The Babe Ruth Story

Babe Ruth Story 4The question of who was the most famous baseball player of all time is a no brainer if there ever was one. It’s Babe Ruth…the Bambino…the Sultan of Swat! Even those who have no other knowledge of the game of baseball know his name. He changed the game forever with his hitting style that focused on home runs (a rarity before he came along). Naturally, a biopic or two has been made about this legendary figure. In more recent years, John Goodman starred as the Babe, but there was another film released at the very end of Ruth’s life. In fact, it was released just a few weeks before the Hall of Famers death in 1948, The Babe Ruth Story.

Babe Ruth Story 1The story begins in Baltimore where the young George Herman Ruth is a bit of a troublemaker for his saloon owner father. This leads to him being sent off to a boarding school run by a number of priests. One of the clergymen, Brother Matthias (Charles Bickford), especially helps guide the boy and encourages his interest in the game of baseball. As George becomes a young man, it is Brother Matthias who helps him get his first job with the minor league Baltimore Orioles as a pitcher.

It doesn’t take long for George (William Bendix), dubbed Babe by his minor league manager, to earn a place in the big show with the Boston Red Sox. He becomes one of the most successful pitchers in the game, though he doesn’t prove to be too intelligent off the field. He does hit a bit of a rough patch when opposing players pick up on the signals he unwittingly gives that indicate how he will throw the ball. This is pointed out to him by a chorus girl named Claire (Claire Trevor) who quickly becomes the object of his affection.

Babe Ruth Story 5After several successful years as a pitcher, he starts to excel as a hitter and is moved to the outfield. He also ends up being dealt to the New York Yankees, where he helps create a new baseball dynasty. Along the way we also see how he treated his fans, especially children. In one moment, after accidentally hitting a ball that smacks into a kids’ dog, the slugger rushes the dog off to a hospital to get it care from a team of doctors (not vets, mind you) and missing the game in the process. We also see him promise to hit a homer for a sick boy and accomplishing this by calling his shot during a World Series game with the Cubs. This is actually two incidents strung together, but what do you expect from a biopic. Eventually, though, the years catch up with the Babe and he ends up facing his own mortality at a rather early age.

Babe Ruth Story 6Many hardcore baseball fans are often critical of The Babe Ruth Story, and rightfully so. It is a glossy biopic in the true Hollywood sense. Events are flipped around or combined with others for the convenience of storytelling. The film completely ignores Ruth’s first wife, making it seem as if Claire (his 2nd wife) was his only love. There are bits and pieces of truth throughout the film, but it’s far from a complete picture of the famed slugger. The strangest thing is that the end of the film depicts Ruth at death’s door, yet according to internet sources it was released three weeks before the Bambino actually passed.

At times the film feels very over-scripted; trying way too hard to sound important. The most awkward moments of the script come in the form of a completely unnecessary narration that comes and goes over the course of the film. The film even goes out of it’s way to include two musical numbers, one being a dance number to “Singin’ in the Rain” coming four years before the famous film of the same name. The Babe himself even tries to hoof it with the chorus girls. Let’s just say Gene Kelly’s got nothing to worry about.

Babe Ruth Story 7What makes the film enjoyable is a solid performance from Bendix in the lead role. The actor supposedly spent time as a batboy for the New York Yankees during his youth and actually knew Babe Ruth. For the most part, his depiction of Ruth is that of a man with the heart of a champion and the innocence of a child. He makes Ruth an extremely likeable character.

I’m sure the historical inaccuracies in this film are far more than I even realize. For example, I have a feeling that fans didn’t gather outside Ruth’s hospital window while he was on his deathbed and sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. However, I think the film still captures what it was about Babe Ruth that people loved. The Babe Ruth Story may not have a space in the Hall of Fame, but it still manages to be quite entertaining.

2 thoughts on “The Babe Ruth Story

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  1. I liked Bendix as Babe Ruth, but overall I felt the film was a bit clunky. Before reading your post, I didn’t realize the film was released so close to Babe’s death – I always assumed he had died before then.

  2. It came out a few weeks before Babe died but he had been sick for over a year before that and was so ill in 1947 he almost didn’t make it to Yankee Stadium for a 20 Year Reunion of the famed 1927 Murderer’s Row Yankees team. He was there and gave a speech where he even commented on his voice “feeling as bad as it sounds”. He rebounded for awhile afterwards but grew sicker as the 1948 Season progressed but made it back to Yankee Stadium one more time and was so weak he had to use futur Hall of Fame Pitcher Bob Feller’s (Cleveland Indians) bat as a cane. Someone snapped a pic of him from the back with his uniform literally hanging off of him and simple pinstriped uni with the #3 and the RF Stands facing the camera..That pic is iconic in the world of baseball to this day.

    Ruth went into Sloane Kettering that week literally only then finding out it was cancer as his wife, doctors, children, media (They respected him for always being nice to them and they were more respectful of privacy in those days.), and even people in baseball hid the fact he was dying from them..Literally took him getting checked into SK Hospital which in NY circles was/is known as “the cancer hospital” for him to find out..He left to see this flick and then went back into the hospital and never left again…

    As for the kids singing..Maybe they didn’t sing like a choir but there were kids (and grownups who grew up watching Babe and were kids at heart) outside his room daily after he went in. And yes, some did serenade him with “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” on a daily basis and waited just for him to come to the window where they wished him well. Sometimes they just got a smile and a wave but he made sure to let them know he was thankful for their Prayers, shouts of support and love, and for just being there for him. His wife and (still living at 101 as of this writing) daughter Julia, and his late daughter Dorothy said the fans just being there brought joy to him in his final days. Especially the kids whom he loved for there innocence, dispite being a poor orphan himself that is something Babe never lost was his innocence.

    That kidlike attitude and excessive lifestyle is what kept him out of the Manager’s Office after his playing days but it was what endeared him to the American (and Japanese when he toured there before WWII) public. He was everything you wanted in an American Hero, somewhat flawed but with a Faith in God, a Love of Country, a childlike innocence, a Love for children that was honest and without anything dirty about it, and a Heart as vast as the open spaces of this land…There is a reason when in foxholes US Troops would yell; “F— Hirohito!” and the Japanese yelled; “F— Babe Roof!” back..He was that revered and they thought insulting him was as bad as insulting their Emperor. And it is why he is still revered today (well, maybe not among millenials but by sports fans who study and love the game), his legacy endures over 100 years after he made his Major League Debut for the Red Sox back before he became their “curse”…

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