GREAT DEBATES: Three Articles
GREAT DEBATES: Three Articles
BABE RUTH AND THE ISSUE OF RACE
Having written a book about Babe Ruth in 2007, I receive many questions about the Bambino and his extraordinary life. One of the greatest areas of interest centers on how the Babe interacted with the African-American community. In this matter, modern fans perceive Ruth inaccurately in two ways. They believe that he did not compete against the best Black players of that era, and they think that he did not enjoy a positive relationship with the general African-American population. Both of those beliefs are false.
Admittedly, it is difficult for any Ruthian scholar to definitively understand the exact evolution of Babe’s feelings about race. My personal judgment is that there was none. In keeping with his uncommonly natural persona, I believe that Ruth was simply "color blind" in the matter of race. In other words, I suspect that George Herman Ruth was born with literally no innate biases toward anyone. That’s just the way he was. Babe was certainly exposed to racial prejudice. Remember that Ruth was born in a tough waterfront section of Baltimore, Maryland in 1895. That was just three decades after Abraham Lincoln had to travel secretly through the same city on his way to being inaugurated in Washington, D.C. Lincoln’s anti-slavery platform was considered too volatile to allow safe passage below the Mason Dixon line. We must assume, therefore, that young Ruth realized that some white folks just didn’t like black people. However, it seems to have had no effect on his remarkably free spirit.
We have no clear data on the matter for the first twenty-three years of Babe’s life. But, in 1918, when Ruth was rapidly rising to the top of the baseball world, there was an event that contributed to the eventual desegregation of the National Pastime. Prior to that year, Ruth had been "merely" a great pitcher for the Boston Red Sox. However, due to the man-power shortage caused by World War One, Babe started playing in the field on days when he wasn’t pitching. The result was an American League lead-tying total of eleven home runs, which instantly set Ruth apart from all other players. Babe then led the Red Sox to the World Series championship, which concluded early because of the shortened schedule.
At that same time, the Cuban Stars from Havana were completing a successful tour of the United States. They had won thirty of thirty-two contests against mostly white semi-pro and Minor League teams. Owner George Weiss of the Eastern League New Haven Colonials arranged for them to come to Lighthouse Field in the Elm City on Sunday, September 14, 1918. Weiss was even more familiar with Ruth than most Americans, since he had lured Babe and the Red Sox into a Sunday "off day" appearance in New Haven on August 18, 1918. On that occasion, Ruth had smashed the stadium’s longest-ever home run with an epic blow over the woman’s bath house in distant right centerfield.
So, when Weiss realized that his team was outclassed by the soon-to-arrive Cubans, he put in a call to Babe Ruth, who was resting in Boston after the just-ended World Series. The New Haven Register said this about Ruth’s status at that time: "He is truly the miracle player of baseball." It added that Ruth was: "unquestionably the biggest baseball sensation of the year." When Weiss extended the invitation for Ruth to return to New Haven to play the "ebony skinned" Cubans, Babe "jumped at the opportunity." Predictably, the Stars whipped the Colonials handily, but Ruth provided the only bright light in the 5-1 defeat with a mammoth homer beyond the flagpole in left centerfield. I believe, however, that the day’s events transcended sports.
At that moment, Babe Ruth was in the process of supplanting Ty Cobb (a well-known racist) as the preeminent baseball player in America. When he unhesitatingly agreed to take the field against performers of African descent, he sent a powerful signal that could not be ignored. As was usually the case in whatever he did, Ruth kept moving forward in the matter of race relations. After being sold to the New York Yankees in 1920, Babe took the final step in becoming baseball’s unquestioned kingpin by walloping fifty-four homers. That was an astounding accomplishment for that era.
When the season ended, Ruth received hundreds of invitations to barnstorm anywhere he wanted to go. Of the approximately fifteen games that Babe selected, five were against so-called Negro League teams. Ruth then sailed to Cuba, where he joined John McGraw’s Giants to play nine more contests versus a combination of Latino and Negro ballplayers. Again, the message was clear: if the sports’ transcendent figure played without reservation against Black ballplayers, why shouldn’t everyone else?
However, at the same time, another powerful but opposing dynamic was taking shape. As a result of the "Black Sox Scandal" of 1919, Judge Kenesaw Landis was being wooed by MLB owners to take over as commissioner. He assumed office on January 12, 1921, and was provided with nearly dictatorial power. Landis was a complex man of contrasting traits, but even his staunchest admirers find it difficult to defend his record on race relations. Essentially, he did nothing for twenty-four years (he died on November 25, 1945) to advance the cause of integration in Major League Baseball. Accordingly, while Babe Ruth was knocking down the color barriers in autumn 1920, Landis was seemingly content to maintain them. There was a rule in the books that prohibited World Series participants from engaging in post-season barnstorming activities, and Babe Ruth and the Yankees wound up playing in the Fall Classic in 1921.
When Ruth announced plans to engage in a prolonged tour at the conclusion of the Series, Landis forbad him to proceed. Babe had heard the same thing from American League President Ban Johnson after the 1916 Series, when he and many of his Red Sox teammates briefly toured New England. The result had been a "slap on the wrist." The players were fined $100, and barred from wearing their World Series emblems. Big deal. Since the rule had never really been enforced, Babe assumed that Landis would handle the situation in like manner. However, part of Ruth’s 1921 barnstorming schedule included more games with Negro League teams. There was no way that Kenesaw Mountain Landis would abide that.
He decreed that Ruth would be severely punished if he barnstormed, and, when Babe tried to plead his case, Landis ignored him. Confident that any punishment would be comparable to his 1916 reprimand, Ruth embarked on his tour. However, after just five games, Yankee co-owner T.L. Huston intercepted Ruth in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and convinced him that the Judge meant business. Babe cancelled the remainder of the schedule, and awaited his fate. When Landis suspended Ruth for the first five weeks of the 1922 season, the country was shocked. Even President Harding voiced his support for the Babe. Everyone knew that the punishment far exceeded the crime, but Landis was riding high and no one dared to oppose him.
American League owners were appalled by the subsequent loss of revenue caused by Ruth’s lengthy absence, and the ridiculous rule was soon rescinded. Undaunted, Babe Ruth then played against the renowned Kansas City Monarchs at their home field on October 22, 1922. He went 4 for 4 in a losing cause, and then resumed his tour in rural Kansas and Oklahoma. He didn’t seem to care that he endangered himself by playing against Black ballplayers, then venturing into territory under the influence of the Ku Klux Klan.
It is important to recognize the premise of the last statement. Three years later on November 11, 1925, eight-hundred-sixty-six members of the Monmouth County Ku Klux Klan marched (mostly in robes and masks) in the Armistice Day Parade in Red Bank, New Jersey. That was a seaside community in the Northeast! So, when Ruth thumbed his nose at the Klan in the rural Mid-West three years earlier, he had risked much. For the record, Black ballplayers later reported playing against The Babe in Red Bank.
On September 12, 1923, Babe Ruth refereed a fight in West New York, New Jersey between lightweights Emil Morro (black) and Larry Regan (white). At the end of the contest, according to the September 22 edition of The Chicago Defender, "Babe was covered with blood and a perfectly good white shirt had to be thrown into the ash can." This happened at a time when many white Americans wouldn’t even drink from the same water fountain after an African-American had used the same facility. It is one of many examples of how Ruth was inherently disinclined toward any form of racial bias.
Perhaps more importantly, despite being a close personal friend of heavyweight champ Jack Dempsey, Babe shared referee duties that night with black top-ranked contender Harry Wills. That was not a casual co-incidence. As early as 1920, Dempsey was roundly criticized from many quarters for refusing to fight Wills. Ruth knew this, but still provided some measure of validation for Harry by stepping into the spotlight with him. Two days later (September 14, 1923), the historic Jack Dempsey-Luis Firpo fight was staged at New York’s Polo Grounds. Predictably, Babe was seated at ringside, where Dempsey knocked out Firpo in a wild two round battle. During the contest, Dempsey’s brother, Johnny, was seen throwing a punch at Ruth. Was that because Johnny Dempsey was angry at Babe for publicly appearing with his brother’s chief rival? Nobody knows for sure, but it is a fact that Jack Dempsey never fought Harry Wills.
One month later, on October 8, 1923 (two days before the World Series), Ruth was the guest of honor at a Harlem fund-raiser for the benefit of the Mother A.M.E. Zion Church. Other white celebrities had similarly committed to attend, but only Babe kept his word. He donated not only his valuable time, but also contributed some autographed balls along with twenty bucks out of his pocket. For Babe Ruth, this was not an unusual display of unbiased charity. During his fall barnstorming tour after his celebrated 1927 season, the Bambino visited the Guardian Angel Home For Negroes in Kansas City on October 15.There is a delightful photo from that event showing a beaming Ruth holding a black infant in his arms. In addition, he personally hosted fifty orphans from that institution during the exhibition game on that same date.
But that was Babe Ruth. He had a natural affinity for all people regardless of their social, financial, ethnic or religious background. Is that to say that he never did anything racially insensitive? Of course not. Babe was poorly educated, and, when he left St. Mary’s Industrial School in 1914, he was crude and vulgar. He referred to Italian-Americans as "Wops", Irish-Americans as "Micks" and German-Americans (among whom he was included) as ‘Krauts." Babe may have even used the "n-word", but, as a young man, he was often referred to as "nigger lips" because of his facial features. He was a product of his time and his environment. However, he was NEVER deliberately malicious or hurtful.
As he aged, he grew in wisdom and maturity, and established a remarkable record of tolerance and open-mindedness. He eventually toured Japan, China, the Philippines, Mexico and other foreign lands, where he was universally loved and admired. In every location, he reciprocated the affection. He was a man of the people…all the people!
At home, Babe Ruth never altered his positive approach to the African-American community. He played games against Negro League teams in 1926, 1927, 1928, 1929, and showed up again in Kansas City in 1931 to compete with the Monarchs. That contest under the lights was rained out, but Ruth was there and ready to go. A few months later, in December, when Babe was relaxing with friends on a hunting trip to Camp Bryan, North Carolina, he included chef David Simpson in his group. Why is that significant? Mr. Simpson was a black man who had cooked for Ruth in the past, but he was terminally ill at the time. Despite being unable to work, Babe Ruth invited him to join an intimate assemblage at his hunting lodge. Within two months, David Simpson died.
One year later, after his dramatic "Called Shot" home run helped the Yankees sweep the Chicago Cubs in the 1932 World Series, Babe and friend Bill "Bo Jangles" Robinson enjoyed a raucous celebration on the train ride back to New York. Robinson was not only one of the country’s best dancers, but a part-owner of the New York Black Yankees. Robinson had been Ruth’s invited guest for the trip to Chicago, and, at each stop returning home, Babe and Bill entertained the jubilant crowds with their joint antics.
On August 14, 1933, Babe Ruth and the Yanks were in Pittsburgh for an exhibition contest with the National League Pirates. The first-ever Negro League All-Star game was scheduled for September 10 in Chicago, and the Pittsburgh Courier sent a reporter to the Hotel Schenley to interview Ruth. After lavishly praising the quality and showmanship of Negro League baseball, Babe offered a powerful endorsement about the forthcoming game. Ruth stated: "The game in Chicago should bring out a lot of white people who are anxious to see the kind of ball that colored performers play."
By 1934, Babe was slowing down as a performer, and arrived at Yankee Stadium on June 24 in a prolonged slump. Before the game, in the dugout, Ruth met again with his old buddy, Bill Robinson. Bo Jangles sprinkled "goofer dust" on the Bambino, who then smashed a second inning grand slam. Afterward, Babe and Bill got together in the Yankee clubhouse, and laughed about the effects of the magical elixir, which was just plain old table salt. Is there anything more to this anecdote than good natured humor? I think so.
One of Ruth’s teammates that day was Ben Chapman. He went on to manage the Philadelphia Phillies in 1947, and became famous for his bitter and vitriolic treatment of Jackie Robinson. As far as anyone knows, Bill Robinson was the first Black man ever invited into the Yankee clubhouse. He did so as a guest of Babe Ruth, and we can only wonder what Ben Chapman was thinking at that pivotal moment. It should be further noted that Mr. Robinson became an honorary pallbearer at Babe’s 1948 funeral at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
When Ruth finally retired early in the 1935 season, he received countless offers to play exhibition games all over the country, including many in the New York area. With the exception of a police charity game in Minneapolis, he ignored them all until September 29. Where was the location that Babe Ruth chose to make his first post-retirement Big Apple appearance? It was at Dyckman Oval in Harlem against the New York Cubans.
In anticipation of the event, The Amsterdam News (a so-called Black newspaper) referred to Ruth as "The Great Man himself", and further stated: "as his popularity knew neither race, creed or color, the ‘Oval’ should present the most animated scene." That’s exactly what happened. Over 8,000 fans, mostly folks of color, crammed into the little ballpark, while hundreds of others gathered on nearby rooftops. While rooting for a Cuban victory, they greeted Babe with warmth and affection. Was Babe Ruth paid for his efforts? Yes. However, he received many comparable financial offers throughout the summer, but, for his own reasons, turned them down.
I also regard a 1937 event as interesting. When heavyweight champion Joe Louis was training for his title defense against Tommy Farr in Pompton Lakes, New Jersey, he invited Babe Ruth to visit as his special guest. Babe arrived on August 24, and was watching Louis box, when "The Brown Bomber" leaned over the ropes and said: "I’m going to hit one this time for you Babe." Sparring partner Tiger Hairston soon landed on the floor as Babe acknowledged his admiration for Joe’s power. Soon after, The Chicago Defender (another Black newspaper) featured a photograph of the two great athletes during Louis’s official weigh-in at New York. In that instant, Babe and Joe were smiling at each other as Ruth held the champ’s taped right hand in his own oversized paws.
Although Babe Ruth enjoyed life in retirement, he also experienced some profound disillusionment. He had always expected to manage at the Big League level, but the job never materialized. Until his death in 1948, that was the single most painful experience of his amazing life. Why did it happen? Some refer to Yankee owner Jacob Ruppert’s alleged assertion that Babe couldn’t manage himself, so how could he expect to manage a Major League team? However, that bit of so-called history doesn’t hold up under scrutiny. If that quote had been attributed to Ruppert in 1925, when Ruth was both defiant and uncooperative, it would have some credence. But Babe didn’t seriously consider managing until 1931, which was two years after his second marriage had mellowed him significantly.
At the end of the 1933 season, when the issue of Ruth’s future became highly topical, Ruppert said: "I think Ruth will make a splendid manager. He’s settled down and is very serious about his future." Writing for the New York Times a few days later (October 22, 1933), John Kieran spoke highly of Ruth’s qualifications, but offered reasons why someone else might disagree. Speaking rhetorically, Kieran wrote: "If he didn’t know how to take care of himself, how could he take care of a ball club?" The article continued with nothing but glowing support for Ruth’s candidacy to manage. Is it possible that Kieran’s earlier quote was later taken out of context and subsequently misrepresented?
Perhaps most telling was a little known incident back in the fall of 1920. After the conclusion of Ruth’s first season with the Yankees, he stopped in the Binghamton, New York area for a barnstorming game on October 22. Interviewed by the Binghamton Press, Ruth acknowledged that he had just been offered the job of player-manager by the Yankees. At age twenty-five, Babe was still a free spirit, and rejected the proposal. Jacob Ruppert shared ownership with T.L. Huston at that time, but it makes little sense that Ruppert would have consented to such an arrangement if he considered Ruth unqualified.
For the record, when Colonel Huston talked about his prospect of purchasing the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1934, he definitively stated that Babe Ruth would be his manager. Plus, several club owners expressed their support for Babe Ruth as a manager, and the Cincinnati Reds and Detroit Tigers made overt efforts to sign him. So, what really happened? Why didn’t Babe Ruth ever get the chance to manage a Big League team?
We should recall that during the 1930s, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis was still the reigning czar of baseball. He knew that, if Babe Ruth became a Big League skipper, he would likely advocate the inclusion of African-American players. It has been theorized that it was Landis’s influence that kept Ruth from achieving his ambition to manage. I honestly don’t know if that is true.
There have been recent treatises by well-respected historians arguing that Landis was not alone in perpetuating the segregation of Major League Baseball. To me, that theory seems reasonable. It is unlikely that Jackie Robinson would not have been signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers until 1945 without, at least, tacit support of the "gentlemen’s agreement" from many of the owners. Let’s put it this way: as a result of Babe Ruth’s benign interaction with Black ballplayers, it was significantly harder for him to achieve his most cherished wish.
How was Babe Ruth regarded by the African-American men with whom he took the field? In his definitive book on Negro League history, Turkey Stearnes and the Detroit Stars, author Richard Bak had this to say: "Babe Ruth, affable to a fault, was adored by Negro leaguers." I personally interviewed many surviving Negro League veterans in the 1980s, and none of them had a bad word to say about Ruth. That is not to say that there weren’t some guys who didn’t like him. After all, Babe was just a man, and prone to misdeeds like all of us. However, I never encountered anyone who felt negatively about him. Among those with whom I spoke were Cool Papa Bell, Buck Leonard, William Judy Johnson, Buck O’Neil, Newt Allen, Ray Dandridge, Monte Irvin, Double Duty Radcliffe, Willie Wells and Sam Streeter.
As discussed in my book. I had the privilege of becoming a personal friend to Judy Johnson. He lived near Wilmington, Delaware, which allowed me to visit him often from my home in suburban Philadelphia. I originally met him to discuss legendary slugger Josh Gibson, but, over time, Mr. Johnson offered many unsolicited remarks about his admiration and affection for Babe Ruth. He articulated his passion for the Bambino as both a player and a human being. On the matter of Ruth’s physical abilities, Johnson said: "We could never seem to get him out no matter what we did." In fact, in the sixteen games for which we have documentation, Babe went 25 for 54 with eleven home runs.
That included an extraordinary performance on October 11, 1927 in Trenton, New Jersey, where Ruth blasted three consecutive tape measure home runs against the great Dick "Cannon Ball" Redding. In fairness to Redding, he was past his prime, but Babe’s deeds that day were still exceptional. And, of course, there were those compelling encounters against the one and only Satchel Paige. Ruth’s daughter Julia Ruth Stevens still remembers a game in Brooklyn, where Satch got the better of her dad. However, Negro League luminary Buck O’Neil recalled a different outcome in Chicago during the late-thirties. On that occasion, Babe pounded a monumental shot into the trees beyond the center field fence, after which, Paige stared at him circling the bases. Sadly, we do not have exact dates for either event, but both witnesses are highly reliable sources.
More importantly, regarding Babe the man, Johnson said: "He was quite a guy, always a lot of fun. All the guys really liked him." In this matter of player relations, Johnson felt that Major Leaguers were divided into three separate groups. First, there were the hard cases, who would not take the field with black performers under any circumstances. Next, you had the guys who really didn’t like African-Americans, but agreed to play the games in order to make a buck.
Finally, there were the fellows like Ruth, who genuinely enjoyed interacting with men of color, and displayed no inhibitions in showing it. Babe spontaneously exchanged jokes, handshakes and occasional hugs with his Black brethren. Ruth wasn’t alone in this category. There were others: men like Jimmie Foxx and Dizzy Dean, but there weren’t many. And, according to Judy Johnson, Babe was the most personable of the entire lot. During an introspective moment not long before he passed in 1988, Mr. Johnson told me that Babe Ruth had been one of his few heroes.
Admittedly, it saddens me to learn that most contemporary African-Americans do not realize the friend they had in Babe Ruth. I encounter this unfortunate reality on a regular basis. At a local authors’ panel in 2007, I was seated with an erudite African-American gentleman, who had written a fascinating book about a Southern black family during the Civil War. We exchanged stories about our work, and he acknowledged that he hadn’t previously understood the essence of Babe Ruth as a person. The next day, he re-contacted me to advise that he had continued the conversation at his neighborhood barber shop. The men there were equally surprised to learn the truth about the real Bambino.
Similarly, I was contacted by Baltimore Sun writer David Steele in 2008 for information about Ruth. As a young man in 1974, he was aware of the racial antipathy aimed at Henry Aaron as "Hammerin’ Hank" took aim on Babe’s career home run record. He naturally developed resentment toward Ruth, which had carried over (at least in part) to this day. However, when I explained what I knew about Ruth, David wrote a complimentary article about the Babe in his newspaper. In my opinion, that took guts and integrity. It was an important step in overcoming this lingering misrepresentation, which unnecessarily and negatively impacts our cultural history.
Obviously, there are many questions about Babe Ruth that I can not answer. However, there is one for which I feel confident in my response. How would Babe have handled that episode in 1974 when Henry Aaron was passing him on the all-time home run list? First, Ruth would have been furious with anyone invoking his name to denigrate Aaron in any way. Second, being an unusually natural and honest individual, I don’t think that he would have engaged in the standard disingenuous but politically correct practice of saying that he was happy. My guess is that Babe would have said: "Well, I can’t say that I’m happy about my record being broken. But, if somebody is going to do it, I’m glad that it is a swell fellow like Hank Aaron." He would have supported Aaron’s efforts without reservation. And here is the heart of the matter: if anybody had tried to harm Henry Aaron because he was breaking the Bambino’s record, he would have had to fight his way past Babe Ruth to do it. On this, I have absolutely no doubt.
There is one reality that is beyond speculation. During his lifetime, Babe Ruth was revered by the African-American community as well as all other minority groups. When filming the life story of Lou Gehrig in Hollywood in the spring of 1942, Ruth almost died of double-pneumonia. The reaction from Black America was intense. In the Atlanta Daily World on April 12, 1942, columnist Lucius Jones wrote: "Black or white, our common hero was George Herman (Babe) Ruth. Every kid was ready to knock down the friend or foe who denied his personal claim to being Babe Ruth." Writing in the Pittsburgh Courier six days later, Wendell Smith said: "Thousands of sepia fans throughout the nation were pulling for his (Ruth’s) recovery. During the course of his unequaled career, the Great Bambino was lavish in his praise of Negro ball players. The Baltimore orphan…was never accused of wielding the bat of prejudice. He was, and still is, revered by fans of all creeds and colors."
When The Babe actually passed six years later in 1948, the response from minority communities all over the world was extremely emotional. Not only did every African-American newspaper in America publish articles expressing profound grief and loss, there were comparable declarations from the Latino populations in Cuba, Mexico and The Philippines. For example, in Mexico City, The Excelsior stated: "All epochs have their heroes. Babe Ruth was the hero of modern generations. He has died, but he is still with us."
What does it all mean? To me, when you add everything together, we see a life well lived. Despite his repressed early life, George Ruth developed a highly caring disposition. He genuinely loved children of all colors and creeds, and would do almost anything to aide a youngster in need. His charitable work now seems fictional in retrospect. In the matter of race relations, it is fair to categorize him as a pioneer of integration. He certainly helped set the stage for what Jackie Robinson so courageously accomplished in 1947. In the overall context of his life, born into near-poverty in 19th Century Baltimore and placed in a reform school at the age of seven, Babe Ruth accomplished much. He became a true humanitarian, and was so much more than a great ballplayer.
Bill Jenkinson, Baseball Historian (2009)
As discussed, Ruth played many games against Black ballplayers during his career. Unfortunately, not all have been reliably documented. The two following lists provide data about those events.
These games have been authenticated by contemporary primary sources:
9-14-1918 New Haven vs Cuban Stars-1 for 3-HR
10-4-1920 Philadelphia vs Atlantic City Bacharachs-2 for 4-1B& HR
10-7-1920 Philadelphia vs Hilldale-0 for 3
10-8-1920 Philadelphia vs Hilldale-1 for 4-HR
10-13-1920 Buffalo vs Pittsburgh Colored Stars-2 for 4-Two HRs
10-24-1920 Buffalo vs Pittsburgh Colored Stars-1 for 3-1B
11-3-1920 Havana vs Almendares-0 for 3
11-14-1920 Havana vs Almandares-1 for 2-HR
N.B.-Some Almandares pitchers were Spanish, but these at-bats were vs Black pitchers
10-17-1922 Sioux Falls, SD vs Emil Collins (city’s best player)-1 for 1-1B
10-22-1922 Kansas City vs Monarchs-4 for 4- 4 Line Drive 1Bs
10-11-1926 Bradley Beach, NJ vs Brooklyn Colored Giants-2 for 4-Two HRs
10-9-1927 New York vs Linclon Giants-Rained out
10-11-1927 Trenton vs Brooklyn Colored Giants-3 for 5-Three HRs (off Dick Redding)
10-13-1927 Asbury Park, NJ vs Brooklyn Colored Giants-1 for 4-HR
10-14-1928 Montreal vs Chappies-2 for 3-2 1Bs
10-20-1929 West New York, NJ vs Royal Giants-3 for 4- Two 1Bs & 2B
10-13-1931 Kansas City vs Monarchs-Rained out
9-29-1935 New York vs New York Cubans-1 for 4-2B
The remaining games have been reported by dependable individuals, but have not been confirmed by contemporary primary sources:
1928 Kansas City vs Chicago American Giants-Two line hits according to Willie Powell
1929 Philadelphia vs Hilldale-Hit Two long right field HRs according to Judy Johnson
1935-1938 Chicago vs Satchel Paige-Hit long center field HR according to Buck O’Neill
Judging Babe Ruth's Attempted Steal of 2nd Base in 1926 World Series
Having written a book about Babe Ruth in 2007 (The Year Babe Ruth Hit 104 Home Runs), I am accustomed to dealing with controversy relating to the Bambino. I confess, however, that one issue remains a sore spot for me. I don’t expect everyone to agree with all my conclusions, and I am willing to learn from the insights of others. Yet, when I encounter disagreement that is based on erroneous factual data, I feel bound to respond…especially on issues where I am, admittedly, emotionally invested.
Such is the case with the long-debated topic of Babe Ruth’s failed attempt to steal second base at the conclusion of the 1926 World Series. After years of intense research on every aspect of the Ruthian persona, I came to an understanding and interpretation of that event that I knew to be at odds with conventional modern analysis.
Essentially, I argued that, even though Ruth’s gambit failed, the Babe earned high marks for his courage and honor. However, during the intervening eighty-four years of evolving hindsight since the event, it is true that most viewpoints have been negative. It is generally thought that Ruth acted foolishly and recklessly, thereby creating one of the few black marks on an otherwise extraordinary athletic legacy.
Let us revisit the facts. On October 10, 1926, the New York Yankees and St. Louis Cardinals took the field at Yankee Stadium for the seventh and deciding game of the World Series. The Yanks had returned home after Game Five in St. Louis leading the Series three games to two. But, on October 9, venerable Grover Cleveland Alexander had reached into his storied past, summoning all his still-formidable skills, and defeated the Bronx Bombers 10 to 2 in a complete game masterpiece.
According to legend, the epileptic Alexander had celebrated his second such triumph of the Series by getting drunk. “Old Pete” certainly enjoyed the consumption of alcohol, but the claim that he was “hung over” for Game Seven has never been confirmed. Either way, he was called upon to quell a seventh inning New York rally which he did successfully. As of the ninth inning, he was still on the mound, trying to conserve a 3 to 2 Cardinal lead. If he could do it, St. Louis would become World Champions.
Alexander had to face the top of the Yankee batting order, and was able to retire the first two batters (Earl Combs and Mark Koenig) rather easily. But Babe Ruth was next in line. Up to that moment, Ruth had performed magnificently. He had fielded expertly, and batted 6 for 20 with four home runs, including a third inning shot into the right centerfield bleachers for the game’s first run. Nearly as importantly, he had walked ten times, usually intentionally. Since he represented the tying run, many observers assumed that Alexander would pass him deliberately.
That’s not what happened. Pitching carefully but determinedly, Alex ran a full count with Ruth fouling back the second strike on a mighty swing. At three and two, the Babe walked on a pitch that just missed the outside corner. As he jogged to first base, Bob Meusel, batting fourth for New York, stepped up to the plate. On the first pitch, Meusel swung and missed as Ruth tried to steal. Catcher Bob O”Farrell threw to second baseman Rogers Hornsby who applied the tag. Babe Ruth was ruled out by umpire Bill Dineen, the game was over, and the Cardinals had won the World Series.
That was a long time ago, but Ruth’s base-running gamble is still topical. And, yes, most modern baseball fans regard the play as ill-conceived. Perhaps it was. But there are four central components to the anti-Ruthian treatise that are just plain wrong, and I believe that the record needs to be clarified. Essentially, the four faulty tenets are as follows:
1-Babe Ruth was slow and fat, rendering any base-stealing effort impractical.
2-Bob Meusel was a formidable hitter at that time he batted on October 10, 1926.
3-Babe Ruth was thrown out by a wide margin.
4-Most contemporary observers believed that Babe Ruth had acted unwisely.
EACH OF THESE FOUR ISSUES WILL BE DISCUSSED AND ANALYZED.
ONE: Babe Ruth was slow and fat, rendering any base-stealing effort impractical.
It is true that Babe Ruth battled weight problems for most of his athletic career. However, he didn’t always lose that battle. His weight went up and down, thereby necessitating careful research before making comments or judgments. In fact, as of October 10, 1926, Babe Ruth weighed 215 pounds which was just what it should have been for a man of his height (six-feet-two-inches) and bone structure (very large).
Ruth had begun his professional baseball career in 1914 after twelve years (on and off) inside St. Mary’s Industrial School where food was in short supply. Accordingly, nineteen-year-old George Ruth weighed only 180 pounds when he first took the field as a pro player. Quickly becoming a star while earning large paychecks, Babe was finally able to eat whatever he wanted.
When Ruth reported to the Red Sox’ spring training site at Hot Springs, Arkansas in 1915, his weight had predictably shot up to 199 pounds. But he was still hard and lean. Babe stayed that way for the next three years, adding only a few pounds per season, but, in 1919, he came to spring training in Tampa visibly heavier than the preceding year. That is when the roller coaster started. From then on, Babe Ruth’s weight went up and down from year to year.
In 1920, his first season with the Yankees, Ruth was relatively lean, sporting a remarkably flat belly. Keep in mind that such a physique was difficult for the Babe to attain. He had one of those body types where he tended to carry a few surplus pounds around his middle even when he was in peak condition. By 1921, he had put some weight back on, and appeared heavy upon reporting to camp in Shreveport, Louisiana. Since Ruth was immensely successful that year, he thought that he didn’t need to change what he was doing, and arrived in 1922 at an equivalent weight of 220 pounds.
Of course, that was not a good year for Ruth, and, at the conclusion, he vowed to train all through the winter. He kept his word, and took the field on the day that Yankee Stadium officially opened (April 18, 1923) at the nearly wraith like figure of 201 pounds. During that entire season, Ruth’s play was marked by speed and overall athletic virtuosity.
Yet, still not committed to any permanent training philosophy, Babe showed up for spring training in New Orleans at around 230 pounds in 1924. Enjoying yet another wondrous individual campaign, Ruth assumed that his unique abilities excused him from the mundane needs for moderation and exercise. Reporting to St. Petersburg for the first time in 1925, Babe stepped off the train to a raucous welcome, featuring a lively band rendition of “Hail to the Chief.” That train had just been relieved of a 250 pound burden.
Remarkably, Babe Ruth played sensational baseball in that bloated condition until collapsing from a stomach abscess on April 7, 1925 in Ashville, North Carolina. His mysterious ailment was famously labeled: “The Stomach Ache Heard Around the World.” The entire sorry episode led to a disastrous season for both Ruth and the Yankees. There was, however, a saving grace. Babe Ruth finally got the message.
Starting in 1926, Babe would never again ignore his responsibilities to train in his role as America’s preeminent athlete. That off-season, he hired New York’s most respected trainer, former boxer Artie Mc Govern, on a permanent basis to supervise his physical conditioning. Although Ruth’s official weight was reported at varying levels, there was a contemporary photograph that told the story by way of powerful visual images.
It appeared in the St. Petersburg Times on March 3, 1926, and showed Babe Ruth standing between Yankee owner Jacob Ruppert and manager Miller Huggins. Ruppert was actually beaming with pleasure over Ruth’s hardened physique. That photo told the tale. Ruppert knew how to enjoy life, but he was usually restrained during public appearances, rarely smiling for the camera.
Babe Ruth played exceptional all-around baseball throughout the entire 1926 season. On May 25, Mel Webb of the Boston Daily Globe had this to say: “In the field, Ruth was in real action, not simply a big man striving to move fast. He did move fast.” That’s the way things were all year. In fact, the same publication (Boston Daily Globe) actually printed a photo in their September 21 issue showing Ruth working out with McGovern to insure optimum fitness for the forthcoming World Series.
After 1926, Babe Ruth’s weight crept back up little by little until he retired. For example, Ruth began the 1930 campaign at 225 pounds, and finished in 1935 at 235 pounds. Yet, he never ignored dietary or exercise issues after 1925. He gained the weight simply because that was his natural physical inclination, and it was extremely difficult for him to remain lean. His year-round banquet and social duties, which surpassed those of all other athletes, didn’t help his cause. Many ball players, including the notoriously skinny Ted Williams, gained much weight over the course of their careers, and such was the case with the Bambino.
More importantly to this discussion, in 1926, Babe Ruth may have been in the best condition of his entire baseball life. That was the first time that he exercised under the tutelage of a professional trainer. His physical vibrancy was manifested in every way from March through October. Make no mistake about this: Babe Ruth was not fat and slow when he tried to steal second base on October 10, 1926!
TWO: Bob Meusel was a formidable hitter at that time he batted on Oct. 10, 1926.
Bob Meusel was an excellent Major League hitter; that point really can’t be disputed. During his eleven year Big League tenure, Meusel batted .309, and slugged at the rate of .497. In fact, when Babe Ruth suffered through his worst season in 1925 and the Yankees needed him most, Long Bob recorded thirty-three home runs and drove in 138 runs. But that’s not the issue here. In this discussion, we need to determine how good a hitter Bob Meusel was when he stepped to the plate in the ninth inning on October 10, 1926. And the answer is that he was just plain awful.
Meusel started the 1926 season doing just fine. But in Boston on June 25, he broke a bone in his left foot while sliding into second base. When he finally returned on August 11 in Washington, the injury still plagued him. But, to his credit, Bob played through the pain, and eventually returned to full vigor. As of September 1, Meusel was batting .339 for the season, and, essentially, maintained that pace until September 16 when he took the field in Cleveland batting .338. But that’s when the bottom dropped out.
Just ten days later, when the regular season ended on September 26, Bob Meusel completed his year’s work with a .315 mark. That’s right; he had lost twenty-three points off his batting average in a mere ten days. Accordingly, Meusel began the World Series in a poor state of mind. Always a laconic and temperamental individual, Bob easily lost his confidence despite his vast athletic talent. The events over the course of the seven game Series only worsened his emotional state.
By the time Bob Meusel came to bat with Babe Ruth on first base in the ninth inning of Game Seven, he was hitting .238 (5 for 21) for the Series, and had not knocked in a single run. It is fair to say that he had not delivered a single key hit. Perhaps even worse, Bob had misplayed two balls during the Cardinals’ three-run fourth inning rally, including the dropping of a routine fly. Basically, Meusel’s gaffs were the central factor in the score standing at St.Louis three and New York two. Yankee shortstop Mark Koenig had also made a costly error in the same inning, but Bob’s shoddy defense was much more damaging. That conclusion was echoed by the legendary John McGraw in his syndicated newspaper analysis at the conclusion of the Series.
Babe Ruth and Bob Meusel were friends. They had barnstormed together in 1920, 1921, 1922, and 1924. Accordingly, Ruth knew his teammate extremely well, and was intimately aware of Meusel’s mental funk at the critical moment. After the fact, Babe never said a word about Bob’s psychological status since he didn’t want to publicly embarrass him. Ruth may have had his faults, but he was loyal to his friends. He just didn’t think that his old companion had any realistic chance of driving him in from first base against Grover Cleveland Alexander.
Okay. What about the fact that Meusel had recorded a double and a triple the preceding day against the same Alexander the Great? That’s a fair counterpoint. Yet, if you choose to represent yourself as a baseball historian, you need to check more than just box scores before attempting to speak definitively about events. The truth is that Meusel’s second inning double on October 9 was a weak pop fly to shallow left field that was botched by left fielder Chick Hafey. His triple two innings later was merely a sharply hit ground ball that happened to skip over the third base bag before bounding into foul territory.
Again, Hafey’s largess benefited Long Bob Meusel. Chick was an average fielder, but he had a great throwing arm. He rushed toward the ball with the intention of gunning out Meusel if Bob tried to stretch his ground base hit into a double. But, the ball caromed off the low box seats that extended near the foul line, and rolled past the charging left fielder. When Meusel rolled into third base with his fluky triple, Cardinal Manager Rogers Hornsby, playing second base, directed a scowl toward Hafey that turned his blood cold.
In Game Two on October 3, when Alexander pitched his first complete game victory over the Yanks, Bob had lined a single to center field in his first at bat, but pitch-by-pitch accounts (often available for the World Series) confirm that he was woeful against Alex on his other swings. Again, these were the realities that Babe Ruth knew well.
One other issue needs to be considered here. It has been suggested that Bob Meusel had accepted payoffs from gamblers before the start of the Series, thereby overtly trying to lose. It is true that noted gambler Sport Sullivan was observed in the stands at the outset of the game before being banished by American League President, Ban Johnson. Yet, I do not subscribe to the theory of Meusel’s complicity in a betting scandal.
I have no proof one way or the other, but the theory lacks credibility to my way of thinking. I must acknowledge, however, that, if the accusation were true, Babe Ruth likely would have known. It would have been yet another reason why the Babe would not have wanted to put the game in the hands of his old buddy. Either way, Bob Meusel was in no position to drive an extra-base hit in the crucible of that pressure-packed scenario.
THREE: Babe Ruth was thrown out by a wide margin.
In December 2010, I read excerpts from a book recently published and ostensibly written about the history of the New York Yankees. They were sent to me by my friend, Tim Reid, who knew exactly how I would react. According to the author, Babe Ruth was thrown out by “ten feet” when he tried to steal second base at the conclusion of the 1926 World Series. I suppose that I shouldn’t be too angry over that absurd misrepresentation since I have heard comparable falsehoods in the past from other sources.
Yet, I found that statement to be particularly galling since it was written by a man (or men) who should know better. I choose not to identify the writer or his book since I don’t know him, and he has no chance to defend his position in this article. There are other highly objectionable untruths on this same subject, but I will not elaborate further at this time. But I make this offer. If the author ever reads my comments, and wants to engage in a public debate, I will gladly accommodate him.
The fact is that, on the play in question, Babe Ruth was retired on a close call. Of course, that is not the essence of the matter, or, at least, it shouldn’t be. We should judge Ruth on the wisdom of making the attempt. This aspect of the event needs to be addressed only because some individuals have necessitated a rebuttal by denigrating Babe Ruth with erroneous assertions.
As Ruth ran toward second base, Cardinal catcher Bob O’Farrell made a perfect throw to Rogers Hornsby. That toss arrived just above knee level directly over the first base side of the second base bag. Hornsby caught the ball, and dropped his glove into the path of Ruth’s sliding feet. At the exact moment that Hornsby’s glove covered the bag, Ruth’s right foot was about six inches from second base.
Now, let’s talk about what contemporary observers had to say. Hall of Fame umpire Billy Evans wrote in his nationally syndicated column (Toledo News Bee on October 20) that “Babe was out on a hair line decision.” The Boston Daily Globe, in the person of James C. O’Leary, reported that Ruth was retired on “a close play.” Writing for the Chicago Daily Tribune, veteran scribe Westbrook Pegler took the single most adverse view that I have encountered. Pegler wrote that Babe “was thrown out by a yard.” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle concluded that: “the play was close. Like Icarus, Ruth failed, but he failed in a great attempt.” Those words were written by Thomas S. Rice. The overwhelming consensus was that it had been a very close play.
That’s all fine, but how can I comment on the play in so much detail when I wasn’t even born when it happened? There’s no mystery here; the play was recorded on film from the right field stands. The view is somewhat grainy and dim, but a viewer can watch what happened with complete clarity. O’Farrell’s throw arrived ahead of Ruth who tried to hook-slide to the left to elude Hornsby’s tag. There is no doubt that Babe was out. Yet, just as clearly, it was a close play. I have seen the film about thirty times, and even recreated the outcome by stop action with a slight variation. I have done so in the presence of multiple viewers with varying backgrounds and perspectives. Their common analysis of that variation is the same as mine. If O’Farrell’s throw had been just two feet to the left (a little to the left of second base), Babe Ruth would have been safe.
That is not an unrealistic variation. It is seldom that Major League catchers make perfect throws to second base. It is 127.375 linear feet, and, even the best professionals rarely make that hurried throw with complete accuracy. If you doubt this, just keep track when you next watch Big League Baseball games. Better yet, don’t take my word on any of this. Watch the film yourself, and make your own conclusions.
FOUR: Most contemporary observers believed that Babe Ruth had acted unwisely.
I have read over one-hundred articles about Game Seven, but I have never encountered any contemporary pundits who faulted Babe Ruth. Since the game was a national event and thousands of different stories were published about it, there probably were some negative comments. I have just not personally encountered them.
That same umpiring luminary, Billy Evans, described Ruth’s mental approach to the attempted steal as: “perfectly proper baseball. The fact that he failed of his objective means nothing as to the correctness of the play…the odds were all against Meusel getting an extra-base hit.” Evans had nothing but the highest praise for Babe’s efforts throughout the entire series, further referring to Ruth’s effort to steal as “heroic.” He concluded his article by saying: “Babe, by the way, added much luster to the name and fame of Ruth during the 1926 series.”
In reviewing the Series, Norman W. Baxter of the Washington Post showered Grover Cleveland Alexander with appropriate accolades, but added:
“One other man alone, Babe, the Mighty, shares, even if not
quite equally, the glory that is Alexander’s. Alexander beat
the Yankees, but Babe the Mighty went down fighting. Alone
he fought the overwhelming tide of defeat and single handed
he came within inches of pushing it back, bearing on his back
not only the sturdy opposition of the Cardinals, but the dead
weight of Bob Meusel.”
He went on to describe Ruth’s wondrous batting, fielding and heroism, while adding:
“Eventually the King Kleagle of Klout walked, but he was not
yet out of the picture. A moment later he tried to steal and
failed, out gloriously, but nevertheless out for a series that has
marked his brilliance as it never had been marked before.”
Chronicling the dramatic Series the day after it ended, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle featured a headline that proclaimed: “Ruth’s Brain for Baseball As Worthy of Discussion As His Home Run Hitting.” Writer Thomas S. Rice went on to heap lavish praise on Babe Ruth’s athletic intelligence with one section prefixed with the axiom: “Babe Natural Genius In Baseball Matters.” Rice continued by describing in great detail how he had asked everyone in the press box if any of them had ever seen Babe Ruth make “an inexcusable bonehead play of any kind.” Without a single exception, the answer had been “No.”
Recapping all the Ruthian glories he had just witnessed, Richard Vidmer of the New York Times wrote on October 12, 1926 about the Babe’s Series performance: “For all-around individual brilliancy, he stood alone and unchallenged.”
Also recounting the World Series after the fact, W.B. Hanna of the New York Herald-Tribune said this about Ruth’s ploy: “He was thrown out at second, stealing, in which projected feat and not inadvisable attempt he received no substantial help from Bob Meusel.” Commenting on Babe’s overall play, while referencing Ruth’s intention to engage in a vaudeville tour after his barnstorming obligations, Hanna wrote:
“Babe Ruth emerged from the series with reputation enhanced
and greater as a vaudeville magnet. He is the most sensational,
if not the best, ball player of this or any other time. The Babe
made it four home runs for the series by exploding another one
yesterday. He made the most brilliant play of the afternoon, a
running catch in deep right center, and he made brilliant plays
earlier in the series. He did the most sensational fielding of the
series, which, outside of the Babe and Tommy Thevenow
(St. Louis shortstop), had little of sensationalism.”
It was also the Herald-Tribune, under the by-line of W.O. McGeehan, which reported that Babe Ruth had dashed for second base “on a hit and run signal.” Since, to my knowledge, that assertion was never corroborated by another source, I tend to discount it.
In their article printed without attribution on October 13, 1926, the Hartford Courant stated that Ruth: “proved in the late lamented (from a New York viewpoint only) World Series, that he is without a peer as an all around player.” They continued their kudos by enumerating the eleven World Series records that Babe had tied or broken.
There are uncounted quotations of similar sentiment supporting all of Babe Ruth’s World Series actions, but, for obvious reasons, they can not all be included in any single article. Yet, two other factors should be addressed. First, the New York Yankees stole a grand total of exactly one base during the course of the Series. That occurred during Game Six, one day before Game Seven.
That base was stolen by none other than George Herman Ruth. And consider this: Grover Cleveland Alexander was pitching and Bob O’Farrell was catching at the time. In other words, Ruth succeeded in stealing second base, rather easily according to reports, under basically the same circumstances as when he so famously failed one day later. Don’t make the mistake in thinking that the Cardinals were anticipating Ruth’s move the second time around. Rogers Hornsby confirmed that Ruth caught them all by surprise. The gamble failed in Game Seven simply because O’Farrell made a perfect throw.
The second point is one that is rarely considered. In 1926, soiled baseballs were not replaced as fastidiously as they are now. It had rained all morning on October 10, and most New Yorkers had actually assumed that the game would be postponed. The field was still wet and soggy in the bottom of the ninth inning. The ball that was in play when Ruth tried to steal had contacted the muddy soil at least twice. That was the ball that Mark Koenig had grounded to third base, and it was the same horsehide that the Babe had fouled off O’Farrell’s chest protector.
Even the detailed accounts that were filed for the Series had limits, so we can’t know every particular. But, that same ball may have sloshed through the muck three other times. Combs also had grounded out to third, and, before he was retired, Koenig had struck two foul balls. If those fouls remained on the playing field, the ball that O’Farrell threw would have contacted the wet surface five times within the span of a few minutes.
The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reminded everyone that Ruth would have realized that the heavy and slippery ball would have caused two separate but relevant potentialities. One, it would have been difficult to drive such a ball far enough to score a runner from first base. Two, it would have made it more difficult for a catcher to grip and make a hurried throw to second base. In part, the specific language employed by writer Thomas S. Rice read: “The ball was heavy and more or less dead from the wet ground.”
CONCLUSIONS: I should make it clear that I am not stating that there was no one in America in 1926 who did not find fault with Babe Ruth for the way the World Series ended. In fact, I have read different accounts where it was acknowledged that many unenlightened fans assumed that he had acted unwisely. The average fan, hearing only that Babe Ruth was thrown out trying to steal second base, would predictably have thought that he had made a bad play. However, all opinions from those well versed in baseball strategy, as well as the context of the specific situation in which Ruth acted, were universally supportive. That includes players, managers, umpires, baseball executives, sports writers, et cetera.
Apparently, the notion that Ruth had performed ignobly began to surface years after the fact. Chroniclers of lesser stature and wisdom would decide to revisit the 1926 World Series, and simply not do their homework. They would do just enough research to determine how the last out was made, and make a rash judgment. When they saw that such an accomplished slugger as Bob Meusel was at bat at the crucial moment, they would tilt even farther into the anti-Ruth corner.
That book that I criticized earlier is an example. Bob Meusel was inexplicably described as “hot” as he batted in the ninth inning. Also, without any sense of propriety that I can recognize, Babe Ruth’s remarkable three home run outburst in Game Four was simply referred to as “histrionics.” Please take note of that rather pejorative terminology. I have always striven to maintain amicable relations with my fellow baseball historians, avoiding confrontation, but such bad faith must be exposed for what it is.
Admittedly, it is difficult to learn the full truth. Accordingly, I have no criticism for today’s average fan. I understand and recognize that not everyone is a baseball historian. I make my living doing this, and it has been hard for me to clarify all the intricacies of everything that happened. I just don’t like it when someone claims to be a qualified observer, and grossly misrepresents the facts.
I understand that some people are just inclined to be that way. They derive some sort of perverse pleasure in trying to diminish greatness. I feel sorry for anyone who falls into that category. Babe Ruth is a cultural treasure, a gift to all of us who pursue life in positive fashion. Sure, he had his faults, but the good that he did significantly outweighed the bad. Everyone that I know, who has made an honest effort to familiarize themselves with the real Babe Ruth, became happier for their effort. As I have said on many occasions, the Babe was a joy giver.
In one of his post-Series articles, the renowned writer, Grantland Rice, referred to Ruth as “irrepressible.” I can’t think of a better, single adjective to describe him. The day after the 1926 World Series ended, Babe began his annual barnstorming tour of post-season exhibition games by also visiting young Johnny Sylvester in Essex Falls, New Jersey.
When Ruth clubbed those titanic home runs against the Cardinals a few days earlier in St. Louis, Johnny’s family reported that Babe’s deeds had infused their gravely ill child with such positive energy that he rallied from the brink of death. Naturally, Babe Ruth then had to visit him at his very first opportunity. The following day, October 12, 1926, Ruth belted what may have been the longest drive in baseball history while playing in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. The man never stopped living his life with unparalleled passion.
It has been approximately four years since I wrote in my book about Babe Ruth trying to steal second base in the 1926 World Series. In the interim, after researching the matter even further, I have become more convinced that the controversial incident displayed Babe Ruth at his absolute best. I wrote:
“Along with extraordinary natural ability, athletic courage was
the essence of Ruth’s greatness…Babe relentlessly pursued
victory and greatness, and never let fear of failure or ridicule
deter him. No one else has tried to steal a base with two outs
in the ninth inning of the final game of the World Series. If
Ruth had not tried to steal that base, the Yankees’ chances of
winning would have been reduced. If he hadn’t possessed the
guts to take that chance, Babe Ruth would not have become
the game’s greatest player.”
I am comfortable with having said that. Ruth’s literal transcendence as a baseball player was due to his irrestrainable interaction of body, mind and spirit. It was that quintessential blend of rare qualities that rendered him unique. Only Babe Ruth possessed the spontaneous athletic wisdom and total absence of fear to have dared to do what he did. I regard the ending of the 1926 World Series as a highlight of Babe Ruth’s career as well as one of the shining moments in the annals of America’s sports culture.
Bill Jenkinson, Baseball Historian (Copyright-2010)