Aside from Michael Jordan, there might not be a name more synonymous with the sport an athlete played than Babe Ruth. Even though his career began over a century ago when sports were not the readily available event that they are today, Ruth rose to superstardom during the 1910s and continues to be a widely-known star athlete decades after his career and death.
In a world of social media and sports networks, it’s hard to imagine such a rise, but Ruth managed to guide himself to the pantheon of all-time greats thanks to skill, branding, and power.
Babe Ruth’s early days
Babe Ruth did not come up in the same type of environment where athletes make their rise today. He didn’t have little league, college, and specialists helping him forge a path to professional baseball. When Ruth was coming up, the path to major league baseball was still varied. Some went to college and played in high school.
Ruth discovered his talent at St. Mary’s Industrial School, a catholic school run by monks. One of these monks, Brother Matthias, noticed that Ruth was skilled at baseball and the two forged a bond that would last for many years. Ruth considered himself a hoodlum and credited his love of baseball for keeping him on the straight and narrow.
Babe Ruth’s professional career
He began to play alongside other professional prospects in 1914 when Baltimore Orioles owner Jack Dunn recognized his skill. At this time, slugging was not the sell in baseball as it is now. Ruth was turning heads as a pitcher, instead. He trained with the Orioles before eventually making his Major League debut for the Boston Red Sox, winning his debut as a pitcher.
Ruth’s hitting began to take form around the time he joined the New York Yankees, where he moved from pitcher to outfielder to preserve his arm for bats. Already a World Series champion thanks to his pitching, the Yankees saw the untapped power of his batting, and baseball would change because of it. After hitting just 62 home runs as a five-year member of the Red Sox, Ruth erupted for 54 during his debut season as a Yankee in 1920. This power defined him for the next 15 years with the club.
He retired in 1935 after a brief stint with the Boston Braves with 714 home runs, 2,873 hits, 2,214 RBIs, a .342 batting average, and a .690 slugging percentage. He was a member of baseball’s inaugural Hall of Fame class in 1936 alongside several other legends of another era.
What made Babe Ruth a star?
Baseball is still a game of strategy, but when Ruth began playing it was more about pitching and running. He changed this all with his ability to hit the ball out of the park with an ease that was faltered. Combine this with the fact that he was playing in the biggest city in the world at the dawn of radio and cameras, and Ruth forged a path that would’ve previously been impossible.
Furthermore, Ruth did not look like an athletic phenom. He was a homely baseball player with a gut. He didn’t look like the type who was going to change the sports world as we knew it, he looked like someone’s next-door neighbor. He had charisma and an ability to show off for the fans — a feat that made him beloved by those around baseball.
In a world without Twitter, Tik Tok, YouTube, and other staples of today, Ruth traveled around the vaudeville circuit, barnstorming tours, and made appearances around New York. His name became something akin to legend, with stories spreading about him promising home runs for little kids on their deathbeds expanding on this.
The fact of the matter is that Ruth served as a perfect marriage of skill showmanship, time, and location to become the star he was. His long home runs and charming personality made him a natural for superstardom at the same time when baseball was becoming a true phenomenon in the United States. There might never be another Babe Ruth, and this is, perhaps, why his name still resonates so strongly until this day.