Honoring “America’s Pastime” Through Babe Ruth

“The Bambino “and “The Sultan of Swat” are what they call one of the best baseball players of all time. Baseball is America’s pastime. It uniquely emulates the history and spirit of American sports and reminds us of what it means to be an American athlete.

Babe Ruth / Babe Ruth / Derek Jeter, Babe Ruth / Autographed baseball.
Source: Getty Images

Until this day, it is one of the most-watched sports in the United States, gathering fans every year to attend and see Major League Baseball. Let’s take a closer look at one of the best sports figures America knows, follows, and loves, Babe Ruth.

Star Left-Handed Pitcher

Being an American sports hero is no easy task, but throughout his career, “Babe Ruth” proved he was among the best of all time. He played twenty-two seasons between 1914 and 1935 throughout his career in the MLB.

Babe Ruth is swinging at baseball.
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At the height of his career, George Herma “Babe” Ruth played as an outfielder for the Boston Red Sox, but he actually started his career in the MLB as a left-handed pitcher for the Boston Red Sox. He earned tremendous honor and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame as one of its “first five” inaugural members.

Where Did It All Start?

Babe Ruth began playing baseball at seven years old. He attended St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys. He met his mentor, Brother Matthias Boutlier, who was recognized as a skilled baseball player.

An autographed baseball signed by Babe Ruth.
Photo by Craig F. Walker/The Denver Post/Getty Images

His first taste into the professional world of baseball was when he signed with the Baltimore Orioles playing minor-league baseball. Soon enough, though, he was signed to the Boston Red Sox, where he excelled as a pitcher. He would also hit incredible home runs that were unheard of before the 1920s, otherwise known as the dead-ball era.

Was Babe Ruth Black?

Babe Ruth’s ancestry is German, and he spoke German as a child. Even though he was born white, Babe Ruth was made fun of as a child because he was darker than most boys he studied with “stereotypical” extensive facial. He attended school at an all-white reformatory. Extra attention to his appearance seemed to be a result of the era before the 1920s.

A portrait of Babe Ruth.
Photo by MPI/Getty Images

Many people questioned his background and ethnicity because he was often rumored to have been hanging out in Harlem with Black athletes and having an affinity for Black women.

Entering the Sport

It is not clear how Babe Ruth began playing baseball. He was sent to St. Mary’s School because he broke windows by hitting the baseball too hard while playing streetball. He was left-handed and was forced to use mitts and gloves for right-handers.

Babe Ruth takes a big swing during a batting practice session.
Photo by Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images

Even rarer for a left-hander was that he played third base and shortstop during his time at the school. A significant role model in Babe Ruth’s life, Brother Matthias was remembered for being strict with discipline yet fair. “I think I was born as a hitter the first day I ever saw him hit a baseball,” said Ruth.

Lavish Life

Ruth was known to stir up trouble and misbehave growing up and during his time at St. Mary’s. However, he did remain loyal to the school once he became famous and successful and was a devoted Catholic regardless of wild nights out during his career. He bought Brother Matthias a Cadillac in 1926 and donated money to the school.

An early portrait of Babe Ruth.
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He was known to avoid publicity, preferring to visit hospitals, schools, and orphanages. His lavish off-field spending was perceived as his way of making up for the lack of wealth when he was a kid.

Babe Ruth Liked to Party

Ruth was notorious for spending his earnings. He was often spotted out in his luxurious mink coats. He was often referred to as a womanizer, which caused his first marriage some trouble due to infidelity. Ruth and his first wife Helen appeared together as a couple at the 1926 World Series.

A photo of a smiling Babe Ruth after a game.
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The Yankees hired a detective to follow him one night. They suspected he had been with six women. Additionally, he performed poorly in the 1922 series due to heavy drinking and going out late.

Road to Success

Ruth wasn’t humble when it came to his capabilities. He played an average of 200 games while in school, leading him to play games over the weekend with teams outside of his community. Among all the positions he played well, he was notably recognized for his pitching.

A photo of Babe Ruth playing for the New York Yankees.
Photo by Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images

Brother Mathias recalled that at one point, he was undermining other pitchers by laughing at them, and Mathias told him to prove that he could do better. He established his skills as he was featured in newspapers for pitching and hitting long home runs.

Getting the Name “Babe”

There are many disputes about how Babe Ruth started playing professionally. Supposedly, his first official professional training outside of Baltimore was in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Ruth signed a baseball contract with the Baltimore Orioles, which were owned and managed by Jack Dunn.

Babe Ruth takes a demonstration swing for a couple of kids.
Photo by Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images

How did he get his nickname “Babe”? The buzz is that veterans made fun of him for being Dunn’s “darling” or fresh “project” coupled with his lack of proper behavior at restaurants, hotels, and trains, as well as his rookie talent.

Selling His Contract

When Ruth was playing for the Orioles, they weren’t getting much press regardless of their success. A team in the Federal League called the Baltimore Terrapins was rising into major league stardom for the first time since 1902. Dunn underwent losses due to the Terrapins’ popularity.

Babe Ruth is wearing the uniform of the Boston Red Sox.
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Regardless of making it to first place in the league, attendance at the Orioles games remained extremely low, with as few as 150 people. Financial hardships forced Dunn to make challenging decisions, and he eventually sold Ruth’s contract to the Boston Red Sox of the American League.

Playing with the Boston Red Sox

Playing pitcher Ruth won his first game with the Boston Red Sox, beating the Cleveland Naps 4-3. However, following the first game, Ruth wasn’t used often and was barely noticed by fans due to the teams’ rivals, the Braves, who were making a tremendous comeback during that season.

Babe Ruth is in a Red Sox uniform.
Photo by Underwood Archives/Getty Images

Regardless of his rookie status, Ruth persisted in taking batting practice even though he didn’t play much or have the respect of the veteran players. One day he showed up, and his bat had been sawn in half.

Sticking His Tongue Out

Carrigan, who was the team manager, let Ruth play two exhibition games as a pitcher. He won both, but Carrigan still didn’t put him back in the rotation. Ambiguity surrounds the manager’s reason for not playing Ruth more. It was rumored that Ruth would stick his tongue out when intending to hit a curveball.

A photo of Babe Ruth, Bill Carrigan, and other major league baseball players.
Babe Ruth, Bill Carrigan. Photo by Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

This was labeled a habit of inexperienced pitchers. Other displays of poor behavior that Carrigan deemed unacceptable compelled him not to play Ruth when he was a rookie.

First Home Run as a Pro

Ruth recognized the Providence manager “Wild Bill” Donovan for his pitching talent and learned a lot from him. After joining the Grays on August 18, 1914, Ruth successfully pitched a 9-0 victory and hit his first home run at Maple Leaf Park in Toronto on September 5.

A picture of Babe Ruth during a game.
Photo by Historica Graphica Collection/Heritage Images/Getty Images

He went back to Boston, pitched, and beat the New York Yankees on October 2. His record was 2-1 in the major league and 23-8 in the international league. He got married to Helen Rudford after the season.

1916 Was the Year of Pitching

This season was known for his battle with Walter Johnson, a pitcher for the Washington Senators, where Ruth won four and Johnson one. American League President Ban Johnson noticed one of Ruth’s 1-0 victories without extra innings and said, “That was one of the best ball games I have ever seen.”

A picture of Babe Ruth throwing a ball.
Photo by George Rinhart/Corbis/Getty Images

Ruth set a record of nine shutouts in 1916 that no one could match until Ron Guidry in 1978. The Red Sox eventually won the World Series, and Ruth’s unbeatable pitching set the record for the longest post-season complete-game victory.

Batter Up

Out of the 130 games in the 1919 season, Ruth only pitched 17 of them. The Red Sox were heading for loss for the season nearing June, so Barrow (who took over after Carrigan retired) allowed Ruth to focus on his batting.

Babe Ruth is holding his baseball bat for action.
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Playing against the Yankees on opening day, Ruth hit a home run. He eventually broke Ralph “Socks” Seybold’s record in 1902 of 16 home runs due to his pitching. This became Ruth’s most successful pitching season thus far, and he also gathered the title of hitting a home run in every ballpark.

Letting Ruth Go

Frazee, the Boston Red Sox owner, was infamous for buying and trading players. It was reported that Ruth signed a three-year contract in March of 1919. Regardless, Frazee ended up selling his contract to the New York Yankees.

A portrait of Babe Ruth with his wife at the stadium.
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Many questioned why he would trade such an incredible asset. Rumor has it that he needed to fund his musical production of “No, No Nanette,” which took off and fostered financial security that he was pressured to fulfill.

Signing the Contract

Ruth eventually signed the contract for the New York Yankees. Fans’ reactions were split; some were sad to lose the incredible players, while others said he was difficult to deal with. The decision altered the reality of the two highest-profile teams for a long time.

A portrait of Leo Durocher and Babe Ruth wearing the New York Yankees uniform.
Leo Durocher, Babe Ruth. Photo by Bettmann/Getty Images

After 1919, the Boston Red Sox experienced a drought known as the “Curse of the Bambino” after Ruth was sold, and they didn’t win a pennant until 1946 or a World Series until 2004. With Ruth, the Yankees won 7 American League pennants and 4 World Series.

The New York Yankees

As a young Yankee, he broke batting records and became a power-hitting outfielder. His popularity was high, bringing as many as 38,000 fans to the Polo Grounds Stadium.

Babe Ruth swings a pitch.
Photo by B Bennett/Getty Images

This led to the highest sale of tickets as everyone wanted to come to see him play. His record was 54 home runs, 158 runs, and 137 runs batted (RBIs), leading the league. After 1920, equipment was starting to improve in baseball, which added to Ruth’s power batting.

Larger Life

During this early era of media exposure in the United States, he was one of the first “celebrity athletes.” For example, he booked large endorsement deals and made income outside of baseball, which was uncommon.

A photo of a baseball signed by Babe Ruth.
Photo by Jason Kirk/Getty Images

More books were written about Babe Ruth than any other Hall of Famer. Many claims that his legacy is more famous today than when he was a player. He reminds people of the simpler times as he would overindulge with beer and alcohol consumption, and no one would make a big deal of it.

The 1921 World Series

The Yankees were favored to do well, not to mention all the games were played on their home turf. During Game 2, Ruth scraped his elbow badly while sliding into third base and was advised not to play the rest of the season.

A photo of Babe Ruth wearing a crown.
Photo by George Rinhart/Corbis/Getty Images

Going against the physician’s advice, he did play the next three games, but the Yankees eventually lost 5-3. However, Ruth did gain his first World Series home run. He ultimately went on to sign the most considerable sum of money for a baseball contract on March 4, 1922, a whopping sum of $52,000.

Not Playing in the Sun

Ruth was remembered for having a vivid nature about him. On July 16th, 1922, he lost a ball in the sun at the Polo Ground’s left field. As a result, he deemed he would never play in the sun ever again.

A photo during the game at the Polo Grounds.
Photo by Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images

Would his demands be adhered to? They certainly were. Following the event, he was explicitly placed in his desired orientation. In Polo Ground, Yankee Stadium, in Washington, and Cleveland, he only played in rightfield and leftfield in all the other cities.

Getting His Act Together

Ruth was suspended with other teammates for participating in a barn-storming tour prohibited for World Series players as these were exhibition games played during the off-season. After returning, he batted out 0-4 and was kicked out of the game because he threw dust in George Hildebrand’s face (an umpire) and fought a heckler in the stands.

A picture of Babe Ruth amid thousands of fans.
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Ruth was invited to attend the Elks Club banquet. All the speakers there spoke out against his ill behavior. Taken aback, Ruth changed his behavior and returned to training in the best shape he had ever been.

Yankee Stadium

At the time, Charles Stoneham, the owner of the Giants, communicated the Yankee’s lease expiry, hinting that they were no longer welcome at the Polo Grounds. A new stadium was built with Ruth’s playing needs in mind, such as a high right-field fence making it more convenient for left-handed batters. He hit the first home run at the stadium on April 18, 1923.

A portrait of Babe Ruth in the stadium.
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The Yankees were barely challenged during that season. Ruth dominated with 41 home runs, a career-high. The Yankees went on to beat the Giants, marking their first World Series Championship.

New Bat

Sam Crawford, a retired Hall of Famer, designed a new bat that Ruth would use in 1923. It was made from a combination of four pieces of wood. This spurred some outreach.

A picture of Babe Ruth hitting a home run.
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Ban Johnson (President of the American League) instituted a rule in late August of that year that all bats be made of one piece of wood. When Ruth used the bat (first use on July 2nd), he hit 18 home runs in 53 games.

Almost but Not Quite

In early 1925, Ruth underwent several instances of collapsing, hospitalization, and gaining weight. He eventually got back into shape. The team was built well, with Ruth at the center and players like Lou Gehrig and Tony Lazzeri. Things started to get back normal in 1926 as they battled the St. Louis Cardinals.

A photo of Babe Ruth nursing an injured hand.
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They beat the Yankees 3-2 in the last game. Ruth was thrown out after trying to steal second base. It was said that a runner in such a “scoring position” could have possibly tied the game.

Making a Promise

This series was also remembered for a promise Ruth had made to a boy by the name of Johnny Sylvester, who was in the Hospital. On his behalf, Ruth promised to hit a home run. When the series was over, he went to visit the boy in the hospital.

A picture of Babe Ruth and a healed Johnny Sylvester.
Johnny Sylvester, Babe Ruth. Photo by Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images

The press was all over the visit, saying that his actions saved the boy’s life because he promised to make the home run—what a memorable experience for the legendary baseball player.

Unbeatable Lineup

The 1927 series was called Murderers’ Row because of the unstoppable players the Yankees had. As the series was basically in the bag for the team, fans turned their attention to Ruth’s chase after his single-season home run record.

A picture of Babe Ruth with his New York Yankee teammates.
Photo by George Rinhart/Corbis/Getty Images

He had some competition from teammate Lou Gehrig who tied him with 24 home runs in June. They battled each other during the series, with Gehrig beating him with 47. Setting that aside, the Yankees swept the Pittsburgh Pirates in four games. They had already been discouraged after watching the Yankees take batting practice in Game One.

What Number Was Babe Ruth?

Following their sweep of the Cardinals in the 1928 season, the Indians and Cardinals tested uniforms with numbers. The Yankees became the first to add numbers to the uniforms for both at-home and away games. Because Ruth batted third, he was given the number 3.

A photo of Babe Ruth signing a snowball.
Photo Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images

This was also when the Yankees integrated their pin-striped uniforms that were supposedly created to make Ruth look slimmer even though the uniforms had been in use since 1915. During the 1929 series, they started on a good note but eventually finished second after the Cardinals.

Saying Goodbye

Ruth played his last season as a Yankee in 1934. He was nearing the peak of his career, and he wasn’t in the best shape. He could longer run or field. He also cut his salary even though it was still the highest one in Major league baseball.

Babe Ruth is holding his bat and waving his hat.
Photo by Bettmann/Getty Images

For the second year in a row, he was chosen for the AL All-Star team. However, he was struck out by Carl Hubbell, who was the New York Giants pitcher. Ruth struck out as well as other later recognized Hall-of-Famers.

Last Team

Ruth was looking to take managing positions at this point in his career, and in particular the Yankees manager role; however, this was never realistic. At this point, he was traded to the Boston Braves as a team vice-president, consultant, and player.

Babe Ruth is wearing a Boston Braves inform.
Jacob Ruppert, Babe Ruth. Photo by New York Times Co./Getty Images

Ruth’s conditioning was deteriorating, and he wasn’t hitting as well. He eventually requested to retire as a part-time player. Although he had made some impressive home runs, including one that flew out of Forbes Field, he was adamant about retiring.

Hall of Fame Vote

Regardless of his unbeatable success, he wasn’t chosen to be placed in the Baseball’s Hall of Fame. Two hundred twenty-six total votes decided who would be inducted in the Hall of Fame, and 11 of those ballets did not have Ruth’s name on them.

A photo of Babe Ruth's plaque.
Roger Clemens. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

In Cooperstown, a plaque has been placed in honor of his talent, calling him baseball’s “greatest drawing card.” In April 2021, a new exhibit was opened to complement the existing representation of his first season in the Major League.

Retirement Dream

After his playing career, Ruth dreamed of becoming a team manager. Team managers and owners found Ruth’s splashy personality unsuited for such a position. He did land a first base coaching job with the Dodgers in 1928. His primary duties were to boost the players’ morale.

Babe Ruth's granddaughter poses next to a portrait of Babe Ruth.
Photo by Christopher Evans/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald/Getty Images

This was his last role in the world of baseball. He was eventually inducted into the Hall of Fame among the first five players. His stepdaughter recalled that not being able to work as a manager made him feel hurt.

Health Condition

In November of 1946, Ruth was hospitalized for intolerable pain in his left eye, which turned out to be a malignant tumor. He was able to receive various treatments due to his prosperity, such as radiation treatment and drugs.

A portrait of Babe Ruth.
Photo by Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

After being discharged from the hospital, he appeared in what was proclaimed “Babe Ruth Day” at Yankee Stadium, where he shared a few words with the crowd. Chemotherapy trials were tested on Ruth, which improved his condition, allowing him to travel and do promotion work for the American Legion Baseball and Motor Company.

How Did Babe Ruth Die?

He only had temporary improvement following his treatment, which allowed him to attend a book-signing party for his almost ghostwritten book, The Babe Ruth Story. His last visit to Yankee Stadium celebrated the 25th-anniversary of “The House That Ruth Built.”

An aerial view of a packed stadium during Babe Ruth's memorial.
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There is a famous picture of him standing and using a bat as a cane at the celebration. Before his death at Memorial Hospital, his last outing was to see the premiere of The Babe Ruth Story, a film about his career and life. New Yorkers crowded around the hospital to honor his last days.

Taking Baseball Back

Before Babe Ruth came around, baseball had a bad reputation. In the 1910’s gambling scandals reflected poorly over the industry and sport. Adding to its lousy rep was the Black Sox Scandal of 1919.

A photo of Babe Ruth in the stadium.
Photo by New York Times Co./Getty Images

When the Yankees signed Ruth, not only did he become a huge star, but he completely changed the perception of baseball. For the first time in all of baseball history, millions of fans came to watch baseball and his play, recognizing him as an American icon. A legend was born that revolutionized America’s pastime.

Honoring His Legacy

A monument was built to honor the baseball legend. It was placed in center field at Yankee Stadium. The area honoring other players such as Huggins and Gehrig was labeled Monument Park. A new Yankee stadium was built in 2008 across the street from the original, and Monument Park was moved to a new location behind the center field fence.

A photo of Babe Ruth's plaque at Monument Park.
Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis/Getty Images

He is among the only five Yankees (managers or players) to have a granite monument at Yankee Stadium. There is a museum dedicated to Ruth’s life located in Baltimore called The Babe Ruth Birthplace Museum.

Inspiring Social Change

During his rise to stardom, Ruth endured overwhelming criticism. He was the first baseball player to experience this as such. It was a difficult time for the country, which had just gone through a World War and the flu pandemic of 1918.

A photo of Babe Ruth with his family on the sidelines.
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During the war, America refused to back down from anybody who wished to challenge their number one spot. Babe Ruth portrayed these ideals through his dazzling and flaunting personality in the early 1920s. He had this all-encompassing aura about his presence that instilled pride.

Changing the Game

Other than being a power hitter, Ruth was an incredible outfielder and bunter. His ability to hit home runs wasn’t previously seen in baseball and brought a new sense of excitement to the game.

Babe Ruth is watching a home run fly out of the stadium.
Photo by Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images

“When the owners discovered that the fans like to see home runs, and when the foundation of the games was simultaneously imperiled by disgrace, then there was no turning back,” said baseball writer Bill James. Initially, some people criticized this new form of play, but teams quickly adapted to add more sluggers as it took off.

Closest Competition

Grantland Rice, a modern sportswriter, mentioned that only two sportsmen could even scratch the surface of Ruth’s fame: boxer Jack Dempsey and racehorse Man o’War. In a way, he represented the classic American dream. He came from an unwealthy, uneducated background to becoming one of the best players of all time.

A portrait of Jack Dempsey / Racehorse Man o’War during a race.
Photo by Hulton Archive, Stringer, Getty Images / Grant Peterson, Martin James Brannan, John M Manolato, Fairfax Media, Getty Images

He rose to fame during a time when TV was not readily available. So, he was popularized through chatter and sports reporters. He dominated a sports world without much exposure like the players nowadays have.

In the Rankings

Ruth has been named the best baseball player of all time by numerous rankings and surveys. He is listed number one within the “Baseball’s 100 Greatest Players” ranked by the Sporting News. The Associated Press said that the only other athlete to be as well recognized was Muhammad Ali.

Derek Jeter is flashed on the score band after surpassing Babe Ruth in all-time hits.
Derek Jeter, Babe Ruth. Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

Sports memorabilia associated with Ruth are among the most expensive there are. In 2012, his Yankee’s jersey was sold for $4,415,658, and the bat with which he hit his first home run is recorded as the most expensive item sold at an auction.

Chocolate Rumor

Curtiss Candy Company sold a candy bar named after Ruth Cleveland, the daughter of President Cleveland. The bar was just marketed when Ruth was on top of the baseball world (1921), and therefore, people made the connection.

Jarek Tuszyński / CC-BY-SA-3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Babe Ruth did try, however, to market his candy, but ran into trademark licensing issues due to the already existing chocolate bar. It was used in an advertising campaign in 1995, which eventually became the official Major League Baseball candy bar.

The Sandlot

One of the most remembered movies in modern times that recall the legend of Babe Ruth was The Sandlot, a movie about a group of kids whose passion for the summer is playing baseball. When they lose the Babe Ruth autographed baseball to the neighbor’s dog, they do everything in their power to get it back.

Patrick Renna is in a still from the film.
Source: Moviestillsdb.com/ Copyright: 20th Century Fox

In the movie, there is a dedicated dream sequence about Ruth. A quote from the film states that he was “Less than a god, but more than a man. Like Hercules or something.”

Most Valuable Player

It was a different time in baseball, and winning the most valuable wasn’t an honor bestowed more than once. He won MVP in 1923, and the award did not even exist between 1915 and 1921.

A portrait of Babe Ruth.
Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone/Getty Images

When voting was readdressed in 1931 by the baseball Writers’ Association of America, Ruth knocked himself out during a foul by running into the wall of the Griffith Stadium in Washington. He continued playing even though he was unconscious for a total of five minutes and dominated the game.

Dominating Internationally

When his last season with the Yankees ended, Ruth went on a barn-storming tour otherwise known as an exhibition tour in other cities and countries, including Japan. Afterward, he and his wife Claire traveled around the world together.

A picture of Bustin Babe's and Larrupin Lou's Exhibition Game.
Photo by Diamond Images/Getty Images

Out of the 17 games he played on the tour, he hit 14 home runs. A Babe Ruth Monument was created to honor the great baseball player in Mizuno Square outside the Osaka Koshien Stadium. He initially refused, but a Japanese businessman convinced him by showing him a poster advertising his tour.

Breaking Down the Nicknames

Babe Ruth was infamous for having numerous nicknames referring to his talents, personality, and rare skills. “The Great Bambino” was given to him as he had a lot of fans in the Italian community. Bambino in Italian means boy.

A portrait of Babe Ruth.
Photo by Bettmann/Getty Images

“The Colossus of Clout” directly defines the giant for hitting long, which makes sense considering he had an unheard-of number of home runs over his career. Then there’s “The Sultan of Swat”: Sultan means ruler, and swat literally means hitting something very hard. The media honored Ruth with this nickname, and rightfully so.