It is always tough for teams to lose someone who was important to its history, but the gravitas of the loss feels much greater when it is someone who was a true face of the franchise. Over the past couple years, baseball has seen the Yankees lose their "Boss" (George Steinbrenner), the Expos and Mets lose their "Kid" (Gary Carter), and the Mariners and Phillies lose their voices (Dave Niehaus and Harry Kalas). They were all tough losses for the teams to fathom, but perhaps fans of this modern generation still struggle to realize just how jarring it was for baseball to lose Babe Ruth 64 years ago today.
Ruth was not only the face of the Yankees, but the face of the game itself. He helped save the popularity of the game in wake of the controversial 1919 Black Sox Scandal and revolutionize the way the game was played, forcing teams to adapt to his and the Yankees' power potential. Ruth was a true ambassador, leading tours to bring baseball around the world, all while happily showing the game off to kids of all ages throughout the country. Ruth loved the pure, unbridled passion that kids brought to the game, and when he was no longer able to see the kids anymore, he helped create a charity for underprivileged children. Having once been a young ruffian on the streets of Baltimore, Ruth realized the importance of reaching out to these kids and keeping them out of trouble, inspiring them to play baseball rather than cause crimes. All the kids loved Babe Ruth, their hero, and Babe Ruth loved to make them happy in return.
The Babe's health had sadly been in decline for a few years in the months leading up to his death in '48. At first, he had a malignant tumor in his neck removed in '46, but soon, another tumor developed near the back of his nose. He contracted nasopharyngeal carcinoma, which would ravage his throat and force him to lost his once-booming voice. He lost incredible amounts of weight due to the new chemotherapy treatments, but he was able to make it to Yankee Stadium a couple more times before his passing. The Yankees held Babe Ruth Day, retired his number 3, and raised money for the Babe Ruth Foundation. Ruth was helping kids even to the bitter end. He contracted pneumonia late in '48 and he inched even closer before finally succumbing to his diseases in his sleep on August 16, 1948. He was only 53. More than 100 kids stood outside the hospital in support of Ruth, then slowly left the area upon learning of their hero's death. Ruth's body would lay in state at Yankee Stadium over the next couple days before burial, and thousands of people stood outside the Stadium in rainy conditions just to say good-bye.There was never any player like Ruth before, and there will never be another one like him again.
(And yes, it is possible to write about the Babe's greatness without referencing any of his gaudy statistics.)