09 February, 2009
George Herman Ruth, Jr. also popularly known as "Babe", "The Bambino", and "The Sultan of Swat", was an American Major League baseball player from 1914–1935. Ruth is one of the greatest sports heroes of American culture and has been named the greatest baseball player in history in various surveys and rankings, and his home run hitting prowess and charismatic personality made him a larger than life figure in the "Roaring Twenties". He was the first player to hit 60 home runs in one season (1927), a record which stood for 34 years until broken by Roger Maris in 1961. Ruth's lifetime total of 714 home runs at his retirement in 1935 was a record for 39 years, until broken by Hank Aaron in 1974. Unlike many power hitters, Ruth also hit for average: his .342 lifetime batting is tenth highest in baseball history, and in one season (1923) he hit .393, a Yankee record. His .690 career slugging percentage and 1.164 career on-base plus slugging (OPS) remain the major league records.
Ruth dominated in the era in which he played. He led the league in home runs during a season twelve times, slugging percentage thirteen times, OPS thirteen times, runs scored eight times, and runs batted in (RBI) six times. Each of those totals represents a modern record (and also an all-time record, except for RBIs). At the time of his retirement, his 714 home runs were not only the record, but that total was 336 more than the next player, Lou Gehrig. He also finished with the most career walks (2062), most career extra base hits (1356), and he is still the only player to have a season with at least 200 hits and 150 walks. In 1936, Ruth became one of the first five players elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. In 1969, he was named baseball's Greatest Player Ever in a ballot commemorating the 100th anniversary of professional baseball. In 1998, The Sporting News ranked Ruth Number 1 on the list of "Baseball's 100 Greatest Players." In 1999, baseball fans named Ruth to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team.
Beyond his statistics, Ruth completely changed baseball itself. The popularity of the game exploded in the 1920s, largely due to him. Ruth ushered in the "live-ball era," as his big swing led to escalating home run totals that not only excited fans, but helped baseball evolve from a low-scoring, speed-dominated game to a high-scoring power game.
Off the field he was famous for his charity, but also was noted for his often reckless lifestyle. His participation in an all-star tour of Japan in 1934 sparked that country's interest in professional baseball; a decade later, Japanese soldiers seeking the ultimate insult for American troops would sometimes shout, "To hell with Babe Ruth!"
Babe Ruth died at age 53 due to pneumonia on August 16, 1948.