Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Baseball and Fishing: Babe Ruth, Fanatical Angler

Babe Ruth: Fanatic Angler

Perhaps the most iconic figure in the history of baseball is George Herman "Babe" Ruth, the legendary slugger for the New York Yankees. Ruth began his career as one of the great pitchers in the league, but when he turned full time to hitting, he revolutionized the game. For several years, he hit more home runs than entire teams.

Ruth had legendary tastes and appetites, but one of the things he loved to to do in his spare time was fish. He talked in his autobiography Babe Ruth's Own Book of Baseball how he was as "funny looking a kid as ever got a trouncing for cutting class to go fishing." He became nationally famous early on as a piscator, and was even famously arrested in June of 1926 for fishing without a license in Michigan, and although an arrest warrant was issued, it had no repercussions. Interestingly, the press reported that the Babe only caught "a few scrawny bluegills." I can't help but think the wardens were Tigers fans....

It wasn't until Lou Gehrig joined the Yankees that Ruth really caught fishing fever. "Lou Gehrig would rather fish than eat," Babe famously wrote in his autobiography. They became very close and fished often together.

This famous photo of Ruth and Gehrig fishing was run in the Saturday Evening Post in 1931.

Much of their time spent fishing was in Florida, where as author Harvey Frommer noted, they went "boating and fishing for king mackerel or grouper in the Gulf of Mexico, then prevail(ed) upon a hotel cook to prepare the fish for supper, the Babe was having the time of his life." Ruth became so obsessed with fishing that according to Leigh Montville, one of his biographers, he used to go to the fish markets in New York and buy live fish, then put them in the bath tub in his hotel room and invite players and media alike up for an impromptu fishing tournament.

Photo of Larry Hunter and Babe Ruth fishing in Florida.

Ruth's fishing accomplishments made national news, as did most of what he did. It's hard to explain just how popular Ruth was--hardly a week went by during the 1920s and 1930s that did not see a feature article about him. Here's an example of a 1929 Associated Press photo of Ruth and his wife with a huge mess of fish:

The photo was run in hundreds of newspapers around the country.

One of my favorite stories of Ruth and fishing was his contest with Harold G. Lentz, champion surf caster, that took place in 1921. As covered by the national media (and magazines like Popular Science), Lents tried to cast a four ounce lead weight further than the Babe could hit a home run. According to Popular Science, Lentz won the contest in front of the 30,000 people who showed up at the Polo Grounds to witness it. Below are some photos from the article:

Here's a link to a photo of Lentz with Ruth owned by the Bettman Archives.

Ruth had a legendary soft spot for children. A good example of this is a story reported by the Equine Chronicle about horse breeder Carol Harris, whose father was a friend of Ruth's when she was a child. He used to come to New Jersey to visit, and while there, the two became fishing partners. “He used to visit my Dad and he loved for me to go fishing with him," she reported. "He hated worms and I would always bait his hook and then take the fish off."

So to end Baseball month here on the Fishing for History blog, let's tip a cap to the greatest player who ever lived--Babe Ruth. And let's remember him as a fanatical angler to boot.

-- Dr. Todd

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