One of the highlights of the holiday of Shavuot is the reading of Megilat (the Book of) Ruth. This short book has relevance in a number of dimensions, including harvest season descriptions, Ruth’s efforts to become a member of the Jewish people & accepting the Torah, and the family tree of her descendents (tacked onto the end) which connects Ruth to King David (who, by tradition, was born & died on Shavuot). What hasn’t been adequately explored are the myriad connections between the greatest baseball player of all-time, Babe Ruth, and the subject of the Megillah, that babe, Ruth.
Connections between the “Ruth”s
The Book of Ruth has four p’rakim (chapters). A baseball diamond has four bases, but more significantly, Babe Ruth (henceforth “BR”) was renowned for hitting home runs, which obviously involve the circling of all four bases. [If we want to push the envelope (and assume that Ruth spoke “Ashkenaz’es”), we might make a note that she settled in “Bais (base?) Lechem”. But I digress…]
The gematria (numeric equivalent) of words “Megilat Ruth” is 1089 (483 + 606). BR hit 714 home runs and batted .342 over the course of his career. In 1927 he hit 60 home runs, a seasonal record that lasted until 1961 when Roger Maris hit 61 homers. If we add the number of years that the record stood, 34 (from 1927 to 1961) to the sum of his lifetime home runs and his average, 1056 (714 + 342) we get 1090. If we then subtract the number of home runs by which Roger Maris exceeded BR’s record, 1 (61 – 60) from that total, we get 1089, the same number as the gematria for Megilat Ruth. Coincidence or not?!?
BR was “linked” to his teammate Lou Gehrig in many ways, not least of which because his presence didn’t allow pitchers to “pitch around” BR because they’d have Gehrig to contend with right after him. Essentially, Lou Gehrig helped BR succeed & backed him up. Similarly, Ruth (henceforth “RB” [for “Ruth Boaz”]) was linked to her mother-in-law, Naomi. RB stuck with Naomi in going back with her to Beit Lechem after her husband died, and Naomi advised her on how to succeed (with Boaz).
Although BR appeared to be somewhat overweight, when he went into action he was a figure of grace in the outfield. When Boaz was eyeing RB out in the fields, she appeared to him to be quite graceful.
BR’s first wife, Helen, died in a fire and he later remarried. RB’s first husband, Mahlon (Naomi’s son) died, and she then remarried (to Boaz).
RB was able to feed herself & Naomi by gleaning. Gleaning involves the picking-up of leftover crops; in the case of wheat, those leftovers are the result of the farmer swinging his scythe at the base of the stalks. You’ll note that the most successful farmer will therefore have the best swing. Not surprisingly, BR had a very sweet swing (his lifetime Slugging Percentage was .690, the highest of all-time!).
BR was an enormous fan of hot dogs. An apocryphal description of his prodigious appetite has him consuming 24 hot dogs in between games of a doubleheader (obviously no match for Joey Chestnut [winner of the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest at 68 dogs/buns in 12 minutes last year!]). Hot dogs are (primarily) made from meat, and at the time, cows were fed grass/grain (unlike today, where cows are primarily fed corn). The buns are obviously also made from grains. As such, BR’s hot dogs may be viewed as a modified form (ultimately consisted) of RB’s wheat.
Custom & Conversion
BR started out his major league career with the Boston Red Sox. As BR’s talent became readily apparent and his performance on the field was unmatched, he naturally demanded a raise. The owner of the Red Sox, Harry Frazee, originally attempted to trade BR to the Chicago White Sox for “Shoeless” Joe Jackson and a cash payment of $60,000. In the Book of Ruth Boaz takes off his sandal to complete the Chalitzah (levirate marriage [Yibbum]) ceremony (Megilat Ruth 4:7/8). In yet another incident of synchronicity (in both cases), an ancillary character is rendered “shoeless”.
In one of the most celebrated/vilified trades of all time, Frazee ultimately sold BR’s contract to the NY Yankees for $125,000 (plus some other financial considerations), allegedly to help finance a Broadway production (perhaps a very-forgettable play called “No, No, Nanette”). This change in teams was a major turning-point in BR’s career & that of his “people” (i.e., the Yankees). RB also “changed teams” when she converted to Judaism, and that too was a major turning-point in both her life & that of her new “team” (i.e., the Jewish people).
In both cases, when BR & RB switched “teams” (as it were), they helped to create a dynasty.
Although the connections between these two significant historical figures are tenuous at best, they do exist. Shavuot falls relatively early in the baseball season, adding yet another important link between the holiday & the sport. Both of the “Ruth”s in question are impressive historical figures, and were critical in the advancement of their respective communities. A lesson may be learned from both of their histories as to the need to be open to new approaches & to welcome the ‘outsider’ into the community, a lesson that the Rabbanut in Israel today would be well to learn.email print