Friday, April 25, 2014

Babe Ruth Saves Baseball! by Frank Murphy

Babe Ruth Saves Baseball! by Frank Murphy, illustrated by Richard Walz

Rating: 5 stars

"Everyone knows something about George Herman Ruth," author Frank Murphy writes at the start of this Step 3 Easy Reader.  And it's true.  At the very least, you know that Babe Ruth was one of the best--if not The Best--ball players in the history of the game.

But did you know that he saved baseball?  I sure didn't.

Murphy tells the story of a time when things sure seemed a whole lot simpler--the early 20th century when baseball stars were heroes, and families gathered 'round the radio to listen to their favorite teams play when they couldn't get to the ballpark to see them and root them on in person.

In 1919, Babe Ruth was a Red Sox pitcher-turned-home run star; he hit home runs in every state he visited and played in, and people counted his home runs across America.  He was becoming a sensation, no doubt. Also in that year, the White Sox and Cincinnati Reds played in the World Series.  "But some White Sox players cheated.  People all across America found out.  People were shocked.  Many fans stopped going to the ball fields."

These devastated, disappointed fans needed something, or some one, to bring the spark back to baseball.  To give them a reason to care about the sport and the individuals who played it.  And that person could be, and was, Babe Ruth.

In 1920, Babe Ruth (famously or infamously, though Murphy doesn't make any fuss about it) moved to New York City to play for the Yankees.  He started talking about how many home runs he was going to hit that season--50, not the measly 29 he had hit the year prior--and got people curious and then excited to see if he could keep his word.  He sure did.  He hit 54.

Babe Ruth made kids fall in love with baseball all over again--I never knew that he signed hundreds of baseballs and then hid them around the city for people to find (hey, Nats, my son Ben thinks it'd be cool to do that again!).  A new ballpark--Yankee Stadium--was built and called "The House that Ruth Built." Guess who said he aimed to hit the first home run in the stadium?  Yup.  Babe. And guess who did what he said he'd do?  Yup.  Babe.

I've read this book three times to the kids, though Lorelei and Ben could easily read it by themselves.  At the end of each book, we're all in awe.  We all look up to Babe and the image he deliberately crafted for himself.  We talked about the World Series in which players cheated, and how important it is to be honest and how great it was that Babe Ruth did what he said he was going to do--that's how you gain people's trust.

There's so much kids (and their mamas!) can learn from this sport--both the history of it and actually playing it today.  I'm intrigued by that as I watch Ben and now Lorelei practice hitting, catching, and throwing their way through practices and ball games.  Of course I want to provide the cultural history, too, by reading books like this one to them.  But when it comes down to it, I know that Ben is just curious about how hard he can hit the ball, how high he can hit that ball, and how far he can hit that ball.  Just like Babe Ruth.

(To read my other reviews on baseball books, click HERE.)

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