While Barry Bonds and his home-run hitting brethren have followed the "better living through science" route to fame, Babe Ruth did things the old-fashioned way: booze, babes and BAM! It seems every time a contemporary baseballist threatens to bypass Ruth's 714 home runs, someone comes out with a new book in an attempt to a) reacquaint the public with the Bambino (for the historically-minded of us); or b) try to make a quick buck (for the cynical). When Henry Aaron hit #715 in 1974, for example, four such volumes hit the stores in the space of a year.
After 32 years, Leigh Montville, whose thoughtful 2004 opus on Ted Williams was a bestseller, continues the trend with THE BIG BAM: The Life and Times of Babe Ruth. Like the Williams book, Montville stays away from earlier biographies that focused mostly on the ballplayer's life on the field. This new look at an old icon is neither outrageously statistical (bogged down by numbers and detail) nor scholarly (bogged down by references), and as such is a welcome middle-of-the-road offering.
The author, a former senior writer for Sports Illustrated, makes no bones about it when he states that this particular Babe book is meant for the ESPN generation while he marvels at the discretion used by the sportswriters of Ruth's era. Where adulatory volumes of previous generations would never even imply the extracurricular activities of its heroes, Montville casts them in muted tones. "The Babe was an ultimate test in writing and reporting," he notes. "What to leave in? What to leave out? His pleasure-dominated life constantly put him in questionable situations. Was it news that he was drunk again late at night? Was it news that he had been with one, two, three women who were not his wife?"
"This was not material for the paper," he continues. "Should it have been? The curtain of good taste covered the situation...The writers pounded away with their similes and allusions, constructed their grand rococo word sculptures, truly florid and inventive stuff. They worked within their limits."
Montville posits that New York was, in fact, the only city in