Babe Ruth 'made impossible events happen.' Aided by his crucial partnership with Christy Walsh—business manager, spin doctor, damage control wizard, and surrogate father, all stuffed into one tightly buttoned double-breasted suit—Ruth drafted the blueprint for modern athletic stardom.
The result is the most complete account yet of Ruth’s complicated, tragic family life, including siblings who died young, parents who separated and, most famously, being shipped off to St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys in Baltimore ... The book seeks to break new ground beyond Ruth’s childhood, notably how his visionary agent / public relations man / financial advisor Christy Walsh helped him navigate his celebrity in an era in which mass communication was reinventing what it meant to be a star ... The book largely avoids overdone material about big games and plays and focuses on his experiences, and the experiences of those around him.
Leavy documents a personal life marked by tragedy ... But Leavy doesn't write about how these terrible moments shaped Ruth's personality and life, because it's simply unknown. Ruth never really told anyone, and the hagiographic sports reporting of his era never delved into it. That makes it hard to write a thorough biography ... Leavy responds by doing the next-best thing: painstakingly recreating the mythical, larger-than-life role Ruth played in American culture at the height of his fame ... The structure takes some getting used to, but it perfectly captures the swirl of attention that followed Ruth everywhere he went.
Leavy’s conceit allows her to stake out some untrod turf. But she also makes a compelling case that to appreciate the adulation Ruth soaked up in October 1927 is to understand his contribution to American life in full. He was not merely a hitter of towering home runs, but the progenitor of our contemporary conception of what it means to be a celebrity ... however, Leavy can strain to find meaning in the marketing materials. It’s true, and worthy of note, that Ruth’s celebrity was so novel that it outstripped the capacity of American law to protect it ... But Leavy’s long detour into jurisprudential debates over publicity rights, and Ruth’s failed effort to popularize his own Home Run bar, will try the patience of readers who lack a strong taste for legal or confectionary history. For a manifestly assiduous reporter and researcher, Leavy can also be careless with the facts ... The book captures Ruth’s outsize influence on American sport and culture, and for that alone it will make a welcome companion during the long, baseball-less months to come. But the man of many poses never fully comes into focus.