Award: Pulitzer Prize for Photography
Photographer: Nathaniel Fein of the Herald Tribune
Photograph: “Babe Ruth Bows Out”
George Herman Ruth, Jr (1895-1948), best known as "Babe" Ruth and nicknamed "the Bambino" and "the Sultan of Swat", was an American baseball player who spent 22 seasons in Major League Baseball, playing for three teams (1914–1935). Known for his hitting brilliance, Ruth is credited with changing baseball itself. The popularity of the game exploded in the 1920s, largely due to his influence. Ruth ushered in the “live-ball era”, as his big swing led to escalating home run totals that not only excited fans, but helped baseball evolve from a low-scoring, speed-dominated game to a high-scoring power game. He has since become regarded as one of the greatest sports heroes in American culture. Ruth's legendary power and charismatic personality made him a larger than life figure in the “Roaring Twenties” and he is now regarded as the first true American sports celebrity superstar whose fame transcended baseball. Off the field he was famous for his charity, but also was noted for his often reckless lifestyle. Ruth has been named the greatest baseball player of all time in various surveys and rankings.
Following his retirement in 1935 he attempted coaching but without success. He assisted with the American legions youth baseball program and appeared on radio, both as a guest and as host of his own shows.
From 1946 he was in poor health. Cancer treatments failed to eradicate the cancers from which he was suffering. In ill health with throat cancer, he nonetheless attended the 25th anniversary celebration of the opening of Yankee Stadium in 1948. He was reunited with old teammates from the 1923 Yankee team and posed for photographs.
Nathaniel Fein’s photo of Ruth taken from behind, showing Ruth leaning on his baseball bat as a cane, standing apart from the other players and facing "Ruthville" (right field) became one of baseball's most famous and widely circulated photographs.
The celebration also honoured Ruth by retiring his Number 3 to the Bseball Hall of Fame in New York, that number not to be used again by the Yankees. His speech and bow to the crowd was not only a farewell to baseball, but a farewell to life.
The fans watched and cheered as Ruth slowly made his way onto the field. Fifty thousand had attended to pay their respects to one of baseball’s greats.
Two months after the photograph was taken he was dead.
Nat Fein was a photographer of people. He liked to work out the best viewpoints, the best angles and the most interesting items to emphasise in photographs. He had Ruth slumped in the dugout, weakened by illness. According to Fein, "He looked tired, very tired; the power that had been his in his youth and manhood was slowly ebbing away.”
''When we were in the dressing room, he sat beside his old No. 3 locker and we made a picture there,'' Mr. Fein wrote in an unpublished memoir. ''Then he pulled out the belt showing how much thinner he'd got and I wanted to make a picture then, but they told me he's going to have all he can do to get out there -- he's a very sick man -- and the least bother here as possible because there's going to be a ceremony outside.”
Fein took several photographs but was not satisfied with what he had. He walked to the other side and was behind Ruth. "I saw Ruth standing there with his uniform, No. 3, the number that would be retired, and knew that was the shot. It was a dull day, and most photographers were using flash bulbs, but I slowed the shutter and took the picture without a flash."
The photograph was initially published in the Herald Tribune sports section but was later moved to the front page, eventually becoming one of America’s best known sports photograph, an icon of an icon.
Fein (1914-2000) worked for the New York Herald Tribune for 33 years. He won more press photo awards than any of his contemporaries and was considered to be one of the greatest human interest photographers in journalism.