It is safe to say that not many people recognized how big the legendary Babe Ruth would become after he stepped onto the baseball diamond in Boston’s Fenway Park in July 1914. However, after 100 years, Babe Ruth continues to be one of the most legendary names in baseball.
Unlike today’s famous baseball players who make millions out of the gate, George Herman Ruth Jr. made barely $1,000 a year when he entered the Big Leagues back in July, 1914. That hot afternoon in Boston, Ruth not only made his debut as a professional ball player, he began his immortal journey into sports legend.
According to Ed Sherman, sportwriter and author of “Babe Ruth’s Called Shot: The Myth and Mystery of Baseball’s Greatest Home Run,” Ruth was clearly not a big money earner in those early years. In fact, according to Sherman, Ruth earned just over $1,000 for his very first game while playing for the Boston Red Sox.
“His very first salary was $1,300 when he played with Boston in 1914,” said Sherman. “He didn’t break $10,000 until 1919.” Sherman explained that many years later Ruth would earn $80,000 a year as one of the highest paid players.
Los Angeles Times reporter, Chris Dufresne, explained that as a rookie player, Ruth must have been terrified that afternoon 100 years ago. After all, the left-handed pitcher landed his new spot on the Boston Red Sox roster just four months after leaving reform school. In addition, he faced well-known players like “Shoeless” Joe Jackson and Tris Speaker that day.
“Nothing hinted at immortality that day or that we’d still be talking about him as the most iconic figure in sports to this day,” said Dufresne. “Why are we still fascinated with Babe Ruth?”
It was clearly not money that makes Babe Ruth’s legend live on for 100 years. Dufresne explained that when Ruth entered the Big Leagues 100 years ago, he also became a big personality in the world of professional sports. “After 100 years since his big league debut, Babe Ruth is still larger than life,” said Dufresne.
Ruth was born on February 6, 1895 to his Baltimore parents Kate and George Sr. The “Sultan of Swat” was one of eight children. However, because his parents worked hours that were both long and hard, Ruth was often alone while growing up, quickly becoming a problem for both his parents and the neighborhood in which he lived. His father sent Ruth to St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys, a discipline focused school that was run by Catholic monks. One of the monks took an immediate liking to the personable Ruth, and spent many, many months perfecting Ruth’s hitting, fielding and pitching skills. In 1914, the monks invited a Baltimore Orioles’ talent scout to watch young Ruth play. After less than one hour, the scout offered Ruth a contract. Ruth was just 19 years old.
According to CBS baseball writer Mike Axisa, Ruth was a productive player during his six seasons in Boston and had a reputation for strong pitching and hitting long home runs. “The next year, he joined the team full-time,” said Axisa. “Two years later he would lead the league in pitching with an Earned Run Average (ERA) of 1.75 in nearly 330 innings.”
After the 1919 season, the Red Sox owners sold Ruth to the Yankees. According to Axisa, as a New York Yankee, Ruth became the most dominant force in baseball history.
“He hit for .359 and averaged 46 home runs a season until 1932. When he retired in 1935, Ruth had accumulated 714 career home runs, the most in history,” said Axisa. In addition, Ruth held 34 Major League or American League records and more than 25 World Series records, which lasted decades.
However, there was more to Ruth than a productive ball player. His personality was like a 200-watt light bulb that illuminated the front pages of newspapers and the annals of history books.
New York Times obituary writer, Murray Schumach summed up Ruth’s indelible personality and life as a man who could live up to the demands of sport-loving nation searching for a hero. Ruth was indeed that man, according to Schumach.
“He made friends by the thousands and rarely lost them. He was affable, good-natured and boisterous and was as accessible to the newsboy and the most dignified person in worldly affairs. He was very much at ease with both,” said Schumach.
It has been 100 years since that warm day in July when Babe Ruth first entered the baseball’s Big Leagues. Still, after 100 summers, the legend of Babe Ruth lives on and remains one of the most recognized names in sports.
By Vincent Aviani