Friday, November 10, 2006
The Big Bam Review
The Big Bam by Leigh Montville.
How do you go about writing a biography of one of the most famous and beloved people in American history? How do you convey what he accomplished, the exalted status Ruth attained? It's a tall task for a biographer. Leigh Montville was up for the job.
Babe Ruth was—and still is—larger than life. And it wasn't just hype and good PR. He earned it with his bat, his personality, his full throttle attack on life. He lived like a rock star thirty years before rock n' roll was even born. Montville does the job of conveying this by placing the reader squarely in Ruth's time. And not by over-describing the settings, or the fashion of the day. But with the little things, like the Babe getting a speeding ticking for doing 27 MPH! Or showing what went on during the train rides the Yankees took when they traveled to other American League cities. Or describing news events of the day, like Charles Lindbergh's successful flight across the Atlantic, and the crash of the stock market in 1929.
All the familiar territory is also covered: the Babe's time at St. Mary's Industrial School for Boys as a kid, coming up to the Red Sox as a pitcher at age 19, his trade to the Yankees, his homeruns, his called shot in the '32 World Series, his relationship with Lou Gehrig, his off-season barnstorming tours, his two marriages, his baseball tours around the world, his exit from baseball, his retirement, and eventually his death from cancer.
Ruth's personality, too, comes through, and not just the cartoon image many of us are familiar with: the over-eating, the over-drinking, the many women. His love of life, his sense of humor, his rebelliousness, and his heart also all come through. Ruth wasn't a phony. He was real. One classic moment in the book was a reprint of an interview with poet Carl Sandburg. Sandburg was out to knock Ruth down a peg, show how uneducated Ruth was. But it backfired. Ruth was a ballplayer—a great one—and never pretended to be anything more. He was a big kid who pulled himself up from nothing and conquered the world with his bat. That's why he was loved.
My only complaint (and this goes for many other baseball biographies): Why on earth wouldn't you print the career stats of the player at the end of the book? I had to keep looking on the internet when I wanted to see Ruth's stats. Hopefully they'll add it to the paperback version.