There are few American legends like Babe Ruth. His exploits—both on and off the field—are legendary, and baseball hasn’t seen a star quite like him since. From his home runs to his hard-living personal life, here are 50 facts about the Great Bambino himself.
1. Babe the Baby
“Babe” Ruth’s name was really George Herman Ruth, Jr. Born in 1895 in Baltimore, Maryland, little George had a classic working-class upbringing. His father worked odd jobs and eventually owned his own business, all while the young Ruth grew up in his maternal grandfather’s home.
2. Getting Away With Murder
Ruth was part of the fabled 1927 New York Yankees’ line-up called “The Murderers’ Row” for their terrifying prowess and power. Another famous “Murderer”? The legendary Lou Gehrig, just to name one.
Ruth was famously left-handed. When he started his burgeoning baseball career as a young boy, he often had to wear the more standard and available right-hand gloves on his left hand.
4. Acting out
Ruth’s parents split up when he was young, and the breakup had a lasting effect on the little boy. His father was busy and somewhat inattentive, and Ruth started acting out by skipping school and spending his days on the streets. Ruth himself even admitted that as a boy, he liked to sneak beer when his father couldn’t see.
As his biographer Robert W. Creamer put it, Ruth “was one of the great natural misbehavers of all time.”
5. Wasted Youth
Despite these tidbits, much of the legend’s childhood is shrouded in mystery. We know Ruth’s family sent the troublesome youngster to the strict reformatory St. Mary’s Industrial School when he was seven, but we don’t know the exact reasons why. Some accounts say there was a violent incident with his father, but either way, his school record stated he was “incorrigible.”
6. By Any Other Name
Throughout his unprecedented career, people called Ruth a nearly endless string of epic nicknames. Some of the most memorable were “The Great Bambino,” The Sultan of Swat,” “The Behemoth of Bust”…I think you get the point.
7. Famous First
Babe Ruth was one of the first five players elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
8. Tub Thumping
At the height of his stardom, Ruth was known for outrageous personal excess, surpassed only by the astonishing lengths of his legendary home runs. His young teammate Waite Hoyt remembered following Ruth up to his suite night after night, only to be greeted with the same reliable sight. As Hoyt said, “No matter what the town, the beer would be iced and the bottles would fill the bathtub.”
As other roommates noted Ruth’s penchant for nightlife, a common saying became “I don’t room with Ruth, I room with his suitcase.”
9. Lost Innocence
After he enrolled at St. Mary’s, Ruth’s carefree, rebellious childhood all but died on the vine. His mother tragically died when he was 12, but St. Mary’s only allowed Ruth time to attend her funeral before he had to come right back to the reformatory. Is it any wonder he had angry energy to burn when it came to hitting homers?
10. Forgive Me Father for I Have Sinned
Though he was infamous for his carousing and partying, Ruth was still a Catholic through and through—especially when it came to Catholic guilt. He would often pull all-nighters on the weekend, only to pull into Sunday Mass the next morning and repent for his sins. Then, presumably, he’d do it all over again the next weekend.
11. Those Who Can’t Teach, Do
Rising up in the ranks of baseball, Ruth played basically every position, but he first gained fame as a pitcher—and he was also none too humble about his talent. A young Ruth would stand at the side of the field at St. Mary’s and snidely laugh at the other kids’ pitching abilities. Finally, his coach asked him if he thought he could do better, only to watch as Ruth proved without a doubt that yeah, he definitely could.
12. Sweet Ruth
The “Baby Ruth” candy bar is an iconic confectionary associated with the baseball player—but don’t tell that to the company that makes the chocolate. They claim they named it after Ruth Cleveland, President Grover Cleveland’s daughter. Most people, however, believe this was just a way to use Babe Ruth’s name without paying.
13. Rookie Ruth
In 1914, Ruth signed with the Baltimore Orioles, then a minor league team. Although the reported circumstances of his signing are varied and mysterious, Ruth himself claimed Orioles owner/manager Jack Dunn only needed to see him play for a mere half an hour before signing the papers.
14. You Remind Me of the Babe
Why was Babe Ruth called “Babe”? The nickname started in his first year in the minor leagues. Teammates called him “Dunnie’s babe” because he was so new to the team —and also incredibly naïve. His train ride to Fayetteville, North Carolina for training was likely his first outside of Baltimore, and he barely knew how to conduct himself in restaurants or other public places.
15. The Big Leagues
On July 11, 1914, Ruth started playing in the major leagues, joining the Boston Red Sox. Though he won his first-ever game, his subsequent performances were tepid, and fans mostly ignored the newbie—for the time being, anyway.
16. Teenage Dream
In 1914, just as he was starting his major-league career, Ruth met his first wife Helen Woodford after she served him as a waitress in a local coffee shop. While Ruth was just 19 years old, Woodford was even younger at 16. Nonetheless, the teenage lovebirds married just months later, in the same year that they met.
17. Going to Bat
Ruth didn’t exactly get along with his new teammates on the Red Sox. The more experienced players thought rookies should be seen and not heard, but the brash and loud Ruth had other ideas. So when he insisted on having batting practice even though he started as a pitcher, his teammates put him in his place with a brutal prank.
Ruth arrived at the batting cage one day only to find that the other players had sawn all of his bats in half. Of course, Ruth would get them back by becoming one of the most renowned home run hitters of all time.
18. A Stitch in Time
Ruth’s hard-knock childhood taught him a few things, including how to tailor shirts. Even when he was making big money as a baseball star, he still took pride in mending his own shirts.
19. Can’t Please Everyone
While he played for the Red Sox, Ruth’s teammates scornfully called him “The Big Baboon”—a nickname he absolutely detested.
20. Guilty Pleasure
Ruth was not faithful to Helen Woodford by any stretch of the imagination. He loved his fame and his nights out, but most of all he loved the women that came along with them. Reportedly, when a manager told him to get on the straight and narrow, Ruth replied, “I’ll promise to go easier on drinking and to get to bed earlier, but not for you, fifty thousand dollars, or two-hundred and fifty thousand dollars will I give up women. They’re too much fun.”
21. Let the Record Play
It goes without saying that Ruth held a staggering number of records—some of them still standing even today—but he had only one personal favorite. In 1918, Ruth pitched just shy of 30 scoreless World Series innings, a record that held strong for a whopping 40 years, until well after his death. He was more proud of this feat than any of his batting successes.
22. Hit or Miss
Ruth got to be such a home-run heavy hitter that it didn’t even matter if he actually hit the ball; even his lapses were famous to the people who started coming out in droves to see him play. As one writer commented, “When Ruth misses a swipe at the ball, the stands quiver.”
23. Empire State of Mind
We know Ruth best today for his tenure with the New York Yankees—after all, nothing goes together quite as well as Babe Ruth and those iconic Yank pinstripes. According to lore, in 1919 Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert asked his manager Miller Huggins what it would take to make the team successful. Having just seen Ruth’s colossal season with the Sox, Huggins replied simply, “Get Ruth from Boston.”
He got his wish: Ruth was signed to the team just after Christmas, 1919.
24. Stealing Bases
Boston sold Ruth to the New York Yankees for an incredible $100,000; up to that point, it was the biggest sum ever paid for a baseball player. Yet for all that moolah, most people considered it an absolute bargain of a deal. As one sportswriter put it, “The Yankees had pulled off the sports steal of the century.”
25. Give the People What They Want
It’s difficult to overstate just how dominant Babe Ruth was in his sport, but try to wrap your head around this: He was the very first player to hit home runs in all the eight ballparks in the league.
26. Whatever Babe Wants, Babe Gets
Depending on whom you ask, Ruth’s trade from Boston to New York had even darker consequences—namely, the infamous “Curse of the Bambino.” Before trading Ruth, Boston won five of 16 World Series; after, they wouldn’t win another for nearly a century. New York, meanwhile, got a sudden stroke of “luck.”
Before Ruth, the Yanks had won exactly zero American League championships. Once they had him? Seven pennants, baby—not to mention four World Series.
27. Fatal Flaw
Whether he was behind or in front of the ball, curveballs were Ruth’s Achilles’ heel. As a young pitcher, he had an obvious tell whenever he was about to throw a curve: He would stick out his tongue slightly. Then, while he was at bat in the 1922 World Series against the New York Giants, his opponents defeated him by relentlessly throwing him curveballs.
28. Lucky Number Seven
Ruth won a staggering seven World Series Championships. The first was with the Boston Red Sox in 1915 (though he was no star player at the time), and the last was in 1932 with, of course, the New York Yankees.
29. The Battle of the Bulge
Probably thanks to his penchant for bathtubs full of beer, Ruth struggled with his weight. At his leanest, he clocked in around 200 pounds, but often swelled to 260 when he wasn’t on his game. Frustrated managers prescribed exercise and sauna time—but after a period of compliance, Ruth usually went right back to his hot dogs and pints. Honestly? This is relatable content.
30. I Built This City
The legendary Yankee Stadium was nicknamed “The House That Ruth Built.” Babe helped bless it with the moniker in 1923 after giving the building its inaugural home run. Of course, it was designed with him in mind: The stadium’s fences and architecture purposefully made it easier for left-handed hitters to hit homers.
31. Dictionary Definition
Ruth was so great, he even changed language. In sports, to be “Ruthian” means to be “colossal, dramatic, prodigious, magnificent; with great power.”
32. The Home Run King
The most home runs Babe Ruth ever got in one season of his career? 60. Let that sink in for a minute. Six-tee. After he did it, Ruth reportedly crowed, “Sixty! Let’s see some son of a [bleep] try to top that one.” Can you blame him?
33. Calling It Quits
By 1926, Woodford and Ruth’s marriage was all but over. Though they had one adopted daughter together, Dorothy, the union suffered from the baseball player’s many infidelities, and they made their last public appearance together at the 1926 World Series.
34.The Golden Age
The 1927 Yanks remain the gold standard for the summer game. Not only did Ruth achieve his 60 home-run career-high that year, the team also won the World Series. Years later, baseball historian Marty Appel wrote about the time, “The 1927 New York Yankees. Even today, the words inspire awe…all baseball success is measured against the ’27 team.”
35. The Dawn of a New Era
Legends are made, not born. Babe Ruth’s home runs might have drawn crowds to stadiums in droves—but there was another secret to his success. His natural talent was helped along by the famed “live ball” change early in his career, where manufacturers started making lighter, faster balls thanks to machine efficiency.
As a result, home runs became easier to achieve just as big, burly Ruth was hitting his stride, turning the game into an electrifying spectacle and Ruth into an icon.
36. Earning His Stripes
According to an apocryphal but entertaining legend, the Yankees put pinstripes on their jerseys just to make Babe Ruth look slimmer (though, to be a party-pooper, they started wearing the stripes before Ruth joined the team).
37. For Cash and Country
In 1930, salary negotiations between Ruth and the Yankees broke down spectacularly. To the Yanks’ great chagrin, Ruth demanded $85,000 dollars for three years—a salary that far out-ranked even the annual income of sitting President Herbert Hoover. When asked why he thought he deserved more than the President of the United States, Ruth gave a legendary reply.
“The President gets a four-year contract,” he said, “I’m only asking for three.” New York eventually compromised and gave him $80,000.
38. Called It
An icon like Ruth has many legends surrounding his career, but maybe none is as epic as “Babe Ruth’s called shot.” In the 1932 World Series, the Yankees faced the Cubs in a bitter grudge match. Cubs’ fans threw lemons at Ruth, booed, and screamed insults every chance they could get. Ruth kept his cool—and according to some, responded with perfect shutdown.
At bat, he pointed to somewhere out in the center-field bleachers, lined up, and hit a home run right where he had just indicated. Sure, it might have been a lucky chance. Then again, it might not.
39. Slow Decline
Sadly, Ruth’s later baseball years showed his advanced age and high living. The Yankees traded him to the Boston Braves in 1935 as a part-time player and vice president. However, bad judgements and physical flubs often washed away any promising old glimmers of greatness. He was also out of shape and could barely run the bases.
Eventually, he made so many errors that his fellow pitchers refused to play if he was on the field.
40. Model Behavior
In 1929, Ruth married his second and final wife, Claire Merritt Hodgson. In many ways, it was a typical second marriage for a superstar: Hodgson was an actress and model.
41. Love Lost
Ruth’s retirement dream was to manage a baseball team, preferably his beloved Yankees, but his hopes never materialized. No team wanted him at the helm; as Yankees General Manager Ed Barrow once said, “How can he manage other men when he can’t even manage himself?” The rejection from the sport he adored reportedly drove Ruth to depression.
42. First Man
In his old age, Ruth still kept setting records, just not good ones. In 1946, doctors found a malignant tumor at the base of his neck after he complained of eye pain and had trouble swallowing. Thanks to his mega-stardom, Ruth became one of the first people—if not the first human subject—to receive radiation treatment in tandem with certain cancer drugs.
43. In the Dark
Despite these treatments, doctors never told Ruth that he was suffering from cancer, as his family was scared of what he might do to himself if he knew the truth. Still, Ruth was no dummy: Before his death, he had pretty well guessed it.
44. The Legend Returns
Ruth’s final public appearance at a ballpark was at his old stomping grounds in Yankee Stadium. He was so weak and gaunt at this point that he had to lean on his bat like a cane. As he did, photographer Nat Fein snapped an iconic, Pulitzer Prize-winning photo of the aged Ruth standing at home plate, looking out onto the field.
45. Mom’s the Word
Ruth had a years-long feud with his Murderers’ Row team member Lou Gehrig, and the reason behind it is utterly ridiculous. Allegedly, Ruth overheard Gehrig’s mother sneering about his daughter Dorothy’s shabby dressing. When Babe then insulted Gehrig’s mother to his face, Gehrig took equal offense.
Both men were so offended, they didn’t speak off the field until after Gehrig famously announced he was suffering from ALS—that is, Lou Gehrig’s disease.
46. A Legitimate Question
In the 1980s, Ruth’s daughter Dorothy dropped a bombshell of a secret. Although Ruth and his first wife Helen Woodford had adopted her, Dorothy claimed she was actually Ruth’s real biological child and that her mother was one of his mistresses, Juanita Jennings. Dorothy had heard it from Juanita herself, who was terminally ill at the time.
47. Calling in Sick
In 1925, a mysterious and terrifying illness plagued Babe Ruth. He suffered a series of collapses and seizures that forced him to miss games, and things got so bad that it was even erroneously reported that he died, resulting in a flurry of false obituaries. To this day, no one knows for sure what the cause of his illness was—but there is one chilling suggestion.
Yankee historian Glenn Stout believes the illness was alcohol and behavior-related, though he acknowledges that the truth remains “one of the most sheltered [secrets] in sports.” Another suggestion from biographer Robert Creamer is that Ruth had surgery on an intestinal abscess.
48. Quit Your Bellyaching
Ruth’s contemporaries were far less understanding of his fragile health and missed games. Sportswriter W.O. McGeehan even unsympathetically claimed Ruth’s sickness was merely the result of a massive pre-game carb and soda binge, leading many to ridicule his mysterious ailments as “the bellyache heard ‘round the world.”
49. Bottom of the Ninth
In 1948, Ruth entered Memorial Hospital and mostly remained there until his death. By the end, thousands of baseball fans were standing vigil outside the building, paying tribute to their hero. Then on August 16, 1948, Babe Ruth finally passed away in his sleep. He was just 53 years old, but he had changed baseball forever.
50. Third Time’s the Charm
Ruth famously wore the number 3 on his jersey, following his batting order; the Yankees retired the number in the wake of his illness and death.