How Babe Ruth Became the Model for the Modern Celebrity Athlete

This story appears in the Oct. 8, 2018, issue of Sports Illustrated.

The following is excerpted from the book THE BIG FELLA: BABE RUTH AND THE WORLD HE CREATED by Jane Leavy. Copyright © 2018 by Jane Leavy. To be published on October 16 by Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

Babe Ruth swept into the great hall of Manhattan’s Pennsylvania Station either with or without two ladies of the night prominently clinging to his arm. He had or had not spent the night before in their company. Did or did not pat them on the derriere and tip them effusively, calling out to a pal among the assembled scribes, photogs, hangers-on, autograph addicts and redcaps gathered to see him off: “Coupla beauts, eh?”

Christy Walsh thrust himself into the scrum. Among other things, it was his job to make sure the story remained an either/or—either it wouldn’t find its way into print until long after they were all dead or it would be forgotten in a blitz of favorable mentions of the visits Walsh had arranged to hospitals and orphanages, where Babe would be photographed being his best self.

It was Oct. 11, 1927, three days after Ruth and the Yankees had finished off a World Series sweep of the Pirates. Eleven days after he had hit his 60th home run, crowing as he rounded the bases, “Sixty! Count ’em, 60. Let’s see some other sonofabitch do that!” Most Americans still thought the Babe was a happily married man—witness those photos of Helen, his wife, and their daughter, Dorothy, in the stands at Yankee Stadium during Games 3 and 4 of the Series—even though Babe and Helen had been legally separated for two years. In the fight to preserve that image, Walsh could count on the discretion of the newspaper beat guys on the payroll of the Christy Walsh Syndicate—a nationwide network of paid mythologizers—who doubled as Ruth’s ghosts, but not on their editors if they got wind of the story. Not anymore.

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