Babe Ruth’s charisma: How US Presidents attempted to capitalize on it

Babe Ruth in Action at Yankee Stadium.
Michael Bennington
Thursday August 17, 2023

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The sports world went into the morning on August 16, 1948, after Babe Ruth, the greatest symbol of the baseball world, died at New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Seventy-five years after his death, the legacy of the “Sultan of Swat” still evokes curiosity and pride among baseball fans. His popularity transcended all barriers in the United States when he was at the height of his career and even successive US Presidents leveraged Babe Ruth’s influence politically.

During his time as a player, Babe Ruth smashed a total of 714 home runs and set a record by hitting 60 home runs in a single season. He also guided the Yankees to win seven World Series championships, initially as a pitcher and later as a hitter. The Yankees legend spent many years hanging out with American presidents, starting with Woodrow Wilson, going all the way to Harry Truman, and even more presidents after that.

Babe Ruth’s connection with US Presidents

Back in 1915, President Wilson did something no other president had done before – he went to watch a World Series game. This particular series was between Babe Ruth’s team, the Red Sox, and the Phillies. The baseball legend later recalled that there had always been a strong friendship between him and President Wilson.

In 1920, when Warren G. Harding was trying to become the new president after Wilson, he asked for Babe Ruth’s endorsement. However, “The Bambino” refused saying he was not a Democrat. But Harding won the presidential race. The US President showed up at the first game held in Yankee Stadium in 1923 and cheered the Yankees legend, who hit a home run.

That summer, when Harding passed away, “The King of Crash” wrote a personal note to the president’s wife to express his condolences.

One of the popular stories often told about Babe Ruth claims that he once told the president on an extremely hot day that it was as hot as hell, using the word “Prez.” Sadly, we’re not completely sure if the president mentioned here was Harding or the next president, Calvin Coolidge. However, the baseball legend’s playful remark has always made people wonder about how athletes should act around elected leaders.

The flip-flop

In 1928, Herbert Hoover, who was running to become president for the Republicans, asked Babe Ruth to take a picture with him. At first, he refused because of his support to New York Governor Al Smith, who was a Democrat and shared the same Catholic faith.

Back in 1924, at Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s request, Babe Ruth had supported Smith during his previous attempt to become a nominee, even though it didn’t work out. After some reconsideration, he changed his mind about saying no to Hoover in 1928. Babe Ruth ended up taking photos with both Smith and Hoover, which is similar to what Michael Jordan later said about how even Republicans buy sneakers.

However, Babe Ruth also delivered one of the harshest statements about Hoover disparaging him.

In 1930, when Babe Ruth was asked about earning more money than the US President, he responded by saying that there was no problem with it since he had a better year than the president did. His words seemed to capture how Hoover struggled to handle the Great Depression.

Some weeks before the 1932 election, Hoover, Roosevelt’s opponent, threw the first pitch at a well-known Yankees-Cubs World Series game. This was the same game where Babe Ruth hit his famous home run, often dubbed as the “Called Shot,” against Charlie Root.

The Cubs fans weren’t happy, and they booed. However, Roosevelt really liked what was happening. He expressed his amazement, mentioning that it was unbelievable and that Babe Ruth was a lucky person.

A year after that, Babe Ruth went to the White House when Roosevelt was president. FDR put his arm around the Yankees legend and talked about the time his appearance diverted the attention of a group of people Roosevelt was talking to back in 1920.

The final president during Babe Ruth’s lifetime was Harry Truman. In July 1948, the baseball immortal wrote a letter to Truman, asking him to attend the premiere of “The Babe Ruth Story,” a movie about his life story. Truman said he couldn’t make it, and the baseball legend passed away the next month. However, this wasn’t the end of his connections with presidents.

During that very summer, Babe Ruth went to New Haven, and there he once met George H. W. Bush, who was the captain of the Yale baseball team. They even took a picture together. Then, in 2018, Donald Trump awarded Ruth the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously.

Even though Babe Ruth had strong political views and didn’t hesitate to share them, he didn’t allow those views to stop him from engaging with presidents from different political parties. He was more than just a sports icon. Babe Ruth was and is a national icon.

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