Ruth’s passing stunned baseball world

Part of the INSIDE PITCH series
Written by: Steven Walters

George Herman “Babe” Ruth was bigger than the game – and still stands as one of the most recognizable baseball players of all-time.

On Aug. 16, 1948, just two months after he appeared at Yankee Stadium to have his No. 3 retired by the Yankees, Ruth passed away at the age of 53. It was the end of an era.

Ruth was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1946, and doctors were unable to stop the disease from spreading.

Ruth’s body was shown at the entrance of Yankee Stadium and thousands of fans came to pay their respects to Ruth. Thousands also attended his funeral mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York.

“I’m deeply shocked, deeply shocked,” Baseball Commissioner Happy Chandler said to the Associated Press at the time of Ruth’s death. “His death will be a deep distress. He was one of my personal friends. And it grieves me greatly that we’ve lost him.”

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“The Bambino” established himself as an American icon during his career and was a larger-than-life figure whose story lives on today.

The Baltimore, Md., native began his career with the International League’s Baltimore Orioles before he was purchased by the Red Sox on July 9, 1914.

Seen by the Sox as more of a pitcher at the beginning of his career, Ruth debuted as a 19-year-old on July 11, 1914, throwing seven innings while allowing two earned runs to pick up his first-career win. In six years as a pitcher in Boston, the lefty went 89-46 with a 2.19 ERA and 105 complete games.

Ruth had shown potential at the plate during his time as a pitcher, hitting .299 with nine home runs and an .828 OPS in 407 plate appearances from 1914-17. During the 1918 season, the Red Sox played Ruth in the outfield and at first base in addition to keeping him on the mound. In 317 at-bats, the 23-year-old Ruth hit .300 and led the league in homers (11), slugging percentage (.555) and OPS (.966).

During his time with the Red Sox, Ruth helped lead the team to World Series titles in 1915, 1916 and 1918.

One year after the 1918 title, the Red Sox fell to sixth place in the American League.

Ruth broke out at the plate, though, leading the league with 29 home runs, 103 runs and 113 RBI. His 29 home runs set a new MLB single-season record.

In the offseason, the Yankees made arguably the most impactful transaction in franchise history when they purchased Ruth from the Red Sox for $100,000 on Dec. 26, 1919.

The rest is history.

The Yankees saw the potential Ruth had at the plate rather than on the mound. In his first season with the Yankees, the left-handed slugger launched a major league leading 54 home runs in 1920, only to surpass his own record one year later with 59 in 1921.

In 1923, Yankee Stadium opened and Ruth benefitted from the short porch in right field. He posted a career-high .393 batting average and hit 41 home runs en route to leading the Yanks to their first World Series title in 1923.

In 1927, aided by the protection of “Murderers Row” that included Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri, Earle Combs, Bob Meusel and Mark Koenig, “The Sultan of Swat” swatted 60 home runs, breaking his own record once again.

“I want to give them a mark to shoot at for all time to come,” Ruth told United Press International after he hit home run No. 60 in 1927.

In the 1927 World Series, Ruth added two more homers, hit .400 and recorded seven RBI to lead the Yankees to their second World Series title. He would win two more titles with the Yankees and was a part of seven World Championship teams.

After 15 seasons with the Yankees, Ruth signed with the Boston Braves in 1935, his last season in baseball.

Over his 22-year career, Ruth led the league in home runs 12 times. His 11 seasons of 40-or-more home runs are the most all-time. He finished his career the all-time home run leader with 714 before Hank Aaron broke his record on April 8, 1974. Ruth’s game was not just power though, as he finished a career .342 hitter and hit .320-or-better in 13 seasons.

“Some 20 years ago, I stopped talking about the Babe for the simple reason that I realized that those who had never seen him didn’t believe me,” said 1979 J.G. Taylor Spink Award winner Tommy Holmes as quoted by Red Smith.

Ruth was elected to the Hall of Fame with the inaugural Class of 1936.


Steven Walters was the 2018 public relations intern in the Hall of Fame’s Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program for Youth Leadership Development

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Part of the INSIDE PITCH series