Babe Ruth’s Effect on American Culture
Although he died in 1948, over the course of time, Babe seems to continue to live on in the hearts of fans. On April 8, 1974, one of the most significant moments in baseball history occurred, when Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s career homerun record of 714. For Mr. Aaron, this should have been a totally joyous, crowning achievement of his baseball career and life. Unfortunately, however, there was a significant amount of people who negatively responded to his great achievement (It should be noted that this was also experienced, to a lesser degree, by Roger Maris, when he broke Babe’s single-season homerun mark in 1961).
Tom Stanton, who wrote the book “Hank Aaron and the Homerun that Changed America”, even acknowledged, “There was that element that didn’t want Aaron to break the record because he was African American, but there were many more people, I think, who just had such cherished memories of Babe Ruth that they just didn’t want anybody breaking the record. He was such a beloved character in American history.” That was how strong Babe’s achievements and persona had become ingrained in American culture.
This same phenomenon was recently repeated, when baseball fans saw a similar response to Barry Bonds’ eclipse of Babe’s career homerun mark. Although there were different reasons for a lot of the negative sentiment towards Bonds as he was approaching the Babe’s mark, a portion of the response was still very similar to Aaron’s defining moment. A lot of fans simply didn’t want another player breaking Babe’ mark – a clear sign of their loyalty to the Babe, as well as their desire to ensure his continued prominence in baseball history.
When BRC asked Julia Ruth Stevens, Babe’s daughter, how Babe would respond to Aaron and Bonds breaking his career homerun mark, she said, “He would have been fine with it. Daddy used to always say, ‘Records are made to be broken.’”
So how and why does the Babe continue to have a presence in our lives? Perhaps it’s a result of stories passed down through generations of how the Babe somehow touched the lives of parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and so on. Or, perhaps it’s the stories captured in the numerous books or articles that continue to be published throughout the decades.
Perhaps it’s the even the multiple TV commercials that continue to feature the Babe years after his death: in 1998, a “Claymation” Babe was featured as a character in a Lipton Ice Tea commercial; in 2005, Bud-Lite humorously reenacted the “Called Shot” homerun; and, as recently as the summer of 2006, a commercial for DHL portrayed Babe Ruth on a plaque on the wall boasting the number of hot dogs he ate in his lifetime to other famous stars such as Cal Ripken and Honus Wagner.
Perhaps it’s the ongoing references about and comparisons to the Babe still made frequently on sports news shows. Or, maybe it’s a result of the number of films that focus on his life: a number of documentaries, two feature films and a TV movie have been made on the Babe (some more successful and accurate, than others). In fact, an animated children’s movie was just released in September 2006 called, “Everybody’s Hero”, which is a story of a boy’s journey to try and reclaim the stolen bat of his hero, Babe Ruth.
Perhaps it’s even the lexicon that has grown out of Babe’s impact on American culture, with phrases such as “the most Ruthian of…” and “the Babe Ruth of…” still being sprinkled in all types of contexts.
At the end of the day, it’s probably a little of all of the elements mentioned above that contribute to the Ruth’s ongoing effect on the baseball fan. But one thing is for certain, it requires a unique and special hero to continue to have the effect that Babe Ruth still has today.
Mike Gibbons, Executive Director of the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum in Baltimore, shared some of his sentiments with BRC regarding the Babe’s lasting presence, “At the celebration of various milestones of the Babe, like his birth or death or a significant homerun, you’ll find that fans will send things to the museum or come hereor to his gravesite in New York to leave mementos. You know, people are always trying to find a way to link up with Babe Ruth. We get calls and letters and emails all the time from people that have a special affinity for him. – it demonstrates so clearly, the passion that America’s fans have for this guy.”
There are dozens, if not hundreds, of stories of how Babe impacted someone’s life. Do you also have a story of how Babe touched you or someone in your family? Tell us your stories and you may be featured here as well!