother Matthias Boutlier stood 6-feet-6, weighed 300 pounds and didn’t take any guff, not from George Jr. or any other boy. “He talked, and the toughest kids listened,” writes Leigh Montville in his splendid biography, “The Big Bam: The Life and Times of Babe Ruth,” published in 2006. (Being larger than life, Ruth needed more than one nickname. Some were profane.) More importantly, Montville writes, “He hit a baseball, and their jaws dropped.”
Big league hitters back then swung down on the ball. They wanted to keep the ball inside the park and use their speed. The great Ty Cobb hit .350 but only five home runs in 1907 when young Ruth was 12. The Boston Doves’ Dave Brain led the majors in home runs that season with 10.
Brother Matthias didn’t copy the pros. He belted long, high, majestic flyballs on the St. Mary’s ball field. Mathias grabbed fungo bats and swung upward with a sharp arc. He couldn’t have hit a groundball if he had tried. George Ruth simply followed the Brother’s example. He played almost every day at St. Mary’s, perfecting the greatest swing in history and signing his first pro contract in 1914.
Ruth changed the game. On this date in 1919, the Sultan of Swat (another nickname) hit his 28th home run of the campaign, breaking the single-season mark set by Ned Williamson of the Chicago White Stockings. Ruth belted 714 home runs in his career. Brother Matthias taught the Babe well.