RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Barry Bonds came within inches last night of one of baseball's most celebrated milestones, Babe Ruth's career total of 714 home runs. The San Francisco Giants star hit a long drive to centerfield, a ball snagged at the wall in a leaping catch by Chicago Cubs fielder Juan Pierre. The play left Barry Bonds still stands one home run short of Babe Ruth's total.
And today we're going to take a look at that historic achievement.
Mr. TED HUSING (Sportscaster): (In radio broadcast) Here he is, in the motion. There's the wind-up. Here's the pitch. It's a slow curve, low, and the Babe swings. It's a long one, a long one, going out toward right center. Stengel is backing up against the wall. He can't get it. It's in there! Another home run for the Bambino!
MONTAGNE: That was broadcaster Ted Husing calling one of Babe Ruth's 714 home runs. He hit his last on May 25, 1935.
Leigh Montville has written a new biography of Babe Ruth. He came to our New York bureau yesterday to talk about the Babe and that moment some 71 years ago.
Mr. LEIGH MONTVILLE (Author): He was just about all done. He looked a little bit like Barry Bonds looks today. You know, he really couldn't run, couldn't move, and he was caught in a bad situation, had been sold to the Boston Braves and really was playing out the string. And he was on a prolonged road trip and things seemed to be going badly for him from one spot to another, but on this one magnificent day he went to the plate and he had three home runs and a single, and the final home run, supposedly, was the longest home run ever hit in Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, and it was his last base hit.
MONTAGNE: What did Babe Ruth think about his place in history?
Mr. MONTVILLE: Well, I mean, he was the forerunner of the whole deal. He was like Lindbergh going across the Atlantic with the two ham sandwiches in the Spirit of St. Louis, as opposed to all these guys who have trainers and statisticians and video vaults and all kinds of different things to help them along, not to mention the possibility of the steroids; and that these guys are more like Steve Fossett or Richard Branson setting one of those around-the-world balloon records.
The Babe's records had much more substance. He was the first person to hit, I think, 200 home runs, 300 home runs, 400, 500, 600 and 700 home runs. He really just set the standards for everybody.
MONTAGNE: Hank Aaron broken his record in 1974. Beyond the home runs, Babe Ruth still holds some records that no one has touched.
Mr. MONTVILLE: He just was a colossus above everybody in the game at his time. He really invented the home run. Before Babe Ruth came along, a home run was kind of a mistake. Hitting a fly ball was a mistake and a home run was just a longer mistake. But he came along and had a big uppercut swing and hit the ball in the air and showed the value of hitting the ball out of the ballpark.
MONTAGNE: You mean nobody went, really, for the home run before Babe Ruth?
Mr. MONTVILLE: No, not at all. It was a home run (unintelligible) who had led the league in home runs with eight. It was whole strategic time of baseball. It was really chess moves and you were supposed to hit the ball on the line or hit a ground ball and move the runner to second base and then to third and then to home. And Babe kind of just flipped over the chessboard and just said, no, this is how you do it. You just whack it out of the park.
MONTAGNE: Sports journalist Leigh Montville is author of The Big Bam: The Life and Times of Babe Ruth.
Thank you very much for talking with us.
Mr. MONTVILLE: Thank you.
MONTAGNE: You can read an excerpt from The Big Bam, as well as an essay on Babe Ruth and Barry Bonds at NPR.org.
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