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If you’re writing about the titans of baseball there’s one figure both daunting and irresistible: the Babe, the Big Bam, the Sultan of Swat. The Bambino. Babe Ruth was one of was one of 20th century America’s first real media stars;, but his young life has resisted biographers. With The Big Fella, Babe Ruth and the World He Created, the award-winning writer Jane Leavy — whose bestselling lives of Sandy Koufax and Mickey Mantle set the gold standard for baseball writing today — has blown away the myths surrounding the Babe, and in the process brought into focus not just his greatness on the diamond, but his similarly outsize role in the making of the world of fame, celebrity, and mass media that we still inhabit today. Leavy joined us in the podcast studio to talk about the singular challenge of writing about the Big Fella.
From Jane Leavy, the award-winning, New York Times bestselling author of The Last Boy and Sandy Koufax, comes the definitive biography of Babe Ruth—the man Roger Angell dubbed “the model for modern celebrity.”
He lived in the present tense—in the camera’s lens. There was no frame he couldn’t or wouldn’t fill. He swung the heaviest bat, earned the most money, and incurred the biggest fines. Like all the new-fangled gadgets then flooding the marketplace—radios, automatic clothes washers, Brownie cameras, microphones and loudspeakers—Babe Ruth “made impossible events happen.” Aided by his crucial partnership with Christy Walsh—business manager, spin doctor, damage control wizard, and surrogate father, all stuffed into one tightly buttoned double-breasted suit—Ruth drafted the blueprint for modern athletic stardom.
His was a life of journeys and itineraries—from uncouth to couth, spartan to spendthrift, abandoned to abandon; from Baltimore to Boston to New York, and back to Boston at the end of his career for a finale with the only team that would have him. There were road trips and hunting trips; grand tours of foreign capitals and post-season promotional tours, not to mention those 714 trips around the bases.
After hitting his 60th home run in September 1927—a total that would not be exceeded until 1961, when Roger Maris did it with the aid of the extended modern season—he embarked on the mother of all barnstorming tours, a three-week victory lap across America, accompanied by Yankee teammate Lou Gehrig. Walsh called the tour a “Symphony of Swat.” The Omaha World Herald called it “the biggest show since Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey, and seven other associated circuses offered their entire performance under one tent.” In The Big Fella, acclaimed biographer Jane Leavy recreates that 21-day circus and in so doing captures the romp and the pathos that defined Ruth’s life and times.
Drawing from more than 250 interviews, a trove of previously untapped documents, and Ruth family records, Leavy breaks through the mythology that has obscured the legend and delivers the man.
This exclusive signed edition for Barnes & Noble includes a special afterword from Jane Leavy in which she recalls her mentor, Red Smith—the late sports columnist for the New York Times known as the dean of sportswriting—his columns about the Babe, and his role in her career in the press box.