The Babe Ruth Homerun Award
You may have never heard of the Babe Ruth Homerun Award. It is not an award that has been sponsored by a big corporation. It is not an award that has the endorsement of the baseball powers that be.
It is an award and a concept that was created out of the passion that two ultimate fans had for their sports hero. It is the most professional and passionate of unofficial awards.
The concept of the Babe Ruth Homerun Award was developed by brothers Jim and Brian Sullivan, both big baseball fans from the Boston area. Jim was the sculptor, while Brian focused on the marketing concept of turning this great bronze statue of the Babe into the annual Babe Ruth Homerun Award, given to the baseball player who hits the most homeruns in the Major Leagues in a season.
This is the story of how the statue and the award came to be, in Brian Sullivan’s own words:
“My brother and I are big art collectors. And, my brother Jimmy is a very, very talented artist himself who had delved into a lot of different art mediums, but it turns out that he never sculpted anything in his life. So at one point, we took a course in foundry and he started out in clay, using dental tools and popsicle sticks. Then, he got some proper tools and it took him eight months to complete his first piece – which ended up being this great statue of Babe Ruth. He hadn’t done anything before or since, but it turned out to be quite a work of art.
Jimmy had decided he wanted to do a statue of the Babe and I said ‘Okay, well why don’t you finish it and then we’ll shop it around New York to see who would be interested in funding a life-size version.’ I tried for 2 years with no luck. So when that didn’t work out, I started working on some other ideas.
I considered licensing it and selling it as a piece of artwork, but then I thought, ‘Major League Baseball should recognize Babe more than they do. Baseball survived after the 1919 Black Sox Scandal because of the Babe. He put people back in the seats and, everything he did, he did for baseball.’ So the more I thought about it, I thought this piece should become a trophy for Major League Baseball and it should be given out to the Major League’s homerun leader. Babe Ruth led the league in homeruns 12 times, so I thought the idea made a lot of sense.
So we spent a good deal of time coming up with a great idea and, then the first year we tried to promote it (1999 for the 1998 season), it happened to coincide with the year that Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were going at it and Mark McGwire won the homerun race. So we contacted McGwire’s agent who was open to the idea of the award and we got in touch with Julia Ruth Stevens, Babe’s daughter, who agreed to come to St. Louis to present the Award. And except for the 1999 league leader, where we didn’t have enough money to fund it, we’ve been presenting it, along with the Babe Ruth Family, ever year since.”
The homerun leaders since the inception of the Babe Ruth Homerun Award, and its recipients, have been as follows:
- Mark McGwire, St. Louis Cardinals (70)
- Award presented in a 1999 pre-game ceremony at Busch Stadium
- Mark McGwire, St. Louis Cardinals (65)
- Award not presented due to lack of funding
- Sammy Sosa, Chicago Cubs (63)
- Award presented in a 2001 pre-game ceremony at Wrigley Field.
- Barry Bonds, San Francisco Giants (73)
- Award presented in a 2002 pre-game ceremony at Pac Bell Park.
- Alex Rodriguez, Texas Rangers (57)
- Award presented in a 2003 pre-game ceremony at Ameriquest Field.
- Alex Rodriguez, Texas Rangers* & Jim Thome, Philadelphia Phillies (tied for 47)
- Award presented in 2004 pre-game ceremonies to Alex Rodriguez at Yankee Stadium and to Jim Thome at Citizens Bank Park.
- Adrian Beltre, Los Angeles Dodgers* (48)
- Award presented in a 2005 pre-game ceremony at Safeco Field.
- Andruw Jones, Atlanta Braves (51)
- Award presented in a 2006 pre-game ceremony at Turner Field.
- Ryan Howard, Philadelphia Phillies (58)
- Award presented in a 2007 pre-game ceremony at Citizens Bank Park.
- Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees (54)
- Award presented in a 2008 pre-game ceremony at Yankee Stadium
* Note: At the time that Alex Rodriguez received the 2003 award in 2004, he had joined the New York Yankees. At the time that Adrian Beltre received the award in 2005, he had joined the Seattle Mariners.
Before the pre-game ceremony for Andruw Jones in 2006, BRC had a chance to sit down with Brian Sullivan to ask a few questions about the Sullivans’ Award and the passion that they have for the Babe:
BRC Q1: “So why is the Babe so important to you?”
BS A1: “My brother Jimmy doesn’t remember his first memory about the Babe. My first memories of the Babe go back to those scholastic books that they used to have in school and I always remember a black and white photo of the Babe. I was always a bit infatuated with him.
I think I always loved him because of the way he was with kids. He was an exceptional athlete and an exceptional individual. He was the first superstar in America and he was someone that everyone could take a liking to and not a lot of athletes are like that today. He was a very giving person and always gave back to the kids and thought of them first. A pretty admirable person I would say.”
BRC Q2: “What has been his impact on the game of baseball?”
BS A2: “His name still carries on, still rings true. You hear it everywhere – I heard ‘Ruthian feats’ on TV just the other day. He was easily the greatest ballplayer that ever played. He left a lot of records for people to strive for and he’s highly regarded throughout the sport. A lot of players would love to be like him and everyone else could shoot for him, but I don’t think there will ever be another Babe Ruth.”
BRC Q3: “What has been your favorite Award ceremony thus far?”
BS A3: “Believe it or not, the guy who was the nicest and seemed to enjoy the award the most, was Barry Bonds. It turned out that, at the time that we were planning to present the award in 2002, Bonds had just broken the 600 homerun mark about a week before. So what happened was the Giants merged their ceremony for Bond’s 600th homerun with our ceremony. It was pretty exciting.
Little did I know, they had us, myself and Tom Stevens, Babe’s grandson on the field with Larry Behr, CEO of the Giants. They had John Miller, who does ESPN Baseball on Sunday nights and broadcasts for the Giants, emceeing that night. Also, it turned out that they had invited Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Frank Robinson to come speak and, of course, they had Barry Bonds. It was just a first class event from start to finish. Everyone in the stands couldn’t say enough about how great it was.”
BRC Q4: “Are you still looking for a sponsor for the Award?”
BS A4: “My own belief is that anyone that could have the opportunity would want to associate their name with Babe Ruth and the homerun. It’s the biggest individual accomplishment in sports. Whether it be the most goals scored in hockey, being the scoring champ in the NBA or the most touchdowns in football, the most recognizable athlete is the guy that hits the most homeruns. Every night, whether it be ESPN or Fox Network, that’s all they show. It would be crazy if someone didn’t want to associate their name with the Babe.
We’re hoping at some point, someone will be interested in creating a charitable foundation to support the Award, but at this point we’ve had no such luck. It’s been a ton of work and, if it wasn’t Babe Ruth, I probably would have packed it in a long time ago. But this is the right thing to do. I mean it’s a real work of art and everybody loves it. The players love getting it. I remember Alex Rodriguez’s response when he got it and all he said was, ‘Wow!’ It’s been a lot of fun and it’s great presenting it with the Ruth family.”
It should be noted that the Sullivans continue to personally fund the trophy. Each statue requires about a month and a half of time, as well as 12 people’s efforts to make, and costs about $4,000. The value of the trophy has been estimated at $50,000 by an art appraiser.