I recently finished making my way through Jane Leavy’s biography on the Great Bambino himself, entitled The Big Fella. Like anyone else, I have heard most of the stories, I’m aware of the ballplayer’s legendary status, and as a kid, I memorized the list of nicknames spouted off by the kids of The Sandlot. However, this is the first actual Babe Ruth biography I have ever read.
Fair warning: this biography is quite the tome. It’s not quite War and Peace, but sitting at over 600 pages, it’s not exactly Animal Farm, either. In my opinion, though, the journey through this volume is worth the time. Using the barnstorming tour Babe Ruth took with Lou Gehrig after the 1927 World Series as the framework for the book, Leavy injects details about Ruth’s life and analysis about his personality and character to paint a broad and detailed portrait of the man and the ballplayer.
My favorite feature of this book lies in how human it portrays the Babe. Ruth often gets depicted as this happy-go-lucky, larger-than-life figure who transcends not only baseball, but American culture itself. Not that Leavy ignores this facet of Ruth’s character. In fact, she goes into great detail about how this perception of the Babe pervaded American thought even during his lifetime. Ruth certainly lived large, and the public loved him so much, the press even willingly kept many of his indiscretions quite. When some of those indiscretions did leak out, fans were more than willing to overlook them, finding these to be a part of the ballplayer’s charm.
Leavy’s biography doesn’t focus just on this, however. Ruth’s life, especially as a youth, was not an easy one. The author includes stories about his birth, early youth, his life at St. Mary’s, and his introduction to professional baseball. She also talks about Ruth’s drinking and womanizing, and while she doesn’t forgive the Babe for these, Leavy does juxtapose that side of Ruth with his affinity for playing with and helping kids.
The book also delves deeply into Ruth’s relationship with his manager, Christy Walsh. We get an overview of Ruth’s personal finances, and Leavy demonstrates how much the Babe profited from Christy Walsh’s management. She conveys the impact Ruth and Walsh had on popular culture, foreshadowing the celebrity-obsessed society that followed them and continues to pervade our world today.
Leavy also does a good job giving us a glimpse into the Babe’s shortcomings as a family man and the impact this had on his daughters. There is also a great exploration of Ruth’s life after baseball, including the disappointments he faced as he continuously got turned down for management roles. Leavy goes into detail about his final days, as well, discussing his illness and, ultimately, his death.
Overall, I was impressed. I did, at times, wish that the structure of the book followed a more linear path, rather than bouncing around Ruth’s life the way that it does, but given the amount of research and detail included in these pages, it’s a shortcoming I’m willing to overlook.
Baseball is in my blood. Like the light hair and eyes I inherited from my father, and the hot Italian temper I got from my mother, a love of baseball runs through my veins.
Here are some interesting numbers from the Public Lands Council, an organization that advocates for western ranchers. This infographic was posted on the Idaho Wool Growers Association’s Facebook page in November 2019. I did the math on the number hot dogs served, and if we assume that a hot dog weighs 76 grams, that equals over 3 million pounds of hot dogs per MLB season — and that doesn’t even include the bun and condiments!
These numbers definitely made me think back to this comic I posted back in December. Holy smokes, that’s a lot of animal products in our national pastime.
I am honestly surprised that I haven’t posted this classic tune yet. Apparently, Joe DiMaggio was actually annoyed by the inclusion of his name in this song, until Paul Simon explained the meaning to him.
“I happened to be in a restaurant and there he was,” recalls Simon in the interview. “I gathered up my nerve to go over and introduce myself and say, ‘Hi, I’m the guy that wrote “Mrs. Robinson,” ’ and he said ‘Yeah, sit down . . . why’d you say that? I’m here, everyone knows I’m here.’ I said, ‘I don’t mean it that way — I mean, where are these great heroes now?’ He was flattered once he understood that it was meant to be flattering.”
Though he had been hitting as a lefty throughout his career, on August 7, 1893, New York Giants first baseman Roger Connor stepped up to the plate right-handed for the first time against a left-handed Brooklyn Bridegrooms pitcher. The right side of the plate turned out to be lucky for Connor that day, as he belted two homers and a single en route to a 10-3 win.
I did a small bit of poking around regarding Connor’s switch-hitting, and while specific details seem hard to find, I notice that some sites have him listed as a left-handed hitter while others list him as a switch-hitter. A case can be made either way, it seems.
One reason I have always loved baseball so much is that it has been not merely “the great national game” but really a part of the whole weather of our lives, of the thing that is our own, of the whole fabric, the million memories of America.
After all, what are dads for?
If only I could get this to work on the field for my teams.
For the first game of a doubleheader played on August 2, 1938, Larry MacPhail had official baseballs dyed dandelion yellow, and the balls were used in the matchup between the Dodgers and Cardinals at Ebbets Field. The inspiration for this yellow ball came from a New York color engineer named Frederic H. Rahr, who developed it after Mickey Cochrane was severely beaned at the plate the previous year.
“My primary object is to give the hitter more safety and there’s no question that this will be achieved,” said Rahr. “That’s simply because the batter will be striking at a ball he can see instead of at a white object that blurs with the background.”
The Dodgers won that opening game with the yellow baseballs by a score of 6-2. The Dodgers went on to use up their yellow balls in three more games in 1939, but the yellow balls would not get used again after that season.
This past week, a co-worker shared this episode by Kansas Public Radio with me. To celebrate the return of Major League Baseball, KPR asked members of its own staff to share what song they’d pick as their own personal walk-up song. I listened to the episode while doing some housework the other night (can I just mention what a privilege it is to be able to listen to cool stuff while doing chores?), and it was fascinating to hear what these individuals each chose as their tunes. One guy chose the Bagel Bites jingle from the 1990s commercial, which I found most amusing of the choices. Each staffer explains why they selected their song, and the program even goes on to play each song. If that sort of thing interests you, I encourage you to give the episode a listen, as well.
Of course, this also got me thinking about what I would choose as my own walk-up song, and I have to confess, I’m finding it hard to choose. I do feel like Smash Mouth’s “All Star” is pretty hard to beat, but I imagine it would also be an overused selection:
But then, the chorus of Papa Roach’s “Face Everything and Rise” provides quite the pump up without being quite as mainstream:
Or if you’d rather get away from lyrics, at the moment I’d probably go with one of the instrumental portions of Code Black’s “Tonight Will Never Die”:
To be honest, I could probably go on and on for days listing possible songs, so for the sake of brevity, we’ll stop this list at three. And honestly, if I were to do this again tomorrow, my top three would likely be completely different. I’ve decided that the most logical solution to this problem, in the unlikely event that I ever do become a big league ballplayer, is that I’ll just have to make a point to bribe the PA team to play a different song with each at-bat. That’s reasonable, isn’t it?
But now, I’m curious: what tune would you choose as your walk-up song?
The motion began in a gentle sweeping curve and culminated in a pose, held for an instant, of tense power. It was an exhibition of the perfection of masculine grace. Beautiful pitching like that is among the lost arts.
~James Weldon Johnson, from Along This Way