Tag:Babe Ruth
Posted on: March 1, 2013 12:25 am

Mr. Smith Goes to Palookaville

“Babe Ruth is the biggest runner-up in history.”

That’s what the man said, Babe Ruth, a runner-up.

Words from the mouth of sport opinionator Stephen A. Smith last Monday co-hosting with Skip Bayless on ESPN’s hip-hoppin’ morning show “First Take.”

I don’t take-in “First Take” but rarely these days, having been a regular until producers decided the popular show needed fixing and pulled in the welcome-mat for anyone over 35. Then there’s bombastic Stephen, your morning cup of arrogance whose shtick can only be taken in small doses, otherwise PVCs, BP spike and the migraine all set in.

Don’t know if it was chance, old habit or just gluttony for punishment, but I dropped in briefly on FT and Steve was on his soapbox about Hammerin’ Hank Aaron, a man many still consider the career home run champ, now with the dark cloud of PEDs hanging heavy over Bud Selig’s official title-holder, Barry Bonds.

But calling Ruth a “runner-up” to Hank Aaron is like calling Charles Lindbergh “runner-up” to Chuck Yeager or Vincent Van Gogh “runner-up“ to Pablo Picasso. Pure goofball histrionics, or at least, putting too fine a point on Hank‘s accomplishment.

Having fewer career home runs does not a “runner-up” make, any more than Bob Gibson and Sandy Koufax are “runner-up” to Bert Blyleven and Gaylord Perry.

Dead for well over 60 years, Babe Ruth’s name recognition stays strong while other stars like Thorpe, Howe, Unitas and Wilt understandably fad a little more with each passing generation. And here’s why the Babe still resonates:

Babe Ruth is holder of the best non-PED enhanced season in MLB batting history (‘21);

The man who when asked why he believed he should make more money than the President (Hoover), answered back: “Because I had a better year than he did.” I wonder how the Bambino and Rosanne would’ve gotten along?

Is credited with saving baseball after the ‘19 Black Sox and A. Rothstein nearly killed it;

Once described as “a parade all by himself (J. Cannon),“ the multi-talented George H. was fast becoming a HOF caliber pitcher with Boston when Ed Barrow and Col. Ruppert put him in pinstripes (‘20) where he single-handedly ushered in the modern era of baseball with his persona, ravenous appetite for all things tasty and his Ruthian clouts;

Head-to-head with Hank in HR-related stats: career HRs (Aaron / 755 (2) - Ruth / 714 (3)); AB per HR (A / 16.38 (38) - R / 11.76 (2)); career AB (A / 12,363 - R / 8,399); SLG% (A / .554 (23) - R / .689 (1)); BA (A / .305 (T147) - R / .342 (T9)); OB% (A / .373 (T222) - R / .473 (2));

The player who, yes Bob Costas, called his home run shot in the ‘32 Series (Cubs);

And the man whose accomplishments on the field of play, and play on the field of pop culture, gave him a such an immense stature worldwide that it’s never been surpassed and debatably been equaled only twice in persons of The Beatles and boxer Muhammad Ali.

Henry Aaron was a tremendous ball-player, arguably top-ten all-time. But had Ruth had a figure at which he could’ve taken aim and hung-on as did Hank, the Babe just might’ve put the homer, RBI and run marks beyond the reach of everyone, Aaron and Bonds included. God knows he still had pop in his bat with the show he put on at Forbes field in farewell (3 HR / ‘35). He just lost the zeal, holding most marks and nothing left to prove.

Why me so sensitive to SAS remarks? Ruth and other old-timers get kicked around pretty good these days by people claiming to be baseball fans. The pre-WW2 era was a different time (segregation), but the challenges faced by way of equipment, medicine, travel, the reserve clause, were incomparable to Barry’s and to some degree, even Hank’s easier time, though he and others (J. Robinson) bore a burden unlike any other class in breaking the color barrier.

Greats like Ruth, Aaron, Josh Gibson, “Three FingerBrown, all transcend time and serve as “runner(s)-up” to nobody. Such talk fills time on First Take but also puts a “one-way ticket to Palookaville” in hand of the speaker. That’s a place for losers in case you missed On the Waterfront (‘54).

Stephen’s a fan of Henry Aaron and has reasonable basis in ranking him greatest home run man. I too am a fan of Hank's, cheering him on as a Brewer at wide-open County Stadium in the mid-70s and feel no less so because I recognize instead Babe Ruth to be the best slugger in MLB history.

Tell me who's the greatest, okay.  Tell me who ain't and we've got a problem, Mr. Senator. 

Steven Keys
Can o’ Corn
Posted on: May 30, 2012 12:13 pm
Edited on: June 1, 2012 11:22 am

Did Ali KO Boxing?

If there were a Mt. Rushmore for athletes, Muhammad Ali would be on it.

Chiseled into South Dakota granite, he’d reside alongside that other giant of sporting Americana, Babe Ruth. The years will roll on but the immense stature of these two icons will forever tower over all others.

Filling-out the rest of the foursome is no cake-walk. Rounding-up contenders is easy enough but selecting the chosen few is problematic. Not entirely unlike Jefferson’s conundrum (Bill of Rights), the biggest fear is leaving out an indispensable.

Lightening the load is the fact it’s all in fun, meaning, your choices needn’t pass muster with local tribal-leaders or some kind of Ken Burns, revisionary litmus test.

Simply pick America’s four most influential figures of “tumultuous merriment (Johnson),” whether they come with glowing halo or bad-ass baggage in tow.

After the two titans, Jackie Robinson comes quickly to mind. His courage, contribution to civil rights and Dodgers distinction will never be forgotten. But I’m not so sure even he’d approve of his present-day deification by MLB. Something in the vain of “Stop feeding off me! (Cool Hand Luke)” might echo his sentiments if alive today.

Next comes Lombardi, Clemente, Billie Jean King, Cobb, Mantle, Rockne, Gehrig, Page, Bear Bryant, Thorpe, Wooden, Nicklaus, Unitas, Jim Brown, Butkus, Walter Ray, Scully, Montana, Berg, Shoulders, Sugar Ray Robinson, Mack, Foyt, Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Babe Zaharias, Josh Gibson, Graham, Halas, Owens, Petty, Mathewson, Connors and on and on and on.

And the greats of hockey? ‘Made in Canada’ shouldn’t disqualify American favorites like Shore, Hull, Plante, Brodeur, Richard, Bowman, Howe, Orr, Gretzky and Blake. Half their ice-time was clocked on the Southern side of the NHL.

Four spots is a petite pantheon (real Rushmore) with so many greats from which to pick.

Even with the rather pedestrian passel of Presidents, I always thought there should be more mugs on Rushmore. I’ve got no quarrel with those who made the cut, giants, all of ‘em. But if I’d made the call I wouldn’t begin the blasting until Old Hickory was on the roster. No Andy Jackson, hero of the Battle of New Orleans (1815), two-terms, the first People’s President who busted the bank trusts? Tsk-tsk, Mr. Coolidge.

But whether it’s four faces or fourteen, two will always stand above the rest, already chiseled onto the minds of American sport fans, young & old.

George Herman Ruth, “a parade all by himself (Cannon).” Starting as a HOF-caliber moundsman, Ruth’s power with the bat was unprecedented. Though, when asked if he’d not swung so for the stands might he have hit .400, the ever-confident Babe shot back, “Hell, kid, I coulda’ hit .500!” And he could have.

Such talent, wrapped in a lovable brashness was perfectly suited to the roaring times. His insatiable appetite for round-trippers, comfort-food, wine, women & song single-handedly enlivened and rescued a scandalized (Black Sox / ‘20) and micro-managed national pastime.

Best Babe quotes: “(Ty) Cobb is a pr**k, but he sure can hit, God Almighty, that man can hit (Big Sticks / Curran)!” Asked to justify a salary ($100,000) greater than that of the Chief Executive (Hoover), the Babe calmly responded: “I had a better year than he did.”

Babe Ruth, a “natural born world shaker (Dragline).”

It’s funny, you’d think they couldn’t be more different. But the more I read about Ruth, the more I’m reminded of the other sure face on my imaginary monument, Ali.

He was known as Cassius Marcellus Clay when he took the boxing world by storm at the Rome Olympics (’60). By the time he’d taken the title from the a brutish & brooding Sonny Liston (’64), his new religion and name had become the bigger story.

Charming one moment, cruel the next (v Frazier), the outspoken pugilist was a hard sell in Peoria after his conversion and draft refusal (‘66). To the seasoned press corps Ali was an angry draft-dodger. But that grizzled old bunch were becoming passé. The Lip spoke to a new, TV generation. Like The Beatles, he transcended his profession, becoming a bigger than life world figure of both influence and controversy.

And like the Sultan of Swat, Ali seemed tailor-made for his time.

To the new press Ali was a god-send, a quote-machine whose pre-fight poetry was unlike anything they’d ever heard before. “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” became Muhammad’s defining line. My own favorite Ali-ism: “I’m fast, I’m pretty and can’t POSSIBLY be beat!” Arrogance made interesting. That was a first…and a last.

And he found a kindred spirit in Howard Cosell, frequently feigning discord while taking us all for a ride. And we loved it. In the lawyer’s hands Ali showed a lighter side, more contemplative and surprisingly patient with the blunt, always provocative Howard.

It’s in the aftermath of these two tremendous reigns where the similarity ends.

When Ruth exited the game in 1935 baseball was in its early golden age. Heroes like DiMaggio, Williams, Musial, Berra, Mays, Koufax, Gibson and Aaron carried the banner well into the 70s. Today’s game has taken some serious hits with the NFL’s maturation and the PED plague, but it remains the favored pastime for millions.

Boxing, on the other hand, is fighting to stay relevant, in the throes of its toughest time.

With a few exceptions (Sugar Rays), as the heavyweight class goes, so goes USA boxing. When Ali lost the title to Spinks in ‘78, the division was already looking a bit wobbly.

The 35 years since has seen the top tier turn into a revolving-door of titlists, with names like Holmes, Tyson, Holyfield, Lewis and Klitschko (Vitali & Wladi) claiming authority.

Holmes lacked charisma, Tyson personified evil, Holyfield was a cruiserweight, the 90s Foreman was a pleasant anomaly and the other guys, Lewis (The Commonwealth) and the Klitschkos (Ukraine) are best known in their native lands.

Muhammad Ali set the boxing bar so high he left his sport wanting, yearning for a new savior. But can any fighter, in or out of the ring, ever meet the lofty standard set by the self-proclaimed “greatest?” I wonder.

Today’s boxer is as gifted a pugilist as warriors of old but pales in comparison with an Ali-expectancy.

In reality, Uncle Sam’s sporting tastes had been changing before Mr. Clay arrived on the scene. Rather than “KO“ boxing, Ali may’ve actually pumped new life into the sport.

Prize-fighting was born of harder times (1700s), before middle class, when life tested us at every turn and suffering & boredom were expectations. We’ve got our struggles today but in many respects times are better, less trying and less conducive to after-dinner fights.

The public began to rethink their passion for pugilism when tragedy struck in two nationally-televised fights. Cuban fighter Kid Paret would die within ten days after he was knocked unconscious by Emile Griffith in a 1962 welterweight title bout on ABC. Then in 1982, South Korean lightweight Duk Koo Kim collapsed after a 14 RD TKO loss to Ray Mancini at Caesars Palace (CBS), dying four days later.

You’d think it couldn’t get worse for boxing, then Mike Tyson found a gym.

All boxers have inner rage but Tyson was a truly frightening, unpredictable figure who relied on a sneaky upper-cut to knock opponents out on their feet. He unraveled fast with his first loss (Douglas ’90), the best title-fight since Ali-Frazier I (‘71). Then came the rape verdict (‘92), ear-chomp (‘97) and horrific rants (“eat your children” (’00)), giving the sport a nice, big shiner. Now he’s in boxing’s HOF (Canastota, NY). Just perfect.

Then there’s MMA. With evolution away from boxing it’s hard to figure the niche this oddly barbaric contest has carved out (See; sociologist). My theory: a post-1970 male population, spared major, social upheaval (draft / depression) but faced with a forever shrinking job market, in frustration, peer pressure and boredom, respond to mass-marketed machismo.  A collective chest-thump, as it were, shouting 'We bad too!'

Not exactly sign of the Apocalypse but an activity spawned from a culture moving disturbingly closer to James Caan / Wm Harrison's Rollerball and not half as cool.

Did MMA stagger boxing? Nyet. Their respective fan bases seem to be exclusive and the sports are different at their core. MMA is premised on forcing an opponent into submission, stripping him of all his pride.

Boxing is a mixture of human brutality and style where a winner can howl in victory but still leave his vanquished rival with a modicum of dignity. And that’s just what Herb Marshall left Barb Stanwyck after going a round in Breakfast for Two (‘37).

Floyd Mayweather is the face of today’s US boxing. Sugar Ray Leonard he is not, image-wise. But his skill in the ring has been of the highest caliber and more than well-tested.

As for his post-fight, ring-conduct (Merchant flare-up / ‘11): Even elder statesmen can get too full of themselves. ‘Asked & answered’ was my feeling in watching the senior pepper the winner with post-fight queries. If he hasn’t yet, Larry owes Floyd a phone call.

Then there’s the blood-test. Mayweather’s willingness to give the red stuff gave him the PR upper-hand over his talented, would-be challenger Manny Pacquiao whose meteoric rise came to a screeching halt at his apparent refusal to give the same a year ago.

Boxing will never rise to the heights of popularity it enjoyed for most of the 20th century. Too much has changed. But I hope it someday thrives again. Great fighters, memorable bouts, they’ll always be with us.

Because if Rocky ever goes MMA, I don’t want to see it. Do you?

Steven Keys
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com