I respectfully disagree with my colleague and feel that MLB should retire Babe Ruth’s number across all teams.
Simply put, no single player did more to save baseball than did George Herman Ruth. Even before the Black Sox scandal of 1919, baseball had been beset with accusations of games fixing for decades. Gamblers were a constant presence at ball parks and the public’s view of the “professional” game was quickly sinking to new lows. Attendance had been suffering as the public was drawn more towards the “pureness” of amateur competition.
Judge Landis did much to clean up the game, but the public was already disillusioned. It took a man of mythic proportions, a man who could accomplish feats never dreamed of to bring back the fans.
His numbers are legendary, but it went further than that. He was in many ways a kid at heart – he loved the fans, loved kids, and was very approachable (unlike Cobb, the other all-time great of the time).
Ruth not only saved baseball, but helped transform it into a spectacle. The Yankees had to build the first modern stadium in order to accomodate the crowds that would gather to see him.
Ruth was also among the first players to internationalize the game. Yes, other’s had travelled across the oceans prior to him, but nobody had the impact he did.
It was a good thing for baseball to retire Jackie Robinson’s number – what he did transcended the game. But there would not have been a game for him to impact if not for the Babe.