The Babe was a one-man tour de force. His life was the embodiment of so many virtues, and human foibles, Cooperstown tries to preserve. So if the Hall has a patron saint, it is Ruth.
Dale Petroskey, president of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, chatted recently with MLB.com about Ruth's enduring hold on the game and its shrine.
Roger Maris, 1961 ... Hank Aaron, 1974 ... Now Babe Ruth's numbers are again being threatened. Will his memory ever be in jeopardy of being erased?
I don't see that. Babe Ruth was more than just the home run king. He really was larger than life. When the game needed great heroes in the '20s, Ruth filled the void. And then some. He was a celebrity, he gave the game a face. Everyone loved Ruth; he was such a friendly guy, with a generous spirit. He helped propel the game's popularity in those early years, and his (home run) record stood for years.
But he was a lot more than those records for most home runs in a season and in a career.
Sure, he was such a great talent. A pretty good baserunner. Great at hunting, bowling, golf, too; he loved to test himself athletically. But you have to remember, he broke Gavvy Cravath's record of 119 home runs. So think about that: With every home run after that, he kept breaking his own record. For 14 years, every home run he hit set a new record. For generations of Americans, he was the king of baseball.
Seventy years and hundreds of inductees later -- how is he still important to the Hall of Fame?
As you walk into the gallery of plaques and look down the room, the first five you see are still those of Ruth, (Ty) Cobb, (Honus) Wagner, (Christy) Mathewson and (Walter) Johnson. Ruth is front and center, he'll always be big. Part of the reason, of course, is the many championships the New York Yankees won when he was with them.
As big a part as home runs have played in the game, Ruth and Aaron must both occupy very significant spots on the Hall's roster.
Yes, Henry Aaron is also a huge part of us here. Just look at his hitting records, throwing home runs aside. Given the kind of hitter that he was, Aaron probably deserves a lot more credit than he gets. Yes, there are signs of Ruth and Aaron throughout the museum.
Since Aaron is more contemporary, it seems reasonable that most people would connect more directly with him.
Yes. Just today, a family -- they've been here before -- came through. The father was wearing a gray flannel Hank Aaron jersey from the old Milwaukee Braves days. They brought their little son -- Aaron Henry. Just a nice couple (from New York) who just loved and admired him as a man and as a ballplayer, so they named their child after him.
If and when he passes Ruth, then possibly Aaron, will Barry Bonds be comparably recognized?
Of course. We document the history of the game. If Barry Bonds passes Ruth, which could happen sometime soon, and if we get something (such as mementos) from him, we'd be delighted to feature it. We'd want to make sure that people understood that Bonds is now No. 2 on the list.
Where The Babe ranks in baseball history:
| Slugging percentage||.6898||1st|
| Career OPS||1.1638||1st|
| Home runs||714||2nd|
| Runs batted in||2,117||2nd|
| At-bats per HR||11.76||2nd|
| On-base percentage||.4740||2nd|
| Extra-base hits||1,356||3rd|
| Runs scored||2,175||3rd|
| Total bases||5,793||5th|
| Batting average||.3421||9th|
Everyone in the Hall of Fame obviously is special ...
They're all household names, national celebrities. After all, they're in the top one percent of everyone who has ever played in the Majors. But Ruth and Aaron -- and Jackie Robinson is another -- do come up more often than the others, because of what they represented.
But that doesn't necessarily mean that all will have the same durability as icons as has the Babe.
True. Ruth's name will be as strong and as well-known 100 years from now. When you're the first, and do it so well, you never leave the history books. He's a bit like George Washington, if you will.
Babe Ruth was considered to be ahead of his time. The flip side of that is millions of today's fans missed really knowing him.
When I think about all the Hall of Famers before I came here (in 1999), there are a lot of them I wish I'd gotten to know, and Ruth certainly is one of those. He was an amazing guy. Beyond just the baseball, he loved kids. He was very generous. He never met a camera he didn't like and seemed friendly with everyone, so he loved to give other people a chance to get in on the action. He was just a guy in perpetual motion.