This book is a real treat. Leigh Montville's dramatic story of the Sultan of Swat, the Bambino, the Big Bam, comes to life in exciting ways that will open new dimensions of the Babe Ruth story for you.
Leigh Montville is one of our most talented sportswriters. He could just as easily be covering a more important beat (such as the White House) or writing novels. He's that good. Why do I say that? He takes a single fact, Babe Ruth ended up in a reform school/orphanage for most of his young life, and creates a mental image of what might have happened on that morning when his father took him to St. Mary's. While relating that tale, Mr. Montville deftly points out how little we know about Babe Ruth the man (as opposed to Babe Ruth the baseball player) and why we probably won't every know very much. I especially enjoyed Mr. Montville's description of "the fog" . . . or the dense mystery about so much of Babe Ruth's life (Why did his parents abandon him? Why wouldn't he talk about his youth? Why did his wife die in another man's bed? Why did he gamble so recklessly?).
Naturally, the baseball player is more visible. Mr. Montville constructs a helpful picture of the endless baseball activities at St. Mary's, how Babe Ruth probably learned his upper cut swing that revolutionized baseball (in an era when everyone else hit down on the ball), how Babe Ruth was discovered, the transition from being a pitcher to being an everyday player and hitter, how Babe Ruth really ended up traded from the Red Sox to the Yankees, and why he was exiled from baseball after his playing days were over.
But the private person is also revealed in powerful vignettes such as the Babe's loyalty to St. Mary's and orphanages, the terrible racial taunting he received from those who believed him to be an African-American, his non-stop pace on limited sleep, and his making up with his father.
Naturally, as a long-time baseball fan, I felt I knew about Babe Ruth. But my picture was slightly out of focus. Experiencing the play-by-play of his life made the Babe come to life for me more than ever before.
Mr. Montville also does an excellent job of explaining why so much remains murky about the Babe's life -- both in terms of the Babe's reticence and the code of conduct that the press observed in those more restrained reporting days.
"The Big Bam" tells the fascinating story of the man behind the legend. Author Leigh Montville does an excellent job of intertwining the man into the baseball hero, without neglecting either.
Babe Ruth was a character "from the wrong side of the tracks" whose make-up was often "lost in the fog." Was he really part Negro? Who were the parents of his daughter? We may never know for sure.
Raised in St. Mary's Industrial School for Boys, he first learned to play ball from the Xavierian Brothers who ran the school. Growing up with nothing, he exercised no restraint when he had everything. The tales of his undisciplined drinking (including during prohibition) and philandering leave the reader aghast at the life style led by the Babe. The failure of his first marriage and strange relationship with his daughter baffle the mind. Yet, through it all, Ruth emerges as worthy of hero worship and, in the end, a sympathetic character, a big kid who never grew up.
The Sultan of Swat is never ignored in the book. For the baseball fan, this book highlights a legendary career and brings out some facts that may have gone unnoticed. For example, I have seen pictures of the window he broke across the street from Sportsman's Park, but I never knew that he was pitching for the Red Sox that day. I had not realized that he was the one who wanted to quit pitching in order to hit more. His sparing with the owners and his managers make for interesting reading. His performance is even more astonishing when compared to his contemporaries, such as the year that he hit more home runs than six teams in the American League. Ultimately, it was his undisciplined character which defeated his last dream, that of managing in the major leagues.
This is a good read for any fan of the Golden Age of Baseball. It makes you admire the athlete and understand the man. Play Ball!
on 7 October 2012
Having recently read Joe Torre's book, The Yankee Years, I kept with the Yankees theme picked this one up as well. Having read others attempts at capturing the Ruth story, I must say this is the most researched and best coverage I've seen of the biographies. Creamer was able to interview innumerable players who actually played with Ruth...managers, sportswriters, any and everyone who actually came in contact with him, instead of relying on exaggerated hyperbole. The writing and language is gritty, and not filled with sappy, flowery language. It feels like a baseball story, told from the crusty old bat boy at the end of the dugout. The guy who say it all. It captures Ruth charisma, gutter language, excesses and attitude perfectly.
If you're a statistics freak, this is book for you, as its depth is very extensive. The only way to compare the greats of any sport, is how they compare to their peers. Ruth was so far beyond anyone else is was ridiculous. More home runs than any other team in the AL one year, and the best lefthanded pitcher in baseball before he switched. A real fun book to read...the kind you can pick up on any page and dive right in.
on 22 November 2014
Almost half way through this, really enjoying the book. Ruth was such an interesting character and the author has captured the times when the Babe played. The babe made such an impact on the sport, he will never be forgotten and this book enhances the magic that is Ruth. I've seen quite a bit of baseball on my American travels, and I must say I really enjoy the game. America loves this sport, what better way to spend an evening or afternoon munching peanuts and red vines, and the odd bag of crackerjacks, washed down with beer almost costing as much as the game ticket itself. Wonderful book, and if you get a chance to visit the new Yankee stadium do, it's awesome and you can sense the Babe is looking down at you.
on 12 September 2011
A rollickin' ride through the hard-playin', hard-livin' life of a baseball legend. Like most people in Britain, I'd heard of Babe Ruth but knew little more than that he was a baseball player who turned out for the Yankees. Then this book turned me into a baseball fan. From the Babe's hard childhood, to his time with the Boston Red Sox, then through to his time with the New York Yankees when he became one of sport's first superstars, Montville tells the story with a clear, readable writing style.