“the big bam” by leigh montville

In further honor of baseball’s 2012 season, and in hopes of another Yankee world series win, I’m re-posting another baseball book review.  This one’s about the man who single-handedly saved baseball when it was about ready to disappear and was considered a failure.
As previously stated in another book review, I love baseball and the Yankees. Therefore, it was a no brainer why I’d read The Big Bam, a richly detailed biography about George Herman “Babe” Ruth, by Leigh Montville. It was filled with things I both appreciated and didn’t want to read. I’ve always had a very high regard for Ruth because he single-handedly saved baseball when it was almost forgotten. He did save baseball, and he turned a game for boys into a respectable (until recently) industry. He grew so famous that he became a question on a test to check if someone really was an American trying to re-enter the country.

I knew that before Ruth started pounding the ball over the fence, people didn’t really care about homeruns. Fans actually were disappointed by roundtrippers because the homerun was considered a cheap run and not very strategic. Most fans then, but very few now, were more excited to see a run manufactured with a single, a stolen base, a ground ball to second, and a flyout to left center. What I didn’t know was how much of a creep Ruth was. He grew from an abandoned, penniless boy in an orphanage to a wealthy man who abandoned his wife and child. He should have been more grateful and humble, but then he wouldn’t have been Babe Ruth.

There’s no telling how many times a biographer takes liberties with the truth, especially when there’s no way for anyone to disprove what he or she has written. In this book, however, Montville often makes a specific effort to point out that the tale he’s telling might be true, but it might not be true. Either way, he’s going to tell the most commonly known legend and leave it to the individual to either stand with that legend or just let it go.

This approach is most evident from start to finish. The book opens with Ruth’s father bringing little George on a bus ride to a home for “incorrigible,” orphaned, and other unfortunate children. Montville is sure to let the reader know that his description might not be the truth, but it is the best version that he can find through his many interviews. Just like the story about Ruth telling a sick boy how he’d hit a homerun for the lad or the called shot in the World Series against the Cubs, there just aren’t any facts, only a lot of speculation and foggy memories passed on and on.

Montville doesn’t shy away or play anything safely. Ruth was a generous tipper and spread the wealth whenever it felt right. However, he also showed his fangs, as when he challenged an umpire to a fight on the field or stood on the dugout, screaming at fans who were treating him with less respect than he believed he deserved. Although he wasn’t African-American, he was regularly called names because of his large lips, olive skin, and flat nose.

Yankee Stadium was built because of him, so I didn’t realize that it literally was The House that Ruth Built. Yankee fans may have wondered why the grandstands didn’t make a complete circuit of the stadium. Instead, there’s a single level of bleachers running from right to left field. It’s explained in the book, and it’s because of Ruth. The New York Daily News was created because of Ruth, so I guess it should be called The Paper that Ruth Wrote.

If you’re a baseball fan, you should read The Big Bam. If you’re a Yankee fan, you must read it. You owe it to the legacy of The Team that Ruth Built.

12 thoughts on ““the big bam” by leigh montville

  1. “Most fans then, but very few now, were more excited to see a run manufactured with a single, a stolen base, a ground ball to second, and a flyout to left center.”

    That would make the game more interesting and better appreciated (I think) if the players had to work for each base.

    I didn’t know Ruth is the reason the New York Daily News was created. I knew most of the things about him that you’ve listed here because my main squeeze as a boyfriend was a big Ruth fan, so I read things about him. IMO, the guy was a dick. A famous one who brought baseball back from the brink, but a dick.

      • It’s entirely possible that his upbringing had a lot to do with it. Rejected by his father (how else would a kid see their father dropping them at an orphanage), probably didn’t have very many friends because of his appearance… The drive for approval was probably strong, the need to be a bully was probably a drive. He found something he was good at and people liked him for. Then he became a star… money and fame only make you more of what you really are.

      • and that people thought he was black because of his facial features, nose specifically, and treated him with a bit of racist attitude at times.

      • Exactly (and that’s what I meant by a lack of friends because of his appearance). I’d say that I’m glad people are becoming more enlightened about different races but that simply isn’t true, is it? They’ve just transferred their hatred to another colour of human.

      • the more we pay attention to race, the longer a race problem will continue. the more we divide, separate, and note differences, the longer we’ll see those differences. for example, in NJ we’re required by the state to break down test results by race. it’s public information which races did how well or poorly on state tests. so when a school “fails,” people will look at the results and have the ability to say, “oh, look, the hispanics caused us to fail.” or whatever race it might be.

        until we regard ourselves as people, one people, we will never be one people.

      • That’s…idiotic and outrageous. Race isn’t a consideration in most things anywhere in Canada. That’s not to say prejudice doesn’t exist (for example: my hometown, Brampton, became the first stop for Indians to immigrate too when they got off the plane. There are so many now that Brampton is now referred to as ‘Bramledesh’ by most of everyone) but it is less obvious in the government than that.

      • oh, see, canada. ‘nuf said. you guys know what you’re doing. down here, it’s like kids in a playground, each with a hammer, wondering what they could hit next and see what happens afterward.

  2. On the book review, you make me want to grab a cold beer and sit outside to read this.. i love sports (thx to my 3 brothers)..

    **sidenote–your comments to the other blogger are spot on.. well said.. everything..

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