George Herman Ruth Jr. was born in 1895 at 216 Emory Street in Pigtown, a working-class section of Baltimore, Maryland, named for its meat-packing plants. Its population included recent immigrants from Ireland, Germany and Italy, and African Americans. Ruth’s parents, George Herman Ruth, Sr. (1871–1918) and Katherine Schamberger, were both of German American ancestry. According to the 1880 census, his parents were born in Maryland. The paternal grandparents of Ruth, Sr. were from Prussia and Hanover. Ruth, Sr. had a series of jobs, including lightning rod salesman and streetcar operator, before becoming a counterman in a family-owned combination grocery and saloon on Frederick Street. George Ruth Jr. was born in the house of his maternal grandfather, Pius Schamberger, a German immigrant and trade unionist. Only one of young George’s seven siblings, his younger sister Mamie, survived infancy. Many aspects of Ruth’s childhood are undetermined, including the date of his parents’ marriage.
When young George was a toddler, the family moved to 339 South Goodyear Street, not far from the rail yards; by the time the boy was 6, his father had a saloon with an upstairs apartment at 426 West Camden Street. Details are equally scanty about why young George was sent at the age of 7 to St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys, a reformatory and orphanage. As an adult, Babe Ruth suggested that not only had he been running the streets and rarely attending school, he was drinking beer when his father was not looking. Some accounts say that, after a violent incident at his father’s saloon, the city authorities decided this environment was unsuitable for a small child. At St. Mary’s, which George Jr. entered on June 13, 1902, he was recorded as “incorrigible”; he spent much of the next twelve years there.
Ruth was sometimes allowed to rejoin his family, or was placed at St. James’s Home, a supervised residence with work in the community, but he was always returned to St. Mary’s. He rarely was visited by his family; his mother died when he was 12 and by some accounts, he was permitted to leave St. Mary’s only to attend the funeral. How Ruth came to play baseball there is uncertain: according to one account, his placement at St. Mary’s was due in part to repeatedly breaking Baltimore’s windows with long hits while playing street ball; by another, he was told to join a team on his first day at St. Mary’s by the school’s athletic director, Brother Herman, becoming a catcher even though left-handers rarely play that position. During his time there he also played third base and shortstop, again unusual for a left-hander, and was forced to wear mitts and gloves made for right-handers. He was encouraged in his pursuits by the school’s Prefect of Discipline, Brother Matthias Boutlier, a native of Nova Scotia. A large man, Brother Matthias was greatly respected by the boys both for his strength and for his fairness. For the rest of his life, Ruth would praise Brother Matthias, and his running and hitting styles closely resembled his teacher’s. Ruth stated, “I think I was born as a hitter the first day I ever saw him hit a baseball.”
The school’s influence remained with Ruth in other ways: a lifelong Catholic, he would sometimes attend Mass after carousing all night, and he became a well-known member of the Knights of Columbus. He would visit orphanages, schools, and hospitals throughout his life, often avoiding publicity. He was generous to St. Mary’s as he became famous and rich, donating money and his presence at fundraisers, and spending $5,000 to buy Brother Matthias a Cadillac in 1926—subsequently replacing it when it was destroyed in an accident. Nevertheless, his biographer Leigh Montville suggests that many of the off-the-field excesses of Ruth’s career were driven by the deprivations of his time at St. Mary’s.
In early 1914, Ruth was signed to a professional baseball contract by Jack Dunn, owner and manager of the minor-league Baltimore Orioles, an International League team. The circumstances of Ruth’s signing are not known with certainty, with historical fact obscured by stories that cannot all be true. By some accounts, Dunn was urged to attend a game between an all-star team from St. Mary’s and one from another Xaverian facility, Mount St. Mary’s College. Some versions have Ruth running away before the eagerly awaited game, to return in time to be punished, and then pitching St. Mary’s to victory as Dunn watched. Others have Washington Senators pitcher Joe Engel, a Mount St. Mary’s graduate, pitching in an alumni game after watching a preliminary contest between the college’s freshmen and a team from St. Mary’s, including Ruth. Engel watched Ruth play, then told Dunn about him at a chance meeting in Washington. Ruth, in his autobiography, stated only that he worked out for Dunn for a half-hour, and was signed. According to biographer Kal Wagenheim, there were legal difficulties to be straightened out as Ruth was supposed to remain at the school until he turned 21.
There are various accounts of how Ruth came to be called Babe, but most center on his being referred to as “Dunnie’s babe” or a variant. “Babe” was at that time a common nickname in baseball, with perhaps the most famous to that point being Pittsburgh
Pirates pitcher and 1909 World Series hero Babe Adams, who appeared younger than he was. Babe Ruth’s first appearance as a professional ballplayer was in an intersquad game on March 7, 1914. Ruth played shortstop, and pitched the last two innings of a 15–9 victory. In his second at bat, Ruth hit a long home run to right, which was reported locally to be longer than a legendary shot hit in Fayetteville by Jim Thorpe. His first appearance against a team in organized baseball was an exhibition against the major-league Philadelphia Phillies: Ruth pitched the middle three innings, giving up two runs in the fourth, but then settling down and pitching a scoreless fifth and sixth. The following afternoon, Ruth was put in during the sixth inning against the Phillies and did not allow a run the rest of the way. The Orioles scored seven runs in the bottom of the eighth to overcome a 6–0 deficit, making Ruth the winning pitcher.
Although by late June the Orioles were in first place, having won over two-thirds of their games, the paid attendance dropped as low as 150. Dunn explored a possible move by the Orioles to Richmond, Virginia, as well as the sale of a minority interest in the club. These possibilities fell through, leaving Dunn with little choice other than to sell his best players to major league teams to raise money. He offered Ruth to the reigning World Series champions, Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics, but Mack had his own financial problems. The Cincinnati Reds and New York Giants expressed interest in Ruth, but Dunn sold his contract, along with those of pitchers Ernie Shore and Ben Egan, to the Boston Red Sox of the American League (AL) on July 4. The sale price was announced as $25,000 but other reports lower the amount to half that, or possibly $8,500 plus the cancellation of a $3,000 loan. Ruth remained with the Orioles for several days while the Red Sox completed a road trip, and reported to the team in Boston on July 11. Ruth arrived in Boston on July 11, 1914, along with Egan and Shore. Ruth later told of meeting the woman he would first marry, Helen Woodford, that morning—she was then a 16-year-old waitress at Landers Coffee Shop, and Ruth related that she served him when he had breakfast there. Other stories, though, suggest the meeting happened on another day, and perhaps under other circumstances. Regardless of when he began to woo his first wife, he won his first game for the Red Sox that afternoon, 4–3, over the Cleveland Naps. He pitched to catcher Bill Carrigan, who was also the Red Sox manager. Shore was given a start by Carrigan the next day; he won that and his second start and thereafter was pitched regularly. Ruth lost his second start, and was thereafter little used.As a batter, in his major-league debut, Ruth went 0-for-2 against left-hander Willie Mitchell, striking out in his first at bat, before being removed for a pinch hitter in the seventh inning. Ruth was not much noticed by the fans, as Bostonians watched the Red Sox’s crosstown rivals, the Braves, begin a legendary comeback that would take them from last place on the Fourth of July to the 1914 World Series Championship.
Manager Carrigan allowed Ruth to pitch two exhibition games in mid-August. Although Ruth won both against minor-league competition, he was not restored to the pitching rotation. It is uncertain why Carrigan did not give Ruth additional opportunities to pitch. There are legends—filmed for the screen in The Babe Ruth Story (1948)—that the young pitcher had a habit of signaling his intent to throw a curveball by sticking out his tongue slightly, and that he was easy to hit until this changed. Creamer pointed out that it is common for inexperienced pitchers to display such habits, and the need to break Ruth of his would not constitute a reason to not use him at all.
Ruth joined the Grays on August 18, 1914. What was left of the Baltimore Orioles after Dunn’s deals had managed to hold on to first place until August 15, after which they continued to fade, leaving the pennant race between Providence and Rochester. Ruth was deeply impressed by Providence manager “Wild Bill” Donovan, previously a star pitcher with a 25–4 win–loss record for Detroit in 1907; in later years, he credited Donovan with teaching him much about pitching. Ruth was called upon often to pitch, in one stretch starting (and winning) four games in eight days. On September 5 at Maple Leaf Park in Toronto, Ruth pitched a one-hit 9–0 victory, and hit his first professional home run, his only one as a minor leaguer, off Ellis Johnson.Recalled to Boston after Providence finished the season in first place, he pitched and won a game for the Red Sox against the New York Yankees on October 2, getting his first major league hit, a double. Ruth finished the season with a record of 2–1 as a major leaguer and 23–8 in the International League (for Baltimore and Providence.)
During the 1919 season, Ruth pitched in only 17 of his 130 games, compiling an 8–5 record as Barrow used him as a pitcher mostly in the early part of the season, when the Red Sox manager still had hopes of a second consecutive pennant. By late June, the Red Sox were clearly out of the race, and Barrow had no objection to Ruth concentrating on his hitting, if only because it drew people to the ballpark. Ruth had hit a home run against the Yankees on Opening Day, and another during a month-long batting slump that soon followed. Relieved of his pitching duties, Ruth began an unprecedented spell of slugging home runs, which gave him widespread public and press attention. Even his failures were seen as majestic—one sportswriter noted, “When Ruth misses a swipe at the ball, the stands quiver”. Two home runs by Ruth on July 5, and one in each of two consecutive games a week later, raised his season total to 11, tying his career best from 1918. The first record to fall was the AL single-season mark of 16, set by Ralph “Socks” Seybold in 1902. Ruth matched that on July 29, then pulled ahead toward the major league record of 24, set by Buck Freeman in 1899. Ruth reached this on September 8, by which time, writers had discovered that Ned Williamson of the 1884 Chicago White Stockings had hit 27—though in a ballpark where the distance to right field was only 215 feet (66 m). On September 20, “Babe Ruth Day” at Fenway Park, Ruth won the game with a home run in the bottom of the ninth inning, tying Williamson. He broke the record four days later against the Yankees at the Polo Grounds, and hit one more against the Senators to finish with 29. The home run at Washington made Ruth the first major league player to hit a home run at all eight ballparks in his league. In spite of Ruth’s hitting heroics, the Red Sox finished sixth, 20 1⁄2 games behind the league champion White Sox.
As an out-of-towner from New York City, Frazee had been regarded with suspicion by Boston’s sportswriters and baseball fans when he bought the team. He won them over with success on the field and a willingness to build the Red Sox by purchasing or trading for players. He offered the Senators $60,000 for Walter Johnson, but Washington owner Clark Griffith was unwilling. Even so, Frazee was successful in bringing other players to Boston, especially as replacements for players in the military. This willingness to spend for players helped the Red Sox secure the 1918 title. The 1919 season saw record-breaking attendance, and Ruth’s home runs for Boston made him a national sensation. In March 1919 Ruth was reported as having accepted a three-year contract for a total of $27,000, after protracted negotiations. Nevertheless, on December 26, 1919, Frazee sold Ruth’s contract to the New York Yankees.
Not all of the circumstances concerning the sale are known, but brewer and former congressman Jacob Ruppert, the New York team’s principal owner, reportedly asked Yankee manager Miller Huggins what the team needed to be successful. “Get Ruth from Boston”, Huggins supposedly replied, noting that Frazee was perennially in need of money to finance his theatrical productions. In any event, there was precedent for the Ruth transaction: when Boston pitcher Carl Mays left the Red Sox in a 1919 dispute, Frazee had settled the matter by selling Mays to the Yankees, though over the opposition of AL President Johnson. According to one of Ruth’s biographers, Jim Reisler, “why Frazee needed cash in 1919—and large infusions of it quickly—is still, more than 80 years later, a bit of a mystery”. The often-told story is that Frazee needed money to finance the musical No, No, Nanette, which was a Broadway hit and brought Frazee financial security. That play did not open until 1925, however, by which time Frazee had sold the Red Sox. Still, the story may be true in essence: No, No, Nanettewas based on a Frazee-produced play, My Lady Friends, which opened in 1919. There were other financial pressures on Frazee, despite his team’s success. Ruth, fully aware of baseball’s popularity and his role in it, wanted to renegotiate his contract, signed before the 1919 season for $10,000 per year through 1921. He demanded that his salary be doubled, or he would sit out the season and cash in on his popularity through other ventures. Ruth’s salary demands were causing other players to ask for more money. Additionally, Frazee still owed Lannin as much as $125,000 from the purchase of the club.
Frazee sold the rights to Babe Ruth for $100,000, the largest sum ever paid for a baseball player. The deal also involved a $350,000 loan from Ruppert to Frazee, secured by a mortgage on Fenway Park. Once it was agreed, Frazee informed Barrow, who, stunned, told the owner that he was getting the worse end of the bargain. Cynics have suggested that Barrow may have played a larger role in the Ruth sale, as less than a year after, he became the Yankee general manager, and in the following years made a number of purchases of Red Sox players from Frazee. The $100,000 price included $25,000 in cash, and notes for the same amount due November 1 in 1920, 1921, and 1922; Ruppert and Huston assisted Frazee in selling the notes to banks for immediate cash.
The transaction was contingent on Ruth signing a new contract, which was quickly accomplished—Ruth agreed to fulfill the remaining two years on his contract, but was given a $20,000 bonus, payable over two seasons. The deal was announced on January 6, 1920. Reaction in Boston was mixed: some fans were embittered at the loss of Ruth; others conceded that the slugger had become difficult to deal with. The New York Times suggested presciently, “The short right field wall at the Polo Grounds should prove an easy target for Ruth next season and, playing seventy-seven games at home, it would not be surprising if Ruth surpassed his home run record of twenty-nine circuit clouts next Summer.” According to Reisler, “The Yankees had pulled off the sports steal of the century.” According to Marty Appel in his history of the Yankees, the transaction, “changed the fortunes of two high-profile franchises for decades”. The Red Sox, winners of five of the first sixteen World Series, those played between 1903 and 1919, would not win another pennant until 1946, or another World Series until 2004, a drought attributed in baseball superstition to Frazee’s sale of Ruth and sometimes dubbed the “Curse of the Bambino”. The Yankees, on the other hand, had not won the AL championship prior to their acquisition of Ruth. They won seven AL pennants and four World Series with Ruth, and lead baseball with 40 pennants and 27 World Series titles in their history.
As a Yankee, Ruth’s transition from a pitcher to a power-hitting outfielder became complete. In his fifteen-season Yankee career, consisting of over 2,000 games, Ruth broke many batting records, while making only five widely scattered appearances on the mound, winning all of them. At the end of April 1920, the Yankees were 4–7, with the Red Sox leading the league with a 10–2 mark. Ruth had done little, having injured himself swinging the bat. Both situations began to change on May 1, when Ruth hit a home run with the ball going completely out of the Polo Grounds, a feat believed only to have been previously accomplished by Shoeless Joe Jackson. The Yankees won, 6–0, taking three out of four from the Red Sox. Ruth hit his second home run on May 2, and by the end of the month had set a major league record for home runs in a month with 11, and promptly broke it with 13 in June. Fans responded with record attendance: on May 16, Ruth and the Yankees drew 38,600 to the Polo Grounds, a record for the ballpark, and 15,000 fans were turned away. Large crowds jammed stadiums to see Ruth play when the Yankees were on the road.
Ruth was aided in his exploits, in 1920 and afterwards, by the fact that the A.J. Reach Company, maker of baseballs used in the major leagues, was using a more efficient machine to wind the yarn found within the baseball. When these went into play in 1920, the start of the live-ball era, the number of home runs increased by 184 over the previous year across the major leagues. Baseball statistician Bill James points out that while Ruth was likely aided by the change in the baseball, there were other factors at work, including the gradual abolition of the spitball (accelerated after the death of Ray Chapman, struck by a pitched ball thrown by Mays in August 1920) and the more frequent use of new baseballs (also a response to Chapman’s death). Nevertheless, James theorizes that Ruth’s 1920 explosion might have happened in 1919, had a full season of 154 games been played rather than 140, had Ruth refrained from pitching 133 innings that season, and if he were playing at any other home field but Fenway Park, where he hit only 9 of 29 home runs. Ruth hit home runs early and often in the 1921 season, during which he broke Roger Connor’s mark for home runs in a career, 138. Each of the almost 600 home runs Ruth hit in his career after that extended his own record.
After a slow start, the Yankees were soon locked in a tight pennant race with Cleveland, winners of the 1920 World Series. On September 15, Ruth hit his 55th home run, shattering his year-old single season record. In late September, the Yankees visited Cleveland and won three out of four games, giving them the upper hand in the race, and clinched their first pennant a few days later. Ruth finished the regular season with 59 home runs, batting .378 and with a slugging percentage of .846. The Yankees had high expectations when they met the New York Giants in the 1921 World Series, and the Yankees won the first two games with Ruth in the lineup. However, Ruth badly scraped his elbow during Game 2, sliding into third base (he had walked and stolen both second and third bases). After the game, he was told by the team physician not to play the rest of the series. Despite this advice, he did play in the next three games, and pinch-hit in Game Eight of the best-of-nine series, but the Yankees lost, five games to three. Ruth hit .316, drove in five runs and hit his first World Series home run.
On March 6, 1922, Ruth signed a new contract, for three years at $52,000 a year. The largest sum ever paid a ballplayer to that point, it represented 40% of the team’s player payroll. Despite his suspension, Ruth was named the Yankees’ new on-field captain prior to the 1922 season. During the suspension, he worked out with the team in the morning, and played exhibition games with the Yankees on their off days. He and Meusel returned on May 20, to a sellout crowd at the Polo Grounds, but Ruth batted 0-for-4, and was booed. On May 25, he was thrown out of the game for throwing dust in umpire George Hildebrand’s face, then climbed into the stands to confront a heckler. Ban Johnson ordered him fined, suspended, and stripped of his captaincy. In his shortened season, Ruth appeared in 110 games, batted .315, with 35 home runs, and drove in 99 runs, but compared to his previous two dominating years, the 1922 season was a disappointment. Despite Ruth’s off-year, Yankees managed to win the pennant to face the New York Giants for the second straight year in the World Series.
The Yankees were never challenged, leading the league for most of the 1923 season and winning the AL pennant by 17 games. Ruth finished the season with a career-high .393 batting average and major-league leading 41 home runs (tied with Cy Williams). Another career high for Ruth in 1923 was his 45 doubles, and he reached base 379 times, then a major league record. For the third straight year, the Yankees faced the Giants in the World Series, which Ruth dominated. He batted .368, walked eight times, scored eight runs, hit three home runs and slugged 1.000 during the series, as the Yankees won their first World Series championship, four games to two.
From 1923 to 1935, Ruth had his ups and downs. From being rumored dead in 1925, to having the mysterious “bellyache heard round the world.” Ruth returned to his normal production during 1926, batting .372 with 47 home runs and 146 RBIs. In 1927, the yankees won a then-AL-record 110 games, and took the AL pennant by 19 games. In 1929, Ruth received his uniform number of ‘3’ after the team had experimented with numbered uniforms to tell players apart on the field. In 1930, Ruth hit .359 with 49 home runs (his best in his years after 1928) and 153 RBIs, and pitched his first game in nine years, a complete game victory. In 1934, Ruth played in his last full season. By this time, years of high living were starting to catch up with him. His conditioning had deteriorated to the point that he could no longer field or run. He accepted a pay cut from Ruppert to $35,000, but was still the highest-paid player in the major leagues. He could still handle a bat, recording a .288 batting average with 22 home runs, statistics Reisler described as “merely mortal”. Ruth was selected to the AL All-Star team for the second consecutive year. During the game, New York Giants pitcher Carl Hubbell struck out Ruth and four other future Hall-of-Famers consecutively.
Ruth played in the third game of the Pittsburgh series on May 25, 1935, and added one more tale to his playing legend. Ruth went 4-for-4, including three home runs, though the Braves lost the game 11–7. The last two were off Ruth’s old Cubs nemesis, Guy Bush. The final home run, both of the game and of Ruth’s career, sailed over the upper deck in right field and out of the ballpark, the first time anyone had hit a fair ball completely out of Forbes Field. Ruth was urged to make this his last game, but he had given his word to Fuchs and played in Cincinnati and Philadelphia. The first game of the doubleheader in Philadelphia—the Braves lost both—was his final major league appearance. On June 2, after an argument with Fuchs, Ruth retired. He finished 1935 with a .181 average—easily his worst as a full-time position player—and the final six of his 714 home runs. The Braves, 10–27 when Ruth left, finished 38–115, at .248 the worst winning percentage in modern National League history.
Although Fuchs had given Ruth his unconditional release, no major league team expressed an interest in hiring him in any capacity. Ruth still hoped to be hired as a manager if he could not play anymore, but only one managerial position, Cleveland, became available between Ruth’s retirement and the end of the 1937 season. Asked if he had considered Ruth for the job, Indians owner Alva Bradley replied negatively. The writer Creamer believed Ruth was unfairly treated in never being given an opportunity to manage a major league club. The author believed there was not necessarily a relationship between personal conduct and managerial success, noting that McGraw, Billy Martin, and Bobby Valentine were winners despite character flaws. Team owners and general managers assessed Ruth’s flamboyant personal habits as a reason to exclude him from a managerial job; Barrow said of him, “How can he manage other men when he can’t even manage himself?” Ruth played much golf and in a few exhibition baseball games, demonstrating a continuing ability to draw large crowds. This appeal contributed to the Dodgers hiring him as first base coach in 1938. But Brooklyn general manager Larry MacPhail made it clear when Ruth was hired that he would not be considered for the manager’s job if, as expected, Burleigh Grimes retired at the end of the season. Although much was said about what Ruth could teach the younger players, in practice, his duties were to appear on the field in uniform and encourage base runners—he was not called upon to relay signs. He got along well with everyone except team captain Leo Durocher, who was hired as Grimes’ replacement at season’s end. Ruth returned to retirement, never again to work in baseball.
On July 4, 1939, Ruth spoke on Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day at Yankee Stadium as members of the 1927 Yankees and a sellout crowd turned out to honor the first baseman, forced into premature retirement by ALS disease, which would kill him in two years. The next week, Ruth went to Cooperstown, New York, for the formal opening of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Three years earlier he was one of the first five players elected to it. As radio broadcasts of baseball became popular, Ruth sought a job in that field, arguing that his celebrity and knowledge of baseball would assure large audiences, but he received no offers. During World War II, he made many personal appearances to advance the war effort, including his last appearance as a player at Yankee Stadium, in a 1943 exhibition for the Army–Navy Relief Fund. He hit a long fly ball off Walter Johnson; the blast left the field, curving foul, but Ruth circled the bases anyway. In 1946, he made a final effort to gain a job in baseball, contacting new Yankees boss MacPhail, but was sent a rejection letter.
As early as the war years, doctors had cautioned Ruth to take better care of his health, and he grudgingly followed their advice, limiting his drinking and not going on a proposed trip to support the troops in the South Pacific. In 1946, Ruth began experiencing severe pain over his left eye, and had difficulty swallowing. In November 1946, he entered French Hospital in New York for tests, which revealed that Ruth had an inoperable malignant tumor at the base of his skull and in his neck. It was a lesion known as nasopharyngeal carcinoma, or “lymphoepithelioma.” His name and fame gave him access to experimental treatments, and he was one of the first cancer patients to receive both drugs and radiation treatment simultaneously. He was discharged from the hospital in February, having lost 80 pounds (36 kg), and went to Florida to recuperate. He returned to New York and Yankee Stadium after the season started. The new commissioner, Happy Chandler (Judge Landis had died in 1944), proclaimed April 27, 1947, Babe Ruth Day around the major leagues, with the most significant observance to be at Yankee Stadium. A number of teammates and others spoke in honor of Ruth, who briefly addressed the crowd of almost 60,000. Around this time, developments in chemotherapy offered some hope for Ruth. The doctors had not told Ruth that he had cancer because of his family’s fear that he might do himself harm. They treated him with teropterin, a folic acid derivative; he may have been the first human subject. Ruth showed dramatic improvement during the summer of 1947, so much so that his case was presented by his doctors at a scientific meeting, without using his name. He was able to travel around the country, doing promotional work for the Ford Motor Company on American Legion Baseball. He appeared again at another day in his honor at Yankee Stadium in September, but was not well enough to pitch in an old-timers game as he had hoped.
The improvement was only a temporary remission, and by late 1947, Ruth was unable to help with the writing of his autobiography, The Babe Ruth Story, which was almost entirely ghostwritten. In and out of the hospital in New York, he left for Florida in February 1948, doing what activities he could. After six weeks he returned to New York to appear at a book-signing party. He also traveled to California to witness the filming of the book.
On June 5, 1948, a “gaunt and hollowed out” Ruth visited Yale University to donate a manuscript of The Babe Ruth Story to its library. On June 13, Ruth visited Yankee Stadium for the final time in his life, appearing at the 25th anniversary celebrations of “The House that Ruth Built”. By this time he had lost much weight and had difficulty walking. Introduced along with his surviving teammates from 1923, Ruth used a bat as a cane. Nat Fein’s photo of Ruth taken from behind, standing near home plate and facing “Ruthville” (right field) became one of baseball’s most famous and widely circulated photographs, and won the Pulitzer Prize.
Thousands of New Yorkers, including many children, stood vigil outside the hospital in Ruth’s final days. On August 16, 1948, at 8:01 p.m., Ruth died in his sleep at the age of 53. Instead of a wake at a funeral home, his casket was taken to Yankee Stadium, where it remained for two days; 77,000 people filed past to pay him tribute. His funeral Mass took place at St. Patrick’s Cathedral; a crowd estimated at 75,000 waited outside. Ruth was buried on a hillside in Section 25 at the Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne, New York. An epitaph by Cardinal Spellman appears on his headstone. His second wife, Claire Merritt Ruth, would be interred with him 28 years later in 1976.
On April 19, 1949, the Yankees unveiled a granite monument in Ruth’s honor in center field of Yankee Stadium. The monument was located in the field of play next to a flagpole and similar tributes to Huggins and Gehrig until the stadium was remodeled from 1974 to 1975, which resulted in the outfield fences moving inward and enclosing the monuments from the playing field. This area was known thereafter as Monument Park. Yankee Stadium, “the House that Ruth Built”, was replaced after the 2008 season with a new Yankee Stadium across the street from the old one; Monument Park was subsequently moved to the new venue behind the center field fence. Ruth’s uniform number 3 has been retired by the Yankees, and he is one of five Yankees players or managers to have a granite monument within the stadium.