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.
On April 18, 1923, Columbia University pitcher Lou Gehrig struck out 17 Williams College batters to set a school record. Columbia lost the game 5-1, however, as Gehrig’s pitching also proved to be a bit on the wild side.
Lou Gehrig was named team captain of the New York Yankees on April 12, 1935. The date on which this honor was bestowed upon Gehrig is commonly mistaken for April 21st, however, this article in the April 13th New York Times demonstrates otherwise. Gehrig retained the title of Yankees captain until his death on June 2, 1941.
Shortly following Lou Gehrig’s retirement from baseball, due to his diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), the Yankees declared July 4, 1939 “Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day.” On this day, Gehrig delivered his now-historic “Luckiest Man” speech to the fans of Yankee Stadium. During that ceremony, Gehrig’s teammates presented him with a trophy, and on that trophy they had the following poem, written by John Kiernan, engraved.
To LOU GEHRIG
We’ve been to the wars together;
We took our foes as they came;
And always you were the leader,
And ever you played the game.
Idol of cheering millions,
Records are yours by sheaves;
Iron of frame they hailed you
Decked you with laurel leaves.
But higher than that we hold you,
We who have known you best;
Knowing the way you came through
Every human test.
Let this be a silent token
Of lasting Friendship’s gleam,
And all that we’ve left unspoken;
Your Pals of the Yankees Team.
On April 26, 1931, with Lyn Lary as the runner on first base and two out in the inning, Yankee first baseman Lou Gehrig hit a home run at Griffith Stadium. The homer cleared the centerfield fence, but then bounced back into the hands of Senators centerfielder Harry Rice. Lary, thinking the ball had been caught, returned to the dugout without ever crossing home plate. Gehrig, who had been running the bases with his head down, did not notice what happened and ended up getting called out for passing a runner on the base paths.
The incident ended up costing Gehrig the home run crown, as he and Babe Ruth finished the season tied with 46 homers a piece.
I came across this comic on Twitter and couldn’t help but laugh. It’s an amusing twist on the Babe Ruth/Lou Gehrig “hit one for the sick child” legend. The artist behind the strip appears to be one Nicholas Gurewitch.
Here’s a fun little comic by Molly Lawless about that moment when Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games streak began. Whatever the story behind Pipp’s sitting out that day, you can’t help but feel for the guy.
I’m not a headline guy. I know that as long as I was following Ruth to the plate I could have stood on my head and no one would have known the difference.
Lou Gehrig made the only pinch-hit appearance of his career on June 1, 1925 when he came off the bench to hit for infielder Pee-Wee Wanninger. While the common tale told is that Gehrig’s 2,130-game streak started when he replaced Wally Pipp at first base (held out of the line-up due to the aftereffects of a concussion), the first game of Gehrig’s streak actually came the day before, with this pinch-hit appearance.
The Phillies traded first baseman Babe Dahlgren to the Pirates on December 30, 1943 in exchange for catcher Babe Phelps and cash. Ellsworth Tenney “Babe” Dahlgren would be best remembered in baseball history as the man who replaced Lou Gehrig in the lineup on May 2, 1939, at the end of Gehrig’s fourteen-year, 2,130 consecutive game streak.