By Dan Holmes November 11, 2018
In 1930 the new York Yankees signed Babe Ruth to a contract that paid him the princely sum of $80,000. Ruth was overjoyed. A reporter pointed out that under the new contract, he was making more than President Herbert Hoover. Babe replied, “Why not? I had a better year than he did.”
Ruth hit 49 home runs in 1930, earning his fifth straight home run title and eleventh overall. The big guy added one more the following season. Later this month, the Babe will earn another honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, posthumously.
Ruth becomes the 12th baseball player to receive the honor and the 13th person associated with the game to receive it (Barack Obama awarded the medal to longtime Dodgers’ announcer Vin Scully in 2016). The legendary slugger was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1936 as part of the original five inductees. The U.S. Government has previously issued a stamp with his likeness, but the Medal of Honor is a unique honor presented to civilians.
The Presidential Medal of Freedom was established by John F. Kennedy in 1963. Hundreds of medals have been handed out since, with presidents Barack Obama and Ronald Reagan dishing out the most, more than 100 apiece in their eight years in office. Ruth is one of seven people who will receive the award from Donald J. Trump, his first selections.
According to the U.S. Government, the Presidential Medal of Freedom is awarded by the President of the United States “for especially meritorious contribution to (1) the security or national interests of the United States, or (2) world peace, or (3) cultural or other significant public or private endeavors”; it is awarded to individuals selected by the President or recommended to him by the Distinguished Civilian Service Awards Board.
Other Baseball Players to win the Presidential Medal of Freedom
Previous baseball players to win the award include Joe DiMaggio (awarded by Gerald Ford), Jackie Robinson (Reagan), Ted Williams and Buck O’Neil (George H.W. Bush), Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente, and Frank Robinson (George W. Bush), Stan Musial, Ernie Banks, Yogi Berra, and Willie Mays (Obama).
Clearly, Ruth stands above those players in his on-field performance, but presidents like to hand out the medals to living people, and the Babe died in 1948 after a battle with cancer at the age of 53. There has been no word on who will accept the honor for Ruth. His children are no longer living, but he does have at least one grandchild still alive.
Revolutionized Baseball with his Slugging
Ruth revolutionized the game of baseball after arriving as a 19-year old pitcher with the Boston Red Sox in 1914. His youthful spirit earned George Herman Ruth his nickname, his exploits earned him many more, including “The Sultan of Swat”, “The Great Bambino”, “The Colossus of Clout”, “The King of Crash”, “The Titan of Terror” and “The Rajah of Rap”. But his teammates called him “Babe” and were cast in his prodigious shadow, figuratively and literally.
Ruth established himself as one of the best lefthanded pitchers in the game, setting a record for consecutive scoreless innings in the World Series by a southpaw during his Boston tenure. He helped the Sox to three titles but soon his hitting ability forced the team to make a decision. By 1918 he was playing half time in the outfield when he wasn’t pitching. He led the American League in home runs for the first time that season despite being a part-time hitter. The following season, his last in Boston, the Babe hit 29 home runs and led the league in runs batted in while also starting 15 games and winning nine times. However, his fame was starting to eclipse the city he was playing in, and when team owner Harry Frazee saw an opportunity to make a large sum of money by selling Ruth, he sent him to New York. The Yankees paid $100,000 and also guaranteed a $300,000 loan to help Frazee stabilize his franchise.
New York was made for The Bambino, he hit 54 home runs in his first year with the Yankees, shocking the baseball world. Previously, the prevailing strategy had been to play for single runs, hit-and-run, steal bases. But Ruth held the bat at the end of the handle, swung hard, and tried to smack the ball over fences. He struck out a lot more than anyone ever had, but the Yankees didn’t care because he was hitting so many home runs.
In his 22-year career, Ruth hit 714 home runs, a mark that stood until Aaron broke it in 1974. Most of Ruth’s records have been broken, but his career slugging percentage remains the standard and he is almost universally regarded as the greatest player in baseball history.
Tags: Babe Ruth, Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees
About the Author
Dan Holmes is an author and baseball historian. He previously worked for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum and Major League Baseball. He once defeated George Brett in Texas Hold Em poker and faced Phil Niekro's knuckleball. He has two daughters and he writes regularly about baseball and many other topics.