American Hercules: The Creation of Babe Ruth as an American Icon
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Like no other athlete before or since, Babe Ruth’s popularity has endured long after his playing days ended. His name has entered the popular lexicon, where “Ruthian” is a synonym for a superhuman feat, and other greats are referred to as the “Babe Ruth” of their field. Ruth’s name has even been attached to modern players, such as Shohei Ohtani, the Angels rookie known as the “Japanese Babe Ruth”. Ruth’s on field records and off-field antics have entered the realm of legend, and as a result, Ruth is often looked at as a sort of folk-hero. This thesis explains why Ruth is seen this way, and what forces led to the creation of the mythic figure surrounding the man. Ruth was a truly revolutionary baseball player, with a style that transformed the way the game was played, watched, and even designed. Ruth also benefited from playing in the right place at the right time. Ruth’s first seasons in New York coincided with the dawn of the Roaring Twenties and the Jazz Age, where rising incomes and more leisure time allowed Americans to consume more media, including baseball. Print advertising was on the upswing as well, with a new invention, radio, providing nation-wide broadcasts of baseball games. Ruth had the good judgement to hire an agent, named Christy Walsh who helped propel him into a nation-wide figure. Walsh used ghostwriting and print advertising to circulate Ruth’s name and face across the country. By the end of the 1920s, Ruth was advertising for almost every product imaginable, appearing regularly in the by-lines of the country’s newspapers, and even appeared in a couple of movies. By the end of his career, Ruth’s popularity moved beyond baseball and into folklore. His influence even extended beyond his lifetime where the most successful and popular athletes modeled their public relations and advertising careers off of his and Christy Walsh’s strategies.