“The fascination with (Babe Ruth’s) life and career continues. He is a bombastic, sloppy hero from our bombastic, sloppy history, origins undetermined, a folk tale of American success. His moon face is as recognizable today as it was when he stared out at Tom Zachary on a certain September afternoon in 1927. If sport has become the national religion, Babe Ruth is the patron saint. He stands at the heart of the game he played, the promise of a warm summer night, a bag of peanuts and a beer. And just maybe, the longest ball hit out of the park.” – Author and journalist Leigh Montville

Ladies and gentlemen, George Herman “Babe” Ruth passed from this earth on Aug. 16, 1948 – nearly seven decades ago. He was just 53 years old.

But as Montville points out above, Babe Ruth has continued relevance in American culture to this very day, even though “The Sultan of Swat” hasn’t swung a bat in a big league game since 1935 – more than 82 years ago.

When I was a youngster, I played a couple of years of Babe Ruth League ball at Richard Shaffer Park in Hillsboro. Both seasons, I was a member of the Hillsboro Elks Club baseball team. We won the league title one of those years. Perhaps you played Babe Ruth League ball, too.

However, one could argue that the legend of Babe Ruth is greater today than it was in 1921 when Hillsboro native and famous author and journalist Hugh Fullerton did a feature magazine article on the Bambino. After all, Yankee Stadium, “The House That Ruth Built,” hadn’t been built yet.

As we discussed last time, Fullerton took the Yankees great to Columbia University – while the Bambino was still wearing his baseball uniform – to get the “secret” as to why Ruth is the “greatest home run hitter.”

Fullerton wrote that the researchers who conducted tests on the slugger “discovered that the secret of Babe Ruth’s batting, reduced to non-scientific terms, is that his eyes and ears function more rapidly than those of other players; that his brain records sensations more quickly and transmits its orders to the muscles much faster than does that of the average man. The tests proved that the coordination of eye, brain, nerve system and muscle is practically perfect and that the reason he did not acquire his great batting power before the sudden burst at the beginning of the baseball season of 1920 was because, prior to that time, pitching and studying batters disturbed his almost perfect coordination.”

From 1914 to 1919, the Babe pitched in 158 big league games but only pitched a total of five games between 1920 and 1933. He was a two-time 20-game winner (1916-17), had a career 94-46 record and a stellar 2.28 ERA.

Of course, it was Ruth’s prolific hitting – namely home run hitting – that turned him into a baseball immortal. He only had nine total home runs in his first four seasons in the big leagues with the Boston Red Sox but finished with 714 homers and had a career batting average of .342.

Fullerton wrote that the tests showed that Ruth was a “Superman” and could beat his own home run record (which he did more than once). Among the Columbia findings:

The tests revealed the fact that Ruth is 90-percent efficient compared with a human average of 60 percent.

That his eyes are about 12-percent faster than those of the average human being.

That his ears function at least 10-percent faster than those of the ordinary man.

That his nerves are steadier than those of 499 out of 500 persons.

That in attention and quickness of perception, he rated one and a half times above the human average.

That in intelligence, as demonstrated by the quickness and accuracy of understanding, he is approximately 10 percent above normal.

To put these numbers in perspective, Fullerton wrote, “It must not be forgotten that the night on which the tests were made was an extremely warm one, and that in the afternoon he had played a hard, exhausting game of baseball before a large crowd, in the course of which he had made one of those home-run hits which we at Columbia were so eager to understand and account for. Under such circumstances, one would think that some signs of nerve exhaustion would be revealed. The instigation lasted more than three hours, during which Ruth stood for most of the time, walked up and down stairs five times and underwent the tests in a close warm room. At the end of that time I was tired and nervous, and although Ruth showed no symptoms
of weariness, it is probable that under more favorable conditions his showing would have been even better.”

Before we talk more about Hugh Fullerton’s great Ruth experiment of 1921, let’s pause for now, and we’ll continue next week.

Steve Roush is a vice president of an international media company and a columnist and contributing writer for The Highland County Press. He can be reached by email at roush_steve@msn.com.