“The Great Bambino:
Babe Ruth’s Life in Pictures”
The author: Sam Chase
The publishing info: Centennial Books, 192 pages, $19.99, Released March 9, 2021
The links: At the publisher’s website, at Powells.com, at Vromans.com, at The Last Book Store in L.A., at PagesABookstore.com, at Amazon.com, at BarnesAndNoble.com, at Indiebound.org, at Bookshop.org.
The review in 90 feet or less
Picture this: A photo book of Babe Ruth. Big and glossy. Nothing real in depth. Highlights of his career and all that sort of stuff.
Instant seller? Depends on who’s buying. But if “Yankees” is in the title …
A tweet we came across the other day kind of sold us (again) on the idea that if all you had was a picture of the Bambino with some text-adjacent real estate, someone will glob onto it in hopes of gleaning new information. It can be a fatal attraction.
Or, an opportunity for Babe to have some good, clean fun:
Actually, today is annual Babe Ruth History Day according to those who establish these sort of thing. We were not aware of it until we were in a Ruth photo excavation process of our own to see if photos in this new collection were as un-rare as they appear to be. Had we been more perceptive in our perusal of “The Great Bambino,” we would have seen on page 149 the story about how baseball commissioner Happy Chandler declared April 27, 1947 as “Babe Ruth Day,” as it was obvious Ruth wasn’t going to live much longer with cancer. Ruth appeared that day at Yankee Stadium to be celebrated before 60,000 fans — but it’s not the famous photo you may recall of him standing at home plate with his No. 3 pinstripes and his former teammates lined up along first base. That was June 13, 1948, two months before he died at age 53. That photo is on pages 146-147.
So even if there’s no real official Ruth anniversary of note, no historical feat to celebrate, why not hold this publication up as the latest example of his staying power?
It also brings up the idea: What if someone was to put a book together of all the images produced of Ruth over the years that were created just to sell another book.
It could include:
Annual new books on Ruth over the years have been almost as predictable as those on Jackie Robinson, but with Ruth, it seems the glorification and adoration never ceases to have a point other than to capture someone’s emotions and get them to shell out for another one.
With this one, a slick coated, nicely fonted, tight graphic display to illustrate the 53 years Ruth existed in human form. We are compelled to examine it for historical accuracy and some amusement before trying to assess if it has some redeeming value, all things considered.
As it says in the sales blurb: “The Great Bambino, The Sultan of Swat, The Titan of Terror…Babe Ruth was larger than life! Here is an illustrated history of baseball’s most iconic figure. … “The Great Bambino” is an intimate and beautifully illustrated portrait of a true American icon.”
This time, it’s from an author whose bio on the flap says he roots for “the Boston Red Sox and whoever beats the Yankees. Nonetheless, he begrudgingly respects the pinstripes and is a longtime Babe Ruth enthusiast” who now lives in Chicago with his girlfriend and their cat. Sure, why not.
More investigation of the publisher – a subsidiary of Simon & Shuster – shows that the purpose is really to cranks out oversized books on all sorts of things – kids science, cooking, celebrities – as an eye-catching endeavor. It often works.
For the record, there is also a full page of photo credits, most of them to something called Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images, as well as WikiMedia Commons Images, AP/Shutterstock, the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library and, on the spine, black flap and back cover, the notation “TKTKTK,” which in writing code means “information to come.” Nice editing there, guys.
It’s also padded to include chapters (and more photos) of the Yankees’ “Murderers’ Row,” some highlights of other things that have happened at Yankee Stadium, and a tribute to other stars of the game who “dominated their own time on the field,” such as Ted Williams, Barry Bonds, Rickey Henderson, Hank …
Hey, why are we doing this again? Oh, right. Babe Ruth.
We’ve suspected for awhile that the lifetime supply of Ruthian photos, from his 1895 birth to 1948 death and all the shenanigans in between, would have reached a saturation point. It can’t be an endless bounty.
With “The Great Bambino,” the point is proven, when it never needed to be. Even with a red circular logo on the cover that claims to add “The Stories, The Stats, The Saga,” we’ve really hit the end of the line.
And that’s OK.
Which one begat the other?
To prove the point about Ruth’s image pulling on emotions to active buying, Centennial Media has also updated a scaled down magazine-style version of this book to sell at the check-out stands at supermarkets. First printed in 2018, it still has a different cover, different title, and calls itself a “Special Collector’s Edition.” It is essentially, in 97 pages at $12.99, a slimmed down version of the same photos and text from the book. With one notable addition: Page 91 heralds the day in Nov., 2018, when then-president Trump awarded Ruth the Presidential Medal of Freedom, handed to his grandson Thomas Stevens. Yes, this fact does tarnish the Ruth legacy a bit — not the award, just the presenter and the opportunistic reasons for bestowing it as a public event.
How it goes in the scorebook
A lazy fly ball to right field, and there may be a collision for those trying to call everyone off for it.
Surely, someone will pick this one up as a Father’s Day gift because they know dad likes baseball, and he probably likes Babe Ruth, and we’ve heard of Babe Ruth, so … There you go.
And if you want more images:
More Yankees/New York related books to acknowledge
On Day 13 of the annual review, we did the roundup of Mets-related books. Because the art of selling more books devoted to Yankees history is always on some publisher’s radar, we have a few more to at least make the buy beware of:
* “The Captain and Me: On and Off the Field with Thurman Munson,” by Ron Blomberg, with Dan Epstein (Triumph Books, $28, 304 pages, released April 20, 2021).
So here’s the catch: Does Munson belong in the Baseball Hall of Fame? Ultimately, aside from all the reliving of glory days, that’s the leads up to the biggest takeaway from perhaps why this book is even considered.
Now a former teammate vouches for for the catcher who died while piloting a Cessna plane with his flight instructor and real estate partner (the later two survived) in an Aug., 1979 crash. “I truly believe Thurman should be in the Hall of Fame,” writes Blomberg (still somehow is pronounced as “Bloomberg”) by page 277. “It’s not just because he was my teammate and my friend. In my view, his skills, his accomplishments, his leadership, and what he did for the game of baseball — and especially for the New York Yankees — qualifies him for a place in the Hall. While it’s true that his career wasn’t as long as it should have been, what a career it was! … Unfortunately, Thurman wasn’t the greatest guy in the world when it came to the writers, and I think that hurt him in the end. It took a lot away from his Hall of Fame candidacy, because a lot of writers still look at him as a bully to this day. … To me, it comes down to this: The Yankees are the premier franchise in baseball history, and you’ve got a guy who meant to much to that franchise during a 10-year period, a decade where they went from mediocrity to winning three consecutive AL pennants and two straight World Series championships. If this guy is that important to this important team, how does that not translate to a place in the Hall of Fame.“
Sounds like a case Dodgers fans could make for Fernando Valenzuela, Steve Garvey, Gil Hodges, Maury Wills …
Munson never got more than 15.5 percent of the Hall vote. Add this book to the latest campaign to get Munson inducted — or just go to Thurman Munson Hall of Fame for more background. Or CooperstownCred.com. The last time this came up, in 2020, was when Munson was on the Modern Baseball Era Ballot for the veterans committee and still didn’t get in (yet Ted Simmons and Marvin Miller did instead, over him, Garvey, Dwight Evans, Tommy John, Don Mattingly, Dale Murphy, Dave Parker and Lou Whitaker). Munson didn’t even appear on half the 16 ballots.
(See our review of “Cobra” by Dave Parker for similar results).
So there you go. Until next time – 2023.
Regardless, it is bound to sell just based on the content, it has already garnished a review in the Wall Street Journal, but mostly to allow the reviewer to gush about his Yankee fandom.
* “Tony Lazerri: Yankees Legend and Baseball Pioneer,” by Lawrence Baldassaro (University of Nebraska Press, $34.95, 352 pages, to be released June 1, 2021). If Lazerri was such a legend and pioneer, why nearly a century before a bio is done on him? It wasn’t until 1991 that the Baseball Hall of Fame veterans committee got a plaque for the second baseman who played on six pennant winners from 1926-37, batted .293 with 169 home runs during his 12 seasons. He played until 1939 and died a short time later, in 1946. Thirty years after his Cooperstown enshrinement, this book. It’s a decent read again for those who want more Yankee history running in their veins.
In an interview with the Pandemic Baseball Book Club, Baldassaro explains:
Q: Why this book? Why now?
A: About 20 years ago I decided there was a need for a history of Italian Americans in baseball, which resulted in Beyond DiMaggio: Italian Americans in Baseball, which was published by University of Nebraska Press in 2011. During the research for that book, no figure surprised or intrigued me more than Tony Lazzeri. I had been vaguely aware of him, but had no idea that he was one of the most celebrated figures in the U.S. during the 1920s and ’30s, when baseball ruled the sports world. His contemporaries considered him to be one of the best players of his era. Even as a 22-year-old rookie, it was Lazzeri, not Babe Ruth, who served as the de facto captain of the fabled Yankees lineup—a designation he retained throughout his 12 years with the team. Among the fans, only Ruth could top his popularity. In his 1943 history of the Yankees, Frank Graham, a New York Sun beat writer in 1926, wrote of the rookie: “Lazzeri had the poise of an old stager and a wisdom that must have been born in him, The other players, who for so long had looked to Ruth to lead them, now were looking to this amazing busher.”
Lazzeri was also a pioneer, becoming the first player in organized baseball to hit 60 home runs in a season, with the Salt Lake City Bees of the Pacific Coast League in 1925. He was one of the first middle infielders to hit with power, and baseball’s first major star of Italian descent, a decade before Joe DiMaggio made his debut. What made Lazzeri all the more remarkable is that he accomplished all of this while being afflicted with epilepsy, which the public knew nothing about.
How was it that a figure of such stature during his playing days has become a largely forgotten Hall of Famer, remembered, if at all, for one at-bat: a bases-loaded strikeout against Grover Cleveland Alexander in the seventh game of the 1926 World Series? I realized that his achievements deserved some historical perspective.
* “Power and Pinstripes: Untold Stories of Berra, the Boss, and Building a Yankees Dynasty,“ by Jeff Mangold with Peter Botte (Triumph Books, $28, 256 pages, to be released May 11). Mangold was the Yankees strength and conditioning from 1984-’88, then returned from ’98 to 2006 (also working with the Mets from ’93 to ’96).
* “Maris & Mantle: Two Yankees, Baseball Immortality and the Age of Camelot,” by Tony Castro (Triumph Books, $28, 256 pages, to be released Sept. 28, 2021)
* “Baseball: The New York Game – How the National Pastime Paralleled U.S. History,” by Tony Morante (9 Inch Marketing, 220 pages, $15.99, released March 23, 2021)
* “The New York Times Story of the Yankees, 1903-Present: 350 Articles, profiles and essays,” edited by Bill Pennington, with an introduction by Alec Baldwin (Black Dog & Leventhal/Running Press/Hatchett Books, $25.99, 544 pages, released March 16, 2021). This is an update from a 2017 edition originally edited by Dave Anderson.