If you say “Babe Ruth” to a baseball fan, either a casual one or a die hard, they know exactly who you are talking about. Ruth is the most recognizable figure in sports. He is part of the American lexicon. We are still talking about him today, 81 years after he played his final game. Go to Yankee Stadium and you will see number 3 still being worn. He brought baseball into the light, he made it America’s pastime again and made it the game we know today. He was THE power hitter. He ushered in the era of the long ball that we are still enjoying today. It is time for Major League Baseball to retire his number 3 league-wide.
There is only one number retired throughout the league and that is Jackie Robinson’s number 42. Robinson broke the color barrier, becoming the first African American player in the Bigs and retiring his number was the right thing to do. Now it’s time for Ruth to get the recognition he deserves for what he did for the game.
In the early 20th century, baseball was a very different game than the one we watch today. Teams focused more on the running game and strategically placing balls in the field of play in order to score runs. The same ball would be used for the entire game, quickly becoming worn out. This period was known as the “dead ball era.” Games were often low scoring affairs where it was more about strategy than power. At the beginning of the 1920′s, the League was looking to generate more excitement and bring in more fans. They created the rule that required balls to be swapped out frequently throughout the game and banned the “spitball.”
It was during this time of transition that Ruth was becoming recognized as more of a hitter than a pitcher. In 1919, he established a new single season record with 29 homers helping usher in this new era of high scoring baseball. These 29 homers were more than any other team had combined and the fans absolutely loved it. Other players began to pay attention to his technique and tried to mimic his form. As a result, more and more homers were starting to fly.
After the Black Sox scandal of 1919, when members of the Chicago White Sox fixed the World Series, baseball was dying. Fans just weren’t interested in the national pastime anymore. Ruth, by doing something which had never been seen before, brought the fans back to the game. Everyone wanted to see this beast of a man hit a ball 400+ feet into the stands. He brought the game back from the brink. He stepped in at the perfect moment, overshadowing the scandal that crippled the game with his larger than life personality and performance. He was so popular that the Yankees built a new stadium with a short right field tailor-made to his lefty swing.
The Babe was not only a revolutionary on the field but off as well. Unknown to many is his legacy in the medical community. He was one of the first patients to receive experimental chemotherapy, and some researchers say he was the first ever to receive combination treatment of chemotherapy and radiation for his type of cancer. Despite his throat cancer eventually taking his life, the knowledge gained from his case helped shape the combination therapy that is now the standard for his disease.
The Yankees didn’t start wearing numbers until 1929, which was toward the tail end of The Bambino’s career. While he wore number 3 for just six years in pinstripes, his legacy in the game needs to be recognized. He brought the game back from a scandal that nearly destroyed it. He took the attention away from the court proceedings by blasting homers and leaving fans in awe. He didn’t rewrite baseball’s record books, he created the record books. He established many MLB batting records including: career home runs (714), runs batted in (2,214), walks (2,062), slugging percentage (.690), on-base plus slugging (1.164) and OPS+ (206); the latter three still standing today. He was the first player to hit 30, 40, 50 and 60 homers in a season and was one of the first five players elected to MLB’s Hall of Fame. Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947, but without Babe who knows if the game of baseball would have even been around for him. It’s time to retire 3 league-wide. He was a Herculean figure in his time and seems like a myth today. Baseball had never seen anyone like him before and never will again.
He was the best baseball player who ever lived. He was better than Ty Cobb, better than Joe DiMaggio, better than Ted Williams, better than Henry Aaron, better than Bobby Bonds. He was by far the most flamboyant. There’s never been anyone else like him. – Ruth biographer Robert W. Creamer