Babe Ruth: His Life and Legend

George Herman Ruth overshadowed the game – and remains to this day the very essence of baseball. His career, on and off the field, made him one of the most famous Americans to have ever lived.

Born Feb. 6, 1895 in Baltimore, Md., Ruth came of age as mass communication devices like radio and movies shrunk the distance from sea to sea. As a young left-handed pitcher with the Red Sox, he was one of the game’s heroes. But later as a power-hitting outfielder for the Yankees, Ruth became an icon – transcending sport.

Ruth became the first star of a world where virtually every citizen could share in common media experiences. The Museum’s exhibit gives visitors the chance to encounter Ruth’s grandeur in the words of the people who saw it, giving you a first-hand sense of his legend.

Ruth’s legend was built on the diamond. After three dominant seasons in Boston as a pitcher – where he won 65 games from 1915-17 and was widely considered the game’s best left-hander – Ruth transitioned to the outfield, where he led the American League in home runs with 11 in 1918 before hitting a record 29 home runs in 1919.

Prior to the 1920 season, the Red Sox sold Ruth to the Yankees – planting the seeds of a dynasty. With 54 home runs in 1920 and 59 more in 1921, Ruth captured the attention of a nation.

But, Ruth’s legend was more than just numbers. He became an oversized symbol of America’s power, a brilliant man with human flaws that made him seem more real than mythic.

The exhibit features artifacts that tell both sides of this story, such as a trophy presented to Ruth by his “Baltimore admirers” on May 20, 1922, the day Ruth returned to the Yankees after being suspended for the start of the season by Commissioner Landis for illegally barnstorming after the World Series.

Fans from his hometown made the nearly 400-mile trek to New York just to welcome him back to the big leagues. It’s stories like that which fill out the picture of his legend and what he meant to America.

The exhibit also contains one of the most famous jerseys Ruth ever wore – but one that never saw a big league game. It was featured in the Pulitzer Prize-winning Nat Fein photo of Ruth standing on the field on June 13, 1948, when Ruth’s No. 3 was officially retired. After the ceremony at Yankee Stadium, Ruth gave the jersey he wore to a Hall of Fame representative.

When cancer claimed Ruth’s life in 1948, he was only 53 years old. Yet the tales of his legend were enough to fill multiple lifetimes – and continued to grow along with the game itself.