Babe Ruth: 10 Strange Facts About the New York Yankees Legend

Kevin StottSenior Analyst IApril 25, 2012

Babe Ruth: 10 Strange Facts About the New York Yankees Legend

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    One of the greatest players in the history of professional sports, baseball legend George Herman “Babe” Ruth Jr., was best known for his prowess at the plate, but there are a number of other very strange facts and lore associated with the Bambino that not everyone knows about.

    Read on to find what they are.

10. His Wife Claire, Was a Cousin of Hall of Fame Slugger Johnny Mize

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    Babe Ruth’s second wife, Claire Merritt Hodgson, was the second cousin of Hall of Famer Johnny Mize.

    Mize played for the St. Louis Cardinals, New York Giants and New York Yankees from 1936 to 1953, and had a career .312 batting average with 359 home runs and 1,337 RBI over his 15 seasons.

    A 10-time All-Star and five-time World Series champion, Mize, who ironically won the Babe Ruth Award in 1952, was also a distant cousin of another one of the greatest hitters in Major League Baseball history—Ty Cobb.

9. He Started out as a Catcher

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    The only thing stranger than a Kardashian without a reality television show may be a left-handed catcher. I can’t remember any in the big leagues in my 51 years on this planet.

    The National Sports Gallery tells how, as a young schoolboy on St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys varsity baseball team, Ruth started out behind the plate (and as a pitcher) despite the lack of any real “tools of ignorance” way back in the day. Ruth explained his make-shift routine as a young catcher:

    "We had no catcher's mitt built for left-handers, of course. We were lucky to have any kind of mitt. I'd used the regular catcher's mitt on my left hand, received the throw from the pitcher, take off the glove and throw it back to him left handed,” he said.

    “When I had to throw to a base, trying to catch a runner, I'd toss the glove away, grab the ball with my left hand and heave it with everything I had."

8. He Pointed to CF Before Hitting “The Shot” Against the Cubs, Maybe...

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    Baseball lore has it that Ruth pointed to the center-field bleachers in Wrigley Field before hitting a home run against the Cubs in Game 3 of the 1932 World Series, although the debate on what really happened still rages today.

    The facts behind the events that led up to the home run have never really been disputed, but whether or not Ruth actually “pointed” to the bleachers and “called” his famous shot are still in question.

    Reports indicate that the bench players on the Cubs were riding “The Sultan of Swat” mercilessly while he was at the plate, and instead of ignoring them, Ruth decided to mock back at the Chicago bench.

    According to Wikipedia, here’s how the famous at bat went:

    Charlie Root's first pitch to Ruth was a called strike. Ruth then looked over at the Cubs' dugout and raised his right hand, and extended one of his fingers. Root missed with the next two pitches, but the next pitch was a called strike, and the crowd again cheered loudly.

    Ruth then waved back at the Cubs dugout and held up two fingers. He began to shout at Root, and it is at this point Ruth definitely made a pointing gesture in the direction of Root, center field, or to the Cubs' bench.

    Root's next pitch was a curveball that Ruth hit at least 440 feet to the deepest part of center field near the flagpole (some estimates are as high as 490 feet). The ground distance to the center field corner, somewhat right of straightaway center, was 440 feet.

    The ball landed a little bit to the right of the 440 corner and farther back, apparently in the temporary seating in Sheffield Avenue behind the permanent interior bleacher seats.”

    The Zapruder Film of this event (click this link for the YouTube video), which emerged in the 1990s and was made by amateur filmmaker Matt Miller Kandle, Sr., never really revealed any clear evidence that Ruth actually pointed to the bleachers, although he can be seen making a gesture. Watch it and determine for yourself.

    Whether it’s actually just sports lore or reality, the moment is legendary in baseball history and will never be resolved as fact or fiction.

7. Being a Bad Boy Helped Him Lead Him to the Game of Baseball

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    As a young boy at the age of seven in Baltimore, Ruth was always getting into trouble for drinking, chewing tobacco, wandering the dockyards and taunting the local police. Just too much for his parents to handle, they decided to send George to a Catholic orphanage, St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys, to straighten him out.

    Wise move.

    For the next 12 years, Ruth lived there and was guided by a monk named Brother Mathias, who, along with several other monks, introduced him to the game of baseball. His teachers also taught him to become a tailor, of all things, and although he graduated as a “qualified shirt maker,” Ruth believed he was no good at it.

    By the time he was 15, Ruth began to excel at baseball, both as a pitcher and a hitter.
    The teen then caught the eye of the then minor league Baltimore Orioles owner Jack Dunn, who scouted young talent and groomed them to play for the Boston Red Sox.

    At age 19, Ruth wanted to play the sport professionally, but the law back then said he would need a legal guardian to sign his baseball contract for him to play in the minor leagues. Dunn became Ruth’s legal guardian which led teammates to jokingly call him “Dunn’s new babe,” which eventually led to the nickname “Babe” Ruth.

    Ruth stayed in the minors for just a short time and was then called up to the majors to play for the Red Sox, where he helped lead the team to three world championships in five years.

    So The Rolling Stones' Keith Richards isn’t the only one who can say that smoking and drinking helped get him to the place he is at today.

6. He Was Sold by the Red Sox to the Yankees so a Play Could Be Financed

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    Former Red Sox owner (1916-1923) and American theatrical agent, producer and director Harry Frazee sold Ruth—and several other players—to the Yankees on Dec. 26, 1919 and, according to sports legend, did so to finance the production of a Broadway musical.

    In return, the Carmines received $125,000 ($1.45 million in current dollar equity) in cash and three $25,000 notes payable at 6 percent interest.

    The musical No, No, Nanette—which had its origins in the December 1919 play My Lady Friends—and didn’t actually debut until 1925, became part of the lore and wrath of Red Sox fans and the move is said to have led to the famous “Curse of the Bambino,” a championship drought Boston baseball fans suffered through from 1918 until 2004 when the BoSox defeated the St. Louis Cardinals in the October Classic.

    The only other two transactions I can think of that compare to Frazee’s selling of Ruth and other players to help finance a play, are the acquisition of Manhattan in 1626 from the native American Lenape people in exchange for trade goods  (A combination of 8,250.5 beaver, otter, mink, muskrat and lynx skins) worth $24 (around $1,000 in modern currency) and the Alaska Purchase in 1867 where the United States purchased the now state of Alaska for $7.2 million, or just 2 cents per acre.

    So, the best player in baseball history was traded for money to finance a play, Manhattan was had for $24 and the country’s largest state was bought for 2 cents an acre.

    Kind of makes the McDonald’s Dollar Menu sort of seem like a bit of a rip-off, eh?

5. The Babe Wore a Piece of Cabbage Under His Hat to Keep Cool

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    Not much to say about it, but the 6'2", 215-pound Ruth often wore a piece of cabbage under his hat in the playing field to keep his head cool.

    Revolutionary.

    But not to the point where other major leaguers decided to ever do the same. Can you see Pete Rose ever putting a vegetable on his head under his hat? Me neither.

4. The Sultan of Swat Started out as a Pitcher, and Was a Very Good One

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    Most soft-core fans of our National Pastime know Ruth as the guy who hit a then-record 60 home runs in a season, or the Yankee who had 714 career home runs. But only the hardcore baseball fan knows southpaw Ruth started out in professional as a pitcher and not as an outfielder.

    And a pretty darn good one at that.

    With the Red Sox, where Ruth was a two-time 20-game winner (1916 and 1917), he went 92-46 and had an ERA of 2.28 and had some other incredible feats worth mentioning on the mound.

    Ruth was 3-0 with a minuscule 0.87 ERA in the World Series, threw a still-record 13 scoreless innings in a 1916 World Series game and compiled a total of 29.2 scoreless innings, a record that lasted until 1961 before it was broken by Whitey Ford.

    And in 1917, Ruth was also involved in a combined no-hitter where he walked the game’s leadoff batter and then yelled at the umpire and was ejected.

    Teammate Ernie Shore came in to replace The Babe and went the rest of the game without allowing a hit. Bet you didn’t know that.

    So, one of MLB’s great hitters actually started out as a great pitcher too, although he still was a terror at the plate during those years.

3. Ruth Had an Unbelievable 136 Triples in His Career

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    If you’ve ever seen old footage of Ruth running around the bases, he resembles a penguin waddling across the diamond and you would never imagine him having more than 20 triples in his career.

    But baseball was different back then and the powerful Ruth, when not hitting the ball over the fence, would hit it so far in the park that he often ended up on third base.

    To put this statistic in its proper context, consider that MLB’s active triples leader is the Red Sox speedy Carl Crawford who currently has 112 career three-baggers.

2. He Used to Have a Beer and a Hot Dog During Games in Chicago

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    Now this legend is one I have heard directly from experience from a bartender at the old McCuddy’s bar across from the Chicago White Sox' old Comiskey Park when I would have a beer or two there at the watering hole after Pale Hose games.

    The guy told me former bartenders at McCuddy’s told him that if Ruth wasn’t coming to bat in the Yankees half of the inning, the ushers at Comiskey Park would let him out a side door where he would walk the 150 feet or so across the street to McCuddy’s and quickly down a beer and a hot dog before returning to the Yankees dugout.

    Can you imagine how much fun Harvey Levin and TMZ would have with a guy like Ruth around today? Say what? Ron Artest said he drank Hennessey during the halftime of Bulls games? I guess we do have an athlete TMZ can use as fodder for such non-sports-like behavior.

1. The Portly Yankee Actually Stole Home 10 Times in His Career

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    I remember first hearing this oddity from a sports gambler named Fred at the old Stardust Casino here in Las Vegas. Almost every other time I saw the guy, who played college basketball in New York City, he would bring up the fact that Ruth stole home  10 times in his career.

    I believed him but could never really visualize the rotund Ruth actually stealing home, let alone second base, but when I looked it up on the Internet, old Fred was right. So Babe Ruth actually stole home more times than Rickey Henderson. Things that make you go Hmmm...

    And this is this kind of freaky stuff from which lists like this are born.

Conclusion

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    I came across a couple of other strange facts associated with Ruth while researching this slideshow, including the fact that the Bambino could never remember any of his teammates’ names, so he just called everybody “kid” and that he once briefly held a job as a bartender.

    Ruth and his sister Mamie Ruth Moberly were also the only two of their parents’ eight children to survive infancy.

    And the final thing worth mentioning is the myth that the Baby Ruth candy bar was named after Babe Ruth. It allegedly wasn’t.

    The candy bar’s manufacturer, the Curtiss Candy Company, has always claimed that the famous product was named after after US President Grover Cleveland’s daughter Ruth.

    Baby Ruth candy bars first hit the market in 1921 when Ruth’s fame was on the rise and many sports marketers believe the Curtiss Candy Company is guilty of pulling off the first successful use of an ambush marketing campaign.

    If so, it was a work of stealth genius, as Baby Ruth candy bars are still being sold to this day some 91 years later.


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