George Herman Ruth


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A US-born American baseball player whose combination of record-breaking performances (as a power-hitter and a pitcher) and commercial and celebrity profile symbolized the emergence of baseball in its modernized and professionalized form. Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Ruth was raised for twelve years in St Mary's Industrial School for Boys, a reformatory and orphanage to which his parents, who ran a waterfront bar, consigned him at the age of 7. Xaverian brothers (Catholic missionaries) at St Mary's instilled in the young Ruth a commitment to baseball, as a way of curbing his indiscipline and rebelliousness. Ruth was signed to play for the local International League side, Baltimore Orioles, in 1914, and within five months his contract was purchased by the American League's Boston Red Sox, for whom he played for six years before moving to the New York Yankees for an unprecedentedly high fee of $125,000 plus a loan of $350,000. He played in New York until 1934, and then from the following year for Boston Braves for two seasons.

Generations after Ruth finished playing, the Yankee Stadium was still referred to as ‘the House that Ruth built’. His popularity and performance—he set 76 batting and pitching records—attracted capacity crowds that helped fund the new Yankee Stadium that opened in 1923, and he was sponsored by manufacturers of breakfast cereal as well as baseball bats and balls. Marrying his second wife—an actress and model—in 1929, the next day Ruth hit a ball out of the stadium in the Yankees' opening game of the new season, claiming to have planned this in celebration of the marriage. In 1932, he struck what has been claimed as the longest home run ever hit, at the Chicago Cubs' ground, in the direction in which he had pointed before striking the ball. These forms of showmanship and repeated winning performances cemented Ruth's place in the pantheon of American sport stars. Mindful of his unhappy childhood, and at the same time his debt to those who raised him, Ruth in his retirement made frequent appearances at hospitals and orphanages, and established the Babe Ruth Foundation for Underprivileged Children, to which he left most of his estate on his death.

Subjects: Sport and Leisure — History.

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