Professional Baseball Strength & Conditioning

Babe Ruth

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We have all heard it, especially those who were around in the late 1970s and early 1980s when strength and conditioning coaches were as popular in MLB as free agency – “Babe Ruth never lifted weights,” and our only come back was “imagine how much better he could have been if he had worked out.” Now, after decades of being told that Babe Ruth, aka the Sultan of Swat, the Caliph of Clout, the Wizard of Whack and the Bambino, actually did workout. In The Big Bam: The Life and Times of Babe Ruth published by Broadway Books in 2006, the author, Leigh Montville, claims that exercise and discipline saved the Babe’s career. Exercise and discipline – two words that we have been led to believe were a foreign to the Babe as yoga and the paleo diet.

brMontville says that, although many people think the Babe was an out of shape slob, exercise and fitness played in integral role in his success on the diamond. According to Montville – In the spring of 1925, the Babe had his infamous “Bellyache Heard ‘Round the World” which was 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 finally was able to return to the field he never really got going and he wound up having the worst season of his career batting just .290 with 25 home runs and 66 RBI. He was 30 years old and at an age when his drinking, eating, and hard living could have ended his career in a few short years. The Babe, however, made a bold decision that likely 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 other stars of the day like John Philip Sousa. Artie 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 regions. All of the hard work paid off. Ruth was in the best shape of his career prior to the 1927 season and because of it he was able to set his long-standing record of 60 home runs. While working with Artie, he 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 seasons he averaged an incredible .353 with 49 home runs and 152 RBI at ages when most players were declining. The Babe still enjoyed drinking and overeating, but he dialed it back just enough during this time to keep playing at a high level. The Babe’s second wife, Claire Hodgson, who was a bit of a ball-buster also helped to reign in the Babe’s ravenous appetites. She brow-beat him into eating better and going 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 do it, 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 his talent alone. The Babe apparently found something that worked for him and that should be the take away message for this article. Find something that works for you and stick with it. You will most likely have to tweak it from year-to-year, 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.
Gene Coleman, Ed. D., RSCC-E, FACSM, was the Head S&C Coach for the Houston Astros from 1978-2012 and is currently a strength and conditioning consultant for the Texas Rangers and Professor in the Exercise and Health Sciences Program at the University of Houston – Clear Lake.
For more on the Babe, read The Big Bam: The Life and Times of Babe Ruth by Leigh Montville, Broadway Books, 2006 or click on – to discover Ten things you didn’t know about Babe Ruth.

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