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On This Day in History, February 6: All Hail ‘The Sultan of Swat’

“Babe” Ruth was born George Herman Ruth in Baltimore,  Md., on Feb. 6, 1895, and was educated at St. Mary’s Industrial School in that city.

Ruth was one of the most phenomenally gifted and popular players in the history of baseball. He began his career in 1914 as a left-handed pitcher for the Baltimore team of the International League. Later, in the same year, he played for the Providence team of that same league and then became a member of the Boston Red Sox. He pitched for Boston until the 1919 season, when his unusual ability as a batter and fielder caused the Boston management to convert him into an outfielder.

From 1920 to 1935, he played the outfield for the New York Yankees. In 1935 he became vice president of the Boston Braves of the National League and played a number of games as an outfielder. Three years later he was a coach for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Ruth was one of the best left-handed pitchers the game has ever known; he played in 163 games as pitcher, winning 92 and losing 44, for a percentage of .676.

From 1919 to the end of his career, he was the outstanding outfielder of his time and one of the best in baseball history.

He was particularly noted as a home run hitter resulting in such titles as “The Bambino,” “the Sultan of Swat,” “Wizard of Wham” and “Bazoo of Bang.” His lifetime record of 714 home runs in regular-season play was broken by Hank Aaron in 1974. (Barry Bonds broke Aaron’s record in 2007).

In his major league career of 22 years, Ruth played in 2,503 games and had a lifetime batting average of .342.

He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1936. Ruth had retired at the age of 40 in 1935.

In 1946, he began suffering severe headaches and hoarseness in his throat. A few months later a tumor was removed from his throat. News accounts never mentioned the word “cancer” until after he died. Ruth apparently never knew he had the disease. He was often in incredible pain.

On June 13, 1948, a drawn, white-haired idol of millions walked slowly from the dugout at Yankee Stadium to home plate, using a bat as a cane. It was the 25th anniversary of “The House That Ruth Built.” Thunderous cheers greeted him.

On July 21, Ruth was so ill that a priest administered the last rites. But five days later he showed up at the premiere of a biographical movie, The Babe Ruth Story. He was supported on both arms and was so weak that he had to leave halfway through the film.

The evening of Aug. 16, 1948, Ruth left his hospital bed and started to walk across the room. The doctor led him back to bed and asked, “Where are you going, Babe?” Ruth replied, “I’m going over the valley.” At 7:30 p.m., he fell into a coma and a half-hour later, he died.

An estimated 77,000 people passed by his closed coffin at Yankee Stadium. A few days later 75,000 lined Fifth Avenue in the rain for his funeral at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, while another 100,000 watched the procession to Westchester County, where the Babe was buried in Gates of Heaven Cemetery.

February 6, 2012 - 10:05am


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