Babe Ruth? Tom Meany? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: A humorous story is told about the renowned baseball slugger Babe Ruth. He was negotiating his salary during the depths of the economic depression and was told that the amount he had requested was outlandish because it exceeded the remuneration given to Herbert Hoover who was the U.S. President. Ruth replied:
What’s Hoover got to do with it? Besides, I had a better year than he did.
I have not been able to find solid support for this tale. Is this anecdote accurate?
Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence known to QI was published in a 1947 biography titled “Babe Ruth: The Big Moments of the Big Fellow” by Tom Meany who was a New York sportswriter with a multi-decade career. Meany provided this description. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1
Those writers who were closest to Ruth attempted to convince the slugger that this was no time to hold out, with millions unemployed and thousands on the point of actual starvation. How much did Babe want, anyway?
“Just what I’ve been getting for the last two seasons,” explained Ruth with what he thought was a great show of patience, “$8o,ooo.”
“$8o,ooo a year! In these times!” expostulated one of the writers. Don’t be silly, Babe. Why that’s more than Hoover gets for being president of the United States.”
“What the hell has Hoover got to do with this?” demanded the Babe. “Anyway, I had a better year than he did.”
The above citation was identified by top researchers Bill Mullins and Stephen Goranson. Librarian specialist John Van Hook of the University of Florida, Gainesville obtained scans. This entry also incorporates some of the excellent citations located by premier investigator Barry Popik. 2 Thanks to all of them
Contemporary newspaper reports indicate that Ruth negotiated a two-year salary contract that paid $80,000 in 1930 and 1931. In 1932 he obtained $75,000 for his services. Interestingly, in 1933 he was willing to accept $55,000. Thus, if the tale was true then the disagreement probably occurred circa 1932. However, the first known account was published in 1947 which was rather late.
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
In January 1930 the well-known humorist Will Rogers told a joke in his syndicated newspaper column that partially matched the tale under investigation. The comparative salaries of Ruth and Hoover was the topic. Also, Ruth wanted a larger salary than Hoover, but the punchline was somewhat different: 3
They offered Babe Ruth the same salary that Mr Hoover gets. Babe claims he should have more. He can’t appoint a commission to go up and knock the home runs. He has to do it all himself.
In March 1930 an Associated Press article reported on the recent resolution of Ruth’s contract negotiations. Initially, Ruth wanted $85,000 annually for three years. But he settled from $80,000 a year for two years. 4
The contract controversy between Babe Ruth and the New York Yankees was settled quickly today when the home run king agreed to terms for the next two years at $80,000 a year at a conference with Col. Jacob Ruppert, the club owner. Formal contracts at this figure, an increase of $10,000 over Ruth’s previous salary, will be signed on Monday.
In March 1933 an Associated Press story stated that Ruth was paid $75,000 for the 1932 season, but he had reduced his request to $55,000 for 1933. The team owner wished to pay even less: 5
Ruth and Colonel Ruppert conferred for 15 minutes and emerged from their conference apparently no closer to an agreement than they were before. Ruth demanded $55,000 for his work in 1933 while Colonel Ruppert countered with $50,000. Ruth declared he would not sign for the lower figure and Colonel Ruppert said it wouldn’t be increased.
In 1947 Tom Meany published “Babe Ruth: The Big Moments of the Big Fellow” as mentioned previously. The biography was reviewed in a Jamestown, New York newspaper in November 1947, and the acerbic words of Ruth caught the eye of the reviewer who shared them with his readers: 6
Finally he earned $80,000, more than the President of the United States. When a cut was proposed in 1932, and that comparison was made, he said, “What the hell has Hoover got to do with this? Anyway, I had a better year than he did.”
In December 1947 Arthur Daley, the influential sportswriter of “The New York Times”, presented the anecdote. The response of Ruth was slightly altered by the omission of the word “hell”: 7
Although the Bambino merely made money to spend it, he earned plenty. He could be stubborn about it, too. When he was holding out for the unprecedented salary of $80,000 for the depression year of 1932, a friendly sports writer told him he was silly to make so exorbitant a demand at such a time. “Why, that’s more than Hoover gets for being President of the United States,” said the scribe, thus presenting a seemingly unanswerable argument.
“What has Hoover got to do with this?” demanded the Babe a trifle indignantly. “Anyway, I had a better year than he did.” By golly, he was right.
In February 1948 “The Sportview” columnist Chauncey Durden of the “Richmond Times Dispatch” in Virginia presented the anecdote, but he cited Meany’s book; hence, his version was probably derived from that biography: 8
… Ruth was a serious holdout only three times. One of those holdouts was in 1932 after his two-year contract at $80,000 had run out. Despite the fact there was a depression throughout the land, the Babe informed one and all, including Colonel Ruppert, he wanted the same amount he had collected during the 1930 and ’31 seasons.
Some of Ruth’s sports-writing friends tried to explain the hard economic facts of the depression to him. One of them, all but drawing a diagram for the Big Fellow, pointed out that Ruth was demanding, in the middle of a depression, more money than Herbert Hoover received as President of the United States of America. And, relates Tom Meany in his “Babe Ruth,” the Great Man roared:
“What the hell has Hoover got to do with this? Anyway, I had a better year than he did,”
Just the same the record reveals that Ruth did take a cut, signing a two-year contract at $70,000 per season.
Oddly, the final sentence above gave a salary figure that differed from the contemporaneous Associated Press account which gave a $75,000 figure for the 1932 season and $55,000 or less in 1933.
Arthur Daley revisited this topic in an August 1948 column, but he changed a crucial detail. He moved the year from 1932 to 1930. In addition, the wording of Ruth’s riposte was slightly altered: 9
When he held out for the $80,000 in the depression year of 1930, his sports-writing friends advised him to take it easy because, after all, he’d be making more money than the President of the United States, Herbert Hoover.
“What’s Hoover got to do with it?” he growled and then thoughtfully added, “Besides, I had a better year than he did anyway.” He was right as rain on that one.
In conclusion, QI believes that Babe Ruth probably did make a remark of this type. Tom Meany covered Ruth as a sportswriter and knew him well. His biography provided the earliest known support for the incident. On the other hand, the episode dated to circa 1932, and Meany’s book was published in 1947. This long delay reduced credibility.
Image Notes: Photo of South Lawn of the White House from U.S. Department of Defense. Publicity photo of Babe Ruth circa 1918. Both images obtained via Wikimedia Commons. Images have been retouched, cropped, and resized.
(Great thanks to Professor Gerald Cohen and Fred Shapiro whose inquiries led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Special thanks to Barry Popik, John Van Hook, Stephen Goranson, Fred Shapiro, and Bill Mullins for research help.)
- 1947, Babe Ruth: The Big Moments of the Big Fellow by Tom Meany, Chapter 10: The First Cut, Quote Page 139, Published by A. S. Barnes, New York. (Verified with scans; great thanks to John Van Hook and the University of Florida, Gainesville library system) ↩
- Website: The Big Apple, Article title: “I (Babe Ruth) had a better year than he (President Hoover) did”, Date on website: June 06, 2013, Website description: Etymological dictionary with more than 10,000 entries. (Accessed barrypopik on December 22, 2014) link ↩
- 1930 January 9, Boston Globe, Will Rogers’ Dispatch by Will Rogers, Quote Page 1, Column 1, Boston, Massachusetts. (ProQuest) ↩
- 1930 March 8, Daily Register Gazette, Home Run King Today Accepts $80,000 Offer: Babe Ruth Signs Two Year Contract with Yankees by Alan J. Gould (Associated Press Sports Editor), Quote Page 2, Column 8, Rockford, Illinois. (GenealogyBank) ↩
- 1933 March 19, Morning Advocate, Col. Ruppert Says $50,000 or Even Less (AP News Service), Quote Page 13, Column 3, Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (GenealogyBank) ↩
- 1947 November 29, Jamestown Post-Journal, Books and Things by Lewis Gannett, (Book Review of “Babe Ruth” by Tom Meany), Quote Page 13, Column 2, Jamestown, New York. (Old Fulton) ↩
- 1947 December 16, New York Times, Sports of the Times: Something About The Babe by Arthur Daley, Quote Page 50, New York. (ProQuest) ↩
- 1948 February 26, Richmond Times Dispatch, The Sportview: Spring Brings No ‘Holdouts’ by Chauncey Durden, Quote Page 18, Column 1, Sub-section title: Signing of Ruth Was Great Event, Richmond, Virginia. (GenealogyBank) ↩
- 1948 August 19, New York Times, Sports of the Times: Still More on the Babe by Arthur Daley, Quote Page 29, Column 3, New York. (ProQuest) ↩