March 21, 2018

Was Babe Ruth A Labour Activist? (Three Ruth Books Will be Published This Year)

Edmund F. Wehrle, a professor at Eastern Illinois University, has written a Babe Ruth biography like no other. From the promotional copy for Breaking Babe Ruth: Baseball's Campaign Against Its Biggest Star (University of Missouri, May 31):
Rather than as a Falstaffian figure of limited intellect, Edmund Wehrle reveals Babe Ruth as an ambitious, independent operator, one not afraid to challenge baseball's draconian labor system. To the baseball establishment, Ruth's immense popularity represented opportunity, but his rebelliousness and potential to overturn the status quo presented a threat. After a decades-long campaign waged by baseball to contain and discredit him, the Babe, frustrated and struggling with injuries and illness, grew more acquiescent, but the image of Ruth that baseball perpetuated still informs how many people remember him to this day.
The pre-publication blurbs for Breaking Babe Ruth describe the sports media of that era "'infantilizing' Ruth and feeding the myth of a naive, wayward adolescent" or "a spoiled and unintelligent man child". (Sadly, some things have not changed in 90 years. Manny Ramirez was no threat to baseball's status quo, but sportswriters still went out of their way to portray him as a ditzy airhead when they knew he was an alert, intelligent hitter who worked his ass off.)

There are two other Ruth books coming out this year:

Thomas Barthel's Babe Ruth and the Creation of the Celebrity Athlete (McFarland, April 8) tracks Ruth's path as "the first great media-created superstar and celebrity product endorser". McFarland does a great service by publishing so many baseball books, often covering what most fans would consider marginal topics, but as a "library-oriented publisher", its books are both expensive and not available in stores. This 200-page book, for example, is $35 at Amazon.

In The Big Fella: Babe Ruth and the World He Created (Harper, October 23), Jane Leavy also sees Ruth as "the model for modern celebrity" and focuses on his three-week, cross-country barnstorming tour after the 1927 season. Leavy conducted more than 250 interviews and had access to previously-unseen documents and Ruth family records.


Jere said...

Second line of the Amazon description of the second book: "Traded to the Yankees"

Also, despite the ghost-written articles, I don't think Babe needed the media or anyone else to make him a celebrity.

laura k said...

Fascinating stuff! I do love that people are still studying Ruth and offering new perspectives on him and his career.

Jere, is it possible to become a celebrity without the media? I don't think so.