The Babe's greatness is beyond comparison

By BILL PASCHKE
May 11, 2006 12:52
4 minute read.
The Babe's greatness is beyond comparison

babe ruth 88. (photo credit: )

 
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The puffball reliever will lay the juiced ball on a tee. The padded hitter will use his bloated biceps to smash it deep into the stands. Every headline will weep. Barry Bonds passes Babe Ruth. He does not. He will not. Saying Barry Bonds passes Babe Ruth is like saying the Escalade passes the Mustang. It's like saying text messages pass handwritten letters. It's like saying Zima passes beer. When Bonds hits homers No. 714 and 715 to pass Ruth for second place on the career list - a feat that could occur any tainted day now - there will be much harrumphing and hand-wringing about a lout overtaking a legend. But a home run is not a personality trait, and statistics cannot measure impact. Barry Bonds might have altered the record books, but Babe Ruth changed the game. "Babe Ruth was different," said Elden Auker, 95, a former major league pitcher who once struck out Ruth. "If Bud Selig had any intestinal fortitude, Barry Bonds would not even be in the game today." Auker, who lives in Vero Beach, Florida, is one of the last living ballplayers who understood Ruth's effect. "The more time passes, the bigger Ruth grows," Auker said. The more time passes, the smaller Bonds shrinks. "He's broken all kinds of laws, how can he still be playing?" Auker said. In some obvious ways, the hitters are different. Ruth played before the invention of steroids. Ruth played before the invention of batter's body armor. Ruth played before the dilution of pitching staffs. "When I pitched, I owned the plate," Auker said. "Today, batters can stand inside and wear all that stuff on their bodies. Everybody is afraid to throw knockdown pitches. The batter owns the plate." In other, less obvious ways, the hitters were more similar than one might imagine. Ruth deserves an asterisk because he did not compete against the entire population - African American players were banned from the game. And, yes, well, Ruth competed while taking an illegal substance - he drank alcohol during Prohibition. "Everybody forgets that one, don't they?" Auker said with a laugh. But, overall, no matter how many times ESPN shows adjoining clips of the two players this week, they don't even belong in the same league. Because while Barry Bonds played baseball, Babe Ruth was baseball. • Bonds is so aloof, his locker is decorated in security guards. Ruth was so gregarious, next to his locker the Yankees installed a pay phone. • Bonds once helped cost the Pittsburgh Pirates a World Series berth because he couldn't throw out Sid Bream from shallow left field. Ruth once pitched 13 scoreless innings in one World Series game. • Bonds popularized the lowering of baseball pant cuffs to the ankles, making uniforms pajamas. Ruth's size inspired the Yankees to invent the slimming pinstripe, making uniforms regal. • In 2001, when Bonds hit 73 home run, the runner-up was Sammy Sosa with 64. In 1920, when Ruth hit 54 home runs, the runner-up was St. Louis's George Sisler with 19. • Bonds rarely signs autographs for children because he fears they will sell them. Ruth was the first athlete to sign mass autographs for children; the two autographed baseballs he sent to sick little Johnny Sylvester inspired the tall tale of how he hit a World Series homer for him. • With his huge head and neck and arms, Bonds looks like Andre the Giant. At 1.86 meters, 115 kilograms, Ruth looked like George Costanza. • Bonds has had four sacrifice bunts in his 20-year career. Ruth once had 10 sacrifice bunts in one season. • Bonds says he views baseball as a business, not a game. Ruth once showed up late and dirty for a Yankee team dinner because he had been playing with kids on a sandlot. • Bonds has yet to win a World Series championship. Ruth won seven, including two as a pitcher. • Bonds's contribution to the English language consists entirely of the word "juiced." Ruth inspired the word "Ruthian" and the phrase "out in left field," which referred to children too clueless to sit behind him in the right field bleachers. • Ruth's mammoth blasts inspired Polo Grounds workers to invent the foul poles. Bonds's shin and elbow pads inspired body armor. • Bonds openly despises the media. During the 1934 World Series, Ruth became media, writing for a wire service, breaking every story except the one, written by competitors, that he was retiring. • Bonds inspired the chant, "Ster-oids." Ruth inspired a chant from Japanese soldiers hoping to anger Americans in World War II, their troops screaming, "To hell with Babe Ruth" during battle. • Bonds calls many people "Bleeps." Ruth called everyone "Kid." • Bonds is conspicuous in his lack of affiliation with any major charity. After all-night Yankee parties, Ruth was known to stop by church and drop $50 into the collection plate. • Bonds has virtually no national endorsements. Ruth was the first athlete to do such endorsements; when he heard rumors that he wore no underwear, he posed for ads in his underwear. • Bonds has been in the limelight since growing up the son of a famous baseball player. Ruth, who grew up in an orphanage with few visitors, once said, "I am too big and ugly for anyone to come see me." • Bonds allegedly responded to the 1998 home run chase by injecting himself with steroids that led to the ruination of an era. Ruth responded to the 1919 Black Sox scandal by saving the game. (Los Angeles Times)

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