Leigh Montville, a senior writer for Sports Illustrated, also served for twenty-one years as a sports columnist for The Boston Globe. His previous books include "Manute: The Center of Two Worlds" and, with Jim Calhoun, "Dare to Dream" (Broadway Books, 1999). Montville lives in Winthrop, Massachusetts.
About the Babe Ruth Book -- A Review by Steven V. Roberts:
When God created baseball, She fashioned eight teams in each league, none of them south of Washington or west of St. Louis. Then She made Babe Ruth. It wasn`t until the 1950s that the major leagues expanded to the West Coast. But long before that, Ruth had changed the nature of baseball itself, refocusing the sport on outsized homers and heroes and turning it into the national pastime.
Babe played his last game in 1935 and died in 1948, the year before I started rooting for the Yankees and watching them play in the House That Ruth Built (so-named by sportswriter Fred Lieb when it opened in 1923). This spring, when the Yanks announced plans for a new stadium, the New York Times described the structure as "an $800 million house that Ruth didn`t build." That`s quite a legacy. Fifty-eight years after his death, Babe Ruth is still a common reference point, one that casual newspaper readers are expected to understand. And they do.
Many books have been written about the Babe, focused mainly on his athletic feats. In "The Big Bam" (a version of his famous nickname, "the Bambino"), Leigh Montville, formerly of the Boston Globe and Sports Illustrated, tries to dissect Ruth as a cultural icon, one who dominated American life in the `20s as much as Charles Lindbergh, Al Capone or Henry Ford. And Montville raps the ball sharply, a double off the wall if not a home run. Not only does he detail the impact of the Ruthian legend, he also shows how new developments -- from radio to public relations -- helped spread that legend to the masses.
Sportswriter Richards Vidmer recalled traveling with the Babe through rural Illinois: "He was bigger than the president. . . . The train stopped to get water or something. It couldn`t have been a town of more than 5,000 people, and by God, there were 4,000 of them down there standing in the rain, just wanting to see the Babe."
Ruth`s story touches the core of an evergreen American myth: the poor boy who makes good. Born in a Baltimore neighborhood called Pigtown, he was tossed away by an alcoholic father and a sickly mother at age 7, raised in a Catholic home for troubled boys and taught to swing a baseball bat by Brother Matthias. He was discovered by Jack Dunn, owner of Baltimore`s minor-league team, who told local sportswriters: "He`ll startle the baseball world, if he isn`t a rummy or he isn`t a nut."
Actually he was both, but he startled the world anyway. By 1919 he had made "the home run a new, loud art form" and broken the single-season record of 24, but he was just getting started. Montville points out that Babe played well before steroids were invented, that "beer and scotch and hot dogs were his nutritional supplement of choice." But Ruth had scientific assistance of another sort. Just as his career was taking off, baseball makers started using a new process, and the resulting product -- tighter and springier -- certainly boosted Babe`s banner performance of 60 home runs in 1927.
Ruth was fortunate in another way. His first major-league team, the Boston Red Sox, sold him to New York in 1920 at the peak of his powers: "He was a muscle man coming to a muscle city in a muscle time." Eighteen daily papers competed madly for readership. New printing techniques made it possible to splash big pictures across the tabloids, and soon "the Babe was an incorrigible, wondrous part of everyone`s family." The PR industry was just getting started, and an "entrepreneurial fireball" named Christy Walsh took Babe Inc. public, promoting him through barnstorming tours and ghostwritten articles, vaudeville turns and movie roles. And then there was radio, which broadcast the World Series for the first time in 1926 and reached 15 million fans. The result was "the age of new heroes." Heard and seen in entirely new ways, they became "personal, exciting friends" instead of "long-ago characters of mythology."
The Babe`s sins were as heroic as his homers. He seemed to pursue every vice at once, with lust and gluttony topping the list. Sportswriters protected him, but the tales of excess still leaked out: two raw steaks or 10 hot dogs eaten in one meal, six women ravished in one night, 22 silk shirts worn and discarded over three steamy days in St. Louis. "I didn`t have a thing till I was 18 years old, not a bite," Ruth once said. "Now it`s bustin` out all over."
Yet America still adored him. "The whole world loves a bad boy," wrote the New York World, and that`s true, especially a bad boy who survives his setbacks and seeks redemption. Reading this book I kept thinking about Bill Clinton, who shares Babe`s appetite for hot women and affection for Hot Springs, Ark. (Clinton was raised there; Ruth came for the baths and the booze as well as the babes.) Yet Clinton became president and survived impeachment in part because his transgressions made him human, a "personal, exciting friend" and not just a remote historical figure. Bill and Babe. The Comeback Kid and the Sultan of Swat. God`s hand slipped a bit when She made them both, Hall of Fame sinners as well as sluggers.
About the Ted Williams Book:
He was The Kid. The Splendid Splinter. Teddy Ballgame. One of the greatest figures of his generation, and arguably the greatest baseball hitter of all time. But what made Ted Williams a legend – and a lightning rod for controversy in life and in death? What motivated him to interrupt his Hall of Fame career twice to serve his country as a fighter pilot; to embrace his fans while tangling with the media; to retreat from the limelight whenever possible into his solitary love of fishing; and to become the most famous man ever to have his body cryogenically frozen after his death? New York Times bestselling author Leigh Montville, who wrote the celebrated Sports Illustrated obituary of Ted Williams, now delivers an intimate, riveting account of this extraordinary life.
Still a gangly teenager when he stepped into a Boston Red Sox uniform in 1939, Williams’s boisterous personality and penchant for towering home runs earned him adoring admirers--the fans--and venomous critics--the sportswriters. In 1941, the entire country followed Williams`s stunning .406 season, a record that has not been touched in over six decades. At the pinnacle of his prime, Williams left Boston to train and serve as a fighter pilot in World War II, missing three full years of baseball. He was back in 1946, dominating the sport alongside teammates Dominic DiMaggio, Johnny Pesky, and Bobby Doerr. But Williams left baseball again in 1952 to fight in Korea, where he flew thirty-nine combat missions—crash-landing his flaming, smoke-filled plane, in one famous episode.
Ted Willams`s personal life was equally colorful. His attraction to women (and their attraction to him) was a constant. He was married and divorced three times and he fathered two daughters and a son. He was one of corporate America`s first modern spokesmen, and he remained, nearly into his eighties, a fiercely devoted fisherman. With his son, John Henry Williams, he devoted his final years to the sports memorabilia business, even as illness overtook him. And in death, controversy and public outcry followed Williams and the disagreements between his children over the decision to have his body preserved for future resuscitation in a cryonics facility--a fate, many argue, Williams never wanted.
With unmatched verve and passion, and drawing upon hundreds of interviews, acclaimed best-selling author Leigh Montville brings to life Ted Williams`s superb triumphs, lonely tragedies, and intensely colorful personality, in a biography that is fitting of an American hero and legend.
“It is unlikely that any reader could view Ted Williams as just a ballplayer ever again.” — New York Times Book Review
“Exceptional. Montville on Ted Williams is can’t-miss, one of America’s best sportswriters weighing in on one of the last century’s most intriguing figures. A great read.” —Chicago Tribune
“Leigh Montville reaches a threshold even the mighty Williams could never touch: perfection. The beauty of Montville’s work is that it is not a baseball book, per se, so much as the life and times of an oft perplexing, always fascinating man.” —Newsday
“A comprehensive look at a gargantuan life.” —People