Babe Ruth’s Roaring Cigar Lifestyle
The Great Bambino, the Sultan of Swat, the King of Swing. I speak, of course, of legendary baseball player Babe Ruth.
Born in 1895, Ruth played for 22-seasons. Between the years 1919 to 1935, he hit over 700 home runs and became a baseball icon—more than that, a legend.
The King of Swing
There is something about baseball that goes deep in the American psyche. No other professional sports have lasted as long in this country, and no other sports have inspired so many movies, TV shows, and books. When you look at a game of baseball today, you can see the depth of the game. The players wear uniforms that look nothing like those of other athletes. The stadiums bounce with old-fashioned carols, and it’s all surrounded by over a century of history. A history which, for many, began with Babe Ruth.
Ruth was the perfect candidate during the ideal time to become so famous he actually propelled the sport. Mischievous and hard-living Ruth got most of his homes runs during the “roaring” 20s, a time which some deemed “excessive,” but which Ruth was built for.
Unlike most of the star players today, health and fitness were always far from Ruth’s mind. In-between innings or waiting to get up to bat, Ruth would eat hotdogs, sip on beer, and smoke cigars. At night he would stay out late having fun with women and yet still would manage to be up the next day cracking balls down left field.
When Ruth played for the Yankees, managers discovered it was a bad idea to have the Great Bambino room with anyone other than rookies or relatively unimportant players. Why? Because Ruth would stay up so late and make so much raucous that he would keep up whoever was rooming with him—and it was better for the team if rookies had to deal with that rather than other star players who the team couldn’t afford to be tired.
The Good Life
As Babe Ruth’s fame grew and eclipsed the likes of other star athletes of the time like Jack Dempsey, so too did his enjoyment of luxuries like good whiskey and great cigars. In New York, he would often stay at the opulent Ansonia Hotel and would show up waving to photographers in his giant 12-cylinder Packard with a cigar in his mouth and a girl on his arm.
Because of his reputation and love of cigars, he was approached in Boston (while he was playing for the Red Sox) about investing in a small local cigar company. Ruth enthusiastically agreed. The company capitalized on the player’s likeness by putting a picture of him on every one of their cigars. Unsurprisingly, sales went through the roof.
If only a hot dog vendor had approached Ruth, he probably would have been happy to endorse the product. He was famous for eating six or more hotdogs during a single game. While even back then, this was considered a lot, how our diets relate to our overall health was much less clear back in the 1920s. However, knowing Ruth’s personality and devil-may-care attitude, it’s entirely possible that such knowledge wouldn’t have made the least bit of difference. Ruth liked what he liked, and he was performing better than any player in the history of baseball while he indulged his so-called “vices,” or, as he would call them, the joys of life.
Teammate Jimmy Reese described Ruth’s eating by saying, “He’d eat two ham steaks at breakfast, have a snack before the game and then ask for the ‘bi.’ If he struck out three times he’d say, ‘I’ll get even tomorrow; don’t worry about that.’ ”
A “bi,” by the way, was a bicarbonate soda, something people used to drink for indigestion. Ruth, it turns out, was human after all. A fact which, for many adoring fans, would first come to light when he died of cancer in 1948.
Babe Ruth’s Cigars
Babe Ruth enjoyed smoking his own cigars. He, in his own words, smoked them until he was “blue in the face.” Still, the Bambino seemed mostly to enjoy the fact that they were his more than anything. Really, Ruth preferred larger, more expensive cigars like Cubans.
Ruth is reported to have personally traveled to Havana on more than one occasion to bring stockpiles of the famous cigars back to the U.S.
Ruth was almost always smoking. Whether it was cigars, cigarettes, or even pipes, usually, though, in public, he would stick to cigars as he preferred the image. For parties, most of which he hosted himself in expansive hotel rooms, he would put on a red dressing gown and red slippers before lighting up large 60-cent cigars (very expensive at the time). His teammate, the pitcher Waite Hoyt said Ruth looked like “the Admiration Cigar trademark.”
All of this large living came to a head during the 1922 season when Ruth played less than great. The Yankees failed, and Ruth, for the first time in his career, was left devastated. Ruth’s season, although not bad, was by his standards unacceptable. And it was such a big public deal that New York City Mayor Jimmy Walker even weighed in on the matter, saying that Ruth had let down all of the great city’s “dirty-faced kids.” And, while that might seem harsh, it did seem to light a fire on the Bambino’s iconic but.
Ruth practiced harder than he ever had before, going to hit balls and exercise, and he even made significant cuts to his eating and late-night partying. As far as records show, though, he never bothered stopping with the cigars—those were not merely a part of his image, but also a part of his life.
Anyway, Ruth returned stronger than ever and eventually went on to have some of the most productive years of his career, hitting an average of over 50 home runs per season every year from 1926 through to 1931.
One of the best descriptions of Ruth is by Robert Kahn, who said he was “Somebody who wanted to drink up all the ale in New York and not let a cocktail waitress pass by untouched. He was a huge, excessive, barely believable fellow.”
photo credit: Baseball Reliquary