Well, I finished Babe – The Legend Comes to Life, by Robert W. Creamer, and, all in all, I can’t recommend it, despite it being “the best biography ever written about an American sports figure,” according to Sports Illustrated.
A key weakness of the book for me, lies, I think, in the acknowledgements, where Creamer says “Because this is a popular, not a scholarly, biography, there is no need for a bibliography, although I have mentioned several books in the text and will add here The Baseball Encyclopedia, which was continually helpful, and World Series Records, published annually by The Sporting News.”
No need for a bibliography?
I strongly disagree with Creamer on this; even a popular biography should include a bibliography as a service to its readers. I have a sneaking suspicion that Creamer only used a handful of sources for this book, the “several books mentioned in the text.” And I think this comes across in the book; there is a sameness to the storytelling that seems to make it less interesting than it should be.
The book did improve towards the end – I think that was because Creamer had to rely more on first-person stories and memories of Babe Ruth’s friends, and less on published reports, newspaper sports pages, and statistics. Consequently, the last portion of the book also seemed to move pretty quickly through Ruth’s final years and without extensive detail. For example, at the very end, Ruth is on his death-bed, and is visited by Ford Frick, who was President of the National League, and Frick tells the story.
I stayed a few minutes and left, and I spoke to Claire again across the hall, and then I went home and the next day he was dead.
And that’s the end of the book. Pretty laconic. Creamer doesn’t bother to relate the actual date that Ruth died.
The reliance on anecdote at the end of the book does improve the book though, and leaves me with a better overall impression of the work. It seems like here, at the end, we really get more of a feeling of who Ruth was. With baseball behind him and age making him more vulnerable, he suddenly seems more human and thoughtful and sympathetic. Oddly, Ruth’s doctor and family did not ever tell him he had cancer, thinking he couldn’t handle it. But Ruth knew, towards the end.
Ruth attended one last old-timers game at Yankee Stadium, just weeks before he died. At this point he could barely speak, and he used a bat as a cane to support himself.
A small bar had been set up in a corner of the locker room, and Dugan got a drink for himself and a beer for Ruth and brought them back. They sat there awhile, sipping their drinks.
“How are things, Jidge?” Dugan asked.
“Joe, I’m gone,” Ruth said. “I’m gone, Joe.”
He started to cry, and Dugan did too.