Vivacious biography of The Bambino that makes a gallant attempt to sort fact from fiction courtesy of some newly unearthed documents.
Former Sports Illustrated senior writer Montville (Ted Williams, 2004) sweeps readers back to more innocent times for baseball with this profile of a figure that looms large over the sport. Instead of pouring over gaps left in George Herman Ruth’s history, Montville focuses on the facts available to him, metaphorically referring to a “fog” that descends around Ruth whenever a path he takes in life turns into a dark alley. Some of Ruth’s impoverished early life in Baltimore remains frustratingly out of reach, although the author takes a stab at piecing it together. A fog falls often in the early pages of the book, around Ruth’s marriage to first wife Helen Woodward as well as his notoriously fractious relationship with his father. But it lifts gradually as Ruth rises to stardom, and Montville gleefully takes us on a dizzying journey through Ruth’s professional achievements, peppering them with tales of his notorious off-field behavior. While Ruth’s impressive stats propelled him into sporting history, his antics away from the public glare saw him develop a voracious appetite for women, alcohol and fast living, although his intellect remained at a shockingly stunted level of development; asked why he was reluctant to take a cut in salary by the Yankees as food riots raged in New York City during the Great Depression, Ruth simply responded that he didn’t know about the upheaval because no one had told him about it. Montville briefly touches on Ruth’s racial history as he delineates his aimless retirement years—was Ruth of African-American descent? Again, Montville’s fog descends, and another memoir of baseball’s biggest legend ends in a murky miasma.
Energetically written, but lacking in any revelations about this most enigmatic of sporting figureheads.