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The Babe and the Don: Babe Ruth’s dalliance with cricket

Late in his baseball career, Babe Ruth had a meeting with the cricket version of himself and even attempted the fellow bat-and-ball sport a bit.

Bradman Batting Photo by Central Press/Getty Images

Other than softball, which was created as an offshoot, the sport most often compared to baseball is typically cricket. They’re both bat-and-ball sports that involve hitting, throwing, catching, fielding, and running to “bases” to score runs. There are definitely differences in techniques in batting and pitching/bowling (as it’s called in cricket), but the comparisons are understandable.

Over the years, there have been plenty of attempts to see if a player could cross over from one sport to the other. The Jon Hamm-led movie “Million Dollar Arm” was based on a true story about a reality show that wanted to see if Indian cricketers could make it in baseball. Two players that came out of the show spent time in the Pirates’ organization. The Red Sox once tried to see if Australian cricket legend Adam Gilchrist, known for his aggressive, hard hitting, had any interest in switching over upon retirement from cricket. Former Australian captains and brothers Ian and Greg Chappell both played baseball in their youth before focusing on cricket. Ian, who later became a cricket commentator, then even got involved with the broadcast booth when the Diamondbacks and Dodgers played regular season games in Australia in 2014.

Plenty of players have looked into potentially transitioning from one sport to the other. Even Babe Ruth tried to give cricket a spin.

The story of Ruth’s affiliation with cricket began in 1932. That July, while touring North America, playing cricket, and honeymooning with his wife, the legendary Australian cricketer Don Bradman took in a baseball game at Yankee Stadium. For those unaware, Bradman is basically the Ruth of cricket, in both statistical excellence and in borderline mythic status. In batting average, which actually began in cricket before being adopted by baseball, Bradman is the all-time leader in test cricket (the famed five-day matches), averaging 99.94 runs. That means for every time Bradman got out, he scored 99 runs. Considering that scoring 100 in one time batting (or in an inning as it’s called in cricket) is seen as an excellent achievement, essentially scoring that every time you bat is insanity. For reference, second place on the all-time average list is someone with 61.87.

Bradman was hosted by Ruth while at the Yankees game, as the Bambino was out of the lineup on that particular day. During the two legends’ discussions, Ruth told Bradman that he would one day attempt cricket, and a few years later, he did just that.

In 1934, Ruth knew he was coming toward the end of his baseball playing career. While he still put up great numbers that year, he was limited to 125 games. Knowing his days as a player were limited, Ruth attempted to campaign for the job as Yankees manager, but the team had no intention of replacing future Hall of Fame skipper Joe McCarthy.

After the ‘34 season, Ruth went on a bit of a world tour. He helped organize a barnstorming series in Japan before heading over to Europe. One of his stops across the pond would be London, where he kept his word to Bradman.

While in the UK, Ruth was put in contact with former Australian national team member Alan Fairfax.

Fairfax was living in London and running an indoor cricket school when the baseball legend paid him a visit. Fairfax initially attempted to teach Ruth the proper cricket stance and technique, with which the Babe reportedly struggled. Upon switching to his more typical baseball stance, he began smashing balls all over the place, to the point where he broke the bat at the handle.

Fairfax was impressed, believing that if he had a couple weeks, he could turn Ruth into cricket’s greatest batter. Ruth was less receptive to the idea upon finding out that cricketers did not make as much as his baseball series. He did quite enjoy using a flat cricket bat though, remarking that he wished he could use it in baseball.

So Ruth decided against becoming a cricketer and returned to the US. There, with his Yankees’ managerial ambitions still proving fruitless, the Yankees agreed to let him go to the Boston Braves. The NL club gave Ruth a player-coach role, with a possibility that he could someday ascend to the big role. However, it turned out that the Braves’ owner was more using Ruth to get people in the stands and never actually intended to let him become manager. After hitting just .181 in 92 at-bats, Ruth decided to retire.

Years after his playing career ended, Ruth passed away on August 16, 1948. In a weird twist of fate, across the ocean, just two days prior, Bradman’s test cricket career had finished. He had been gotten out for zero runs in his final chance to bat when he needed just four to ensure that his final career batting average would be over 100.


“The Big Bam: The Life and Times of Babe Ruth” by Leigh Montville