With the first spring game two days away, I thought I would review one of the greatest baseball players ever…Babe Ruth.
I don’t want to go to far into his accomplishments here, as his numbers speak for themselves. The first record he established, and the one he later said he was most proud of, is the 29 2/3 consecutive scoreless World Series innings in 1916, established while he was still a Boston Red Sox pitcher. Then he hit a record 29 home runs in 1919. Then 54 in 1920, then 59 in 1921, then 60 in 1927. In his third full year as a hitter--1921--he had already established a home-run record when he hit his 137th. When his slugging percentage reached .847 in 1920, that too was a record. But his most miraculous and rarely heard achievement is that during two seasons--in 1920 and 1927--Ruth hit more home runs than any entire team in the American League. No one--in any time, in any place or in any sport--has stood that far above his peers.
Instead, to be a little different, I want to point out what a cigar fan he was. Of course, we could go into the drinking and womanizing….those are all common knowledge (and equally the stuff of legend), but not much is written about how much he smoked.
First, we start off with this great quote from the Bambino:
I learned early to drink beer, wine and whiskey. And I think I was about 5 when I first chewed tobacco.
When I first read that, I actually laughed out loud. Was it part of the “Legend” or based in fact.
Considering his parents, Kate and George Sr., lived above the saloon they owned and operated on Camden Street, the Babe definitely had the exposure to smoking and drinking at an early age.
The picture at the left is actually a 1919 shot of Ruth doing just that, rolling cigars.
I think it easy to see this is where is love for the smell of tobacco started, and it even continued later in life when he he had put some of his money into a small local cigar factory that manufactured a Babe Ruth nickel number with his picture on every wrapper. "I smoked them until I was blue in the face," he once complained. Still, one of the reasons he was reluctant to leave Boston was because of those cigars. But his real taste was for larger cigars.
"Twice he went to Cuba to bring back Havanas," notes Baseball Hall of Fame researcher Bill Jenkinson. Countless pictures show Ruth smoking in black tie, smoking in his car, even smoking while hitting a ball. The cigars could have different shapes and sizes, but the player who could swing a 54-ounce bat (easily the biggest in the major leagues) also preferred the biggest cigars.
He also smoked pipes, cigarettes occasionally, and used enough snuff for any other two players. "He had the constant need to placate his mouth with food, drink, a cigar, chewing gum, anything," writes Robert Creamer.
"Ruth was Rabelais," says Roger Kahn, smiling. "Somebody who wanted to drink up all the ale in New York and not let a cocktail waitress pass by untouched. He was a huge, excessive, barely believable fellow. That's the first thing. And then there were the home runs. Not just the numbers of them, but the distance. When he was with the Red Sox he hit one in spring training in an exhibition game at the Tampa fairgrounds. He hit it out of the racetrack, into a farmer's field, and it stopped in a furrow. Several New York writers got a surveyor's glass and said it had traveled 630 feet. While that distance taxes credulity, writer Bill McGeehan said he didn't know how far it traveled, but when it came down it was covered in ice."
He smoked first thing in the morning, throughout the day, and while carousing at night.
Stories of his smoking abound, but one randy tale is especially characteristic. One night on the road, Ruth smuggled a woman into the room. His teammate Ernie Shore tried to sleep, but the moans, groans and squeaking springs were impossible to ignore. Finally, with the sun nearly up, Shore dozed off. When he awoke, he recalls that Ruth was sleeping peacefully and the woman was gone. Shore noticed four or five cigar butts next to the bed. When he inquired later, the Babe smiled, saying, "oh, that! I like a cigar every time I'm finished."
One of my favorite pieces of memorabilia I have stumbled upon (and what prompted me to write this) was this:
Ruth began to decline in 1946 after it was discovered that he had a malignant growth in the left side of his neck. Most of the cancerous growth was removed, but some remained. It affected the left side of his head and his larynx. He would make several more appearances at Yankee Stadium, his voice pained and hoarse. He died on August 16, 1948.
In this day and age of performance enhancing drugs, one has to wonder how good could the Babe have been if he would have focused on his health and stayed away from smokes, booze and women? It is without a doubt that he would have been great……but in my mind, he wouldn’t be Legend.