Essential Books on Babe Ruth
There are countless books on Babe Ruth, and it comes with good reason, he was an athlete whose historic 22-season career in Major League Baseball earned him universal recognition as the greatest baseball player of all time.
“It’s hard to beat a person who never gives up,” he remarked.
In order to get to the bottom of what inspired one of America’s most famous cultural icons to the height of his craft, we’ve compiled a list of the 10 best books on Babe Ruth.
The Big Fella by Jane Leavy
He lived in the present tense – in the camera’s lens. There was no frame he couldn’t or wouldn’t fill. He swung the heaviest bat, earned the most money, and incurred the biggest fines. Like all the new-fangled gadgets then flooding the marketplace – radios, automatic clothes washers, Brownie cameras, microphones, and loudspeakers – Babe Ruth “made impossible events happen.” Aided by his crucial partnership with Christy Walsh – business manager, spin doctor, damage control wizard, and surrogate father, all stuffed into one tightly buttoned double-breasted suit – Ruth drafted the blueprint for modern athletic stardom.
After hitting his 60th home run in September 1927 – a total that would not be exceeded until 1961, when Roger Maris did it with the aid of the extended modern season – he embarked on the mother of all barnstorming tours, a three-week victory lap across America, accompanied by Yankee teammate Lou Gehrig.
Walsh called the tour a “Symphony of Swat.” The Omaha World Herald called it “the biggest show since Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey, and seven other associated circuses offered their entire performance under one tent.” In The Big Fella, acclaimed biographer Jane Leavy recreates that 21-day circus and in so doing captures the romp and the pathos that defined Ruth’s life and times, as well as breaks through the mythology that has obscured the legend and delivers the man.
Babe: The Legend Comes to Life by Robert Creamer
Nearly a century has passed since George Herman Ruth made his major league debut, and in that time millions of words have been used to describe baseball’s greatest hero. But for a man like the Babe, for whom the phrase “larger than life” seems to have been coined, those millions of words have created a mythologized legacy. Who was the real Babe Ruth? Relying on exhaustive research and interviews with teammates, family members, and friends, historian Robert W. Creamer separates fact from fiction and paints an honest and fascinating portrait of the slugger. This is the definitive biography of a man who was, in legend and in truth, the best who ever lived.
Ty and the Babe by Tom Stanton
Early in the twentieth century, fate thrust a young Babe Ruth into the gleaming orbit of Ty Cobb. The resulting collision produced a dazzling explosion and a struggle of mythic magnitude. At stake was not just baseball dominance, but eternal glory and the very soul of a sport. For much of fourteen seasons, the Cobb-Ruth rivalry occupied both men and enthralled a generation of fans. Even their retirement from the ball diamond didn’t extinguish it.
With that being said, Ty and The Babe is the story of their remarkable relationship. It is a tale of grand gestures and petty jealousies, superstition and egotism, spectacular feats and dirty tricks, mind games and athleticism, confrontations, conflagrations, good humor, growth, redemption, and, ultimately, friendship. Spanning several decades, the book conjures the rollicking cities of New York, Boston, and Detroit and the raucous world of baseball from 1915 to 1928, as it moved from the Deadball days of Cobb to the Lively Ball era of Ruth.
The Big Bam by Leigh Montville
The Big Bam traces Ruth’s life from his bleak childhood in Baltimore to his brash entrance into professional baseball, from Boston to New York and into the record books as the world’s most explosive slugger and cultural luminary. Montville explores every aspect of the man, paying particular attention to the myths that have always surrounded him.
Did he really hit the “called shot” homer in the 1932 World Series? Were his home runs really “the farthest balls ever hit” in countless ballparks around the country? Was he really part black – making him the first African American professional baseball superstar? And was Ruth the high-octane, womanizing, heavy-drinking “fatso” of legend…or just a boyish, rudderless quasi-orphan who did, in fact, take his training and personal conditioning quite seriously?
At a time when modern baseball is grappling with hyper-inflated salaries, free agency, and assorted controversies, this gem among books on Babe Ruth brings back the pure glory days of the game.
Five O’Clock Lightning by Harvey Frommer
An entertaining read about the greatest baseball team, the 1927 New York Yankees, who beat up on American League rivals during the regular season and then swept the World Series. With verve, facts, and stories, Harvey Frommer evokes the Murderers’ Row of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Miller Huggins, Tony Lazerri, Bob Meusel, and more.
Gehrig & the Babe by Tony Castro
Tony Castro worked almost a decade on Gehrig & The Babe, interviewing hundreds of their surviving former teammates, associates, and friends while also extensively researching their lives in New York, Baltimore, Boston and Los Angeles as well as studying years of newspaper accounts of the era in which they played.
This critically acclaimed book tells the remarkable story of these two men, one that has often been lost between the pages of individual biographies of the American icons – but rest assured, here it is explored in such scope and detail that The Wall Street Journal called Gehrig & The Babe “…the ‘Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid’ of baseball.”
The Called Shot by Thomas Wolf
In the summer of 1932, at the beginning of the turbulent decade that would remake America, baseball fans were treated to one of the most thrilling seasons in the history of the sport. As the nation drifted deeper into the Great Depression and reeled from social unrest, baseball was a diversion for a troubled country – and yet the world of baseball was marked by the same edginess that pervaded the national scene.
On-the-field fights were as common as double plays. Amid the National League pennant race, Cubs’ shortstop Billy Jurges was shot by showgirl Violet Popovich in a Chicago hotel room. When the regular season ended, the Cubs and Yankees clashed in what would be Babe Ruth’s last appearance in the fall classic. After the Cubs lost the first two games in New York, the series resumed in Chicago at Wrigley Field, with Democratic presidential candidate Franklin Roosevelt cheering for the visiting Yankees from the box seats behind the Yankees’ dugout.
In the top of the fifth inning, the game took a historic turn. As Ruth was jeered mercilessly by Cubs players and fans, he gestured toward the outfield and then blasted a long home run. After Ruth circled the bases, Roosevelt exclaimed, “Unbelievable!” Ruth’s homer set off one of baseball’s longest-running and most intense debates: did Ruth, in fact, call his famous home run?
Babe Ruth: His Life and Legend by Kal Wagenheim
Kal Wagenheim illustrates this larger-than-life athlete in Babe Ruth: His Life & Legend, and describes him as both a product of his childhood in Baltimore and of his formative years as a New York Yankee. He struggled desperately with the drastic contrast between the poverty of his youth and the glamour and stardom that his famed career brought him, and although his name became synonymous with wooing women and abusing alcohol, neither prevented him from becoming one of history’s greatest athletes.
Pinstripe Empire by Marty Appel
Is there a sports team more synonymous with winning than the New York Yankees? The team of Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Berra, Ford, Mantle, Jackson, Mattingly? Of Torre, Jeter, and Rivera? Of forty American League pennants, twenty-seven World Championships, and nearly forty Hall of Famers?
Like so many great American institutions, the Yankees began humbly, on the muddy, uneven grass of Hilltop Park. Eighteen years later the little second-class franchise won its first pennant. Today, the Yankees are worth more than a billion dollars.
It’s been nearly seventy years since Frank Graham wrote the last narrative history of the Yankees. Marty Appel, the Yankees’ PR director during the 1970s, now illuminates the team in its hundred-plus years of glory: clever, maneuvering owners; rowdy, talented players; great stories behind the great stories.
Appel heard tales from old-timers like Waite Hoyt, Bill Dickey, Yogi Berra, Phil Rizzuto, and Whitey Ford, and has remained close to the organization ever since. He gives life to the team’s history, from the demise of Hilltop Park in the 1900s to the evolution of today’s team as an international brand. With a wealth of photographs, this is a treasure trove for lovers of sports, the Yankees, New York history, and America’s game.
The Year Babe Ruth Hit 104 Home Runs by Bill Jenkinson
In an unprecedented look at Babe Ruth’s amazing batting power, sure to inspire debate among baseball fans of every stripe, one of the country’s most respected and trusted baseball historians reveals the amazing conclusions of more than twenty years of research.
Jenkinson takes readers through Ruth’s 1921 season, in which his pattern of battled balls would have accounted for more than 100 home runs in today’s ballparks and under today’s rules. Yet, 1921 is just the tip of the iceberg, for Jenkinson’s research reveals that during an era of mammoth field dimensions, Ruth hit more 450-plus-feet shots than anybody in history, and the conclusions one can draw are mind-boggling.
If you enjoyed this guide to essential books on Babe Ruth, check out our list of The 10 Best Books on Jackie Robinson!