This baseball season, the Babe took a beating.
Long ago stripped of his single-season and career home run records by Roger Maris and Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth lost three more marks this season to the power and patience of Barry Bonds and Rickey Henderson.
And yet, Ruth remains the dominant name in baseball's record book, owning 40 batting marks and sharing another four. And that doesn't include a couple of World Series marks for pitching. Next in line is Ty Cobb, whose 21 records barely reach halfway to Ruth.
More than the numbers, though, is the way they were achieved, the lasting image of Ruth as bigger than life and bigger than the game.
''His legacy is legendary,'' said Jeff Idelson, the baseball Hall of Fame's vice president for education. ''The fact that some of his records fell calls more attention to Ruth rather than diminishing him. He set the standard in so many areas.''
Ruth has his own room at the Hall, in Cooperstown, N.Y. His memory travels the country in a road show put on by his very own Babe Ruth Museum.
''When you let major leaguers hold one of his bats, they clutch it in awe, like a 12-year-old,'' said Michael Gibbons, executive director of museum in Ruth's native Baltimore. ''When I visit a school and ask kids how many of them have never heard of Babe Ruth, nobody raises a hand. He's become a cultural icon, like Elvis and Marilyn.
''As long as the game of baseball remains in the prime time of American culture, his place will always be secure.''
On the road to 73 home runs this season, Bonds shattered Ruth's single-season slugging percentage mark of .847, raising the bar to .863. He also walked 177 times, breaking the Babe's mark of 170.
Henderson overtook Ruth's career record of 2,062 walks early in the season, finishing with 2,141.
These were no small accomplishments. Ruth's slugging record had lasted since 1920 and the single-season walks record since 1923. He drew his last base on balls in 1935.
Ruth, however, endures.
''Each of those other guys has a couple of records,'' Gibbons said. ''The Babe has a ton more.''
Among Ruth's remaining records are most total bases in a single season, 457 in 1921. By comparison, in his 73-home run season, Bonds finished with 412.
Another of the marks he still holds is reaching base 379 times in 1923. With all those home runs and all those walks, Bonds was on base 342 times this season.
Aaron, Maris, and Bonds notwithstanding, Ruth retains 13 league and career home run records and 11 slugging percentage records. Most of them involve consecutive-season accomplishments, an indication that Ruth was not a one-shot slugger but a hitter who put up big numbers year after year.
''He is still perhaps the greatest single slugger in the game because of what he meant to the game,'' said Seymour Siwoff, who runs Elias Sports Bureau, official statisticians for major league baseball. ''His consistency is what set him apart.''
Consider that over a stretch of 15 seasons, from 1919 to 1933, Ruth batted over .300 14 times and never had fewer than 25 home runs. He hit over .350 six times in that run, with a career-high .393 in 1923.
Ruth remains the most compelling figure in baseball history, whose presence saved the game following the Black Sox game-fixing scandal of the 1919 World Series. He revolutionized the dead ball era and turned the home run into baseball's exclamation point. Losing a couple of lines in the record book is not going to change that.
Between 30,000 and 60,000 people visit the Ruth museum, drawn by the aura of the Babe. At the Hall of Fame, Ruth's room remains a centerpiece. Among the memorabilia on display there is the bat from his 1932 World Series ''called-shot'' homer, when he is said to have predicted a home run against the Chicago Cubs -- and then hit one. Nobody else has pulled that stunt yet.
Except for the gallery where the Hall of Fame plaques are displayed, Ruth's room is the No. 1 traffic point of the museum.
Even those who break his records understand the Babe's significance.
''The name comes to mind and you think about the greatest baseball player that played the game, the guy that probably kept this game alive for so many years,'' Henderson said when he broke Ruth's career walks record.
''He's Mr. Baseball. Once you get in the category of a Babe Ruth, it means that you went out and you did the best job you can do.''
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