Babe Ruth? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: George Herman Ruth Jr. was one of the greatest baseball players in history. His famous nickname was Babe Ruth. A popular adage about perseverance and tenacity has been attributed to him. Here are three versions I have found:
(1) You just can’t beat the person who never gives up.
(2) It’s hard to beat a person who never gives up.
(3) It’s hard to beat somebody when they don’t give up.
Because there are multiple versions I am beginning to wonder whether Babe Ruth actually spoke or wrote these words. It is listed in multiple books of sports quotations without any source. Would you please examine this topic?
Quote Investigator: In 1940 “The Rotarian” magazine published an article titled “Bat It Out!” with the byline George Herman (‘Babe’) Ruth. “The Rotarian” was published by Rotary International, an enduring civic organization known for its Rotary Clubs. In the penultimate paragraph of the essay, Babe Ruth presented the adage for the guidance of his readers. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1
One more point: A good player never stops until he’s actually out, running as hard for first base on the almost-certain-to-be-caught fly or grounder as he would if he were sprinting the 100-yard dash.
If Henry Ford hadn’t kept going in the early days despite ridicule, we would never have seen the Ford car. It’s been much the same with almost every great man you could name. He kept plugging when everybody said his chances of making first base were nil. You just can’t beat the person who never gives up.
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
In 1996 an advice columnist in the Chicago Sun-Times printed a variant of the saying and ascribed the words to Babe Ruth: 2
Said Babe Ruth, “It’s hard to beat a person who never gives up.”
In 2009 a news website for Charleston, South Carolina called CharlestonCurrents.com published a variant of the quotation with an attribution to Babe Ruth: 3
“It’s hard to beat somebody when they don’t give up.”
— Babe Ruth, baseball legend (1895 – 1948)
In conclusion, Babe Ruth wrote “You just can’t beat the person who never gives up” in a magazine article in 1940. QI dies not know if the article was ghostwritten, but QI thinks it is reasonable to credit Ruth with the adage. The variant phrasings were probably descendants of the 1940 statement though it is conceivable that Ruth employed more than one version of the expression.
Image Notes: Babe Ruth baseball card image available from the U.S. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs. Public domain image obtained via Wikimedia Commons. Cropped. Umpire, catcher, and batter from Nemo at Pixabay.
(Special thanks to Kurt Wolbrink whose inquiry gave impetus to QI to formulate this question and initiate this exploration.)
- 1940 July, The Rotarian, “Bat It Out!” by George Herman ‘Babe’ Ruth, Start Page 12, Quote Page 14, Published by Rotary International. (Google Books Full View) link ↩
- 1996 July 2, Chicago Sun-Times, Section 2 Features, Future brother-in-law’s pantyhose create a snag by Jeffrey Zaslow, Quote Page 34, Chicago, Illinois. (NewsBank Access World News) ↩
- Website: CharlestonCurrents.com, Issue: 2.10, Article title: On persistence, Date on website: December 7, 2009, Website description: “online twice-weekly publication that offers insightful community comment and good news on events”, Location: Based in Charleston, South Carolina, Date Information: Internet Archive Wayback Machine took a snapshot on February 3, 2010 that included the Babe Ruth attributed quotation. (Accessed charlestoncurrents.com and Wayback Machine on February 4, 2014) link ↩