This advertisement of Babe Ruth and his wife Claire, singing the praises of White Owl Cigars, appeared in the ‘L.A.Times” newspaper, Dec 1938, and likely other publications as well.
Shown at right is a 1938 Los Angeles Times newspaper ad for White Owl cigars. Featured in this ad is the venerable New York Yankee baseball slugger of the 1920s, Babe Ruth, along with his wife, Claire. This famous pair is making a joint pitch for White Owl cigars. No, Claire didn’t smoke them, but she’s lending her approval in this ad in another way. More on that in a moment.
Babe Ruth by this time was retired from active play, having made his last pro- fessional appearance with the Boston Braves in May 1935. His celebrity, how- ever, was still very much intact, and remained so for a number of years beyond his playing days. His image and endorse- ment were sought by numerous interests, many wanting him to pitch their products directly.
In this ad, the central message from White Owl cigars is printed in bold just beneath the photo of the happy couple: “Mr and Mrs. Babe Ruth both agree on this Vintage Cigar.” The ad also uses the “Happily Married” tagline above the main photo, inferring that White Owl Cigars somehow contribute to marital bliss.
In the ad, both Ruth and his wife Claire provide their separate endorsements for White Owl cigars, each shown in smaller artist sketches flanking the main photo. They are set out in respective sidebar boxes, delivering a short message — one targeted to women from Claire, and another from Babe. First, in the left hand box, “Claire says”:
“…We’ve often been painted out as happily married. We are, too. I guess it’s because we get so much fun out of doing things together…discovering so many things… like how much mildness means in a cigar. Babe says mildness comes first — and I say that from my woman’s point of view it’s both first and last. I’m all for those cigars of his because they’re kind to kisses.”
Then comes the “Babe” making his endorsement:
“…We’ve had lots of fun together. Claire knows how much I like a really mild cigar — but I’ve never told her that in addition to being mild, they’re the one cigar I can count on always tasting good too! It always has the same grand aroma, fine flavor, and Vintage mildness. No matter when or where I buy them, they’re always a swell smoke!”
The text from White Owl at the bottom of the ad then continues:
“It’s something when you get a cigar that suits a man’s taste and a woman’s fancy. But White Owls do that. Over five billion White Owls have been smoked… a record unequaled by any other cigar in the world. That’s a smoker’s tribute to White Owl’s mellow mildness…rich aroma. And the ladies appreciate its scientifically proven ‘easier on the breath.’
“Year after year, White Owls have been improved… No wonder more White Owls have been smoked more than any other cigar…”
Babe Ruth selling his cigars in front of a Boston drug store & tobacco shop, February 1920.
By all accounts, Ruth was a regular cigar smoker, and he indulged not only in White Owls, but other tobacco products as well. He smoked pipes and cigarettes occasionally, and also used snuff generously. But cigars seemed to be his favorite tobacco product. Ruth reportedly preferred the larger cigars. “Twice he went to Cuba to bring back Havanas,” according to Baseball Hall of Fame researcher Bill Jenkinson. There are some accounts of Ruth on his fairly active road nights, going through four of five cigars an evening. One teammate, pitcher Waite Hoyt remembers Ruth on the road relaxing in his hotel suite, and lighting up “a long 60-cent cigar.”
There are any number of photos of Ruth showing him smoking at leisure, smoking in his car, even smoking while hitting a ball. There is also a 1919 vintage photo of him sitting at a work bench rolling cigars. In fact, during his early playing years in Boston, Ruth had invested some of his money in a small local cigar business that manufactured a “Babe Ruth” nickel cigar complete with his picture on every wrapper. “I smoked them until I was blue in the face,” Ruth reportedly said of those cigars. But Ruth also spent some time promoting his cigar venture, as the 1920 photo at left shows him standing on a makshift platform pitching cigars in front of a Boston cigar store. Another photo below shows Ruth at the counter inside the store making a sale.
Babe Ruth shown making a cigar sale at Boston tobacco shop, February 1920.
Ruth as Pitchman
Beyond his cigar business venture, however, and as a result of his baseball fame, Babe Ruth was a sought-after celebrity. He was regularly sought out to sell all manner of commercial products — both during his playing career and for some years after, as in the White Owl cigar ad above. Ruth also lent his name and/or image to a wide array of advertisers, and he endorsed a number of products in one way or another. Among some of the Babe Ruth-endorsed products were: Wheaties breakfast cereal, Quaker puffed wheat cereal, baseball gloves, Spalding baseballs, Sinclair gasoline, Esso gasoline, Tydol Ethyl gasoline, Mrs. Sherlock’s Bread, Babe Ruth All-American Underwear, Ruth’s Home Run Candy, girl scout cookies, Red Rock Cola, Babe Ruth Gum, Louisville Slugger baseball bats, and other products.
Babe Ruth featured in advertisement for Old Gold cigarettes, probably from the 1920s.
In addition to Ruth’s earlier cigar business and his ads for White Owl cigars, he also became associated with other tobacco products during his career, including Bambino Tobacco. He did a few cigarette ads as well, even though he did not regularly smoke cigarettes. In the undated Old Gold cigarette ad at left, probably from the 1920s, Ruth is shown swinging his bat and giving his endorsement to Old Golds in a “blindfold test.” In the blindfold test portion of the ad, he is quoted as saying: “Old Gold’s mildness and smoothness marked it ‘right off the bat’ as the best,” signed: “Babe Ruth.”
In his prime-time playing years, Ruth also did advertising spots for chewing tobacco, as seen in the ad below for Pinch-Hit Chewing Tobacco. In 1927, he appeared in the Hollywood film, “Babe Comes Home,” with actress Anna Nilsson, a film in which chewing tobacco is part of the storyline. Ruth also lent his name and image to advertising spots for Kaywoodie pipe tobacco.
Babe Ruth image and endorsement for Pinch-Hit chewing tobacco, undated.
As a young boy, by age seven or so, Ruth was already involved in drinking alcohol and chewing tobacco. Throughout his adult years, Ruth smoked and chewed tobacco, and he had his share of alcohol, too.
In 1946, just before retiring from baseball, Ruth was diagnosed with nasopharyngeal carcinoma, a rare form of cancer which tends to infiltrate other organs. The location of Ruth’s cancer was in the nasopharynx, or the upper part of the throat behind the nose. Doctors did their best to arrest the cancer, using surgery and radiation treatments, but were not successful and so they eventually released him from the hospital in 1947.
Babe Ruth in 1945 ad for Raleigh cigarettes.
Even though Ruth’s cancer was thought to be a result of his use of chewing tobacco, cigars, and alcohol, studies have shown in recent years that other risk factors can also be associated with this particular type of cancer, and these may also have been at work in Ruth’s case. Among those risk factors are geographic location, genetic inheritance, and certain environmental carcinogens. Still, when Ruth died of throat cancer in August of 1948, it was believed that tobacco was a contributing if not a major factor in his death.
Article Citation: Jack Doyle, “Babe Ruth & Tobacco, 1920s-1940s,” PopHistoryDig.com, September 25, 2010.
Sources, Links & Additional Information
About a month after Ruth’s death in Sept 1948, “The Babe Ruth Story,” a film by Allied Artists starring William Bendix, was released to theaters. Bendix is shown above in a 1948 back-page magazine ad attired in his Babe Ruth outfit, singing the praises of Chesterfield cigarettes. It appears he is also holding a Babe Ruth-monogrammed “Louisville Slugger” baseball bat.
“The Babe Ruth Story,” Time, Monday, August 30, 1948.
Larry Schwartz, “Lovable Ruth Was Everyone’s Babe,” Special to ESPN.com.
Leigh Montville, The Big Bam: The Life & Times of Babe Ruth, New York: Doubleday, 2006.
“Famous People Who Have Died from Cigar-Related Disease,” The Wellness Letter, University of California at Berkeley, January 1997, Volume 13, Issue 4.
Statue of a young Babe Ruth just outside the gates of Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Baltimore. Statue by Susan Luery; photo by Leo Cloutier, pbase.com. See other statue perspective, below.
In Baltimore, Maryland, at the Camden Yards baseball park, home of the Baltimore Oriole’s professional baseball team, there is a statue of Babe Ruth, the famous New York Yankee slugger. Although he became famous as a Yankee, George Herman Ruth ( b. 1895, d. 1948) had lots of history in Baltimore. He was born there, first of all, and he learned the game of baseball on its sandlots. And later, as a professional player, Ruth would hit home runs out of earlier Oriole Parks — for all his old friends and school chums to see. The statue of Ruth at today’s Camden Yards Oriole Park portrays him as an older boy, at the edge of young manhood, about the time he was leaving the Baltimore orphanage where he had spent his boyhood. The statue is named “Babe’s Dream,” alluding no doubt, to his longing for a big league future, or at least something better than an orphanage.
Ruth was born on February 6th, 1895, a Baltimore saloonkeeper’s son. He became something of a problem child, and at the age 7, his parents placed him in Baltimore’s St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys for his “incorrigible” behavior. The school was run by Catholic Xaverian brothers, and Ruth spent almost his entire youth there. St. Mary’s was the place where Ruth — with the help and encouragement of Brother Matthias Boutlier — developed into a promis- ing baseball player.
Statues & Icons
This story in one in an occasional series that will explore how America, and other countries, honor their icons — from famous politicians and military leaders, to movie stars, TV celebrities, and sports heros. Societies have been erecting statues or otherwise commemorating their famous and beloved figures for thousands of years. But in modern times, even fictional characters, their ranks swelled by cinema and television, are now joining those up on the pedestal, some for purely commercial reasons. As statues and busts, the famous personages are typically cast in outsized proportions, some placed in parks or other public spaces. Still others are found on postage stamps, murals, buildings, near sports arenas, or used in various place names. Not all of those so honored, however, meet with public approval, though some have broad and continuing support. The stories offered in this series will include short sketches on some of these figures — past and present — providing a bit of the history and context on each and how the proposed honor came about.
In 1914, Ruth was first signed to play professional baseball by the Baltimore Orioles manager Jack Dunn who had heard about his play at the St. Mary’s orphanage. The Orioles were then a minor league team, and Ruth was signed on as a 19 year-old pitcher. When the other players on the Orioles first saw Ruth, they nicknamed him “Jack’s newest babe” — a moniker that stuck and stayed with Ruth for the rest of his life.
In March 1914, Ruth did well in spring training with the Orioles at their camp in North Carolina. He pitched successfully against the major league Philadelphia Athletics on March 25th, and was also hitting some notably long shots as a hitter. Baltimore’s newspapers began to pick up on the young rookie. There were also a few early baseball trading cards of Babe Ruth as a Baltimore Oriole. They were issued in 1914 by the Baltimore News, along with a team photo card with Ruth included. However, the minor league Orioles’ business suffered that year. The professional Federal League had established a Major League team in Baltimore that year directly across the street from the Orioles. As a result, the Orioles’ attendance plummeted, seating as few as fifty fans in the stands for some games. To avoid bankruptcy, owner Jack Dunn was forced to sell his best players.
Ruth shown, top left, in 1910s-era St. Mary’s team photo, with catcher’s mitt and fielder’s glove, as he both caught and pitched for St. Mary’s.
Ruth To Boston
About mid-season 1914, in July, Dunn decided to trade Babe Ruth. Dunn packaged Ruth with two other players and asked Connie Mack of the Philadelphia Athletics for $10,000 for all three players. Mack refused the offer. The Cincinnati Reds also passed on the deal. However, on July 9th or 10th, 1914, Dunn sold the trio to the Boston Red Sox for a reported $25,000. Ruth then appeared in five games for the Red Sox that season, but was sent down to the minors for the remainder of the season — to the Providence Grays of Providence, Rhode Island. At the conclusion of the baseball season that year, Ruth married Helen Woodford, a waitress he had met in Boston. They were married in Ellicott City, Maryland. In the next three years, Ruth played major league baseball for the Boston Red Sox, primarily as a pitcher, but he was also becoming a much-noted power hitter.
Ruth, bottom right, in his short-lived career with the Baltimore Orioles minor league team for a few months in 1914.
According to Lee Montville’s book, The Big Bam, Ruth would play in a pair of games in Baltimore in April 1918 in which the Boston Red Sox played Jack Dunn’s minor league Orioles. Some of Ruth’s old friends from St. Mary’s were likely in the stands, along with a few of the Xaverian Brothers. Ruth was in his early 20s by this time. Ruth went 4-for-4 against the Orioles — all four of his hits were home runs. On the following day, he hit two more home runs in his first two at- bats. In the first game, on April 18, 1918, Ruth went 4-for-4 against the Orioles — all four of his hits were home runs. He also had two walks that game. On the following day, April 19th, he hit two more home runs in hist first two at- bats. No doubt, his old Baltimore pals were pleased. After that game, the Red Sox went on to play the New York Yankees at the Polo Grounds for opening day of the 1918 baseball season. Ruth’s first at bat, he hit a lined shot to center field that gave him an inside-the-park home run. The Red Sox beat the Yankees 10-0.
Babe Ruth in action, 1931, at Oriole Park, Baltimore, Maryland. Photo from Robert F. Kniesche/Kniesche Collection/Maryland Historical Society.
Ruth had become a hitting sensation for the Red Sox, drawing crowds wherever he played. But Boston sold him to the New York Yankees in 1920, where he would go on to have a colossal career, becoming a para- mount figure in the game, rejuvenating baseball as a business and setting home runs records. There is more about his life and career at this website. See, for example, “Babe Ruth Days, 1947-48″, as well as other sites and numerous books about him.
Babe Ruth autographing baseball for kids at Baltimore’s Oriole Park, 1936. Photo by LeRoy Merriken.
During his career, Ruth would make appearances from time to time in Baltimore as a player at earlier Oriole Parks and other locations, and some photographs of him playing at these parks surface from time to time. There are several photographs of Ruth at Oriole Park in the 1930s, for example, some showing him in action, as the one above.
Another photograph of Ruth at Oriole Park of the 1930s, shows the Babe in his New York Yankee uniform autographing a baseball in the midst of a crowd of kids. He is standing near the dugout at the old Oriole Park in Baltimore, as four other Yankee players can be seen in the photo as well. The photo was taken by famous photographer Leroy Merriken. On the back of the black-and-white sepia image, Merriken wrote in blue pen: “Babe Ruth 1936, Oriole Park. Photo by LeRoy Merriken.” As of February 2009, one web site advertised this photo as an “original unpublished Babe Ruth photograph,” calling it “rare and historic,” offering it for sale at $1,200.
Babe Ruth statue at the Eutaw Street (Gate H) entrance of Oriole Park at Camden Yards, roughly behind center field, where the majority of fans enter the park. Statue by Susan Luery, photo, Ed Brown.
Decades later, Babe Ruth would return to Baltimore in his iconic form. In fact, in 1991, as the Baltimore Orioles professional baseball team was making plans for a new stadium in Baltimore, there were some who wanted to name the new park after Ruth. But that plan was nixed, according to press reports of August 1991. Sometime later, in 1992, the Ruth statue was proposed and eventually approved for Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Among those supporting the idea were: Larry Lucchino, Baltimore Orioles CEO and president, then overseeing the building of the new ballpark; Peter Angelos, who would become the Orioles new owner in 1993; Michael Gibbons of the Babe Ruth Museum, who directed the project and helped raise funds for it; and the City of Baltimore.
Susan Luery, a sculptor and Baltimore native, was commissioned to do the Ruth statue. She produced the 9.5-foot bronze likeness of the young Babe after reading books about him and talking to people with both knowledge of Ruth and baseball. She also had a look-alike model come into her studio while she worked on the statue.
“I was intrigued by the concept of Babe Ruth as an American icon — I thought he was amazing,” Luery later said in an interview with The Examiner. “Going into this, I really didn’t know anything about him, but I learned about his disregard for authority, his joy for life, his talent and sense of humor. This [Baltimore] is where Babe Ruth got his start. From a sports aspect, this is important to Baltimore history: He was more than just a ballplayer.”
Luery spent seven months forming the 28-inch model statue before creating the large-scale version. The final statue was nearing completion in late 1994, and ground was broken on its location at Camden Yards on the Babe’s 100th birthday in February 1995. In May, the statue was officially unveiled at an Oriole’s game at which Luery and Ruth’s daughter, Julia Ruth Stevens, threw out the game ball. The 9.5 foot bronze statue portrays a young Ruth leaning on a bat with his left arm, fielder’s glove hanging from his right hand, resting at his hip. Ruth is gazing out into the future. “A man looking at his destiny,” is how Susan Luery put it. “His poise was in the sense of determination that he was a great player,” she said. “He’s facing out — he had everything in front of him.” Indeed he did; Ruth’s career rose pretty much straight into the record books from there.
Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Babe Ruth statue is found roughly behind the centerfield scoreboard on the Eutaw Street promenade side, which runs the length of red brick warehouse behind the outfield stands.
The Ruth statue is located at the Eutaw Street (Gate H) entrance to Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The location is roughly behind centerfield, where the majority of fans enter the ballpark. The location, in fact, is also not far away from where Ruth and his parents lived in the early 1900’s — at 406 Conway Street, in what is now the ballpark’s centerfield. Babe’s father operated Ruth’s Cafe on the ground floor of their residence at the time, and Babe often used the nearby train station.
The Eutaw Street promenade is popular with fans who come to the park, as it runs parallel to the long B & O warehouse and separates it from the ballpark’s seating areas. It’s also in the general area where Baltimore Orioles’ playing legends are honored with large wall numerals, among them, power hitters Frank Robinson (586 career homers) and Eddie Murray (504 career homers). “…I was totally captivated by the magnificent sculp- ture of Babe Ruth…” – Howard Buchanan Also nearby is the Babe Ruth Museum and Birthplace, the Baltimore row house where Babe Ruth was born, which includes an extensive collection of Babe Ruth memorabilia and exhibits. The Babe Ruth statue, however, remains a favorite photographic venue and meeting location for many who come to the park. And for some, the statue is the high point of their visit.
Howard Buchanan from Cumberland, Maryland, a local official considering Susan Luery in 2005 for a sculpture project in his own town, wrote of his experience coming to Camden Yards to see a baseball game and the Ruth statue:
“In June 2005, my wife, Rosalyn, son John and daughter Beth treated me to a Father’s Day gift of a weekend in Baltimore. The main item on the schedule was to see a baseball game, Orioles vs. Twins. The game was only the second Major League game that I had ever seen. I was impressed with the condition of the facilities, the ball diamond and the general condition of everything in sight. However, more than by anything else, I was totally captivated by the magnificent sculpture of Babe Ruth. To any boy growing up in the 1930s and ’40s, Babe Ruth was a national hero, and here in this beautiful park, in this magnificent city where he was born and educated, this icon of American athleticism. How appropriate…”
See also at this website: “Baseball Stories,” a topics page with links to 12 other baseball stories, including two other stories on Ruth – “Babe Ruth Days, 1947 & 1948”( covers special days honoring Ruth at Yankee Stadium and reviews his career); and “Babe Ruth & Tobacco” (Ruth’s endorsements of various cigar, cigarette, and chewing tobacco products, as well as appearances at a tobacco shop in Boston). For additional stories on sport and sports business at this website see “Annals of Sport.” Thanks for visiting – and please consider supporting this website. Thank you. – Jack Doyle
Front page story, New York Times, April 28th, 1947.
It was April 1947. America was about to begin its post-World War II economic boom. A few months earlier, Edwin Land had demonstrated his “instant camera”, the Polaroid Land Camera. Radio was still the principal communications medium, with more than 40 million strong. Television, at a scant 44,000 sets nationwide, was just starting. As a new baseball season began, a special day was set aside to honor former New York Yankee baseball star, Babe Ruth. More than 58,000 fans packed Yankee stadium on April 27th to honor Ruth, along with American and National League baseball officials, Catholic Archbishop Francis Cardinal Spellman, and other VIPs who were also in attendance. The ceremony and speeches were piped into all Major League and many Minor League baseball parks that day. Babe Ruth was then 12 years retired from active play; a new generation of players had taken the field such as Joe DiMaggio. Still, Ruth had set baseball’s most revered record 20 years earlier — hitting an unheard of 60 home runs in one season. In the intervening years a few players had hit as many as 58 home runs in one season, but no one had broken Ruth’s record. And his career total of 714 home runs appeared to be invincible.
Yankee Stadium, Babe Ruth Day, April 27th, 1947.
In June 1948, at a second celebration commemorating the 25th anniversary of Yankee Stadium — known as “the House that Ruth Built” — the slugger was again honored (see photo below). His Yankee uniform playing numeral, No. 3 was formally retired that day.
Babe Ruth, throughout his career, had made important contributions to the Yankees, New York city, and all of professional baseball. In the 1920s, his hitting prowess not only made millions of dollars for the New York Yankee franchise, but also “saved” baseball from national disgrace. The 1919 Chicago Black Sox scandal — when players took bribes to throw the World Series — had badly tainted all of baseball. But Babe Ruth, with his home runs and out-sized personality, came along at just the right time. He wasn’t the only factor in the revival, certainly, but his power and celebrity helped energize the game, reclaim its respectability, and renew and expand the fan base. In so doing, he helped to elevate baseball’s place in American culture and to make it a much bigger business.
In the go-go 1920s, before the Stock Market crash, Ruth had been something of a symbol of American optimism; the sports hero with the big smile and big appetite who seemed to make anything possible. By 1947 and 1948, of course, a lot had changed. WWII and the Great Depression were then in the past. But the fans who came out to give their final cheers for Ruth at Yankee Stadium in 1947 and 1948, were also cheering for the 1920s American optimism and derring-do that Ruth stood for, as well as his awesome accomplishments.
June 13, 1948: Babe Ruth in his last appearance at Yankee Stadium, captured in Nat Fein's Pulitzer Prize winning photo.
George Herman Ruth, born in 1895, had come to baseball via the school of hard knocks. A Baltimore saloonkeeper’s son, Ruth had been something of a problem child, and at the age of 7, his parents placed him in St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys for his “incorrigible” behavior. The school was run by Catholic Xaverian brothers, and Ruth spent almost his entire youth there. The school became the place where Ruth — with the help and encouragement of Brother Matthias Boutlier — developed into a promising baseball player. By 1914, he was signed briefly to a minor league team before being sold with others to the Boston Red Sox.
Babe Ruth with the Boston Red Sox, circa 1917-1918.
In Boston, the left-handed Ruth became a formidable pitcher as well as a promising hitter. His pitching, in fact, helped Boston win two World Series in 1916 and 1918. He was later converted to an outfielder in Boston so he could play more often, making use of his hitting power. He did not disappoint.
In 1919, his last year with Boston before coming to the Yankees, he hit 29 home runs, breaking the existing record. Before that, no one had ever hit more than 25 home runs in one season. News of Ruth’s batting feats in Boston spread. Wherever he played, large crowds filled the stands.
In the winter of 1919, however, Boston’s owner Harry Frazee, in need of money to finance his business interests on Broadway, sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees for about $100,000 and a $300,000 loan. With the Yankees, Ruth would soon become the dominant player in all of professional baseball.
“Small Ball” No More
In the decade preceding the 1920s, baseball was not a game of home runs and high drama. Rather, it was a game of singles, bunts and stolen bases; what might be called “small ball” in today’s lingo – a game of hustle with batters hitting for direction, not distance. Few players ever hit more than a dozen or so home runs per season prior to 1919. Pitchers dominated, then using the spitball, often aided by tobacco-juice. In those days, only one ball was used for the entire game – a time known as “the dead ball” era. By 1920, some rule changes had come to the game. The spitball was outlawed along with unorthodox pitching deliveries and the ball began to be replaced regularly during a game. One player, in fact, had been killed after being hit in the head with a dirty, darkened ball.
Ruth in his early days with the NY Yankees.
When Ruth began play with the Yankees in 1920, the team then shared the Polo Grounds stadium with the neighboring New York Giants of the National League. On May 1st that year, Ruth hit his first Yankee home run, a ball that left the Polo Grounds. By year’s end, Ruth had hit a prodigious 54 home runs, nearly doubling the existing record. No other player that year had hit more than 19 home runs. Ruth also batted for a .376 average with a slugging average of .847 – the latter a record that would stand for 80 years. The Yankees that year also shattered the league’s annual attendance mark, drawing 1.3 million fans, breaking the old mark of 900,000 set in 1908. In the following year, 1921, Ruth hit 59 home runs. Only the Philadelphia Phillies – as an entire team – hit more at 64. The “small ball” era was long gone.
A Good Investment
In the Yankee front office, meanwhile, Ruth was proving to be a very good investment. Home receipts more than doubled in each of the years 1920-1922, and the Yankees also appeared in the 1921 and 1922 World Series, producing an additional $150,000 in revenues. The Yankee share of road receipts more than doubled in each of those years as well. In 1923, Ruth continued to excel. He set a career-high batting average of .393 that year and led the major leagues with 41 home runs. The 1923 season also saw the opening of Yankee Stadium, with Ruth hitting the stadium’s first home run in the opening game, prompting sportswriter Fred Lieb to nickname the place, “The House That Ruth Built.” In 1923, for the third straight time, the Yankees faced the Giants in the World Series. Ruth hit .368 for the series, scored eight runs, and hit three home runs. The Yankees won the series 4 games to 2.
1924: Babe Ruth with George Sisler of the St. Louis Browns, one of the game’s all-time greats, who in 1922 had hit safely in 41 consecutive games and complied a .420 batting average.
In New York, and on the road, fans were turning out see Ruth in droves. One reporter wrote, “This new fan didn’t know where first base was, but he had heard of Babe Ruth and wanted to see him hit a home run. . .” Ruth was also generating a lot of attention with his outsized personality and off-the-field carousing. He had larger-than-life appetites and eventually became one of the enduring personalities of the roaring ’20s. The large New York Italian immigrant community gave him the nickname “bambino.” To many people, Ruth was more than a baseball player, he was a national icon. Yet some say Ruth never quite grew up as person; at times he could be down right crude. He drank, gambled, scoffed at training rules, and would argue with umpires and abusive fans. Still, New York City proved the perfect place for Ruth — the big star on a big stage, with big crowds and big media coverage. He lived large and earned over $2 million, most of which he spent. Yet Ruth could be very generous and caring, and would go out of his way for some people, and especially for sick children and orphans.
By December 1925, however, Ruth’s high living was beginning to show; he was overweight at 254 pounds, had a high pulse, fat stomach, and was generally out of shape. With the help of fitness coach Artie McGovern, Ruth changed his diet and got back into shape. He also kept McGovern as his trainer. In 1926, Ruth compiled an impressive .372 batting average with 47 home runs and 146 RBIs, leading the Yankees back to the World Series. Though they lost the Series to the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games, Ruth hit three home runs in game 4.
In 1927, Lou Gehrig & Babe Ruth combined for 107 home runs and 339 RBIs, helping compile a team win-loss record of 110-44.
By 1927, the New York Yankees had built one of the greatest teams of all time, compiling a 110-44 record, sweeping the Pittsburgh Pirates in the World Series. That was the year Ruth hit his record-setting 60 home runs, a time when teammate Lou Gehrig was also becoming a powerhouse. In addition to Ruth’s record 60 home runs that year, he also batted .356, drove in 164 runs, and complied a slugging avg of .772 – all phenomenally impressive baseball feats.
In the following year Ruth had 54 home runs. In fact, from 1928 through 1934, Ruth continued to produce at that level, with very good numbers: batting averages of .300 or more every year except 1934, and hitting 40 or more home runs in each of those years except 1933 and 1934 when he hit respectively, 34 and 22 home runs.
In 1930, during spring training in Florida, when Ruth was negotiating for a higher salary — he wanted $100,000 a year, but signed for $80,000 — a reporter pointed out that he was now making a higher salary than President Herbert Hoover. Ruth replied, “I had a better year.”
Although not a person active in politics, Babe Ruth supported NY Governor Al Smith (D) for President in 1928, shown here with Smith in an undated photo.
During the prime of his career, Babe Ruth was one of the most sought-after celebrities of his day. Sportswriters and newsmen, of course, wanted Babe Ruth in their stories. But advertisers and politicians also wanted Ruth to back their products or endorse their political campaigns. He appeared in numerous print ads for products ranging from breakfast cereals and shaving cream to sporting goods and tobacco products.
Although he rarely if ever voted, he supported the 1928 presidential candidacy of New York Governor Al Smith (D), speaking on radio a few times on Smith’s behalf, and also attending at least one political convention where he introduced fellow Yankee ballplayers Lou Gehrig and Tony Lazzeri, who supported Smith as well. Ruth, in fact, refused to appear with then sitting U.S. President Herbert Hoover at a baseball game in Washington, DC in September, saying he was “an Al Smith man,” although he later apologized for the slight. In later years, Ruth did appear in a photograph with then former President Herbert Hoover, taken on November 11th, 1933 at a Stanford-USC football game. Ruth also had roles in a number of short films during the late 1920s and early 1930s, and would often appear in promotional photos with various movie and entertainment stars.
By 1935, as Ruth’s career was coming to an end, the New York Yankees traded him to the National League’s Boston Braves. But Babe Ruth still had one last hurrah left.
The Last Hurrah
On May 25,1935, against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Forbes Field, the 41-year old Ruth had four hits in the game, a rare feat on its own. But three of Ruth’s hits that day were home runs: one in the first inning that went over the right-center field wall; a second in the third inning to deep right field; and a third, monster drive in the ninth inning that the Associated Press then described as “a prodigious clout that carried clear over the right field grandstand, bounded into the street, and rolled into Schenley Park.” It was the first baseball ever hit out of Forbes Field. That homer brought a standing ovation for Ruth from the sparse crowd of 10,000 that day as he rounded the bases for his 714th career home run. It would be Ruth’s final home run.
Ruth at career end with the Boston Braves in 1935, the year he hit 3 home runs in one game at Pittsburgh at age 41.
In early June 1935, Babe Ruth voluntarily retired from baseball and was released by the Braves. In the years that followed, Ruth did some coaching but never became a manager, which he had always wanted to do. In 1936, when the Baseball Hall of Fame was instituted, Babe Ruth was among the first five players elected, along with Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson and Honus Wagner.
In retirement, Ruth made special appearances, played in occasional exhibition games in the U.S. and abroad, and endorsed a variety of products. He also gave talks on the radio, at orphanages and hospitals, and served as a spokesperson for U.S. War Bonds during World War II.
By 1946, however, he had been diagnosed with throat cancer and although treated, doctors could do little to help him. His treatment had ended just a few months before his appearance at Yankee Stadium for the April 1947 Babe Ruth Day celebration. It was apparent to most who saw him that day that Ruth was a sick man. Having lost weight, he was not the robust player most remembered. Still, he was greeted with a great roar of the crowd after the initial convocation by Cardinal Spellman and the introductions by Major League baseball officials.
“Just before he spoke,” explained a New York Times reporter at the ceremony, “Ruth started to cough and it appeared that he might break down because of the thunderous cheers that came his way. But once he started to talk, he was all right, still the champion. It was the many men who surrounded him on the field, players, newspaper and radio persons, who choked up.” Ruth’s Hall of Fame plaque says he was the “greatest drawing card in history of baseball.”Ruth began his speech from the microphone on the field at home plate in a very raspy, painful sounding voice. “Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. You know how bad my voice sounds,” he said. “Well, it feels just as bad.” He proceeded to talk briefly about the game of baseball and how important it was to keep the youth of the country involved in the game. He then thanked the fans and the earlier speakers for their words of praise, and with a wave to the fans, walked from the field down into the Yankee dugout. Beneath the stands he had a few trying minutes, coughing again, before he wa able to join his wife, daughter, and other friends in a boxed seat to watch the game.
Actor William Bendix as Ruth in a scene from Hollywood film, 'The Babe Ruth Story,' 1948.
Ruth made his final Yankee Stadium appearance less than a year later on June 13, 1948, at the 25th anniversary of Yankee Stadium. Dressed in his old Yankee uniform that day (see earlier photo, above), Ruth again was honored and his Yankee No. 3 jersey retired from service. The next time he appeared in public, his last, was on July 26th that year for the New York premier of a Hollywood movie, The Babe Ruth Story, with actor William Bendix playing Ruth. Shortly thereafter he was back in the hospital. On Aug 16, 1948, Babe Ruth died of throat cancer. He was 53. For two days Ruth’s body lay in state at the entrance to Yankee Stadium where tens of thousands came to pay their last respects. A Requiem Mass was held for Ruth at St. Patrick’s Cathedral with Francis Cardinal Spellman presiding. About 6,000 people attended the service, with New York Governor Thomas Dewey, New York Mayor William O’Dwyer, and Boston Mayor James Michael Curley serving as pallbearers.
Babe Ruth left behind a professional baseball legacy that few other players would ever equal. His Hall of Fame plaque says, among other things, that he was the “greatest drawing card in history of baseball.” At the time of his death in 1948, Ruth is said to have set or tied 76 baseball records, a number of which have since been overtaken. Yet some of Ruth’s achievements stood for decades.
In addition to setting the single-season home run mark in 1927 at 60 — a record that stood for 34 years until Yankee Roger Maris broke it in September 1961 — Ruth was also the first player to hit respectively more that 30, 40, and 50 home runs in one season. His career home run record of 714 wasn’t broken until Hank Aaron of the Atlanta Braves surpassed it in 1974. And Ruth was surprisingly durable too, considering his living-large habits. He played more than 20 years in the big leagues.
Babe Ruth in action, 1931, at Oriole Park, Baltimore, Maryland. Photo from Robert F. Kniesche / Kniesche Collection / Maryland Historical Society.
Along with his home runs, Babe Ruth put in more seasons, had more hits, more extra-base hits, more runs scored, and more runs batted-in than many of the other Yankee greats, including Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, and Mickey Mantle. Ruth led the Yankees to seven American League pennants and four World Series titles, hitting a total of 15 home runs in World Series play. He is the only player ever to hit three home runs in a World Series game on two separate occasions — game 4 of the 1926 World Series and game 4 of the 1928 World Series. Unlike many home run hitters, Ruth had a very good batting average. Wrote the Sporting News in 1999, naming him to its 100 Greatest Players list: “Lost in the fog of Ruth’s 12 American League home run titles, four 50-homer seasons, and six RBI titles was a career .342 average that ties for eighth all-time in baseball’s modern era.” Ruth’s career .690 slugging percentage (calculated by dividing total bases by at-bats) is the highest total in the history of Major League Baseball. Ruth’s “Louisville slugger” baseball bat — used to hit the first home run at Yankee Stadium in 1923 — was sold at Sotheby’s in 2004 for $1.26 million. As a pitcher in his early years with the Red Sox, Ruth won 89 games in six years and set a World Series record for consecutive scoreless innings pitched. From 1915-17, Ruth won 65 games, the most by any left-handed pitcher in the majors during that time.
Ruth’s name and legend have been enshrined in baseball history and active baseball play. In 1953, an organized baseball league for boys aged 13-to-15 was named Babe Ruth League Baseball. In 1969, Ruth was named baseball’s Greatest Player Ever in a ballot commemorating the 100th anniversary of the game. And in 1999, voting by baseball fans put Ruth on the Major League Baseball All-Century Team. Ruth’s popularity, and indeed his continuing commercial value, is seen in the recent prices paid at auction for Ruth memorabilia. Ruth’s 1923 solid ash, Louisville Slugger baseball bat used to hit the first home run at Yankee Stadium in April 1923 was sold at a Sotheby’s in December 2004 for $1.26 million. The 1919 contract that sent Ruth from the Boston Red Sox to the New York Yankees was sold by Sotheby’s on June 10, 2005 for $996,000. Ruth’s name and image — used variously in advertising and other commercial uses — continues to be under management by a public relations firm. His life has also been the subject of numerous books and web sites, including the 2006 book, The Big Bam, the cover of which is shown below in “Sources”.
Others Cash In
Ruth plugged Wheaties cereal in radio spots & print ads in the 1930s. Sixty years later, in 1992, he appeared on a 'sports heritage' Wheaties box.
Sports marketing firms have also cashed in on Ruth’s legacy, one of which is the Indianapolis firm, Curtis Management Group, now called CMG Worldwide. CMG represents the families and estates of Ruth and more than 50 other late great sports stars. Sports celebrities account for about 40 percent of CMG’s business, which also includes late movie stars and other celebrities — from Norman Rockwell to Humprey Bogart.
In 1995, CMG made a special push with Ruth memorabilia on the anniversary of the slugger’s 100th birthday. The firm offered for sale nearly 100 “official” Ruth products – plates, beer steins, trading cards, t-shirts, telephone debit cards, computer mouse pads, and more. CMG estimated at the time that the Ruth products would bring in more than $25 million in retail sales. Ruth’s image has also appeared in a variety of corporate advertising and marketing campaigns — Chevrolet, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Hallmark, Zenith, Sears, and others. In the mid-1990s, royalties and licensing fees from Ruth advertising and other ventures were expected to run “well into seven figures,” according to CMG’s Mark Roesler.
In the 1980s, Roesler and CMG had located Ruth’s surviving relatives and struck a deal with them, with CMG keeping 60 percent of sales and the Ruth family and Babe Ruth League Baseball getting the remainder. By 1985, modest checks began arriving for the family in the $5,000 range, and by the early 1990s the family was receiving amounts of up to six figures annually. CMG at that time was still taking its 60 percent cut. Since the mid-2000s, however, the Luminary Group of Shelbyville, Indiana, appears to have acquired the Babe Ruth account.
See also at this website: “Baseball Stories,” a topics page with links to 12 other baseball stories, including two other stories on Ruth – “Ruth at Oriole Park”(about a statue of Ruth at Baltimore’s Camden Yards, his early baseball youth, and years in Baltimore); and “Babe Ruth & Tobacco” (Ruth’s endorsements of various cigar, cigarette, and chewing tobacco products, as well as appearances at a tobacco shop in Boston). Thanks for visiting – and please consider supporting this website. Thank you. – Jack Doyle
Cliff Aliperti, “The Final Days of Babe Ruth as Covered in The Sporting News,” Inherited-Values.com, February 11, 2010.
Leigh Montville, The Big Bam: The Life and Times of Babe Ruth, New York: Doubleday, 2006, 390pp.
Pop culture and the history & businesses of pop culture, with emphasis on media & entertainment, including sports, politics, advertising & marketing as these relate to media, entertainment & popular culture.