Rick's Reviews > Babe: The Legend Comes to Life

Babe by Robert W. Creamer
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's review
Oct 07, 2007

it was amazing
bookshelves: baseball

Long before Barry Bonds was the home run king, there was the Babe. Arguably no other figure in American sports history is wrapped in more mystery and reverence as George Herman “Babe” Ruth. Robert Creamer is well aware of this and in his masterful biography BABE: THE LEGEND COMES TO LIFE, he strips away the legends and reveals the man.

This wonderfully rich and detailed book was first published in 1974 and routinely makes the “best of” lists whenever sports books are mentioned. But it wasn’t until recently that I read Creamer’s work. Sure I had heard of him. Creamer is a well known sportswriter having been with Sports Illustrated since it’s inception in 1954 and the author of three baseball histories.

I approached this book with guarded interest. Babe Ruth’s life and legends are some of the most recorded and cherished of any 20th century figure. And having been a Yankee fan in my youth, I had already read quite a bit about the Bambino. As you can clearly see, I was sucked in and quite taken with this book.

Creamer uses previous biographies and newspaper accounts interspersed with reminiscences by those who played, befriended, and wrote about Ruth. BABE strips the man bare and removes most of the sentimentality to reveal a powerful but often tragic sports figure. Most of the Ruthian legends are explored here. From his days in the Catholic reformatory to pitching with the Red Sox and most notably his time with the New York Yankees. But more than discussing the famed exploits of this often larger than life personage, Creamer uses anecdotes to explore other aspects of his life.

[Ruth is talking to a reporter during batting practice before a Yankees-Browns game in
1930. Yankee shortstop Tony Lazzeri is nearby. The reporter is asking Ruth a question.]
“What is the psychology of home runs?”

“Say, are you kidding me?”

“No, of course not. I just want an explanation of why you get so many home runs.”

Ruth spat again. “Just swinging,” he said.

“Have you ever had an idol, someone you thought more of than anyone else?”

“Sure he has,” Lazzeri said. “Babe Ruth.”

“Go to hell,” Ruth said, and to the reporter, “Excuse me, it’s my turn to hit.”

BABE is full of similar scenes. There were exploits and stories that made me chuckle making this sports god very real. Creamer really shines when he is exploring some legendary Ruthian exploit and none more so than the “called shot home run”.

In the fifth inning of the third game of 1932 World Series with the Chicago Cubs, Babe Ruth hit a monstrous home run into the center field bleachers of Wrigley Field. This is a fact but legend bleeds all around it. With the count two balls and two strikes, Ruth, who had been taunted unmercifully by both the Cubs fans and players, pointed two fingers toward the center field bleachers. Babe deposited the very next pitch into the bleachers and another story was added to the Ruthian mythos. Or so the legend goes. Creamer spends an entire chapter exploring one of the cornerstones of the Ruth legend. And it is fascinating.

Here are what some witnesses said about it.

Charlie Root [Cubs pitcher who threw the fateful pitch]: “Ruth did not point at the fence before he swung. If he had made a gesture like that, well, anybody who knows me knows that Ruth would have ended up on his ass. The legend didn’t get started until later. I fed him a changeup curve. It wasn’t a foot off the ground and it was three or four inches outside, certainly not a good pitch to hit. But that was the one he smacked. He told me the next day that if I’d thrown him a fastball he would have struck out. ‘I was guessing with you,’ he said”

Gabby Hartett, the Chicago catcher: “Babe came up in the fifth and took two called strikes. After each one the Cub bench gave him the business, stuff like he was choking and he was washed up. Babe waved his hand across the plate toward our bench on the third base side. One finger was up. At the same time he said softly, and I think only the umpire and I heard him, ‘It only takes one to hit it.’ Root came in with a fast one and it went into the center field seats . Babe didn’t say a word when he passed me after the home run. If he had pointed out at the bleachers, I’d be the first to say so.”

Doc Painter, the Yankee trainer: “Before taking his stance he swept his left arm full length and pointed to the center field fence. When he got back to the bench, Herb Pennock said, ‘Suppose you missed? You would have looked like an awful bum.’ Ruth was taking a drink from the water cooler, and he lifted his head and laughed. ‘I never thought of that,’ he said.”

THE SAN FRANCISCO EXAMINER, October 2, 1932: “He called his shot theatrically, with derisive gestures towards the Cubs’ dugouts.”

Creamer explores all aspects of the events and other fascinating bits of this baseball legend’s life. My only complaints with this wonderfully written biography is the briefness in which the author explores the Ruth-Gehrig relationship and the seemingly disinterested, rushed manner he dealt with Ruth’s life post-baseball. Course his life may have not been that interesting once his career end but I doubt it. From the brief glimpses Creamer affords us there seems to be plenty of story to tell. This is a small problem and does not detract too much from this book, which may very well be the greatest baseball book ever written. Give it a try. And did Ruth actually call his shot back in ‘32? I’ll leave you with the way Creamer ends his marvelous chapter about that extraordinary happening.

Ford Frick, who was not at the game, tried to pin Ruth down on the subject when the two were talking about the Series some time later.

“Did you really point to the bleachers?” Frick asked.

Ruth, always honest, shrugged. “It’s in the papers, isn’t it?” he said.

“Yeah,” Frick said. “It’s in the papers. But did you really point to the stands?”

“Why don’t you read the papers? It’s all right there in the papers.”

Which, Frick said, means he never said he did and he never said he didn’t.

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