Insuring the Babe

Written by: Ryan Turnquist

In the winter of 1920, Babe Ruth was purchased by the New York Yankees – and a dynasty was born.

But along the way, Ruth – soon to be a legend and a Hall of Famer – made sure his future was financially sound, even before the days when he was out-earning the President of the United States.

Ruth hit 54 home runs in his first season as a Yankee in 1920 and followed that up with 59 the next season, power numbers that dwarfed those before him. He also had the reputation of enjoying off-field activities, thus both Ruth and the Yankees felt the need to insure him.

The Library archive at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum contains insurance policies and other related documents from Ruth’s early days as a Yankee. Perhaps most interesting is the timing in which these policies were sought. One of the earliest insurance artifacts in the archives was a Western Union telegram from April 3, 1920, roughly three months after Ruth had been purchased by the Yankees.

Western Union telegram from April 3, 1920 outlining Babe Ruth's insurance policies. (National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)

The telegram reveals that shortly after signing with the Yankees, that Ruth actually had as many as five insurance policies. The artifact mentions the insurance companies: Travelers, Aetna, Equitable, Hartford, and Fidelity Casualty, in reference to Ruth. A sure sign that he was unsurprisingly, one of the more valuable commodities in America at the time.

“The fact that it comes as he is joining the Yankees seems to foreshadow his future success. Ruth was on the verge of becoming a mega-star, and he knew it,” Hall of Fame Vice President of Exhibitions and Collections Erik Strohl said.

After his 54-homer season in 1920, Ruth and his insurance agent Sherwood Hard sought an increase on one of his policies from Fidelity. An archived letter from Hard to Yankees general manager (and future Hall of Famer) Ed Barrow explains that Hard is working on an insurance increase for Ruth and also makes note that the policies are only used to cover off-field accidents and not on-field injury.

MLB’s relationship with insurance companies continues to this day. On June 2, MLB and The Hartford announced a deal to make the insurance company an official sponsor of the league. One day prior to the announcement, Richard Sandomir of the New York Times wrote a story detailing insurance policies that Babe Ruth applied for in 1920, shortly after his career with the Boston Red Sox came to an end.

Other documents found in the archives at the Hall of Fame include receipts of insurance policies of Ruth from the 1920s and 30s, as well as applications for insurance policies from this time.

“In a day and age when it is just a given that players would have accident insurance because of how valuable their contracts are, it is really neat to see the stuff related to Babe Ruth, arguably the first great national sports hero who transcended sport to become an American icon,” Strohl said.

Ruth was inducted into Hall of Fame as part of the inaugural class in 1936.

Ryan Turnquist is the 2015 public relations intern in the Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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