CONSTRUCTING A LEGEND SINCE 1919
Reflecting the Times
Babe Ruth, conspicuous consumption and the 1920s
     Babe Ruth ate too much, he played too much and he hit too much. What better decade to spawn a hero rooted in overconsumption than the 1920s.

     Ruth was the highest paid ballplayer for most of his career and he spent every penny of his earnings. He drank bourbon and ginger ale before breakfast, changed silk shirts six or seven times a day and frequented whorehouses around the country.
The Babe and his second wife Claire at the ballpark.
He separated his fan mail into three piles: "Letters from broads," letters with checks, and the ones that were thrown away. When Ruth and the Yankees were on the road, he soaked up the city. Ruthís teammate Ping Bodie remarked, "I donít room with him. I room with his suitcase," (Ward, p. 159).

     Ruthís all-or-nothing approach at the plate reflected the mentality of the time. In an age where stock market speculators bought stocks on margin so that they would either win big or lose big, Ruth swung for the fences every time and either hit one over, or struck out. "I swing big, with everything I've got," Ruth said. "I hit big or I miss big. I like to live as big as I can."

     Following an era of "small ball," where batters choked up and tried to hit singles past the fielders by placing the ball "where they ainít," the home run was a symbol of over consumption. Rarely did runners advance two or three bases at one time during the dead ball era. Ruth, instead, tried for all the bases at once. Even Ruthís homers were big homers. Grantland Rice described one of the home runs Ruth hit against the St. Louis Cardinals in 1926 as "a home run that cracked all altitude records for a batted ball for at the crest of its flight the ball resembled a buckshot hung from the sky," (Inabinett, p. 42). He hit home runs in bunches as well. He broke the home run record with 29 homers in 1919 and followed that effort with 54 and 59 home runs in the next two years. At age 26, Ruth had more homers than anyone else in history. He even out-homered entire major league teams during his glory years. "The fansíd rather see me hit one homer to right than three doubles to left," Ruth said.

     Ruth also exemplified the 1920s notion of a conspicuous consumer. He was a showed off his wealth to develop his public persona. H.G. Salsinger of the Detroit News compared Ruth with Lou Gehrig and concluded that although Gehrig was as valuable to the Yankees as Ruth, the Babe was higher paid and was the bigger cultural icon because "Ruth is a showman of the highest type. Gehrig never had any showmanship and probably never will. Ruth is always on parade and Gehrig never is," (Ward, p. 185). Babe Ruth was truly a reflection of the care-free 1920s.


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