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by Ron Cruger
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Barry ain't the "Babe!"
2007 Spectator Ron - The Spectator All Rights Reserved
In those days, the 1930’s , the 1940’s, newspapermen had an unspoken agreement with our sports heroes. The sports writers would travel
along with the teams they covered and in return for the free food, beer, cigars and inside information they wouldn’t write about the
personal lives of the athletes. Back then professional football and basketball took a back seat to baseball and most of the men who
played in the 16 team big leagues didn’t become instant millionaires as they do today. These old time baseball players came from the
small towns and farms of America. They became the property of the team owners and they got paid whatever the owners felt like paying
them. Most of these men had to work on their farms or get other jobs during the winter months to make enough money to support their
Many of these athletes tasted the big city life for the first time when they joined their team. They also found
plenty of booze, women and gambling when they became big league baseball players. But, the fans and newspaper readers in the 30’s
and 40’s didn’t read about their
heroes nocturnal pleasures. That was part of the deal. “You can travel with us, smoke our cigars
on the train with us, drink our whiskey, but you can’t write about any of this and you can’t write about what happens in those hotel
rooms when we’re on the road.”
Those were the days of The Babe, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig, Al Simmons, Jimmie Foxx and Ted
Williams. These guys were “genuine” American heroes. All we knew was that they loved playing baseball and they were clean cut men
who loved their mothers. Some of them smoked cigarettes, but that was before we knew that cigarettes were bad for us.
of all of these American and National League players Babe Ruth did more behind the newspaper blackout veil than all the other guys.
He caroused. He drank. He over ate before, during and after ball games. He was a ladies man. The Babe didn’t limit himself to a woman
of the evening – often he would require (yes, require!) two or three of the ladies of the evening before he decided to hit the sack
and get some rest before the next game. The Babe, more than once, had to retire from a game because he had downed too many hot dogs
and soft drinks during the game. He smoked. He drank. He gambled and his nights ended when the sun came up the next morning. Most
Americans didn’t know about The Babe and his nocturnal exploits. All they knew was that Babe Ruth was America’s greatest sports’ hero.
How did these decades of little sleep, booze, smoking and carousing effect The Babe’s skill on the diamond? Babe Ruth had a lifetime
batting average of .342. He hit 714 home runs and drove in 2213 runs. Most polls rate The Babe as the greatest baseball player of
George Herman “Babe” Ruth played for the Red Sox from 1914-1919, then he was traded to the New York Yankees and
played there from 1920-1934. The Babe played one frustrating year, long after his prime for the old Boston Braves.
people knew The Babe as the slugger who hit home runs for crippled kids in hospitals. They knew him as pointing to the center field
stands during a close World Series game and on the next pitch slamming a home run to that exact spot. The man was a legend, a super
hero, and, by the way, my idol. As a kid, I didn’t know all the other stuff – I only knew The Babe that visited crippled kids in hospitals
and hit tape measure home runs – often.
I loved Babe Ruth and cried when he died on August 16, 1948 at the age of 53.
I didn’t want Hank Aaron to break The Babe’s home run record. Not because of the color of his skin, but because I loved Babe Ruth,
the legend. I loved The Babe because he was bigger than life. Hell, if anyone was going to break The Babe’s lifetime home run record
I’d prefer that Henry Aaron did. Hammerin’ Hank was and is a gentleman – a sportsman, a true American hero. I loved Babe Ruth, but
I respect and like Hank Aaron.
And now comes Barry Bonds into the picture. Barry Bonds is no Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds isn’t
a Hank Aaron. The accusations that Bonds built a new body for himself using illegal drugs and steroids is still unproven. Others,
who served Bonds are currently doing time for being involved with drugs and steroids. Bonds, last Saturday hit his 755th home run
in San Diego to tie Hank Aaron’s record. Half the crowd at Petco Park cheered, half booed. There is no doubt that Bonds is an authentic
all-star baseball player. The doubt remains of whether Bonds would have tied (soon to break) Aaron’s home run record without some
illegal assistance. Only Major League baseball or our court system will decide that fact. Or maybe the truth will never be known.
In the meantime, Hank Aaron’s record will fall any day now. Barry Bonds will become the new home run king. Half of our baseball fans
will applaud and half will boo.
Me? I’ll just watch when number 756 sails out of the ball park. Barry Bonds will trot around
the bases and I’ll think of The Babe. I’ll even think of Hammerin’ Hank Aaron. But I won’t be excited.
. . .
On a similar subject, what if scientists discovered that by taking 25-30 aspirin a day a baseball player could considerably
raise his pitching, fielding or hitting performance. Major League baseball players would be gulping down aspirin by the fistful. Records
would fall. Someone would surpass the home run totals of The Babe, Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds. There would be new records all over
the place. Would, then, aspirin be declare an illegal substance and banned for use by Major League baseball players? Just wondering.