SI Vault
Gerald Holland
December 21, 1959
The letter below was sent by a man with the elegant name of Tillinghast L'Hommedieu Huston to the secretary of baseball's National Commission more than 45 years ago. It was destined to have a profound effect on the life and times of this young man, then a pitcher for the Red Sox. With the never-before-published documents reproduced here and on the pages following, a rich, colorful baseball era is vividly recreated.
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December 21, 1959

The Babe Ruth Papers

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"Ruth has the mind of a 15-year-old boy and must be made to understand where he belongs. The American League is no place for a player who dissipates and misbehaves.

"For a player receiving $52,000 a year, Ruth ought to have made himself a hero.... Misconduct, drinking and staying out all night are things that will not be tolerated."

The Babe blamed everything on Manager Huggins. He told an interviewer, "Confidentially—and you can print this—Miller Huggins is dumb." Building the grudge along the way, he arrived in New York and announced, "If Huggins is manager, I quit."

With this ultimatum, Babe swaggered into a conference with Colonel Ruppert. The colonel (who by now had bought out Huston and was sole owner of the Yanks) had a way with the Babe. When the doors opened, it was a chastened Bambino who emerged. Not only would he play for Huggins, but he would drink almost nothing, and misbehave (Ban Johnson's word for it) not at all.

If the Babe's conduct off the field did not actually improve, his behavior in uniform was better than ever. He came back next season (1926) to hit 47 home runs, and as a reward his salary soared to $70,000 in 1927, as the salary list on the opposite page shows. It was almost nine times what teammates like Lou Gehrig and Tony Lazzeri were getting at the time. Neither Lou nor Tony nor anyone else on the team complained, and the picture below shows why. It is Ruth hitting his 60th home run, a record unmatched to this day.

By now Ruth's annual dickering over salary had become something of an institution. Although Ed Barrow signed most of the Yankee players, Colonel Ruppert himself always conducted negotiations with the Babe, sometimes in the colonel's office at the brewery, sometimes in Florida when the Babe decided to hold out. Everybody in America who cared a hoot about baseball rooted for Babe to get the best of Ruppert. The Babe, as the salary check below suggests, did all right. The check shown is for $7,345.31 for two weeks' work. This was in 1930 when Ruth reached his peak salary of $80,000—the largest salary, if you figure it on the basis of take-home pay, ever paid to a ballplayer in all baseball history. In his prime, the Babe was still a bargain at that price, but the Yankee front office was always careful to recover a dollar spent in Ruth's behalf. Thus, on the reverse side of the check below, it will be seen that the club deducted such out-of-pocket expenses as a $3.80 train ticket for Mrs. Ruth and a $30 "uniform deposit" extracted from the greatest single gate attraction of all time.

That is precisely what the Babe was. He was a greater draw than any of the other great sports figures of the golden 1920s—Jack Dempsey, Bill Tilden, Bobby Jones, Gene Tunney, Walter Hagen, Man o' War.

Ban Johnson had said that Ruth had the mind of a 15-year-old boy. But can today's teen-agers tell you who Ban Johnson was? They know who Ruth was just as they know who Daniel Boone was. Ruth—because he came along when he did—saved the national game. Without Ruth and the home runs that were like no home runs any slugger has hit before or since, it is just possible that the game would have died—as the television quiz shows died when people found out they were fake. Baseball, in one shameful instance, had been faked. People had been betrayed. Kids were learning to say, "Aw, it's all fixed." But when Ruth—his big head cocked, his matchstick legs together, his pigeon toes turned in, his great club of a bat lashing the air—drove a ball out of the park, nobody could say that was fixed or rigged or faked. People who saw Babe Ruth hit a home run never forgot it; there was only one thing half as good, and that was a Ruth strikeout, of which there were 1,330 during his major league career.

As for the home runs, Babe hit a total of 714 during his major league career. He hit 16 more in World Series and All-Star Games. He holds the record for runs batted in: a total of 2,209. In addition to striking out more than any player before or since, he also drew more bases on balls, a total of 2,056.

He was a great all-round ballplayer. He was one of the best left-handed pitchers ever, before he was shifted to the outfield. He won three World Series games, and in 1916 he had the best earned-run average in the league. When he moved permanently to the outfield, he covered his territory with amazing speed and he could throw a strike to home plate from deep in right field. According to Ed Barrow, Ruth had an instinct for doing precisely the right thing in every situation that might arise in a ball game. And all the while he had the rare talent of maintaining contact, a sort of secret communication, with the fans. A careless wave, a doffing of the cap—and they were his.

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