Yankees legend George Herman "Babe" Ruth died 75 years ago Tuesday, on Aug. 16, 1948. He was just 53.
Over the course of his career, Ruth hit 714 home runs and 60 home runs in a season — both records at the time — and led his teams to seven World Series titles, as both a pitcher and then a hitter.
While Ruth is well known even to non-baseball fans, less known are his decades of interactions with American presidents, from Woodrow Wilson to Harry Truman and even beyond.
In 1915, Wilson became the first president to attend a World Series, which pitted Ruth's Red Sox against the Phillies. Ruth later recalled, "President Wilson was always a great friend of mine."
When Warren G. Harding was running to replace Wilson in 1920, he wanted Ruth's endorsement, but Ruth said, "Hell no, I'm a Democrat." Harding won, and he came to the first game played at Yankee Stadium in 1923, where Ruth notched a homer. When Harding died that summer, Ruth sent a handwritten note of condolence to the president's widow.
In one of the most legendary Ruth stories, the Bambino told the president on a hot day, "Hot as hell, ain't it, Prez?" Unfortunately, it's still not 100% certain whether the president in question was Harding or his successor Calvin Coolidge. Still, Ruth's cheeky comment has long raised questions about how athletes should behave with elected officials.
In 1928, Republican presidential candidate Herbert Hoover wanted Ruth to pose for a picture. Ruth initially said no, as he backed the Democrat and fellow Catholic Al Smith. In 1924, at Franklin Delano Roosevelt's request, Ruth had endorsed Smith in his earlier failed attempt to get the nomination. Ruth then thought better of his 1928 rejection of Hoover and took pictures with both Smith and Hoover, an early echo of Michael Jordan's "Republicans buy sneakers, too" sentiment.
But Ruth also issued one of the most devastating putdowns of Hoover. When asked in 1930 about making more money than the president, Ruth said, "Why not? I had a better year than he did."
A few weeks before the 1932 election, Hoover's challenger Roosevelt threw the first ball at the famous Yankees-Cubs World Series game in which Ruth hit his "called shot" home run off Charlie Root. The Cubs fans booed, but Roosevelt loved it, saying, "Unbelievable," and "You lucky, lucky bum," as Ruth rounded the bases. Ruth visited the White House the next year when Roosevelt was president, and FDR threw his arm around Ruth and reminisced about his presence distracting an audience Roosevelt had been speaking to at an event in 1920.
Harry Truman was the last president of Ruth's lifetime. In July 1948, Ruth sent a note to Truman inviting him to the premiere of "The Babe Ruth Story." Truman declined, and Ruth died the next month, but that was not the end of Ruth's interactions with presidents. That same summer, Ruth had visited New Haven, where he met and took a picture with Yale baseball team captain George H. W. Bush.
Finally, in 2018, Donald Trump gave Ruth a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom. At the ceremony, Trump recalled marveling it had not happened yet: "Babe Ruth hasn't gotten it?" he said. "We took care of that real fast."
As this brief history shows, Ruth was a legend not just for his on-field accomplishments but for his off-field spirit as well. Even though he had — and expressed — his political opinions, he did not let them get in the way of his willingness to interact with presidents on both sides of the aisle, a welcome sentiment in these hyper-partisan times.