The Legend Comes to Life
by Robert Creamer
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LEGEND AND TRUTH: BABE RUTH LIVES (cont.)
I don't suppose it is necessary to declare that this is not intended to be a book for boys. But neither is it a sensational exposť. Ruth's sins, while many and glaring, were not terribly purple. He went to bed with a great many women, but he did not make public capital of it, nor was he ever involved in an ugly bedroom scandal. There were two or three putative paternity suits in the early years, but they came to nothing. He could drink extravagant amounts of liquor, and he got drunk a lot and raised hell, especially in the earlier years. He awed people with the amount of food he could eat. (Shore, asked if Ruth had a big appetite back in 1914, said, "Oh, my God. Oh, lord-a-mighty.") He disliked rules, objected to authority and most of his adult life did what he damned well wanted to. Yet, when he had to, he could discipline himself, and he had a continuing sense of responsibility to certain people and certain things, among them his own position as Hero.
His headlined troubles usually had to do with his flouting of ordinary standards of behavior, principally baseball's rules of discipline, and not with sex or drunkenness or gluttony as such. A considerable part of his headline-making propensity was the result of his extraordinary visibility. He could not hide. Ruth incognito was a contradiction in terms. Even in that era before television and mass-circulation picture magazines (the Sunday rotogravure was the big thing then), everyone knew and recognized Ruth's huge, round, flat-nosed, wide-mouthed face, his hulking body, his beaming grin, his unhappy pout. Wherever he went, the Babe was on public display, and few, if any, of his peccadillos went unnoticed.
Almost everyone from that era has a Babe Ruth story. Story multiplied by story becomes legend. Like all legends, Ruth's had a strong vein of truth in it -- and an equally strong vein of baloney. Researching this book was an exploration into, a curious world of misleading fact, perceptive misstatement, contradictory truth, substantiating myth. It was like going to live for the first time in a huge city, one that changes with the weather and the seasons as you get to know it. There were many dead-end streets and confusing neighborhoods, and at the end I could not possibly say that I knew all there was to know about Babe Ruth, any more than one man can say he knows New York or London, but I did learn some things about this odd, appealing, truly unique man.
Max Eastman wrote, "The mind should approach a body of knowledge as the eyes approach an object, seeing it in gross outline first, and then by gradual steps, without losing the outline, discovering the details." Has there ever been a grosser outline than that of Babe Ruth? Ask anyone. Babe Ruth? Baseball player. Home run hitter. Big fat guy, moon face, huge torso, skinny legs. Hit 60 home runs one year. Hit more home runs than anybody else. Tremendous home run hitter. Ate a lot of hot dogs. Loved kids.
Babe Ruth? Born in Baltimore. Grew up in an orphanage, signed out of the orphanage to play for the old minor league Baltimore Orioles. Went up to the Boston Red Sox, was a fine pitcher first and then became an outfielder, a home run star. Red Sox sold him to the New York Yankees. With Ruth, the Yankees became the greatest baseball team ever. Won pennants, World Series, everything. Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, the home run twins. Scared other teams. Scared the Pittsburgh Pirates in batting practice before the 1927 World Series, and the Pirates died in four straight. Ruth was the showman, always did things in the World Series. In 1932 against the Chicago Cubs he pointed to a spot in the center field bleachers and on the next pitch he hit a home run to the exact spot. You could look it up.
Babe Ruth? Glutton, drunkard, hellraiser, but beloved by all -- except the Japanese during World War II. The Japs shouted, "To hell with Babe Ruth!" the ultimate insult, to GIs on Guadalcanal. Or Cape Gloucester. Or New Guinea. Or Peleliu. Someplace. They yelled it all right.
Hollywood made a movie about him, starring William Bendix, who should have had more sense. Terrible movie. Ran out all the myths and extended them to their illogical conclusions and then invented a dozen new ones. For thousands of people, maybe millions, William Bendix in a baseball suit is what Babe Ruth looked like. Which is a terrible shame, because lots of men look like William Bendix, but nobody else ever looked like Babe Ruth. Or behaved like him. Or did all the things he did in his repressed, explosive, truncated life.
From Babe: The Legend Comes to Life by Robert W. Creamer.
Copyright © 1974 by Robert W. Creamer. Reprinted with permission.