He was so alive, so attractive, like an animal or a child: ingenuous, unselfconscious, appealing. Sportswriter Frank Graham said. "He was a very simple man, in some ways a primitive man. He had little education, and little need for what he had." Sportswriter Tom Meany said he had the supreme self-confidence of the naive. On a stifling hot day at the Washington ball park Babe said to President Harding, "Hot as hell, ain't it, Prez?" He met Marshal Foch when that renowned French hero of World War I was making a tour of the United States early in the 1920s and said politely, "I suppose you were in the war?"
Famous for not remembering names (when Hoyt was leaving the Yankees in 1930 after 11 seasons as Babe's teammate in Boston and New York, Ruth shook hands and said solemnly, "Goodby, Walter"), he had nicknames for other players, not necessarily complimentary ones, either. His teammates were Chicken Neck, Flop Ears, Duck Eye, Horse Nose, Rubber Belly. People he did not know or remember he called Doc or Kid, which he usually pronounced Keed, in the flashy slang of the time. He called older men Pop. older women Mom. Younger women he needed no special name for. He usually called Claire Clara. He himself was called Jidge by the Yankees, a corruption of George that was apparently first used by Dugan.
It was because of Ruth's bulk that Owner Jacob Ruppert decided to dress the Yankees in their now-traditional pinstripe uniform and dark-blue stockings. The natty, clothes-conscious Ruppert felt the new uniform would make Ruth look trimmer. In 1929 the Yankees also adopted uniform numbers. Ruth's was 3 because he batted third; Gehrig's 4 because he batted fourth, and so on.
The Babe understood clearly what he was doing when he batted, despite his habit of saying, "I just keep swinging" when people asked him the secret of hitting home runs. Once, seriously discussing his batting, he said, "I swing as hard as I can, and I try to swing right through the ball. In boxing, your fist usually stops when you hit a man, but it's possible to hit so hard that your fist doesn't stop. I try to follow through the same way. The harder you grip the bat, the more you can swing it through the ball, and the farther the ball will go. I swing big, with everything I've got. I hit big, or I miss big. I like to live as big as I can."
On Friday night, Jan. 11, 1929, afire broke out in the home of Dr. Edward H. Kinder, a dentist who lived at 47 Quincy Street in Watertown, Mass., one of the big towns around Boston that are really part of the city. Someone passing by saw the flames and called the fire department.
When the arriving firemen asked if anyone was in the house, neighbors said fearfully that Mrs. Kinder probably was. Dr. Kinder went to the fights at Boston Garden on Friday nights, they said, and their little girl was away at boarding school. When the flames were under some semblance of control, Fire Captain John Kelly made his way to the second floor of the small frame house. Crawling on hands and knees to avoid the heat and smoke as best he could, he pushed open a bedroom door. A woman in a nightgown lay on the floor. Kelly grabbed her arm and pulled her out of the room and with another fireman carried her downstairs and outside. The firemen tried to revive her, but she was dead.
Dr. Kinder was paged at Boston Garden and told to return home at once. When he reached Quincy Street, saw his house and heard what had happened, he was barely able to answer the questions put to him by Dr. George West, the medical examiner. The death certificate signed by Dr. West said the dead woman's name was Helen Kinder, that she was a housewife and that her husband was Edward H. Kinder. This information appeared in stories tucked away on the inside pages of the next day's Boston newspapers.
Dr. Kinder was stunned that night for a reason beyond the fire and the death, for Helen Kinder was really Helen Ruth, and he knew the Babe would have to be told. Kinder and Helen had been living together for two years—the Sudbury farm, which was in Helen's name, had been sold—and his family was under the impression that they had been married in Montreal. Helen and Dorothy moved into the Watertown house with Kinder after he bought it on May 31, 1927, and the couple was listed in the Watertown city directory as man and wife. Kinder, a veteran of World War I, had gone to Tufts Dental College, graduated in 1924, taught for a couple of years and set up practice late in 1926. He had one office in Back Bay Boston and another in Watertown. He and Helen were accepted without comment in the neighborhood. Dorothy, about six when they moved in, was popular with other children. At the time of her mother's death she was at the Assumption School in Wellesley, Mass. One wonders why she was away at school when she was not yet eight. Perhaps it is significant that four months earlier, on Sept. 10, 1928, Helen was admitted to Carney Hospital in South Boston with another nervous breakdown. The hospital recommended that she be transferred to Ring Sanitarium in Arlington, but on Sept. 18 Helen left Carney abruptly and returned to Watertown.
Kinder had remodeled the Watertown house, adding a sun porch downstairs and a sleeping porch upstairs. According to the fire examiners, the electric wiring added then was improperly installed. Circuits were overloaded, fuses were too strong; when the circuits overheated, the fuses did not blow. The fire began in the living room near a wall outlet and went up through the wall into the floor of the bedroom, where it burned a hole so large that a radiator fell through to the floor below.
Ruth did not hear of Helen's death until more than 24 hours after the fire, when he was with Claire at a small party at Joe Dugan's house in suburban Scarsdale, N.Y. He cried on the phone when he heard the news and decided to go to Boston at once. It was too late for the midnight train from Grand Central, but he was able to catch the through train from Washington at Penn Station at 1:15 a.m. He phoned Boston and spoke to a friend named Arthur Crowley, asking him to meet the train. At 7:30 in the morning, after a sleepless night on the train, Ruth arrived at Back Bay station, tired and somber.