It wasn’t arrogance and it wasn’t ego, although, certainly, Babe Ruth could be arrogant. And yes, Babe Ruth had a tremendous ego.
It was naïveté.
Ruth was convinced that his visit to Japan during the fall of 1934 had sealed the friendship between the Japanese and the Americans enough to forestall any war between them.
When the Japanese attacked the United States on Dec. 7, 1941, Ruth was in his apartment on Riverside Drive. He was absolutely furious.
The attack on Pearl Harbor was more than an attack on America. It was an attack on Babe Ruth. It was a personal betrayal.
Ruth stormed into the living room where there were souvenirs of the Japan trip. He opened the window that looked down on Riverside Drive, grabbed a vase and heaved it out the window to the street below. Other items followed.
Robert K. Fitts presents a magnificent account of the 1934 baseball tour of Japan headed by Babe Ruth in Banzai Babe Ruth. The primary goal was to use baseball to prevent a potential war.
Fitts weaves history, political intrigue and baseball together as he reveals insights into Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Earl Averill, Moe Berg Jimmy Foxx, Lefty Gomez and Connie Mack. One of Mack’s goals was to determine if Ruth had the discipline to manage his Philadelphia Athletics.
An incident involving Babe and Claire Ruth and Lou and Eleanor Gehrig on the cruise to Japan is revealing.
Fitts cites Eleanor Gehrig’s My Luke and I in which she wrote that she saw Babe sitting alone in his cabin, surrounded by caviar and champagne. Eleanor joined Babe for about two hours.
Lou Gehrig was besides himself, He couldn’t find his wife. Thoughts that she had fallen overboard filled his mind. He eventually organized the crew into search parties to search the boat and scan the ocean.
When Eleanor finally appeared Gehrig was overjoyed — until she revealed where she had been.
Eleanor told Lou that she had been in Babe’s cabin because she loved fine food. Author Leigh Montville wrote that Ruth never had many platonic relationships.
Gehrig refused to speak with Eleanor for days.
The differences in the Japanese and American cultures as well as the differences in attitudes toward how baseball should be approached sheds light on how the game is radically different today in both countries compared to the first part of the 20th century.
The Japanese never went for the double play. With runners on first and second and no outs, they always took the force out at third on a ground ball hit to third instead of trying for an around-the-horn twin killing. They were fine pitchers but poor batters.
Japanese players from the 1930s would have been appalled at Barry Bonds remaining in the batter’s box as he watched his deep drive to right field hit the top of the wall, start to run and get thrown out at third base.
Banzai Babe Ruth is a unique work that makes us examine the greatest player of all-time, the greatest game of all-time and the greatest country of all-time.
Harold Friend loves baseball. He also writes for TheFanManifesto.