He lived in the present tense, that is in the camera’s lens. There was no frame he couldn’t or wouldn’t fill. He swung the heaviest bat, earned the most money, and incurred the biggest fines. Like all the newfangled gadgets then flooding the marketplace – radios, automatic clothes washers, Brownie cameras, microphones, and loudspeakers – Babe Ruth expanded notions of the possible. Aided by his crucial partnership with Christy Walsh – business manager, spin doctor, damage-control wizard, and surrogate father, all stuffed into one tightly buttoned double-breasted suit – Ruth drafted the blueprint for modern athletic stardom. His was a life of journeys and itineraries – from uncouth to couth, spartan to spendthrift, abandoned to abandon; from Baltimore to Boston to New York, and back to Boston at the end of his career for a finale with the only team that would have him. There were road trips and hunting trips, grand tours of foreign capitals and postseason promotional tours, not to mention those 714 trips around the bases.
After hitting his sixtieth home run in September 1927 – a total that would not be exceeded until 1961, when Roger Maris did it with the aid of the extended modern season – he embarked on the mother of all barnstorming tours, a three-week victory lap across America, accompanied by Yankee teammate Lou Gehrig. Walsh called the tour a “Symphony of Swat;” The Omaha World Herald called it “the biggest show since Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey, and seven other associated circuses offered their entire performance under one tent.” In The Big Fella, acclaimed biographer Jane Leavy re-creates that twenty-one-day circus and in so doing captures the romp and the pathos that defined Ruth’s life and times. Drawing from more than 250 interviews, a trove of previously untapped documents, and Ruth family records, Leavy breaks through the mythology that has obscured the legend and delivers the man.
Paperback (20cm x 13cm), 656pp
Harper Perennial, 2019