Babe Ruth's early life gave few hints of the greatness he would achieve. He was born George Herman Ruth, Jr., on Feb. 6, 1895, in Baltimore. His family lived in rooms above the salon his father, George, Sr., owned and operated in a neighborhood on the city's waterfront. Only two of the family's eight children lived to adulthood. Essentially left unsupervised by his parents, the young Ruth often skipped school in favor of stealing, drinking alcohol, chewing tobacco and getting into trouble with the law.
Ruth's behavior resulted in him being sent to the St. Mary's Industrial School for Boys in Baltimore in 1902. The Roman Catholic reform school labeled him incorrigible. Every boy there had to learn a trade for a potential career; in Ruth's case, shirt maker. Following his mother, Kate's, death from tuberculosis in 1912, Ruth became a permanent ward of St. Mary's.
But baseball, not shirt making, was to be Ruth's destiny. He was still living at St. Mary's when the Baltimore Orioles of the International League signed him in February 1914. It was while with the Orioles that he was nicknamed "Babe." The presence of a Baltimore franchise in the new Federal League devastated the Orioles' attendance and forced team owner Jack Dunn to sell Ruth and two other players to the Boston Red Sox on July 9, 1914. Two days later, he made his major league debut at Fenway Park, pitching seven innings for the win but failing to get a hit in two at bats.
Pitching was where the man sportswriters later nicknamed the "Sultan of Swat" first enjoyed major league success. Among American League left-handed hurlers who pitched at least 1,000 innings in the 1910s, Ruth's earned run average (ERA) of 2.19 was the lowest, while his winning percentage (.659) was the highest. He ranked fourth in wins and tied for fourth in shutouts. Ruth recorded some of his most impressive accomplishments on the biggest stage of all: the World Series. His ERA was 0.87 in three Fall Classic starts, and his 29 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings was a record for 43 years. The Red Sox beat the Brooklyn Dodgers 2-1 in Game Two of the 1916 World Series thanks in part to Ruth pitching a 14-inning complete game, which as of July 2013 remained the most innings one pitcher threw in one postseason game.
On May 6, 1918, Ruth hit a home run in his first start playing a different position than pitcher. Shortly after that excursion to first base, Ruth began refusing to pitch, upsetting manager Ed Barrow. Ruth tried to avoid Barrow fining him by joining a shipyard team in Chester, Pa., but Red Sox owner Harry Frazee's threat of legal action convinced him to return to Boston. Ruth's 11 home runs in 1918 tied him for first in the American League, and he led the league in strikeouts (58) and slugging (.555).
Holding out in spring training in 1919 earned Ruth a three-year, $10,000 contract. He proved worth it by hitting 29 home runs that season, breaking a 35-year-old record. Claiming he was worth twice the salary he had agreed to months earlier, Ruth held out again after that season. The financially struggling Frazee responded by selling Ruth to the New York Yankees on Jan. 3, 1920, in exchange for $100,000 and a $300,000 loan acquired by a mortgage on Fenway Park. Although Frazee sold the Red Sox in 1923, his decision would haunt the team for years to come. Between 1920 and 1964, the Yankees won 29 American League pennants, compared to one for the Red Sox. During that same time, the Yankees won 20 World Series, the Red Sox, none.
A full-time outfielder with the Yankees, Ruth obliterated his own record by hitting 54 runs in 1920. In 1921, he had 59 home runs and broke Roger Connor's record for most career home runs (Connor had 138). He had only 35 home runs in 1922, but his $52,000 salary that season easily made him baseball's highest-paid player. The Yankees had a new home for the 1923 season: Yankee Stadium, which one sportswriter credited Ruth with building. Ruth hit 41 home runs, batted .393 and had a record .764 slugging percentage in the stadium's inaugural year. He led the league in home runs with 46 in 1924, but his numbers fell drastically the following year. An intestinal disorder (widely believed to be syphilis) limited Ruth to 98 games and 25 home runs.
Ruth reclaimed his status as the game's preeminent hitter the following season. From 1926-32 he averaged 49 home runs per season, batted in 151 runs and had a .353 batting average. He also led the Yankees to four pennants and three World Series championships in that period. 1927 was a banner year for Ruth. His salary increased to $70,000, and he hit a record 60 home runs. Ruth and Lou Gehrig, who had 47 home runs, became the first pair of teammates in major league history to each hit 30 home runs. Many baseball experts consider the 1927 Yankees - also known as "Murderer's Row" - the greatest team in history.
Yet even Ruth couldn't escape the impact of age. He became increasingly overweight and saw his offensive numbers suffer a steep decline in 1933 and 1934. After the 1934 season, Ruth was released by the Yankees and signed by the Boston Braves. The final three of his 714 career home runs came on May 25, 1935, in Pittsburgh. He only played one inning in his final game on May 30, 1935, before leaving with a knee injury. When he retired two days later, he was the career record holder in home runs, runs batted in, total bases, walks, strikeouts, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. In 1936, he was one of the five original inductees to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
As a player, Ruth was famous for his hard-partying ways and indifference to authority. That behavior came back to haunt him when he tried to become a major league manager. The closest he came was taking a position as a first base coach with the Brooklyn Dodgers in June 1938. He returned to Yankee Stadium to play in a charity game in August 1942. Two charity games in 1943, including one at Yankee Stadium, would be final organized games he ever participated in. Ruth died of throat cancer on Aug. 16, 1948, in New York City. His body lied in state at Yankee Stadium for two days and was seen by approximately 75,000 people.