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The King and The Babe, forever aligned

Posted by Bob Ryan, Globe Staff  August 15, 2010 08:06 PM

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I don't really know that I honestly think there is some cosmic significance to the awesome fact that the greatest of all American 20th century sports celebrities and the most culturally important singer/entertainer to emerge from the rock 'n roll era died on the same day -- August 16 -- 29 years apart. But I don't honestly know that I don't, either.

I cannot report with any certainty what I was doing the day Babe Ruth died in 1948, but I suspect it was news that was received with great sorrow in my household, because my father's life was sports. The Babe had to mean something to him. He died when I was 11. Perhaps the great Babe discussion was coming.

But I know exactly where I was when I got the news that Elvis had left us. I was with the Red Sox in Kansas City. It was during batting practice when my colleague Leigh Montville reported the breaking news.

I don't want to hear about anyone else. Babe Ruth is the greatest baseball player of all-time. Yeah, I know the game has changed and conditions have changed and the black players were barred from playing, and everything else. No one ever dominated as The Babe did.

Check out his 1920 and 1921 seasons:

1920 54 137 158 99 .847 1.379
1921 59 171 177 119 .846 1.359

119 extra base hits!

Yo, Chad Finn. You love the new stats, so check this out. Babe Ruth led the league in OPS 11 times, all with a total beginning with "1." And he's the all-time WARP leader, being the league WARP leader 11 times.

We'll get to the pitching in a minute.

He was 53 when he died of throat cancer. With any luck, he'd have lived through the entire Hank Aaron assault on his record, and my guess is he would have been a good sport about it. He'd have loved Hank as a player, and when Hank passed him he would probably have said something like, "I had my time, and this is your time. And, by the way, you weren't on your way to the Hall of Fame as a pitcher, I was."

Ruth's career record on the mound for both the Red Sox and Yankees (he made several late-season starts, just for fun) was 94-46 with a 2.28 ERA and a 1.16 career WHIP.

His rise coincided with the advent of newsreels and the explosion of commercial photography in general. Always a ham, he was one of the most photographed human beings of the 20th century. He made movies. He was everywhere. And this was in the Roaring 20's, the first Golden Age of American sport. He larger than life at a time when baseball reigned supreme, with everything else tied for second.

Elvis Presley was 42 when he died. I don't have to tell you who he was, or what his impact was on both American music and culture. What interests me is what musical direction he would have taken. He was a very different artist in 1977 than he had been in 1955. "Kentucky Rain" and "In The Ghetto" have nothing whatsoever to do with "That's All Right, Mama," "Hound Dog/Don't be Cruel," "A Big Hunk O' Love," "Teddy Bear," "Jailhouse Rock," etc.

I have no idea what he would have done, but people re-invent themselves constantly. Look at Willie Nelson. I've heard B.B. King sing standards in a duet form and he's really good. Country Elvis? Why not?

One thing we were spared was the sight of a portly 65-year old Elvis in a spangled jump suit performing at Foxwoods.

Anyway, my most underrated Elvis song: "Viva Las Vegas"

Favorite: "I Want You, I Need You, I Love You."

August 16. The Babe and The King. Aside from Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, (July 4, 1826) I don't know another pairing to match it.

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About bob ryan's blog Opinions, observations and anecdotes from Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan.
Bob is an award-winning columnist for the Globe and the host of "Globe 10.0" on Boston.com.

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