Ken Burns Classroom

Babe Ruth

1895–1948

Still image of baseball great Babe Ruth.
Still image of baseball great Babe Ruth.

George Herman “Babe” Ruth began his baseball career as an outstanding left-handed pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, where he set records and helped the team to three national championships. But it was after he moved to the outfield—and the New York Yankees—that he achieved international renown as a slugger, establishing many Major League Baseball records, including 714 career home runs, 2,213 career runs batted in, and a .690 batting average. In 1936, he was in the first class of inductees into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Born to busy tavern owners in Baltimore, Maryland, Ruth was largely unsupervised as a boy and frequently got into trouble. He was sent to a Catholic reformatory school where the monks introduced him to the sport of baseball—a game at which he excelled. At the age of 19, the owner of the Baltimore Orioles, Jack Dunn, watched Ruth play for less than an hour and offered him a contract. Laws at the time necessitated that Dunn sign Ruth’s contract as his legal guardian, leading Ruth’s teammates to call him “Dunn’s new babe”—a nickname that would stick.

Ruth was soon sold to the Boston Red Sox, where he earned a reputation as a pitcher who could hit. Though he set records from the mound—including pitching 13 scoreless innings in the 1916 title winning game—Ruth longed to play in every game. He was granted his request to become an outfielder and his abilities as a hitter quickly became apparent.

In 1919, Ruth broke the MLB single-season home run record. The following season, Red Sox owner Harry Frazee controversially sold him to the Yankees, a franchise Babe would call home for fifteen seasons—and a move that would usher in a decades-long drought for the Red Sox, who would not win another World Series until 2004. During that time, Ruth led the Yankees to seven American League pennants and four World Series championships. His home run tallies set world records, bringing legions of fans into the ballpark and popularizing the sport like never before.

On May 25, 1935, Babe Ruth retired. He made a final appearance at Yankee Stadium in 1948, sick with cancer. Two months later, on August 16, 1948, he died, leaving the majority of his estate to the Babe Ruth Foundation for underprivileged children. His career total of 714 homeruns would stand as the world record until 1974. He is still considered by many to be the greatest player in Major League Baseball history.

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