Babe Ruth as Pro Wrestling Ref

Recently we at BRC learned something new about the Babe in an article we came across.

Ruth was forever a showman. And what better venue for an entertainer than a wrestling ring? Did you know that Babe’s resume also included a brief stint as a professional wrestling referee?

Wrestling is always looking for unique marketing opportunities, including inviting non-wrestling celebrities to the ring. Babe in 1945 was still as famous as ever and a perfect fit. At that time, Babe was 50 years old and likely restless in retirement, particularly considering that no Major League Baseball teams were calling to offer him a manager’s job. Babe was looking for opportunities to continue to connect with fans after his baseball days and this felt like as good a way as any. And so, Ruth agreed to referee shows in Portland, Maine, and Boston, MA.

Ruth also had apparently refereed matches occasionally during his baseball-playing career. When asked by the the Milwaukee Journal why he was going to ref wrestling matches in Portland and Boston, Ruth responded, “You know, I’m no rookie in that league. I must have refereed at least 10 wrestling shows while I was in baseball.” Back during 1920 spring training with the Yankees, Ruth reffed his first match which was a middleweight title bout between Jack Wagner and Paul Bowser. Bowser later acknowledged that Ruth had actually done a good job officiating that day.

Whether it was on the baseball field or a wrestling ring, Babe still drew a crowd. On Monday, April 2, 1945, the match between Manuel Cortez and Leo Numa in Portland, ME was nearly sold out. In the end it was the Babe that most fans were interested in seeing.

Numa was considered the “good guy”, while his opponent, Cortez, was known as an aggressive brute. Cortez kept Ruth busy during the match and he had to call him out multiple times. In fact, at one point Cortez went after Ruth with a punch, which the Babe avoided. Ultimately Cortez was disqualified and it appeared that Cortez and the Babe would do battle. Ultimately, tempers calmed and the show was over.

Babe Ruth as a wrestling referee in 1945

Babe Ruth as a wrestling referee in 1945

A couple days later, Ruth made his appearance in Boston – a match between former heavyweight title winner Steve “Crusher” Casey and Sandor Szabo, who’s trademark move was known as the “Death Swing”.

He was in for a stiff challenge. His opponent had an unsettling arsenal, including a move dubbed the “Death Swing.” Apparently, Ruth got pretty involved in the match, at one point putting Szabo in a headlock when he tried to put an illegal hold on Casey. At another point, Ruth barely missed a foot to the chin. Casey ultimately won the match after an hour bout.

There was a lot of interest from wrestling promoters to keep Ruth in the ring for more reffing gigs and it could have been a big financial opportunity for Ruth; however, Babe ultimately decided to hang up his striped officiating shirt for good after the match in Boston. We intend to followup with Babe’s daughter, Julia Ruth Stevens, to see if she has any more insights into Babe’s wresting ref career and why he decided not to pursue it any further.

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