Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Mickey Mantle: Idol of a Generation

Name: Mickey Charles Mantle
Date of Birth: October 20, 1931
Place of Birth: Spavinaw, Oklahoma
Grew Up In: Commerce, Oklahoma (about 46 miles to the northeast of Spavinaw, 93 miles northeast of Tulsa; the closest big-league city now is Kansas City, 164 miles to the north; then, it was St. Louis, 310 miles to the northeast)
Nationality: English
Position: Center field
Batted: Switch-hitter
Threw: Righthanded
Nickname(s): The Mick, Muscles, the Commerce Comet, Slick (a nickname he and Whitey Ford called each other)

Family: Father Elvin, known as Mutt, worked in the lead and zinc mines of northeastern Oklahoma, as did most of his relatives; it was inhaling the dust from those mines that killed the Mantle men by their early 40s, not any "curse" Mickey could think of. His mother, the former Lovell Richardson, was a housewife. He had 2 brothers, also scholastic athletes.

He married Merlyn Johnson, and had four children: Mickey Jr., Billy, Danny and David. Billy was named for Yankee teammate and close friend Billy Martin, whose real name was Alfred. But then, Mutt had named his son after a Baseball Hall-of-Famer, Mickey Cochrane. (Just as Willie Mays was born Willie, not William, Mantle's real first name was Mickey, not Michael.) Cochrane's real first name was Gordon, and Mickey always said he was glad he wasn't named Gordon Mantle. (Which sounds like the name of a lawyer to me.)

Mutt died of Hodgkin's disease in 1952, at the beginning of Mickey's 2nd season. Billy also died of Hodgkin's, in 1994, shortly after Mickey got out of rehab; while so many people were afraid it would restart his drinking, just as his father's death was its original accelerant, he stayed sober. Lovell died in 1995, a few weeks before Mickey's transplant. Mickey Jr. died in 2000. Merlyn died in 2010. At this writing, Danny and David are still alive, and the official caretakers of Mickey's image. They were consultants on the film 61*, which included a scene of David and his then 4-year-old son Will, watching Thomas Jane as Mickey hit one out. David stood in for Mickey at the last game at the old Yankee Stadium, wearing his Number 7 uniform and walking out to center field.

Before He Was a Yankee: Starred in football and basketball at Commerce High School, but the school didn't have a baseball team, so he played on amateur squads in that region where Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri and Arkansas all come together. (The nearest real city was Joplin, Missouri.)

Acquired By Yankees: Yankee scout Tom Greenwade stalked Mickey until graduation in 1949, and then offered Mickey a $1,500 signing bonus -- about $15,000 in today's money.

(Around the same time, the Pittsburgh Pirates offered St. John's University star Mario Cuomo a $2,000 bonus. Cuomo got beaned and went into law and politics, while Mickey's many injuries never included a serious beaning. He liked to joke about how the Yankees got more value for him than the Pirates got for the future Governor and father of another future Governor.)

Mickey spent the rest of the 1949 season and all of 1950 in the minor leagues, before his prodigious home runs in spring training led to his going north with the team. He made his Yankee debut on April 17, 1951, at Yankee Stadium, against the Boston Red Sox. His first at-bat was a groundout off Bill Wight, but he went 1-for-4 with an RBI single, and Jackie Jensen hit a home run, backing the shutout pitching of Vic Raschi, as the Yankees won 5-1.

Uniform Number(s) as a Yankee: Was originally given 6. The progression seemed natural: Babe Ruth wore 3, Lou Gehrig wore 4, Joe DiMaggio wears 5, and Mickey is supposed to replace Joe, so he gets 6. It seemed to fit, as Mickey's baseball hero was Stan Musial of the St. Louis Cardinals, and Stan the Man wore 6.

But Mickey struggled at first, and was sent down to the minors. His slump continuing with the Triple-A Kansas City Blues, he called his father in Oklahoma, telling him he wanted to quit baseball. Mutt wasn't having it: He drove up, and reamed Mickey out: "You can come work in the mines like me. I thought I raised a man. You ain't nothin' but a coward." The tough love shocked Mickey into begging his father for another chance, and he took it, hitting so well that he got called back up to the Yankees.

By this point, Cliff Mapes -- by a twist of fate, also the last Yankee to wear 3 before it was retired for Ruth -- had been traded, making 7 available. Mickey was given 7, and the rest is history. Until 42 was universally retired for Jackie Robinson, no other baseball player was more identified with a single uniform number than Mickey was with 7.

Yankee Achievements Include: 536 home runs, including 266 at Yankee Stadium, making him the ballpark's all-time leader. He was only the 6th member of the 500 Home Run Club, and was 3rd on the all-time home run list when he retired, trailing only Ruth and Mays. (Hank Aaron soon surpassed him.) While several players have surpassed him -- most recently, Albert Pujols -- he remains the all-time leader among switch-hitters.

His home runs were every bit as long as Ruth's: Mickey hit, or may have hit, the longest home runs ever at the original Yankee Stadium, Comiskey Park in Chicago, Tiger Stadium in Detroit, Cleveland Municipal Stadium, Sportsman's Park in St. Louis, Shibe Park (a.k.a. Connie Mack Stadium) in Philadelphia, and, most notably, Griffith Stadium in Washington, a drive that was unofficially measured at 565 feet. (Every account of that 1953 drive says that the ball glanced off an auxiliary scoreboard before continuing into a backyard. The distance shouldn't be measured from home plate to where the ball stops, but from the plate to where it first hits something. That was still a 460-foot shot.) Yankee publicity director Red Patterson's desire to measure Mickey's drives gave rise to the term "tape measure home run."

Four times, he hit the frieze (a.k.a. "the facade") on the roof at old Yankee Stadium. Twice lefthanded, to right field, within a month, in May 1956; once righthanded, to left field, in 1957; and again lefthanded, to right field, a walkoff home run against the Kansas City Athletics on May 22, 1963, supposedly six inches from the top. This was the closest any player ever came to hitting a fair ball out of The Stadium.

(Frank Howard is also sometimes credited with hitting the facade in left field, although this is unproven. The story that Negro Leaguer Josh Gibson hit a fair ball completely out of the old Yankee Stadium has been researched. Accounts from black-owned, -operated and -targeted newspapers, such as New York's Amsterdam News, the sources most likely to say that it happened, if it did, show that Gibson played in Yankee Stadium many times, and hit some long home runs, but they never reported that he hit one all the way out. That's not conclusive, but it is telling that the sources most likely to say that it happened at the time didn't say so.)

Mickey led the American League in home runs four times. Only once did he lead it in batting average or runs batted in, but in that year, 1956, he led in all three, winning the Triple Crown. Indeed, he led both Leagues in all three of those categories, and he is still the last man to do that. He was named AL Most Valuable Player in 1956, 1957 and 1962.

He was named to the All-Star Team 20 times -- despite playing in only 18 seasons. From 1958 to 1962, there were two All-Star Games each season. Mickey reached the All-Star Game every season from 1952 to 1965, and again in 1967 and '68, so he made it in 16 of his 18 seasons. The Gold Glove Award only started in 1957, and he won it only once, in 1962. Nevertheless, he was regarded as a very good center fielder, including making a catch of a Gil Hodges drive that saved Don Larsen's perfect game in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series -- a game in which Mickey also homered.

He hit 18 home runs in World Series play. While other players have hit as many, or more, in postseason play, it remains a record just for the Series. His 16th, which broke Ruth's record, was what we would now call a walkoff home run, in Game 3 of the 1964 World Series against the Cardinals, his boyhood team.

Because of the rapid growth of television in the 1950s, and the Yankees' frequent appearances on national broadcasts, including the 12 World Series -- 7 of them won by the Yankees -- during Mickey's career, he became baseball's first television superstar, and thus the most popular player among the Baby Boom generation, even if, by his own admission, he wasn't as good as Mays or Aaron.

He played in 2,401 games as a Yankee, a club record until surpassed by Derek Jeter in 2011. He frequently said, "I played in more games as a Yankee than anybody. Nobody knows that." He did all of these things despite countless injuries, particularly to his knees, and despite his constant off-field carousing, including prodigious drinking and womanizing. (The womanizing was mostly kept quiet during his lifetime, but stories of his drunken behavior simply couldn't be stopped.)

Highest Salary: $100,000, first received in 1963. About $780,000 in today's money. In a 1991 interview, he said, "They couldn't pay me, Joe DiMaggio, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Ted Williams, Stan Musial today."

Something you should know about him, if you don’t already: Mickey had a nephew, Kelly Mantle, who has become a renowned drag queen and recording artist. 

Left Yankees: After being switched to left field in 1965, and then first base in 1967, as spring training dawned on March 1, 1969, he decided, "The young kids are just gettin' too fast for me," and confirmed what everyone had believed all through 1968: He was retiring.

His last game was on September 28, 1968, at Fenway Park. He popped up to short against Jim Lonborg in his first at-bat, and was then replaced in the field by Andy Kosco. The Yankees bailed Mel Stottlemyre out of a 3-0 jam, and beat the Boston Red Sox 4-3, Lindy McDaniel the winning pitcher over Lonborg.

After He Was a Yankee: Became a Yankee coach and a broadcaster, but held neither post for long. Lost a lot of money with bad investments, including in Mickey Mantle's Country Cookin' Restaurants and a temporary-placement agency he and Joe Namath put their names on, Mantle Men and Namath Girls. (Nice name. It was 1969.) But he missed playing terribly. Depression kicked in, and his drinking accelerated again.

The 1950s nostalgia wave that began in the early 1970s, and the baseball memorabilia craze, kicked in, and he ended up making more money every year being a retired baseball legend than he did when he was an active player. He made commercials for everything from Brylcreem (which was the first time I ever saw him on TV) to beer. With Mays, he did commercials for butter and for USA Today. While he maintained friendships with Mays, Aaron, Williams and Musial, stayed friends with Ford and Martin, and became friends with later Yankee star Reggie Jackson, his relationship with his predecessor in Yankee Stadium's center field, DiMaggio, remained frosty -- for reasons known only to Joe.

Mickey Mantle's Restaurant opened on Central Park South in 1988. It was loaded with baseball memorabilia, and the chairs were designed to look like seats at the old Stadium, with every one having the number 7 on them. Mickey visited every time he came to New York, although radio bully Don Imus liked to joke that, "Your meal is free if you can guess which table Mickey is under." Mickey insisted that the prices be kept low, because he wanted the place to be affordable for families. I ate there once, and, to be honest, the food was not up to the level of the decor. Due to rising rent, the restaurant closed in 2012. A new Mickey Mantle's Steakhouse is open across from the new Oklahoma City ballpark, Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark. Appropriately, the Steakhouse's address is 7 South Mickey Mantle Drive.

In 1988, Mickey left Merlyn and their house in a suburban section of Dallas, and bought a house in the suburbs of Atlanta, near the home of Greer Johnson, his new girlfriend and agent. But he never divorced Merlyn.

Died: August 13, 1995, at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, from cancer, the result of his 45 years of hard drinking. Late in 1993, he'd been told by a doctor that his next drink could be his last, and he checked into the Betty Ford Center. He seemed to be in recovery. But his liver was weakened and stricken with cancer. He received a liver transplant on June 8, 1995 -- 26 years to the day after his Day at The Stadium -- and began to speak out on behalf of sobriety and organ donation. But the cancer had already spread to his lungs, and he never had a chance. He was 63.

On the day of his death, the Yankees were scheduled to play the Cleveland Indians at home. The Yankees had black armbands sewn onto their left sleeves, and, before leaving for a roadtrip that night, would have black 7s sewn above them. Dave Winfield was playing for the Indians, and Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera were rookies on the Yankee roster. (Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada had both played for the Yankees by this point, but were not on the roster at the time.) The first batter of the game was the Indians' Kenny Lofton -- a center fielder wearing Number 7. He flew out to Bernie Williams -- in center field.

At his press conference after his transplant, Mickey had said, "You talk about a role model, this is a role model: Don't be like me." At his funeral in Dallas, broadcaster Bob Costas said, "In the last year of his life, Mickey Mantle, always so hard on himself, finally came to accept and appreciate the distinction between a role model and a hero. The first, he often was not. The second, he always will be. And, in the end, people got it."

But his death was still a blow. When Elvis Presley died in 1977, it was an inescapable sign that the Baby Boomers, now in their 20s, weren't kids anymore. When Mickey Mantle died in 1995, it was a new marker, for these people now in their 40s: Now, they were getting old.

Plaque Dedicated: June 8, 1969, Mickey Mantle Day. His retired Number 7 was presented to him by Ford, and his Plaque was presented to him by DiMaggio -- who had to be wondering, "Hey, what about me? If Mickey's getting one, then, obviously, they don't just do it for dead players. So why didn't I get one when I retired?" Before beginning his speech, Mickey told the crowd he had the honor of presenting Joe with his Plaque, and said, "It oughta hang just a little higher than mine." Joe seemed genuinely moved by the gesture, although he seemed to have some kind of problem with Mickey that never went away.

The Plaques were hung on the outfield wall the next Opening Day, April 12, 1970 -- and, sure enough, Joe's was one inch higher than Mickey's. With the other Plaques and the Monuments, they were moved to Monument Park in 1976.

After Mickey's death, his Plaque was removed, and replaced by a Monument that was dedicated on August 25, 1996. When Joe died in 1999, his Plaque was also replaced with a Monument. The original Plaques are now on display at the Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center in Little Falls, New Jersey. Unfortunately, this is the best picture I can find of them, and the text isn't very legible, due to the glare of a flash bulb.

Baseball Hall of Fame: Elected in 1974, his first year of eligibility, by the Baseball Writers Association of America.

Other Honors: He was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame -- in 1964, while he was still playing. When Oklahoma City, the capital of his home State, opened a new ballpark for its Triple-A team, a statue of Mickey was placed outside, and the street was renamed Mickey Mantle Drive.

Teresa Brewer recorded "I Love Mickey" during his Triple Crown season of 1956, with Mickey also appearing on the record. In 1981, Terry Cashman recorded a tribute to all three New York center fielders of the 1950s: Mantle of the Yankees, Mays of the New York Giants and Duke Snider of the Brooklyn Dodgers: "Talkin' Baseball (Willie, Mickey and the Duke)." New York City renamed a school for him in 2002, and the U.S. Postal Service released a stamp of him in 2006.

In 1999, he was named to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team. The same year, The Sporting News named him Number 17 on its list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players -- a bit low, especially considering that he wasn't even the highest-ranked Oklahoman, with Johnny Bench placed at Number 16.

Depictions: Mickey played himself along with Roger Maris in the films Safe at Home (1962) and That Touch of Mink (1963). Yogi Berra was also in the latter film. Billy Crystal showed an unidentified actor from the back only in his 1992 film Mr. Saturday Night, as a guest on the eponymous character's variety show. In 2000, Crystal made 61*, about the 1961 home run record chase by Mickey and Roger. Mickey was played by Thomas Jane.

Crystal also paid tribute to Mickey in City Slickers, talking about his first live game as a boy, in which Mickey hit a home run. For Ken Burns' Baseball miniseries, Crystal told the story again, and said his first game was one in which Mickey hit the facade in 1956. Mickey was also interviewed for Burns' miniseries.

Although Mickey briefly appeared as a character in the 2007 miniseries The Bronx Is Burning, about the 1977 Yankees, the actor who played him was not identified in the credits.

Quote of Note: "Baseball has been very good to me, and playing 18 years in Yankee Stadium for you folks is the greatest thing that could ever happen to a ballplayer."

Monday, July 20, 2015

Ed Barrow: Innovative Autocrat

Name: Edward Grant Barrow
Date of Birth: May 10, 1868
Place of Birth: Springfield, Illinois
Grew Up In: Des Moines, Iowa
Nationality: English
Position: General Manager (usually called "Business Manager," "Secretary" or "President" in his time)
Batted: Not applicable
Threw: Not applicable
Nickname(s): Uncle Egbert (but only his friends dared call him that)

Family: Married twice. The first marriage was brief, and he never discussed it. The second was to Fannie Taylor Briggs. She was previously married, with a daughter named Audrey, whom he raised as his own.

Before He Was a Yankee: His main background was in journalism, working for the Des Moines News and the Des Moines Leader. While living in the Iowa capital, he started a baseball team, which featured future Hall-of-Famer Fred Clarke. He later worked with concessions pioneer Harry M. Stevens, and ran some minor-league teams, apparently "discovering" the legendary Honus Wagner. Having done some low-level boxing, he occasionally hired boxers as "ringers" for his teams, including 1890s Heavyweight Champion James J. Corbett. 

He managed the Detroit Tigers in 1903 and '04, and then in Canada with the minor-league Toronto Maple Leafs (for whom the NHL team would be named) and Montreal Royals. In 1918, he was hired to manage the Boston Red Sox, and led them to a World Championship despite losing some players due to World War I. The players he could keep included Babe Ruth, and Barrow is alleged to have said, "I would be the laughingstock of the league if I took the best lefthanded pitcher in the league and put him in the outfield." With the player shortage, he had little choice, so, along with Matthias Boutilier, Jack Dunn and former Sox manager Bill Carrigan, he had a role in making Ruth the greatest player who ever lived.   

Acquired By Yankees: Tired of team owner Harry Frazee, acting as his own general manager, selling of the Sox' best players, Barrow resigned as manager after the 1920 season. Harry Sparrow, the Yankees' "business manager," died, and team owner Jacob Ruppert hired Barrow.

Barrow then decided to use Frazee's penchant for selling the Sox' high-priced talent to his advantage, and especially pulled away pitchers, like Waite Hoyt, Herb Pennock, Bullet Joe Bush and Sad Sam Jones. That's the real reason the Yankees blossomed and the Sox collapsed in the early 1920s: It wasn't so much Ruth as it was the pitchers.

Uniform Number(s) as a Yankee: None. However, it appears to have been Barrow's idea to add them in 1929.

Yankee Achievements Include: Building the Yankees' 1st 14 Pennant-winners (1921, '22, '23, '26, '27, '28, '32, '36, '37, '38, '39, '41, '42 and '43) and 1st 10 World Series winners (1923, '27, '28, '32, '36, '37, '38, '39, '41 and '43). To put that in perspective: Aside from the Yankees, only the St. Louis Cardinals have won at least 10 World Series to this day, and, if you count moved teams, only they, the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers and the New York/San Francisco Giants have won 14 Pennants since 1921.

Barrow's first acquisition from the Red Sox was Paul Krichell, a scout who would discover several big players, most notably Lou Gehrig.

As I said, Barrow may have been the man who decided to put numbers on the backs of uniforms, possibly in connection with his days selling scorecards with Harry M. Stevens. He was also the first baseball team executive to retire a number, Gehrig's 4. He also made Stevens' company the Yankee Stadium concessionaire, which -- having long since been bought out by Aramark -- it remains to this day.

"The Star-Spangled Banner" was played, impromptu, by a band during the World War I-affected 1918 World Series, which included the Barrow-managed Red Sox. It did not become the official National Anthem until 1931, and was then played before games on special occasions such as Opening Day and holidays. During World War II, Barrow decided to have it played before every game, and the rest of baseball followed suit.

He also hired George Weiss (who is in the Hall of Fame, but not in Monument Park) as Yankee farm director, to build the farm system that, through the 1940s, included great minor-league franchises such as the Newark Bears and the Kansas City Blues. It was Weiss who talked Barrow into signing Pacific Coast League star Joe DiMaggio. When Weiss became GM in 1949, he built the Mantle-era dynasty.

Barrow essentially had free rein as business manager. From 1921 to 1938, Colonel Ruppert never overruled him. After Ruppert's death, from 1939 to 1945, his brother George gave Barrow total control: Although Barrow's share of Yankee stock was just 10 percent, he was, essentially, the owner.

Barrow took advantage of all this power to rule as an autocrat. When Phil Rizzuto hit his first major league home run in 1941, a fan ran onto the field to congratulate him, and swiped his cap. After the game, Barrow called Rizzuto into his office -- not to congratulate him on the feat, but to tell him the cost of the cap would be deducted from his next paycheck.

Barrow also originated the idea of holding Yankee salaries down by telling players who felt he was lowballing them in negotiations, "Don't forget, you get a World Series share." In those days, a Series share could be as much as half a player's annual salary.

Something you should know about him, if you don’t already: Barrow had been a boxer in his youth, and fought Heavyweight Champion John L. Sullivan in a four-round exhibition. No word on how well he did, but, since it was an exhibition and not an official fight, there was no recorded winner or loser. Sullivan was, however, known in the 1880s to offer $10,000 -- about $300,000 in today's money -- to "any son of a bitch" who could knock him out.

Left Yankees: Sold out to the new owners, Del Webb, Dan Topping and Larry MacPhail, in 1945. MacPhail became the new GM. Barrow remained as a "special advisor" through the 1946 season, then retired due to age. When MacPhail left under specious circumstances, Barrow's protege, Weiss, became the new GM.

After He Was a Yankee: Was in ill health for the rest of his life, although he managed a team of retired stars in a 1950 game.

Died: December 15, 1953, at United Hospital in Port Chester, Westchester County, New York. He was buried elsewhere in Westchester, at Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, also the final resting places of Ruppert and Gehrig, and next-door to the cemetery where Ruth was buried.

Plaque Dedicated: April 15, 1954, Opening Day of the season after he died.

Baseball Hall of Fame: Elected by the Committee on Veterans in 1953. It was known that he was ill, and probably dying, but this was not a special election: Others were elected at the same time: Pitcher Albert "Chief" Bender, shortstop Bobby Wallace, pioneer Harry Wright, and the first two umpires elected to the Hall, Bill Klem and Tommy Connolly.

Other Honors: None that I know of.

Depictions: Played by Winn Irwin in A Love Affair: The Eleanor and Lou Gehrig Story. He was not, however, shown as a character in The Pride of the Yankees or any of the films about Babe Ruth.

Quote of Note: "Only over my dead body will MacPhail buy the Yankees." Barrow was wrong about that: MacPhail did buy the Yankees, including Barrow's 10 percent share, and Barrow lived another 8 years.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Babe Ruth: The One and Only

Name: George Herman Ruth Jr.
Date of Birth: February 6, 1895
Place of Birth: Baltimore, Maryland
Grew Up In: Same
Nationality: German
Position: Right field, also pitched and played other outfield positions and first base
Batted: Lefthanded
Threw: Lethanded
Nickname(s): More than James Brown, many of them alliterative like Sultan of Swat, King of Crash, Mandarin of Maul, etc.. His best-known nickname was the Italian version of "baby," Bambino (or "The Great Bambino").

Family: Father, George Herman Ruth Sr., owned a saloon, Ruth's Cafe, which was located in what's now center field of Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Mother, Katherine Schamberger, was a housewife -- most poor women worked only in the home in those days. The Babe's birthplace, a rowhouse at 216 Emory Street in Baltimore's Inner Harbor, was the home of Kate's parents, who were German immigrants.

George Sr. and Kate had 8 children, but only 2 survived infancy: The Babe and a sister, Mary Margaret Ruth, known in adulthood as Mamie Ruth Moberly, born in 1900, died in 1992, living long enough to be interviewed about her big brother by Ken Burns for his Baseball miniseries, but not long enough to see it air on PBS.

Married Helen Woodford, a waitress at a coffee shop in Boston, shortly after he arrived. He cheated on her constantly, and his daughter, born in 1921, legally adopted by the Babe and Helen and known in adulthood as Dorothy Pirone, was the result of an affair, which she didn't find out until 1980.

The Babe wasn't so Catholic that he wouldn't cheat on his wife, but he was too Catholic to get a divorce. Helen left him, moved in with another man, and died in a house fire in 1929. Shortly thereafter, the Babe married Claire Hodgson, a model and actress he'd been seeing on and off for a while. Claire was born in 1897, but her gravestone says 1900 -- and, apparently, vanity wasn't her only vice (although it's one of the few that the Babe didn't seem to have). Claire had a daughter, Julia, born in 1916, and the Babe adopted her. It's been alleged that Claire heavily favored Julia over Dorothy, but the sisters appear to have gotten along fine.

Dorothy would have 6 children and write a book titled My Dad, the Babe, before dying in 1989. Julia, at this writing, is still alive at age 98, and alternates between New Hampshire and Arizona. Before the last game at the original Yankee Stadium, the "house her dad built," she threw out the ceremonial first ball. She has a son named Tom. The Babe has at least 13 grandchildren, although since he had only daughters, and no surviving brothers, there is no more male Ruth line.

Before He Was a Yankee: George Sr. and Kate didn't send him to St. Mary's Industrial School because they thought he was, to use the word so often used to describe him in his childhood, "incorrigible." They sent him there because a new State of Maryland law mandated that all children between the ages of 5 and 16 go to school -- designed to cut down not so much on truancy as on child labor. But George Jr. refused to go to a regular school, so the Catholic Ruths sent him, on the order of a city magistrate, to St. Mary's, which has been described as an orphanage and a reform school. A fairer description would be to say it was what we would now call a vocational-technical, or vo-tech, school.

He was trained to be a tailor, but one of the teachers, a 6-foot-6 French Canadian named Matthias Boutilier, who went by the name Brother Matthias, was the school's baseball coach and a lefthanded hitter. "As soon as I saw Brother Matthias swing a bat, I became a hitter," the Babe would later say.

By 1913, he was the best hitter and the best pitcher among Baltimore schoolboys, and Jack Dunn, owner of the International League's Baltimore Orioles -- a Triple-A team by today's standards -- made a deal for him, apparently (with the Babe's mother having died the year before and his father having no more interest in him) legally adopting him. Thus he was nicknamed "Jack Dunn's Baby." This became just "Baby" and soon "Babe."

(George Sr. died as a result of a fight outside his bar in 1918. St. Mary's closed in 1950, and the Archdiocese of Baltimore opened Cardinal Gibbons High School on the site, but closed it in 2010. The future of the campus buildings is in doubt as of this writing.)

Farm systems hadn't yet been developed but the Boston Red Sox already had a working relationship with the Orioles, and they bought the Babe's contract. He made his major league debut on July 11, 1914, and was the winning pitcher in a game at Fenway Park against the Cleveland Naps, 4-3. (Named for their manager, Napoleon "Nap" Lajoie, they became the Indians the next season.) He went 0-for-2 against Cleveland pitcher Willie Mitchell, a decent pitcher but unremarkable beyond being the first pitcher the Babe ever faced.

Ironically, he hit his 1st career home run against the Yankees, off Jack Warhop, a massive shot over the right-field roof at the Polo Grounds on May 7, 1915. He helped the Red Sox win the World Series in 1915, 1916 and 1918. In 1915, had there been a Rookie of the Year award in those days, he would have won it for the American League (going 18-8 with a 2.44 ERA). In 1916, he was the best lefthanded pitcher in baseball (23-12, a league-leading 1.75). In 1917, he was the best pitcher, period (24-13, 2.01). In 1918, with World War I taking away a lot of players, he was pitching less and playing the outfield more, but still went 13-7, 2.22. He went 9-5, 2.97 in 1919. As a Yankee, he would make just 5 pitching appearances, but would win them all. His final pitching totals: 94-46, 2.28, WHIP 1.159, ERA+ 122. He might well have been elected to the Hall of Fame if he had stayed a pitcher.

In other words: For 4 years, he was as good a lefthanded pitcher as Randy Johnson. Then, for the next 16 years, he was as good a lefthanded hitter for average as Ted Williams and for power as Barry Bonds -- and the substances he was ingesting (booze and junk food) were by no means performance-enhancing. In 1918, still mainly a pitcher, he led the AL in home runs with 11. In 1919, he broke all existing records by hitting 29.

Acquired By Yankees: The Babe remained "incorrigible" into his 20s -- some would say into his 30s. His off-field life remained wild, and his salary demands got out of control. Sox owner Harry Frazee knew that if he gave in to the Babe's demands, it would look like Ruth was running the team. He had little choice: He had to get rid of him.

The myth that it had anything to do with Frazee's main pursuit, musical theater production, has long since been shattered. Frazee's plays were doing well, and from then until his death in 1929 -- including after he sold the Sox in 1923 -- he was far from broke. His greatest success, No, No, Nanette, didn't hit the Broadway stage until 1925, and the sale of Ruth had absolutely nothing to do with it.

Due to a split in the American League, Frazee could only make deals with 2 other team owners. One was Charlie Comiskey of the Chicago White Sox, and he was a cheapskate, unwilling to pay the Babe what he wanted. The other was Jacob Ruppert of the Yankees, who, like George Steinbrenner over half a century later, didn't care what he had to spend, as long as he won (which would get him his money back). It helped that, in those days before team's had their main offices at the ballpark (due to space limitations), Ruppert's team office and Frazee's theatrical office were in the same building off Times Square.

The deal was made on December 26, 1919, and announced on January 5, 1920. Ruppert got Ruth's contract, while Frazee got $125,000 -- about $1.7 million in today's money -- and a $300,000 personal loan. As collateral for that loan, Frazee put up the Sox' stadium. That's right: From 1920 to 1933, technically, the New York Yankees owned Fenway Park. (The loan was paid back when Tom Yawkey bought the Red Sox.)

His first game as a Yankee was on April 14, 1920, at Shibe Park in Philadelphia. He went 2-for-4, but drove in no runs, and the Yankees lost to the Philadelphia Athletics 3-1.

Uniform Number(s) as a Yankee: 3. He was with the Yankees in 1929, when they first wore numbers, then set according to their place in the batting order. Ruth batted 3rd, and Lou Gehrig batted 4th. Pitchers and bench players were then arranged according to seniority. By the time he left the Yankees prior to the 1935 season, this had been dropped. He played his last season with the Boston Braves, and they also gave him 3. As a coach with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1938, they gave him 35.

Yankee Achievements Include: Where do I start? He holds the Yankee records for batting average in a season (.393 in 1923) and in a career (.349 -- .342 overall). He holds the Yankee records for home runs in a season (60 in 1927) and in a career (659 of his 714). He never won the Triple Crown, but he did win a batting title, batting .378 in 1924. He led the league in home runs 12 times. He led it in RBIs 5 times, although that stopped when Gehrig blossomed -- Gehrig had Ruth to drive in, the Babe didn't. But he still drove in at least 100 runs 13 times. His career slugging percentage of .690, his career OPS of 1.164, and his career OPS+ of 206 are tops all-time.

It wasn't just how many home runs he hit, it was how far: Ruth hit homers with greater regularity and distance than anyone had ever seen before. He hit what may have been the longest home runs in the histories of the old Yankee Stadium (though that also could have been Mickey Mantle), the Polo Grounds (though that also could have been Mel Ott), Fenway Park (though that also could have been Ted Williams), Comiskey Park in Chicago (thought that also could have been Mantle or Jimmie Foxx), Shibe Park in Philadelphia (though that also could have been Foxx or Dick Allen, and the park was later renamed Connie Mack Stadium), Sportsman's Park in St. Louis, League Park in Cleveland, what would eventually be named Tiger Stadium in Detroit (though that also could have been Mantle), Wrigley Field in Chicago (his "called shot" was said to be the longest home run ever hit in Chicago to that point, although Dave Kingman has been credited with a longer one there since) and Forbes Field in Pittsburgh (his 714th and last).

Bill Jenkinson, a baseball historian, compared the fence distances of the 8 AL parks of 1921 to those used by the same franchises in 2006, and said that, with the 2006 distances, instead of 59 home runs, the Babe would have hit 104. So Jenkinson titled his book The Year Babe Ruth Hit 104 Home Runs.

His career on-base percentage of .474 is 2nd all-time to Ted Williams, who, in his book Ted Williams' Hit List, named the Babe Number 1 on his list of the Top 25 Greatest Hitters. In other words, the man who wanted people to point to him and say, "There goes the greatest hitter who ever lived" said that the greatest hitter who ever lived was Babe Ruth. (Though it's worth noting that Ted did not rank himself on his own list. He was vain, but not that vain.)

As for team achievements: Before the Babe, the Yankees had finished a close 2nd in 1904, and distant 2nds in 1906 and 1910, but had never won a Pennant. They finished a close 2nd in 1920 and 1924, and won Pennants in 1921, 1922, 1923, 1926, 1927, 1928 and 1932. The Babe was proud of appearing in what was then a record 10 World Series, and he won 7 of them. In addition to the 3 he won in Boston, he won 1923, 1927, 1928 and 1932 in New York.

While the original Yankee Stadium wasn't literally "The House That Ruth Built" -- he wasn't a construction worker of any kind, not a carpenter or a steelworker or a truck driver -- the tickets the Yankees sold to see him hit home runs at the Polo Grounds in 1920, '21 and '22 brought enough revenue that Ruppert could afford to spend the money necessary to build it. It is worth noting that Ruth didn't play in Yankee Stadium with the shape familiar to so many newsreels: The triple decks weren't extended around the left-field pole until 1928, right after his 60-homer season; and they weren't extended around the right-field pole until 1937, after he'd retired.

Highest Salary: $80,000, first received in 1930. That's worth about $1.14 million in today's money. At the time, the President of the United States was Herbert Hoover, who'd just presided over the stock market crash. He was making $75,000 a year. (About $1.07 million -- compare to Barack Obama's $400,000.) Told he would be making more money than the President, the Babe said, "Hell, I had a better year than he did." He was right.

Something you should know about him, if you don’t already: Babe Ruth was Amish! Okay, "Amish" indicates he practiced their faith, and he certainly didn't: However short of its ideals he frequently fell, the Babe was a lifelong member of the Roman Catholic Church, from birth to last rites. But his family, on both sides, were German immigrants who had settled in Pennsylvania before moving down the Susquehanna River to Baltimore, He may not have been of the Amish faith, but, ethnically, he was "Pennsylvania Dutch."

Left Yankees: Given his release prior to the 1935 season, so he could play for, become assistant manager of, and become a small part-owner of, the Boston Braves. The Yankees made it clear that he would never managed them, so he asked for his release so he could find another team to manage one day. The Yankees and the Braves worked it out. 

His last game as a Yankee was on September 30, 1934, at Griffith Stadium in Washington, going 0-for-3 in a 5-3 Yankee loss to the Washington Senators.

After He Was a Yankee: It soon became obvious that the Braves were only using him to sell tickets, and they had no intention of letting him manage, either. The Babe's elbow was injured, restraining his hitting. Although he hit 3 home runs in a game in Pittsburgh on May 24, 1935, that was it. He retired a few days later, after tripping in the outfield in a game in Philadelphia.

He coached with the Dodgers in 1938, and batted in exhibitions for war bond drives in 1942 in 1943. In the former, he went up against Walter Johnson, and hit a drive down the right field line, the only time he ever hit one into the fully-extended upper deck at Yankee Stadium -- but it was just foul. Realizing that was probably as good as it was going to get at his age, he rounded the bases anyway. He went to a lot of games, and played a lot of golf. He also loved to bowl, and, in those days, it was rare for men to bowl or swing a golf club lefthanded, but he did both.

But in 1946, he developed cancer. It wasn't the drinking, or the womanizing, or the awful driving that did him in: It was the smoking. He was never actually told he had cancer -- the word was considered a death sentence and completely demoralizing then -- but when he was admitted to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Hospital, he said, "Isn't that the hospital for cancer?" He was told, "Cancer and allied diseases." The Babe wasn't particularly sophisticated, and he had what we would now call attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, but he wasn't stupid. He was told that there were experimental treatments available, that might not help him much, but could be adapted to help others, and he agreed to accept them, including a combination of chemotherapy and a derivative of folic acid.

Among the treatment he received was the removal of a vocal chord. Commissioner Albert B. "Happy" Chandler declared April 27, 1947 Babe Ruth Day throughout the game, and the Babe was invited to a ceremony at Yankee Stadium. He opened by saying, "You know how pained my voice sounds? Well, it feels just as bad." But that was the end of him feeling sorry for himself in front of the massive crowd. He spoke of how important baseball is to boys, and he called it "the only real game, I think, in the world" -- in spite of his being a fan of football, and enjoying golf and bowling. He closed by thanking everyone for the "so many lovely things said about me."

On June 5, 1948, he went to Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, to donate his personal papers to the school. He met with the Captain of the Yale baseball team, 1st baseman and future President George H.W. Bush. The Babe had previously played in exhibition games at Yale Field, now one of the oldest remaining current or former professional ballparks (opened in 1926).

He made one more appearance at Yankee Stadium, on June 13, 1948, as part of ceremonies for The Stadium's 25th Anniversary. He wore his uniform for the last time, and his Number 3 was retired -- having been worn in the interim by George Selkirk (1935-42), Bud Metheny (1943-46), Hal Peck (1946), Eddie Bockman (1946), Roy Weatherly (1946), Frank Colman (1947), Allie Clark (1947) and Cliff Mapes (1948; Mapes would also be the last Yankee to wear Number 7 before it was given to Mickey Mantle).

On July 26, 1948, he attended the premiere of The Babe Ruth Story, based on his recent as-told-to memoir. It's been called one of the worst baseball movies ever made, and even the Babe agreed, leaving halfway through. After that, he said, "All my obligations are over. I'm going to take it easy now." But soon, he was back in the hospital for good.

Died: August 16, 1948, at Sloan-Kettering in New York, from throat cancer, at 53. His open casket was placed in the home plate gate of Yankee Stadium, and, despite 100-degree heat, over 100,000 people viewed it, including young men who had been boys seeing him play, holding up their own sons, some of them babies who would never remember, just so they could tell their sons, "You saw Babe Ruth." The next day, it poured, but another 100,000 people lined the streets outside St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan -- which would also host the funeral of Billy Martin.

Ruth -- as is Martin -- is buried at Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne, Westchester County, New York. Next door, albeit in the next town over, Valhalla -- is Kensico Cemetery, where Gehrig, Ruppert and Yankee general manager Ed Barrow are laid to rest.

Monument Dedicated: April 19, 1949, on Opening Day of the season after he died.

Baseball Hall of Fame: Elected by the Baseball Writers Association of America in their first-ever vote, in 1936.

Other Honors: 161st Street outside Yankee Stadium -- first the old, then the new -- was named Babe Ruth Plaza. Statues of him are outside Oriole Park at Camden Yards and inside the lobby of the Hall of Fame. Just a 5-minute walk from Camden Yards, the rowhouse where he was born is now the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Baltimore Orioles Museum, dedicated to the Babe's life, the major league version of the Orioles (the former St. Louis Browns replaced the minor-league version in 1954), and baseball in general in the State of Maryland. A plaque in the Babe's memory was placed in the lobby of the major league Orioles' 1st home, Memorial Stadium, and has been moved to Camden Yards. In 1973, the U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp of him -- making him the 1st American athlete so honored.

In 1969, in connection with the 100th Anniversary of professional baseball, a poll was taken, and the Babe was named the Greatest Player Ever. In 1999, The Sporting News named him Number 1 on their list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players -- their editor admitting that the debate was always about Numbers 2 through 100, never Number 1. That same year, he was easily named to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team.

Depictions: Played himself in The Pride of the Yankees. Played by William Bendix in The Babe Ruth Story, Stephen Lang in the 1991 NBC-TV movie Babe Ruth, and John Goodman in the 1992 theatrical release The Babe. Goodman may have been the only actor who ever had to lose weight to play Babe Ruth. Art LaFleur, who also played Chick Gandil in Field of Dreams, played the Babe's ghost in The Sandlot.

Quote of Note: "There's been so many lovely things said about me, and I'm glad that I've got the opportunity to thank everybody. Thank you."