George Herman Ruth, Jr., or Babe Ruth – as people fondly referred to him – is considered one of (if not THE) best baseball player of all time. His colorful life is documented in numerous books, but there are some things most people don’t know about the baseball legendary. On April 27, 1947, a few months after being diagnosed with throat cancer, Babe Ruth was awarded the highest honor a dedicated Yankee can get: the retirement of his number. Apart from Lou Gehrig, his former teammate, he was the only Yankee to ever hold that distinction.
With that in mind, here are 20 things you probably didn’t know about Babe Ruth.
1. He was arrested for reckless driving
Ruth was undisputed in the baseball pitch, stealing home ten times in his career and an estimated 714 home runs. Apparently, he also displayed the same quickness behind the wheel. His series of automobile accidents, traffic violations, and speeding tickets was rather impressive. This subsequently led to his arrest on June 8 1921, when he was caught speeding in Manhattan. Ruth had to spend the rest of the day in jail, and was only released forty five minutes after his game had started. When they let him go, he wore his Yankee uniform beneath his suit and hailed a ride from a motorcycle escort in time to catch the game.
2. His father died in a family brawl
To recap, Ruth’s father, who carried the same name – George Herman Ruth – owned a series of saloons in Baltimore. The site where one of these bars was located is now Oriole Park’s center field. George Herman Ruth Sr. was behind the counter during that fateful day in August 1918 when two of his brother in laws started quarreling. Ruth broke into an argument with one of them, following him into the streets until they started fighting. Unfortunately, Ruth fell onto the ground hitting the back of his head. He died from a fractured skull.
3. Ruth made his debut as a pitcher
While most people know Babe Ruth for his phenomenal 714 home runs, he actually started out as a very dominant left handed pitcher in the 1910s. During this time, he played for the Boston Red Sox, with who he won eighty nine games in 6 seasons. He played a major role in the team’s 3 World Series victories in 1917. Once he joined the New York Yankees in 1920, his position was changed to an outfielder after just 5 games.
4. He retired in a Braves uniform
Ruth began his major league career in Boston with the Red Sox and ended it there, but not with the same jersey. After the Yankees dropped him for his waning performance in 1935, Ruth signed with the Boston Braves hoping to become the team’s manager the next season. But when it seemed that his skills had weakened significantly, the promise was not kept and he decided to hang his boots in a Braves uniform. This marked the end of his twenty two-year career as a baseball player, having played 28 games only for the Braves.
5. His first wife died mysteriously
After his rookie season, Ruth married Helen Woodford (who was just 16 then) and the couple adopted a daughter in 1922. The daughter is thought to belong to one of Babe Ruth’s mistresses. The marriage did not last long, as the couple separated indefinitely after a few years. In January 1929, a fire (which was caused by faulty wiring) broke out in a certain house in Watertown, Massachusetts that belonged to a dentist called Edward Kinder. The incident led to the death of a woman who was mistakenly identified as Helen Kindler, the dentist’s wife. After seeing her photo in a Boston newspaper, readers and family members recognized the woman as Babe Ruth’s estranged wife. This was only a few hours before her programmed interment.
6. He was not inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame unanimously
A year after calling it quits, Ruth made it into the top 5 initial inductees selected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, which was just being constructed in Cooperstown, New York. Although Ruth had a remarkable track record in the National League, he was left out by 11 out of the 226 voters, leaving him trailing behind Ty Cobb – the most popular vote getter in the room. His plate in Cooperstown calls him the “greatest drawing card” in baseball.
7. He wasn’t actually an orphan
By now, most people probably know that Babe Ruth was brought up in St. Mary’s Industrial School for Orphans, Delinquent, Incorrigible and Wayward Boys. Interestingly though, Ruth was not really an orphan but simply wayward, delinquent, and incorrigible. At just 7 years old, Ruth was such a bad boy that his parents had to send the troubled young man to the Catholic School for guidance. The school was completely responsible for Ruth, and it is here that he developed his interest for baseball. In fact, he signed his first contract on 14 February 1914 with the minor league Baltimore Orioles after graduating from the school.
8. He believed he was born a year later than his actual date of birth for most of his life
Ruth had always believed that he was born on February 7, 1984 for several years. It was only after he checked his birth certificate when applying for a passport to sail to Japan in 1934 that he realized his real date of birth was February 6, 1895. Although this was almost one year after his true conception, he continued to celebrate his birthday on February
9. He once punched an umpire during a game
Ruth was known to have a huge temper and equally enormous ego, like many elite athletes. In 1917, when he was started in a game against the Senators, he became so frustrated by umpire Brick Owens’ calls that he punched him behind his left ear before being dragged off the field by policemen. His actions caused him a $100 fine and Ernie Shore took his place as a substitute. Shore went on to retire the next twenty six batters to beat the Senators 4-0.
10. Ruth shattered power records
In 1918, Ruth got the chance to hit more regularly, which led to about 10 homeruns as mentioned previously. The following year, he achieved 129 in .432, smashing Socks Seybold’s record of 16 in the American League, Buck Freeman’s 25 from the nineteenth century, and Gavvy Cravath’s 24 in the modern major league. During his first year with the NY Yankees, Ruth bat 54 in .457, the most anyone has ever achieved in any major league team besides the Phillies. His .847 sluggish percentage was only broken by Barry Bonds just recently, 2001 to be exact. To date, he still boasts 4 of the ten greatest single season slugging percentages of all time.
11. Ruth only won a single MVP award
Given his prior record, most people believe that Babe Ruth deserved more than just one MVP award. However, in his case, it was probably because the award did not exist before or he was not eligible because repeat winners were not allowed. Given that the current record is 7 by Barry Bonds, it is interesting to speculate exactly how many Ruth could have won judging by modern standards. For instance, when you use the Wins Above Replacement (WAR) system for each season, which is used to determine the worth of a player in terms of wins against a replacement player, Ruth led the National league 12 times in WAR. When you go with this, the legendary Babe Ruth might have won 12 MVP awards.
12. Ruth was the first highest paid baseball player
His first contract with the Yankees saw him bag a staggering $20,000 salary and by 1930, it had hit the $80,000 mark, which was the highest a baseball player had ever being paid. In fact, he earned more than the president at that time, Herbert Hoover, whose salary was $75,000. When he retired, he left Gehrig as the highest paid player in the Major League with $30,000. Although this was much less than what Ruth was earning, it set the pace for baseball players’ remuneration. During his career, Babe Ruth made approximately one million dollars in wages and bonuses and even extra money from writings, endorsements, and other ventures.
13. He was nicknamed “Babe” when he joined the Orioles
George Herman Ruth, Jr. joined minor league Baltimore Orioles when he was only 19 and fresh out of school back in 1914. In order to validate his $250 contract, Jack Dunn, who owned and managed the team, had to take him under his legal guardianship because the age of majority was 25 at that time. When he first encountered the Orioles players, he was referred to as “Jack’s newest babe.”This nickname was shortened to “Babe” in public. Interestingly, over the course of his career, his teammates found it weird calling him that, instead preferring “The Big Fellow,” “Jidge” and “Bam.”
14. He Spoke German
Ruth’s family was German on both sides. George Ruth, Sr., his father, was Pennsylvania Dutch, while Kate Schamberger, his mother, was German from her father’s side. Ruth managed to pick up the language because it was spoken within the family. In fact, during the 40s, there were suggestions that his last name was actually either Gerhardt or Ehrhardt, and not Ruth – but the Babe rejected this notion as erroneous.
15. He placed a piece of cabbage beneath his hat for cooling
To keep his head cool in the playing field, the Babe used to wear a piece of cabbage below his hat. This was rather innovative, but not revolutionary to the point where it was adopted by other major leaguers. For instance, it’s hard to imagine Pete Rose placing a piece of vegetable under his hat for whatever purpose.
16. The Babe had brief careers in Radio and film
Like many celebrities, the Babe tried his luck into something other than his chosen career. In particular, he hosted The Adventures of Babe Ruth that aired three times per week during the summer and spring of 1934, as well as Here’s Babe Ruth during the summer and spring of 1937. In addition, he ran a show known as Baseball Quiz during the Second World War, which aired on NBC every Saturday. However, these ventures were mostly short-lived, including his film career. Some of the films he appeared in included Headin’ Home in 1920, as well as Pride of the Yankees in which he played himself. He spent the rest of his retirement vacationing in Florida and golfing.
17. He was one of the earliest big athletes to have a PR man
Soon after signing up with the Yankees, Ruth met a fast talking, L.A based entrepreneur named Christy Walsh, with whom he developed an instant business partnership. This relationship would form the basis for the modern sports/athlete agent partnership. His work involved keeping Ruth in the public eye and developing a picture of the big loveable kid that liked to have a little fun on the side. Additionally, he was responsible for pushing to the background Ruth’s unseemly behaviors such as his ravenous gluttony, out of control drinking, and insatiable infidelity. Christy also hired ghostwriters to pen all kinds of articles about the Babe and had Ruth perform nutty stunts such as barnstorming throughout the country each off season and catching baseballs thrown from airplanes.
18. He had a hard time remembering names
The Babe was terrible with names, which, although frustrating for him, became an ongoing source of humor for his teammates. He resorted to calling everyone under a certain age simply as “kid”, while those who were above this age were called “doc.”Women, on the other hand, were either “sweety”, “baby”, or “honey” while his wife was “the missus” or “the wife”.
19. Gehrig’s wife may have been responsible for Lou Gehrig’s distant relationship with the Babe
Ruth and Gehrig had always been known to have a cool relationship. The two were completely different people. While Ruth was loud and boisterous, Gehrig was quiet and reserved. The difference in personalities meant that it was only natural that the two were not exactly the best of friends. But the situation may have been worsened by the fact that Eleanor, Gehrig’s wife, was particularly close to Ruth before marrying Lou. Ruth was known to be a notorious womanizer and hardly had any platonic relationships with women. Furthermore, in 1934 during an overseas trip to Japan, Gehrig apparently caught Eleanor half drunk in the Babe’s cabin on the ship. Ruth and Gehrig did not speak again after this incident until 1939 before his death.
20. His biggest regret was not managing a team
Ruth passionately wanted to manage a team in the major league, particularly the Yankees, but never really got the opportunity. Most of the offers that came his way were simply for publicity, including his contract with the Boston Braves at the end of his career. Ruth also believed that people should go to him and that he shouldn’t have to go a long way himself in the process. The situation was worsened by the fact that team owners saw that his excessive lifestyle would turn out to be a bad influence on the young players.