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Five Interesting Facts About Babe Ruth That You Probably Didn't Know
Many regard him as the greatest baseball player who ever lived. George Herman Ruth, Jr., also known as Babe Ruth, the Bambino or simply the Babe certainly had an impressive baseball career. The most career home runs of any major leaguer. The most home runs in a single season. Those records stood for many, many years. His life outside the ballpark was interesting, too; his partying and womanizing legendary.
Here are some fun and interesting facts about Babe Ruth that you might not know.
1. He Held the Record for Career Strikeouts for Nearly Thirty Years
The Bambino, of course, was known for his slugging and he retired in 1935 with a career home run record of 714, a figure that remained unbroken until Henry Aaron logged in his 715th homer in Atlanta in 1974. Less well-known is that at the time of his retirement Ruth also held the record for career strikeouts at 1,330.
Part of the reason for that record is that in order to get his 714 homers, Ruth took more risks than many of his compatriots. Some statisticians have looked at Ruth's strikeouts as a percentage of his total outs and determined that he struck out about twice as often as most of his fellow players at a whopping 24 percent of the time. He became the Sultan of Swat by being at the same time the Sultan of Squat.
His record for career strikeouts was broken by Mickey Mantle on August 31, 1964. Of course Mantle was only in his 14th season.
2. He Spoke German
Much of Babe Ruth's early history is murky. One cannot say with certainty, for example, precisely what year he was born (though 1895 is considered the most accurate). We also know that around age seven he was sent to an orphanage (and to which his father signed away custody) and remained there for about a dozen years.
His family was German, though, on both sides. His father George Ruth, Sr., was Pennsylvania Dutch, his ancestors having probably come from the Lancaster area of Pennsylvania, which wasn't that far from Baltimore, where George, Jr. was born. His mother Kate Schamberger was also German, at least on her father's side. That German was spoken within the family and that Ruth managed to pick it up is attested to by biographer Robert Creamer, who relates a story of how baseball historian Fred Lieb was conducting a conversation in German once with his friend Lou Gehrig only to find the Babe jumping right in. In the 1940s there was even talk that the Babe's last name wasn't Ruth at all but either Ehrhardt or Gerhardt -- a notion that Ruth himself ultimately rejected as erroneous.
3. He Once Did Jail Time for Speeding
The Babe loved cars, and he liked to drive fast in them. More than once he got pulled over by a cop for speeding or some other violation. But on June 8, 1921, he was caught speeding on Riverside Drive in Manhattan and the cop hauled him into traffic court. It had been Ruth's second violation in a month.
The judge fined him $100, which Ruth easily paid, but he also required Ruth to spend a day in jail. True, it was only until 4 p.m., but Ruth was put behind bars. As news of the arrest spread, it quickly devolved into a media circus, There was a Yankees game that day, starting at 3:15, and Ruth sent for his uniform which he put on under his suit, and he bragged that he would have to speed to get to the game. A crowd quickly formed outside the jail, and a photographer even perched on the fire escape of a building across the street in the hopes of getting a shot of Ruth in his cell. (He never did.) Ruth was released as scheduled at 4 o'clock and left with a police escort. The Yankees won 4-3 that day, but would have done so even if Ruth had never made it to the park.
More on the Babe
4. He Played for Boston After Leaving the Yankees
The Curse of the Bambino is well-known. Having originally played for the Boston Red Sox, Ruth was traded to the New York Yankees in the closing days of 1919. (The rationale behind this deal is sometimes mischaracterized as an opportunity for the owner to finance the musical No, No, Nanette, but that venture actually came later.) Regardless of the reason, the damage had been done. The Red Sox didn't win the pennant again until 2004.
Less well-known is the fact that after his long career playing for the Yankees, Ruth was lured back to Boston again -- to play for the Braves. For several years in the early 1930s, as his playing skills were waning, Ruth had been getting the management itch, and he started squawking about it. He didn't want to play again unless he could also manage, he said. Unfortunately for him, the Yankees were happy with the manager they had. So Ruth began shopping himself around.
As the news got out, several other clubs started making inquiries. Detroit said they were interested. So were the Red Sox, until they hired player-manager Joe Cronin away from the Washington Senators. To complicate matters further, the Yankees were secretly hoping someone would pick Ruth up, so they could get rid of their aging superstar gracefully.
Eventually the Braves made him an offer, and what an offer it was. The Babe would play, of course -- that was a given -- but he'd play only when he wanted to. He also would become a vice president of the club, receive part of the profits, and get stock options. He'd also serve as assitant manager to Bill McKechnie. Not expressed in the contract, but clearly conveyed in the talks, was the notion that Ruth could move into McKechnie's slot the following year.
What seemed like a sweet deal quickly became a disaster. The Babe's vice presidential duties consisted largely of making public appearances, and the only person who really wanted Babe Ruth to manage was Babe Ruth. He was more valuable as a player -- though not nearly as good a player as he had once been. But even Babe Ruth couldn't help a ball club that ended up the 1935 season with one of the worst track records ever -- dead last with 38 wins and 115 losses. Not much profit to share under those circumstances.
Shortly after scoring his 714th home run -- the first ball ever hit over the roof at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh -- he said that he was quitting. He hadn't even lasted a full season.
The one management opportunity he got came in mid-1938 as a first-base coach for the Brooklyn Dodgers, but that had been engineered mostly as a means of boosting park attendance and he quit at the end of that season. Except for a few exhibition games later, the Babe's career in baseball was over.
5. He Had Brief Careers in Film and Radio
Like many celebrities, Ruth tried to parlay his notoriety into something besides his chosen career. He hosted a number of radio shows, including The Adventures of Babe Ruth, which aired thrice weekly in the spring and summer of 1934 and Here's Babe Ruth in the spring and summer of 1937. During World War II he ran a show called Baseball Quiz which aired Saturdays on NBC. But most of these ventures were short-lived.
His film career was even less lucrative. He did appear in a silent film called Headin' Home in 1920 and in another film with Harold Lloyd later that decade. He also played himself in the 1942 biopic Pride of the Yankees, which was about teammate Lou Gehrig. But Hollywood wasn't really his thing either. He spent most of his retirement golfing and vacationing in Florida. His life ended sadly at age 53 as a result of contracting pneumonia after having undergone treatment for cancer for about two years.