He may have built Yankee Stadium, but there is no evidence that Babe Ruth also broke ground for the Hall of Fame. Nonetheless, the legendary slugger whose groundbreaking career redefined baseball, and who belonged to Cooperstown's charter 1936 class, remains a star attraction of the game's cathedral. Any trip down the Hall's memory lane is paved with Ruth memorabilia, sparking nostalgic pangs in older fans and educating younger ones. Those tangible relics of a bygone era include Ruth's Yankee Stadium locker, the bat and ball from his 60th homer in 1927, the pen with which he signed his 1932 contract, his bowling bag and ball, and many others. Ruth was baseball, more than anyone else, ever. Many superstars have followed, often too many at a time to allow any one to stand unrivaled. Hank Aaron shared his prime with the talent lode unleashed in a freshly integrated game. Barry Bonds is merely at the head of his own peer posse of headliners.
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. MLB.com: 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? Dale Petroskey: 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. MLB.com: But he was a lot more than those records for most home runs in a season and in a career. DP: 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. MLB.com: Seventy years and hundreds of inductees later -- how is he still important to the Hall of Fame? DP: 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. MLB.com: 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. DP: 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. MLB.com: Since Aaron is more contemporary, it seems reasonable that most people would connect more directly with him. DP: 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. MLB.com: If and when he passes Ruth, then possibly Aaron, will Barry Bonds be comparably recognized? DP: 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.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.