Wednesday’s Book Review: “Playing the Game”

Playing the GamePlaying the Game: My Early Years in Baseball. By Babe Ruth. Edited by William R. Cobb. New Introduction by Paul Dickson. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, Inc., 2011.

Without question Babe Ruth was a force of nature. He strode across the landscape of Major League Baseball and American society for thirty years, leaving an indelible mark on everything he touched. He is still a household name more than sixty years after his death. It was as a slugger for the New York Yankees that he dominated the game, but before that time he was a stellar lefty pitcher for the Boston Red Sox. During the 1910s it was that team that was the royalty of baseball, not the Yankees.

This long forgotten autobiography of Babe Ruth—in reality it was ghosted probably by Westbrook Pegler—did a pretty good job of illuminating the Babe and his efforts in the Hub. This autobiography appeared as a serial in the Atlanta Constitution during the 1920 season. Although this account has been a staple in historical circles, and mined by biographers of the Babe for anecdotes and illumination, it has not been easily available to the general reader for many years. It is with this audience in mind that this new Dover edition, edited by William R. Cobb, has been published.

Although I have read a lot of baseball history over the years, I was unfamiliar with this work and had not been exposed to its insights until I read this short and useful book. I don’t know, and I doubt anyone can say with much certainty, how much of this was the product of the Babe and how much was contributed by the ghostwriter. The stories vary as to Ruth’s input. Regardless, this is a fine additional source on the life of an individual who was already in the process of becoming a legend as it appeared.

As an example of some of the gems in this book, the lead states: “There’s no use of my beating about the bush. I spent twelve years in a reform school” (p. 1). No sugarcoating here. And the story is the same throughout the remainder of this work. At another point Ruth said, “There’s one thing in baseball that always gets my goat and that’s the intentional pass. It isn’t fair to the batter. It isn’t fair to his club. It’s a raw deal for the fans and it isn’t baseball” (p. 32). Tell us how you really feel, and while you’re at it reflect on the intentional walks of Barry Bonds during his latter career. On his dale to the Yankees Ruth said, “The sale was the biggest sensation that baseball has served up in many years. It seemed to me that more columns of statistics and expert speculation were printed about this deal than about the League of Nations” (p. 65).

This is really quite an interesting little book. It’s easy to read, doesn’t take long to digest, and opens a door on Babe Ruth’s career before his superstardom in New York. It’s well worth even the casual baseball fan’s time to gain a little more insight into the games most legendary player.

I would have also liked to have seen an index and some sort of scholarly apparatus from the editor.

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