Baseball, Strength And Conditioning
Babe Ruth Never Worked Out
If you were a strength and conditioning coach in MLB in the late 1970s and early 1980s, a popular phrase by those who questioned the value of lifting weights in baseball was – “Babe Ruth never lifted weights,” and the only comeback was “imagine how much better he could have been if he had worked out.” Now, after decades of being told that “Babe Ruth never lifted weights, “we know that “The Babe”, did work out. In The Big Bam: The Life and Times of Babe Ruth (Broadway Books, 2006), Leigh Montville claims that exercise and discipline saved Babe's career. Exercise and discipline? - two words that we have been told were as foreign to “The Babe” as hot yoga and the Mediterranean diet.
Montville says that, although many people think the Babe was an out-of-shape slob, exercise and fitness played integral roles in his success on the diamond. According to Montville - In the spring of 1925, the Babe had his infamous "Bellyache Heard 'Round the World", a mysterious ailment that hospitalized him at the beginning of the season. Some believe it was a combination of influenza, indigestion, and venereal disease. When he was able to return to the field, he never got going and had the worst season of his career; appearing in only 98 games, and batting .290 with 25 home runs and 66 RBI.
He was 30 years old, an age when his drinking, eating, and hard living could have ended his career. The Babe, however, made a bold decision that might have saved his career. He hired a personal trainer to work with him during the off-season.
He signed on with Artie McGovern, a charismatic former boxer who owned his own gym and trained some of the other stars of the day. McGovern employed all kinds of methods with Ruth from running, boxing, handball, sprints, medicine ball throws and jumping rope, all with the focus on strengthening the Babe's core region. The hard work paid off. Ruth was in the best shape of his career before the 1926 and 1927 seasons. He appeared in 152 games, hit .371 with 146 RBI and 47 HR in 1926. In 1927, he appeared in 151 games, recorded 192 hits, scored 158 runs, had 164 RBI, and hit .356 with 60 home runs. The Babe was back.
While working with McGovern, Babe went on an extended run from 1926 to 1932 (from the ages of 31 to 37) that propelled his career numbers to stratospheric heights. During these seven seasons, he averaged an incredible .353 with 49 home runs and 152 RBI at ages when most players were declining or retiring. The Babe still enjoyed drinking and overeating, but he dialed it back just enough during this time to keep playing at a high level. His second wife, Claire Hodgson, also helped reign in his ravenous appetites. She convinced him to eat better and go to sleep earlier when he was at home, which also contributed to his success.
To answer those critics of yesteryear who were quick to say that the Babe didn’t work out, yes, he did. He wasn’t as fit or as disciplined as some of the current stars of the game, especially at the end of his career, but he wasn't an out-of-shape slob who got by on talent alone. The Babe found something that worked for him and that should be the takeaway message for this article. Find something that works for you and stick with it. You will have to tweak it from year to year, as most successful players do. Tweak, don't throw out what works in favor of what’s new and popular. It’s your career, don’t take it for granted. Find a plan that works for you and work the plan. Babe did it and look how his career turned out.
For more on the Babe, read The Big Bam: The Life and Times of Babe Ruth by Leigh Montville, Broadway Books, 2006 or click here.
For a complete Babe Ruth career biography click on this website