Monday, July 30, 2007

The Big Bam: the Life and Times of Babe Ruth

Book Jacket

The Big Bam: the life and times of Babe Ruth is not simply a spicy, tabloid biography. Nor is it simply a book of stats. Leigh Montville does an excellent job of showing the historical importance of Babe to the game itself. Babe’s use of the long ball did revolutionize the strategy, the skills, the very core of the game, but the long ball was not the only revolutionary change Babe brought to baseball.

Christy Walsh was one of the first PR men specializing in sports. He arranged for ghost writers to pen the Babe’s instructions for young boys in Boy’s Life, write instructional books, and newspaper pieces. He arranged for Babe to analyze games on the radio. Farther a field, he brokered parts in movies and fund raising dinners for his wildly popular client. Of greater importance, he repeatedly glued the national icon’s reputation together after Babe broke it on the diamond or on the streets.

During the height of the depression Ruth signed a one year baseball contract with the Yankees to play for $52,000. If Ruth didn’t introduce big money to sports he certainly ensured that the two would have a long, albeit stormy, relationship.

In 1925 Babe’s off-field excesses reached a tipping point. He found his body folding under the alcohol, all meat diet and late nights. He checked into the gym of dietician and physical fitness guru Artie McGovern for physical rehabilitation. After six weeks of working out with small weights, boxing and rowing machines, the Babe lost 44 pounds. “His blood pressure went from 107 to 128. His pulse rate from 92 to 78.” He returned to the diamond that season and the Yankees went to the World Series. The athlete/celebrity personal trainer had arrived.

Montville also attempts to shed light on the myths that surround the myth laden life of the Babe. We’ll never know for sure if the Babe really called that immortal shot at Wrigley Field in the 1932 World Series. But Montville does unearth why the Babe would have made such a move. He’s on more certain, if more controversial, ground when discussing Boston Red Sox owner Harry Frazee’s sale of the Babe to New York.

For decades baseball purists have argued why Frazee sold the slugger. (“He sold the Babe for money to open No, no Nanette! The bum!”) Researchers have pointed out that the musical didn’t debut on Broadway until 1925. “That was more than five years after the deal for Ruth. How could the two events be connected?” (Frazee is innocent!) Well, according to Montville, Frazee did sell Ruth in order to produce a play called “My lady friends”. Five years later this play was set to music and called…”No, no Nanette.”

And baseball stories. What baseball book, let alone a biography, would be complete without baseball stories? You think of outrageous baseball stories and you think of the Babe. After all, His whole life was an outrageous tale. Montville includes a cornucopia of tales to make you laugh, cry and yes blush.

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