05/01/06 3:05 PM ET
Babe still stands tall
Sight unseen, present-day Yankees pay homage to the Babe
By Mark Feinsand / MLB.com
"Babe Ruth?" said Reggie Jackson. "Baseball. That's what you think about when you hear the name."
"He is baseball," said Jason Giambi. "If you were to ask pretty much anybody to name the first player in history off the top of their heads, they would say Babe Ruth."
Ruth is considered by many to be the greatest player ever to play the game. But for the Yankees, he is the ultimate symbol of the franchise. Considering the success that the organization has had over the years, that's saying something.
"The fact that we play in the house that he built, it's pretty amazing," Alex Rodriguez said. "Ruth is almost like a higher power, like a myth. Nobody can give you first-hand stories, where with guys like Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, you hear a lot of stories about them. You almost feel like you know those guys, but with Ruth, it's like you read about him in the Bible."
"You don't even have to know anything about baseball to know who Babe Ruth was," Derek Jeter said. "You can't say more about a guy than that."
"There aren't many people whose name transcends their sport and goes into pop culture," Bernie Williams said. "You've got to be some kind of good or some kind of flamboyant. He was both."
Although Barry Bonds is primed to pass The Babe on baseball's all-time home run list, Ruth's place in Yankees history is secure.
Ruth ranks first in Yankees history in home runs (659), runs (1,959), batting average (.349), second in hits (2,518) and RBIs (1,971), third in doubles (424) and fourth in games played (2,084).
"Even though Roger Maris broke his record, Babe Ruth is who I associate with saving the game," Torre said. "When you consider that players were hitting 10 or 12 home runs, then he starts hitting 30, 40, 50 and 60 home runs, he was the whole game."
Ruth also has four of the top five single-season home run totals in club history and six of the top 10 single-season batting averages. No one debates what he meant to the Yankees, and even players who were born 30 years after Ruth's death in 1948 know how significant his contributions were.
"He revolutionized the game; he made the long ball cool," Giambi said. "It was unheard of at that time to hit that many home runs. He was out-homering teams, which is unbelievable. That's just ridiculous."
"You don't hear about too many players whose name transcends generations," Williams said. "You don't hear much about guys who played in the 20s and 30s, but every generation, his name is still there. It's incredible."
Williams is on several of the Yankees' all-time records lists, as his name is listed alongside Ruth's in games played, at-bats, runs, hits, doubles, home runs and RBIs.
"It's quite an accomplishment to hang around here for that amount of time," Williams said. "When you have your name on lists with people like Babe, it's flattering. You have to feel really good about that."
Jackson, who followed in Ruth's footsteps as a flamboyant power hitter in the Bronx, laughed out loud when asked whether he believed that any player in today's game could ever make the kind of impact that Ruth did.
"Michael Jordan is the greatest athlete of our era, and Tiger Woods has a chance to pass Jordan," Jackson said. "But someone who will eclipse Babe Ruth? I haven't seen him.
"Nobody today has his cache, his presence," Jackson added. "The guy with the biggest presence for me in the game today is Manny Ramirez, but Manny doesn't take advantage of it and use it. If he had more awareness of stage presence, he would be a huge star. But to eclipse Ruth? You can't get there. You can't get there hitting 40 home runs and driving in 140. Babe used to out-homer other teams. The next Babe Ruth, he's not around yet."
Torre remembers seeing the news come across his television that Ruth had died on August 16, 1948. The manager was eight years old, but he remembers the event vividly.
"You talk about a legend that never goes away; he died 60 years ago and stopped playing ball in 1935, yet every single person knows Babe Ruth," Torre said. "I think it's quite a tribute to what he meant to the game."
As colorful as some of today's star players are, they have nothing on Ruth. Several Yankees said they would have loved to have been his teammate, not only for his incredible talent, but for the experience of knowing the man.
"He probably would have taken a lot of pressure away from the other players," Williams said. "Everybody was probably pretty relaxed, knowing he could carry a team on his back. It would have been fun to watch him play every day, try to figure out how he did it on so little sleep."
"I get a kick out of hearing stories about Miller Huggins and how frustrated he would get trying to handle Babe and have him follow the rules," Torre said. "One thing I think Babe would respect was that if it was good for his teammates, he would be willing to do it. In trying to manage him, that's what I would bring to his attention."
How would Ruth feel about the idea of Bonds passing him on the home run list? Both Torre and Giambi believe that Babe would have fun watching Bonds chase down his home run total of 714.
"I think he'd pull for him," Torre said. "I don't think Babe felt his importance was in the fact that he hit 714 home runs. His importance was just playing the game and making a tremendous impact. Even if Barry goes flying by him, I don't think it changes how we look at him or remember him."
"I think he'd enjoy watching what Barry is doing," Giambi said. "From everything I've read, he just loved the game. He'd probably want to just sit in the stands with a couple of beers and a few hot dogs and watch Barry do what he's doing."
Mark Feinsand is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.