tv QA Jane Leavy CSPAN January 27, 2019 11:00pm-12:02am EST
journalist jane leavy on her biography of babe ruth. then another chance to see kamala harris kickoff for presidential dead in oakland. ♪ >> this week on "q&a," author and journalist jane leavy on her book "the big fella." babe ruth and the world he created. ♪ brian: jane leavy, author of "the big fella," who was he? jane: babe ruth. my cabdriver was saying babe ruth, the babe ruth. he was thrilled to see him on the cover of the book. brian: why is he such a big deal?
jane: he was an original. mike rizzo the general manager , of the washington nationals, one of the first guys i interviewed eight years ago, he said he was the original original. he is an archetype. he is the guy who came into baseball and changed everything, from the way it was played to the way players were represented, to the way architecture was built -- everything was different after babe ruth. brian: let's go through some basics. born where? jane: baltimore. brian: to what parents? jane: george and katie. he was the first of their children, she was two months pregnant when they got married. there was a sequence of children
born to them afterward. there is some dispute whether they had eight or six, but of the children i could locate in archives come up for died in infancy, and of those, two died of starvation. brian: where did he go to school and how much did he have? jane: he was sent to st. mary's industrial school, which was in western baltimore, it was basically farmland when he got there. june 13, 1902. he was sent there not because he was an orphan, as many people still believe, and not because he was in cordial, which meant a kid in trouble with the law, but because his parents marriage fell apart and ended in a terrible divorce which was actually publicized in the baltimore sun. while it was public at the time in may, 1906, babe ruth managed to keep it a secret to his entire life and 70 years after. brian: how many different baseball teams did he play for? jane: the orioles and the international league when he left st. mary's. he was sold to the red sox. the red sox sent him to
providence to play for the grays. then he went back to the red sox, where he was a star pitcher for several years, including winning the second game of the 1916 world series. he pitched 14 innings and gave up one run, the beginning of a record he held dear, up 29 and two thirds innings of shutout world series baseball. harry fraser was the biggest schmuck in baseball. they traded him for $100,000. what has not been known is that fraser was so broke, it didn't have to do with the play he was producing.
nono nanette came later. but he was so broke that he borrowed $300,000 using fenway as collateral. the money he paid was at 6% and the money he borrowed without 3%. it made very clear to me that after six years, harry fraser had paid the yankees to take babe ruth office hands. brian: how many times was he married? jane: twice. brian: how many children did he have? jane: he had two adopted daughters. the first daughter, she died in the 1980's, and was never sure of her parentage. she would tell people, including the new york times in the 1980's, that she had witnessed a deathbed confession of a family friend, one jennings ally is, who claimed she had an affair with babe ruth and was really dorothy's mother.
that's never been scientifically proven. two of dorothy's surviving daughters don't believe it. dorothy died in the 1980's. the second daughter, also adopted by him, was the daughter of his second wife, claire. he had these two little girls creating a nuclear family that he had never had as a child. brian: the people to watch the show normally are saying to themselves right now, why in the world issue talking about babe ruth in baseball? i want to show you -- besides the new book, this is one of the reasons. this happened in november of last year at the white house. >> babe ruth played for four baseball teams between 1914 in 1935. he said records that so for decades, including 714 home
runs, 2000 73 hits, 2174 runs and 2062 walks. he remains unmatched with a 690 slugging percentage. babe ruth led the yankees to seven american league championships and four world series championships. his legacy has never been a clipped and he remains the personification of america's pastime. off the baseball field, he created the babe ruth foundation. the united states proudly honors an american hero who forever changed the landscape of american sports. [applause] brian: have you ever met a fellow standing next to the president? jane: yes, that is home stevens, who is babe's grandson. brian: is she still alive? jane: she is alive, she lives in henderson, nevada. when i went to see here in 2011,
as you know you go to the older people first when you're doing something like this. she said to me, you do know that george senior and katie were separated. i said no, i did not know. nor did any of his other biographers and nor did any of the sportswriters who knew about it at the time, they did not write about it. julia's offhand remark became the one piece of information that unlocked the story of his childhood. brian: why did you go see her? jane: because she was the only surviving member of his family who knew him and had lived with him. brian: but why did you care about going to see her in the first place? what was the impetus to go, to start a book on babe ruth? jane: i always wanted to write a novel about babe ruth, to be honest.
i started thinking about it way back in the 1990's when i took my son, who was seven, the age babe was when he got sent to st. mary's, to the babe ruth museum in baltimore. my little boy got to swing the bat. i wanted to get the testimony of someone who can tell you the little details that make him into a real human being. he has become such a caricature in american history that i wanted to be able to inhabit the caricature. i thought the only way to do that was fictionally. what i did not anticipate, and may trained historians knew this but i did not, was that the digital revolution that has made so many archives available, not
just newspaper archives, but family archives, would change completely how i did the research for this book, and that i could inhabit him factually. that was a revelation to me. brian: you have done a total of three books on baseball players. the first one was mickey mantle. jane: no, sandy koufax. brian: why sandy koufax? jane: he was a subject no one had written about. there was one book about him, which he had allegedly written, and was ghostwritten and he had nothing to do with it. he is a hero to the entire jewish-american community. i think the editors thought, maybe a nice jewish girl could get him to talk. he action called an left a message at my home, and i thought this was great.
he said, this is sandy, and then he stopped for a second and then said sandy koufax. he is one of the rare people on a first name basis with all of america. he said, i don't have any interest in your project, ms. leavy, he got my name right, but he said he would call me back. reporters don't expect anybody to call back, but i sat at my desk, and and damn if he called back. he was very polite, and if i kept talking, he never interrupted. i told him my whole life story. at the end when i took a breath, he said, well, i still don't have any interest in your project, but if you would like to come down to vero beach and talk about it, that would be ok. and that was my tipoff that i might be able to get somewhere. he never gave me an on the record interview. he had some ground rules i felt were fair and reasonable, and i
was happy to accept and put them in the introduction of the book. basically what he said is, i don't want this book written, but if it is going to be done, i would like it to be done right, so here is what i am willing to do. i'm willing to tell people who will not want to talk to you because they know how i feel about such things, that it is ok to talk. and i will also answer any questions of fact. you can call me any time and i will tell you if it is true or not. now, that requires you to be writing about someone who is both honorable and truthful, and i knew he was. brian: what did he think of the book? jane: he hasn't read it. which makes complete sense to me. don't believe me. his wife told me that. this was a number of years ago so i guess it could have changed. but he is not the kind of guy
who wants to read 250 pages about himself. that is the guy described in the book. so if he has read it, he's not the guy described. brian: still alive. jane: oh yes. brian: sandy koufax, give us the brief info on who he pitched four. jane: he was a brooklyn and then los angeles dodger. by the time he arrived in the major lives, 1955, he quit after the 1966 seasons, one of the best seasons any pitcher ever had, he was -- first of all, he was gorgeous. not just his face, if you look at the cover of the book you see how handsome he was, but his pitching motion was beautiful. baseball guys like to call it a 12 to six motion. he came over-the-top both with his fastball and curveball. the motion was so much the same that batters would say, and am talking about the great ones like frank robinson and mickey
mantle, that you could not tell whether it was a curve or a fastball until he got to the plate and went up or broke down. brian: what was his impact on culture? jane: you know, he changed, i think, at least my rabbi said so, the way jews thought about themselves in america. when he came into the national league, it's not that long, 10 years after the end of world war ii in the liberation of the camps in germany. here is this guy, who in his being refutes every stereotype about the nebbish jewish kid who is klutzy and can't throw or hit a baseball. of course, there were guys like hank greenberg who came before, but sandy memorably refused to pitch the first game of the world series in 1965 against the minnesota twins because it fell on yom kippur. that statement has caused endless numbers of parents and rabbis to do sermons to
children, if sandy koufax can refuse to fish the opening game of the world series, you can miss little league practice. his impact was a norm is. brian: what year was that book? jane: 2001, i think. brian: the next book, mickey mantle? jane: yes. it is called "the last play." brian: still alive? jane: no, mickey died in 1995 from complications from cirrhosis. he was an alcoholic. cirrhosis and a kind of cancer that results from cirrhosis. what was stunning about that is that i interviewed him in 1983 when it was at the washington post, and i went back and found my notes. i had not remember this, in my own handwriting, he told me, i've got cirrhosis of the liver
but it's not going to bleeping bother me known. so he lived another decade and a tad more before dying of the illness. he continued to drink until he finally got sober, he was sober the last 18 months of his life. southern sam adel, if you remember him, he was a great pitcher for the cleveland indians. sam drank his way out of the league and lost everything and he now councils and runs a program in florida for recovering athletes. i said to sam at one point, it is a tragedy that mickey only had 18 months sober. he got really angry at me and said, you should know better than that, that is not a tragedy. so few people actually manage to get sober. he ended up a sober man and dying a peaceful, honest death.
brian: you tell a story -- you met him in 1983 in atlantic city, i don't know if you can tell the whole thing. what were the circumstances? jane: growing up in new york, i was a mickey guy. my dad was a willie mays guy. my dad had grown up on coogan's bluff, he is than the waterboy for the new york football giants. i worshiped mickey mantle, literally. from my grandmother's building, two blocks from the stadium, and the balcony of the congress plaza hotel, where they held high holiday services. i can see just a little bit of the outfield through the opening between the train on the upper platform -- no, that's not what it was. my new york stuff is getting
muddled. but i worshiped him from afar. now here i am in 1983 going to atlantic city to me the guy and talks to him. he had become an ambassador, as athletes did in those days, at a hotel where my parents have their honeymoon before my father shipped off. he is late showing up for the interview, i am nervous, he finally shows up and there is a trough of breakfast food sitting in this stainless steel chafing dish. it was almost a football field in length. he is standing there, and the infrared lights are percolating the leftover sausages, and he sticks out his hand and says, hi, i am mick. i said, i am nervous. can i say what he said?
brian: go ahead. jane: he said, did you think i was going to pull on your titty? that was it of my childhood. brian: there was a passage about him being blotto in his hand on my side. jane: that was later that night. there were other journalists there, and for whatever reason, i was the last to get my one-on-one with him, which took place in a bar upstairs that was made out in british raj gear. i don't know what they were thinking. anyway, and he was blotto. as i pick up my tape recorder and put it on the table to make
my intentions clear, and he made his intentions clear by running his hand up the inside of my -- it started with the knee, and then all the way up my fight, and thank god he passed out dead drunk in my lap before he could get farther. brian: his impact on culture? jane: mickey came into the league for years earlier than sandy, in 1951 on a gust of postwar optimism. he had that innocent, beautiful, midwestern smile. i think he was the incarnation of postwar optimism. he spoke to the sense of our clout. we could defeat hitler, remake europe and hit from both sides of the plate with equal power. brian: how did that book do? jane: pretty well. both books were bestsellers. brian: before we go back to the book on babe ruth. you were born where and how did you get to washington? jane: i was born in the bronx,
about a mile north of yankee stadium. i came to washington in 1979 with my husband, who had a clerkship with the supreme court. brian: which justice? jane: john paul stevens, who bequeathed to me, and i wore it to yankee stadium this year when i threw out the first pitch, he gave me an authentic yankee satin jacket that george steinbrenner the third had given to him. brian: owner of the yankees. jane: yes. brian: here is some video we happen to have. we have shown the video of you throwing out the first pitch already, but here is the video of john paul stevens talking about babe ruth. [video clip] >> i was in fact a witness of the calling his shot home run by babe ruth.
i remember watching him respond to razzing from the sidelines, and pointing to centerfield, and following up with the famous called shot over the centerfield scoreboard. brian: what is the called shot? jane: this is in the 1932 world series. babe ruth gets into this back-and-forth with the picture for the chicago cubs. it becomes a legend that he is standing at home plate, and the cubs in the dugout are yelling at him, the yankees are yelling back at the cubs, and he raises one finger for one strike, two strikes, and then he allegedly -- this is the myth -- he points out to the teachers, the grandstand, allegedly saying that is where i'm going to hit the next one.
now, he never talked about it at the time because reporters did not ask any questions at the time. larry merchant, who was a great tabloid writer for the new york post when i was growing up said about this incident, if reporters had actually gone to the locker room in those days and asked questions, we would know if he called the shot. but because they didn't, there was just the press. and babe ruth was a really canny guy, there was only one guy in the press box that mentioned it was a called shot. it only became "fact" days later. and babe ruth's reaction was, if it is in the newspapers, you read the newspapers, don't you? brian: here is the rest of that clip. [video clip] >> a young man came up to me, he may not have been as younger man as he seemed. [laughter] >> he said he didn't want to
embarrass me in front of the whole crowd, but his grandfather had been in the bleachers that day and the home run had landed in the left-field bleachers right next to where his grandfather had been sitting in he saved the ball and they had a family souvenir out of it. the thought came to me, and the thought was this -- babe ruth hit two home runs that day. [laughter] >> so i gave one of my law clerks the assignment. [laughter] >> to find out what happened to the home run he called the shot on. she got the contemporaneous newspaper accounts that made it perfectly clear it went right out in centerfield. brian: so what was your husband's experience like with john paul stevens? jane: he had a great experience. he is an absolutely lovely man. the justice, i mean. i think working for him was a
privilege of a lifetime. brian: what year was he there? jane: 1979 and 1980. brian: here is a photograph with babe ruth was warren harding, at one of the ballparks in 1923. how political was babe ruth? jane: he was not political at all unless he was pushed to be. his second wife claire thought after the debacle of refusing to pose with herbert hoover that it was bad for him to have anything to do with politics. so he supported l smith because he was catholic in 1928. he stumped for him and made speeches for him, but he did not actually do anything political, including vote, until 1944 when his agent, who was an oddly visionary guy who understood marketing and created a template for being famous in america, that he was also a tee-totaling cheap irishman, a right wing
conservative -- he started this whole thing to try to defeat roosevelt in his last election and he got babe ruth to go on a radio show with his own nephew. the nephew told me that babe ruth was so drunk that he lost his place on the script prepared for him and there was 30 seconds of dead air, which is a killer on radio. brian: let's go back to the cover of your book. tell us about the photograph of babe ruth. jane: that was taken at the polo ground and you can tell he was quite young. it was taken by a famous photographer called nicholas murray. he was not a sports photographer. he himself was an olympic fencer. what struck me, there are other nicholas murray photographs of him taken indoors, there is a quite well known one of him with a screen behind him and a bat
between his legs, but this one had never been used, perhaps because people thought it was too overexposed. what i saw in it was two things -- the hugeness of him. when you see the field, the whole field, he is alone on the infield. it is such a portrait of the loneliness that i think is inherent to him, but also the largeness of the guy. you look at these meaty hands and you get a sense of how big he was, but it's also how he was holding himself. it was as if he saw and he knew that this photographer was not somebody who was just looking to see the readiness of the finish of his swing, but looking for the interior life of the guy. and babe ruth holding himself in
like this. it is a very guarded, defensive posture. and that speaks to how much he did not want people to know about him. brian: we got as far as your husband working for john paul stevens, that we did not go farther on your background. how long were you at the washington post and what year did you start? jane: i started july, 1979, and i left when we had our first child in 1985. i went back and then left again after our second child arrived in 1988. brian: what did you write? jane: i was first in sports department and i did olympic stuff, tennis stuff, i covered the orioles. i did a lot of features, i was the feature gal. then i switched to the style section in order not to be traveling so much.
the yesteryear i was in the sports department full-time, i was away 285 days, and that was typical in days when newspapers could afford to send people everywhere, which they can't now. brian: what was your family like and what did your parents do? jane: my father was an entertainment lawyer known as mort the sport in new york city. very proud of having been the water boy for the new york giants. my mom stayed home and she was incredibly smart and talented, and if she had been born in the next generation, she would have an an english professor or she might have owned a restaurant and pennebaker, i don't know. she had an enormous number of talents. brian: there is a babe ruth museum in baltimore, which i visited after reading your book, wanting to see what they have up close. located close to camden yards, the baseball stadium. how valuable is this?
jane: well, it is a funny thing. they have struggled financially, as many museums do. the rowhouses where he was born, one of them was his maternal grandparents, he was born in 1895 during a blizzard. the entire inner harbor was frozen over. it connects to the ballpark. as people know, one of his father's many saloons was located in what is now centerfield of camden yards. brian: there's a famous photograph in there of his father and babe ruth standing behind the bar. where was the bar and why with a working together? jane: this was after the red sox won the world series in 1915.
am i right about that? and he used his world series money, which was $3000 and change, a fair amount of change in 1915, to by his father, the gentleman all the way far right in the frame, this bar called ruth's cafe. if you hone in on the photograph, there is a calendar made with a woman sitting on an outfield fence. this is opposite the seltzer building, the tower you see from the stands at camden yards. the building is still there. it is now a men's club called the goddess. brian: why would there even be a museum -- i don't mean to act -- naive about it -- a
museum to babe ruth in baltimore? do you know when this started? jane: it started -- i should've reread the book. it started in the 1980's, the building had fallen into complete disrepair, the neighborhood was overrun with drug addicts and was falling apart. the city and some boosters decided that since babe ruth was perhaps the most famous athlete to come out of baltimore that they deserved to preserve this as a landmark, and as a way to commemorate his career. he, of course, once his father died outside that bar in august 1918, he never really came back to baltimore. it did not hold good memories for him. as i said, his childhood was horrible. there are headlines in the baltimore sun, in which his parents divorced, a gave the grounds of adultery and drunkenness.
george ruth senior was given custody of the three remaining children from the marriage, one of whom was not yet a year old, william. he would die of starvation in august, 1906. there were only two kids who survived that marriage. babe ruth is seven when he is first sent there. that is four years earlier than the divorce, but the family was tumultuous. he had seen by 1906, 4 of his siblings die in infancy. now that there are only two kids left, himself and his sister mamie, they still don't want him. imagine how that must have felt good the legend grew up that he was a bad kid running amok on the waterfront of baltimore.
he never lived on the waterfront of baltimore. i think he internalized -- we don't want to do too much psychobabble, but i think he internalized the idea that he must be bad, does why else would neither of his parents wanted him? brian: you write a lot in your book about his other ways of making money. i am going to hold out one of the other ways of making money. this is a baby ruth candy bar. i have interviewed people who said that it was named after grover cleveland's daughter. but this was an important part of his financial life. jane: well important in that he never earned a dime. it was the most popular nutbar. brian: it cost me two dollars, i want you to know. jane: that's because it is known by italians. [laughter]
jane: in chicago, unbeknownst to me, it is the candy capital of the united states. back in the early 1920's, there was a guy, a genius who went to the university of chicago, he opened a little candy company not far from wrigley field. he needed a signature product. he did not have one. he was making a lot of things. he would make the butterfingers. he gets the idea, while sitting in the grandstand at wrigley field, to change the name of the candy to baby ruth. he does this in 1919. he markets the thing. babe ruth was ignored. they did not actually register this with the government until years later.
by that time, the candy coming had invested thousands of thousands of dollars into making and promoting this. so when babe ruth and his representatives finally realized that somebody else is getting very rich off of something called the baby ruth, they decided to open their own company and make a different candy bar. well, it cannot go anywhere without getting sanctioned, so they sue. i'm sorry -- they sue for trespass of -- brian: of patent? jane: thank you. i have been on the road three months. [laughter] jane: they tried to sue and basically they lose because the other bar has been in existence and promoted, and the judge basically says, your bar, your babe ruth home run candy bar is actually infringing on the
rights of the baby ruth bar, which is hilarious. curtis maintained for year, and they still kind of maintain that baby ruth was named for baby ruth cleveland, who had died, i believe, in 1904. it is implausible. but because there was no right of publicity and no law at that point that would protect the rights of someone famous to own their name and likeness, there was no other way they could sue. so his candy bar failed, and this went on to make a gazillion dollars and he got none of it. brian: there is a lot in the book, we are not even coming close and i am jumping around to try and get some of your stories out. on page 246, the only documented birth for george ruth and helen was a stillbirth in 1916.
which was just one month before newspapers reported that she had been thrown from a car while joyriding with her husband in boston. what is the background on that? jane: it was an unhappy marriage and it ended terribly. the perspective i think you have to have on it is that when babe ruth is out of st. mary's at age 19, all of these life-changing events happen so fast. he goes to the orioles, to the red sox, and he meets a young waitress in boston named helen woodford. brian: who you say is 16. jane: she was 16. he proposes and they get married. he was 19 and she is 16. they needed permission to get married, which they got it this marriage would fail, and it is hardly surprising. he had seen none of the world. he had been in this institution
where, to say the least, there were no girls. but what touches me about it is that the legend of babe ruth is that he was a guy beset by appetite and he filled his life with women and food and drink. and that is true, but the first impulse was to fill his life with the home life he was denied. on the road, he discovered there were lots of women interested in being with the slugger. he did drink a lot of beer and put on a lot of weight. by the time helen died in a very tragic house fire in 1929, they had been separated legally for four years. they had signed a separation
agreement on august 4, 1925, which was kept quiet. there would have been nothing written about it except that captain joe patterson, the founder and publisher of the new york daily news, america's first tabloid, decided to change the rules on babe ruth. ruth was accustomed to having all of his secrets kept secret by the reporters who covered him. he is suspended from the gate -- from the yankees, and he is find $5,000, an unheard-of amount of money, because he is showing up late, he is out carousing, the law is finally laid down and patterson takes the opportunity to publish a picture of his mistress on the front page of the new york daily news. because of the revolution in technology that was underway in
the mass media, the tribune and the new york daily news created something called telepics, an early version of the ap wire service that would not come for another decade. but they sent the picture of claire from new york to los angeles overnight. this was treatment for very special people and events. overnight, his private life has become exposed, and he is greeted in chicago with a headline about the orgies he participated in. the rules changed overnight for him. brian: he died in august, 1948. he was only 53 years old. there is a photograph, a pulitzer prize winning photograph, in the museum of him in the baseball stadium with his
bat beside him. what is the story behind this one? jane: that photograph, the first pulitzer prize awarded to a sports photo, was taken by a guy named nat fine from the new york herald tribune. he got the assignment only because the regular guy had called in sick. as always, when you get somebody from a different world, they are going to find a different perspective. you can see in the photo, all of the other photographers are kneeling along the first baseline to catch him from the front. fein understood that the picture of babe ruth's number three, which now looks so diminished on his diminished self, and he is actually leaning on a bat loan to him by eddie robinson from the cleveland indians, he had come out of the cleveland dugout -- the clubhouse the visiting
team used. he still had his own yankees locker and it and photographers wanted to take a picture of him sitting by his old locker. the yankees had moved there locker room across the field by then. fein understood different perspective would be more revealing, because among other things, it shows the vastness and hugeness of the stadium that was named for him, the house that ruth built. brian: last major league baseball appearance in 1935 for the boston braves, after he and been with the yankees. what did he die of? what was he sick with? jane: he died of cancer. it grew in the back of his nose and sinus passages. it was inoperable and had been going on a couple of years, i think, before they realized what it was. it had been misdiagnosed as sinus infections or something to
do with his teeth. he was in excruciating pain. he spent 82 days in the french hospital that no longer exists on the west side of new york, where they operated on him, realizing they could not remove it all. it spread and encased his carotid artery, his left eye closed. he had to be fed intravenously. the night he got home in february of 1947, after these 82 days in the hospital, walter winchell had a radio broadcast in which he said babe ruth had lost 125 pounds, and ruth was incensed. he said, my bones will weigh more than 100 pounds when i die. they forced a retraction and they got it. he actually was, in another way, a medical pioneer. he was the first person to be
treated with the new regimen for treating this particular kind of cancer, which involved radiation and an early form of chemotherapy, which helped him. it put him in remission and lessened his pain. it was such an important discovery that it was on the front page of the wall street journal in august, 1947. the patient was not named, they just said it was an anonymous famous person. in a way, it is completely ironic that the biggest headline he ever got was the one in which he was anonymous. brian: i think this is right -- you give a figure of $360,000, his worth when he died. i worked it up and i made the wrong date because that would be 48. what would it be? i looked in the wrong era, what would be $6 million today.
jane: it is in the book but i can't memorize numbers. brian: what happened to the money he had when he died? jane: first of all, his agent was very smart, and he tricked babe ruth in 1927 into opening in irrevocable trust in which all the money he made from product endorsements, vaudeville barnstorming tours, would be put into the trust. it was a big pr stunt put together by his agent, and penance for all of your sins, you going to donate $1000 for each year of your life to this fund and show everybody turned over a new leaf and you are no longer a profligate wastrel of dollars. as soon as the cameras turned off at the press conference, ruth asked for his money back, and he said no, i put it in an irrevocable trust.
he took quarterly interest payments throughout his career, and supported his second wife claire, and some of which survived and went to his two daughters. brian: here is video of him supporting fdr while visiting a hospital ward in 1941. [video clip] >> i think we should stick behind our president in every way, especially in these days now that have come, with the things he has done for these lovely children. jane: three years later, he was doing the radio show where he was opposing roosevelt, who has been in office too long according to the script that was written for them, which babe ruth lost his place in. he was on the stage with dewey
in new york at several events. the thing about that picture there, that is what he did and filled his days with after he left baseball. baseball had no place for him and made no place for him after he retired in june, 1935. there is some video i found, his first public appearance after the retirement, at a club in westchester where they have got him gotten up in an 1800 admirals outfit with a funny hat and little jacket and balloon pants because he has outgrown everything, and smudged grease paint whiskers, and it is to play in a charity softball game. but he looks so -- there is actually a still from the appearance in the book -- he
looks so sad. here are all of the club members on their white chairs drinking mint juleps or something like that, watching him perform for them, and it was ludicrous and humiliating, and that's all there was for him. he went to hospitals, refereed some wrestling matches, he did a little bit of coaching for the brooklyn dodgers in 1938, but he was basically a lawn jockey. he was just there to raise income for the dodgers. brian: when i was going into the museum in baltimore, there was a family coming out, and a young kid, i don't know how old, probably 10. the mother was saying, how many home runs did babe ruth hit? and he said, 714. i didn't realize until i got in there, there is a 714 club and a whole area that shows -- i don't
know what you call them, little squares that people pay for to designate every single home run and the numbers on that. is that what he is best known for, the home runs? jane: yes, and for hitting 60 in 1927. i structured this book around the tour he and lou gehrig took for three weeks after that event. he hits the 60th home run on september 30, he runs around the bases crowing, "60, count 'em, 60," and helps the yankees beat the pirates. he has the only home runs in the 1927 world series. they parade around america from town to town, and kids would stream out of the stands, fall
out of the stands to try to waylay him between second and third. sometimes they did, sometimes they carried them off the field and they would interrupt the games. the thing about babe also, that makes him most memorable in baseball is that he was both beethoven and cezanne. he was that good a hitter and a pitcher. he really is unique. nobody comes close to him. there are other people that may have been a better hitter, that -- better fielder, but nobody could do the two things he did so well. the thing about the barnstorming tours, he had gotten in trouble with the commissioner when he tried to barnstorm after the 1921 world series, and landis made a big deal of babe ruth going to the countryside, and he
suspended him and he missed a bunch of a 1922 season, not a good one for him. the thing that was so interesting for me was finding babe ruth's statements, which are clearly not ghostwritten like so many columns that appeared, here he is saying i don't understand. i think we are doing something good for baseball. we are taking it out of the country. remember, major league baseball had not gone further west than kansas city. so he had a vision of marketing, of the expansion of the game that even the owners did not have. they would not get around to doing it, going to the west coast, until 1958. brian: i shouldn't do this -- i have been telling a story about my own experience. do you know who tracy stolid was? jane: sure. brian: when i was a kid, he was a pitcher on the baseball team i worked for when i was 13.
he went on to the boston red sox to do what? jane: he gave up roger maris's 61st home run. brian: i mention this, because when did babe ruth hold the 60 home runs? >> from 1927 until 1961. babe ruth did it in 154 games, and roger maris had the extended schedule. along comes years later in 1998, the home run clash between mark mcgwire and sammy sosa. but we find out they have been juicing. it is the illusion of power that
is revealed when you find out what they were up to. brian: there is a bat, one of babe ruth's bats at the museum. what is the difference between that and what they would use today? jane: first of all, most of the bats today are made from different kinds of wood. i was told two different things. some people say that bat was ash, and some say it was hickory. i got a chance to swing it, not when my son did, but later. they are weighted completely differently. today's bats have these big heads, and the sweet spot is completely different. i don't know if you look carefully enough, but he had etched in and around the logo -- brian: the louisville slugger. jane: yes. he etched the number of home runs he had hit with that bat. brian: what makes this book different?
jane: a couple of things, and this is what i was after. it's not like the biographies that came before, starting with bob kramer's in 1974. each one of those books has added something to the understanding of him. but when i read all of them prior to agreeing to actually write this book, what was obvious is that the first 20 years of his life were completely missing. for a long time, sports biography existed as a sort of sub genre of real biographies. they were stories about careers, not about whole lives. that's what mickey mantle always called "that jack armstrong bleep." [laughter] jane: you could get away with not having anything about his childhood, and in fairness to
the guys who came before me, it is not for lack of trying. as i said before, what i presume going into this, and i was good to be a huge disadvantage, because i would not have an opportunity to interview the people they could get to. living teammates and opponents and managers and officials still around when mom kramer did his book. he had live interviews. i thought, what could i possibly add? and then julia ruth mentions the separation of babe ruth's parents and i called one of his granddaughters and she said, they were not separated, they were divorced. all i had to do was go into the maryland state archives and type george herrmann ruth senior v. katie ruth, and there popped up the entire dossier of their divorce, including arrests
records, graphic testimony and depositions, george ruth the worst possible terms. he says, she is lousy and the kids are lousy. it is not surprising that once she was out of the way that he just sort of cast his son aside. what i keep going back to, as a writer and a mother, is what must it have felt like to be seven years old and unwanted? only two of their children left and they still did not want him. they sent him to this institution, which probably saved his life in a lot of ways, it was not warm and fuzzy. he lived in overcrowded dorms, each floor was supposed to accommodate 90 kids and instead there was maybe 130. they slept on wrought-iron cots
arranged in rows, and there was just enough room between them for a bent-wood chair and nothing personal. it's not like anybody had a teddy bear. what he learned was how to be public. brian: we are out of time, but before somebody sends me an email saying i mispronounced your name, where did the name leavy come from? jane: when my father's parents came to the states, the family name was different, but coming through ellis island, nobody could spell it. what they often did with a jewish name they could not pronounce or right was give you a tribe of israel. we became levy. my grandfather got enough money to get a tailor shop, and some -- somebody paints the name on the door and think that has to be o'leary, and there's no money to have it redone.
the painter is not going to redo it for free. so they changed the name and the spelling. the kicker is that flashforward 70 years and i go to the washington post for my interview with ben bradlee, oh your name is funny. i said, so are you. he said, you are hired. brian: the name of the book is "the big fella." our guest has been jane leavy. thank you very much. jane: thank you, brian. ♪ >> for free transcripts or to give us your comments about this
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