Detrow: Jane Leavy’s ‘The Big Fella’ highlights Babe Ruth as first celebrity sports star

From Scott Detrow at NPR on October 18, 2018, with SABR member Jane Leavy:

As the New York Yankees prepared to play the Boston Red Sox in the first round of this year’s playoffs, the staff at Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne, N.Y., braced for cleanup duty.

The grave in Section 25, Lot 1115, gets plenty of traffic. But the playoffs are always extra busy and, as The New York Times reported, a Yankees-Red Sox playoff series sends the visits to George Herman Ruth’s grave into overdrive. And standing at Babe Ruth’s grave apparently isn’t enough — people feel compelled to leave not just bats, hats, balls and gloves but also a lot of alcohol and food.

“People leave them all the time — a hot dog in a bun,” the cemetery superintendent told the Times. At the modern peak of the Yankees-Sox rivalry, the 2004 American League Championship Series, someone delivered a pizza to Ruth’s grave.

Why does a baseball player who retired 83 years ago and died 70 years ago inspire such a personal connection in 2018? Because, as Jane Leavy details in her new biography, The Big Fella, Ruth wasn’t just the first baseball superstar. He was also a movie star, a vaudeville performer, a barnstormer, a pitchman for every conceivable product, and a nationally syndicated newspaper columnist. He was the first celebrity of the mass media era.

Read the full article here:

Originally published: October 19, 2018. Last Updated: October 19, 2018.