A view from Babe's houseSINCE MARK MCGWIRE no longer plays...


September 05, 1998|By Andrew Ratner

A view from Babe's house

SINCE MARK MCGWIRE no longer plays in the same league as the Orioles, you would have to drive hundreds of miles to catch him chasing baseball's 37-year-old home run record. Your next best bet would be to pay him quiet homage at the birthplace of Babe Ruth, a block west of Camden Yards.

The Babe's record of 60 home runs in the 1927 season stood for 34 years until Roger Maris hit 61 in '61. Ruth's record came amid circumstances similar to this season, with Mr. McGwire in a two-man home run derby since midsummer with the Chicago Cubs' Sammy Sosa. Ruth was hitting home runs head-to-head with teammate Lou Gehrig in '27 but pulled ahead in the final month after Gehrig took the lead briefly with 45.

Ironically, according to the museum at the Ruth house, the record he cherished most wasn't for hitting prowess, but for the 29 2/3 scoreless innings he pitched for Boston during two World Series. That mark stood 43 years, even longer than his single-season home-run record, until the Yankees' Whitey Ford broke it in 1961.

Mr. McGwire's feat has energized a nation in need of a hero this summer, he's no Ruth and isn't likely to touch that stature, home-run record or not. After Ruth died of throat cancer on Aug. 16, 1948, a quarter-million people visited his body as it lay in state at Yankee Stadium. Thousands more lined the route from St. Patrick's Cathedral. A half-century later, visitors to his grave in Hawthorne, N.Y. still leave notes exhorting his ghost to summon a victory for the Yankees.

Ruth was no choir boy, but the nation saw itself favorably in his swagger. Every time the Bunyanesque McGwire smiles away the controversy about muscle-enhancing drugs and thrashes another gargantuan home run like a man playing with boys, the Babe must look on and smile.

Pub Date: 9/05/98

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