Sunday, February 06, 2011

In Memoriam: Babe Ruth

While a few of his records have fallen in the eight or nine decades since he first set them, the fact that today's super athletes with their workouts, macrobiotic diets, and/or use of anabolic steroids have only just recently begun equaling the big league achievements of one George 'Babe' Ruth is as much a testament to the prowess of the man as the fact that he was a fat, drunk, cigar-smoking womanizer when he made them in the first place.

PhotobucketBorn in Baltimore on this day in 1895, his was a rough childhood*, spent in a house filled with death in a neighbourhood known as Pigtown; only one other of his seven siblings survived childhood, and his mother died when he was in his teens. Of course, he was out of the house by then, having been placed in an orphanage by his father in 1902.

While he was trained as a tailor in the orphanage, it was at baseball that he truly excelled, and while there he was encouraged in his gift by Brother Matthias Boutlier. When he was sixteen, while pitching for St. Mary's Industrial School at a game against Mount St. Mary's University, Ruth was discovered by Joe Engel, an opposing player who informed the then-minor league Baltimore Orioles' manager Jack Dunn of his pitching ability.

Three years later, after watching Ruth pitch for himself, Dunn not only signed the promising teenager but became his legal guardian, since in those days the legal majority required to sign a contract was 25. Not only was Ruth's career born, but Dunn's 'newest babe' earned himself a lifelong nickname as well. In July 1914, Dunn traded Ruth and two other players to the Boston Red Sox, having been turned down by both the Philadelphia Athletics and the Cincinnati Reds two days earlier.

Ruth, of course, made his name in Boston - where the talented pitcher emerged as an even more powerful hitter - but it was his trade from Boston to the New York Yankees in December 1919 that gave birth to Ruth as a legend, thanks to the Curse of the Bambino, as well as a bona fide celebrity. Beginning in 1920 the once-powerful Red Sox went into something of a slump, whereas the lacklustre Yankees became the winningest team in American baseball, the winner of 26 World Series championships and 39 American League Pennants**.

Ruth's last championship hit, on October 1st at Wrigley Field against the Chicago Cubs in Game Three of the 1932 World Series was also one of his (and the game's) greatest; known as Babe Ruth's Called Shot, it's the famous moment when he apparently pointed to the center field bleachers and then proceeded to fire a 440 foot home-run there off pitcher Charlie Root***. By 1934 - the same year his image 'graced' the baseball card shown above - though, the steam had just about run out of Ruth and his career... He'd been considering a number of offers to become a manager, but in almost every case his wife Claire Merritt Hodgson - whom he'd married after his estranged first wife, Helen Woodford, died in a house fire in January 1929 - was the undoing of the deal. In the end, Ruth returned to the city where he'd found his early fame, playing his final season for the Boston Braves in 1935.

Babe Ruth, of course, was one of the greatest players American baseball has ever produced, and as such earned the 95% vote that ensured his induction as one of the first five members of the Baseball Hall of Fame in January 1936. As much a showman as an athlete, he made numerous appearances on radio and in silent films; he even starred in a one-man show on Broadway! The greatest of his celluloid appearances, though, was undoubtedly the three scenes in which he played himself in the 1942 film Pride of the Yankees opposite Gary Cooper, who played Ruth's team-mate Lou Gehrig. Ruth's last appearances at Yankee Stadium - one in April 1947 at 'Babe Ruth Day', at which he gave a heartfelt speech before a capacity crowd of 60,000, and the other at the Yankees' 25th Opening Day in June 1948 when his number, 3, was retired - contained many echoes of Cooper/Gehrig's triumphant moment in that film. Ruth himself was played by William Bendix in the 1948 biopic The Babe Ruth Story, attending its premiere in July 1948 despite being gravely ill.

Babe Ruth died just days later, August 16th, aged 53; he was buried at Cemetery of the Gate of Heaven in Hawthorne, New York.

*One which played a crucial role in shaping the philanthropist he would become, long before he'd established the Babe Ruth Foundation.
he only other professional sports team in North America that even comes close is the Montreal Canadiens hockey franchise, who've won the Stanley Cup 24 times since 1909.
Root went to his grave adamant it hadn't happened.

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World City-Zen: Singapore


On this day in 1819 Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles founded an outpost on the island of Singapore with the permission of Hussein Shah of Johor; having read out the treaty they'd signed in the languages of all those present (and otherwise dispensed with the masterful pomp the British have always done so well) Raffles left Singapore the following day, leaving Major William Farquhar in charge.

Of course, this wasn't the first town to be established on the site; the first official one arose during the reign of Parameswara of the Srivijaya Empire, who also founded Melaka (and the Sultanate of Malacca) around 1402, having been deposed by the Majapahit Empire. There are Chinese records of the island as early as the 2nd Century CE, when the town there was called Temasek, and of a town called Singapura - which means 'Lion City' in Sanskrit, even though lions have never been native to the island - some nine centuries later, which was little more than a fishing village at the mouth of the Singapore River.

Endowed as it is with a natural deep water port, abundant fresh water, and (in those days) wood with which to repair the ships of the Royal Navy, the establishment of Singapore by the British East India Company meant that it would no longer merely be the fulcrum of trade between China and India but serve as a global trading post. To a certain extent it still fulfills that role to this day...

Raffles returned to Singapore with his wife, Sophia, and only surviving child* (a daughter named Ella) in 1822, during which time he clashed with and then replaced Farquhar with John Crawfurd over Raffles' Jackson Plan, an ingenious and scientific (if racist) bit of city planning which Raffles drew up with the recommendations of a committee and which he named after the colony's engineer, Phillip Jackson; from that plan arose a very mighty city indeed. During his eight months in Singapore Raffles also drew up the colony's first constitution. He returned to England in August 1824 and died in July 1826.

One of four true city-states in the world - the others being the Principality of Monaco, San Marino, and Vatican City - Singapore is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, and joined the United Nations in September 1965. Its reputation globally over the past twenty years is principally derived from its tough law and order stance on nuisance crimes, the most notable example of which was the caning of Michael P. Fay in May 1994. Still, living as I do in a place where it seems like every third person pollutes by way of tagging, litter and/or spitting, I can sort of see their point.

The main reason to visit Singapore, at least for a lover of cities such as myself, is to view its acclaimed architecture, incorporating a bewildering array of Asian and Colonial European as well as modern styles of skyscraper, most of which have only risen since the 1970s. The place to stay while visiting Singapore is the ultra-luxurious Raffles Hotel, built in 1887 and named after the founder of the modern city.

*His sons Ludwig and Stamford Marsden and daughter Charlotte having died of dysentery at Bencoolen, where Raffles was Governor-General.

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"Never Gonna Give You Up" (Pop-Up Version) by Rick Astley

Birthday wishes go out today to Rick Astley, and a special treat - the version of the video as it appeared on VH-1's Pop-Up Video! If you're like me, you were one of approximately 18 million people who fell victim to rickrolling since May 2007; the fact that he was far from offended - in fact, he was greatly amused to have been the subject of his very own Internet phenomenon - singles him out as pure class.

Here then is the song that got the rick rolling, as it were: Never Gonna Give You Up, which originally appeared on his 1987 album Whenever You Need Somebody.

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Pop History Moment: The Accession of Elizabeth II


Over time the story has taken on all the elements of a fairytale; a beautiful young Princess leaves her cold, damp Kingdom behind in the depths of winter to fulfill the duties her ailing father cannot. In warm, sunny Kenya, in a treetop (indeed, at a resort hotel called Treetops) she learns of her father's early death. Because he died in his sleep, the exact moment of his death is unknown; because she was out of the country and not by his side when it happened, she can never know exactly the moment she became Queen.

Yet she has set off for Australia fully expecting to never see him again; his haggard appearance of late had given a far more deferential chattering class than we are used to today reason to whisper amongst themselves that the King was unwell. A heavy smoker, George VI had already foregone the use of his left lung due to surgical pneumonectomy; despite removal of the malignant tumour the cancer has worked its way through him. Not that the public (or, in fact, the King himself) knew any of this; all they knew is what they saw, and what they saw at the airport on the last day of January as he gamely waved her off had worried them as much as the unusually chilly weather, coal shortages, and continued post-war rationing.

The new Queen flew directly back to London, her staff having sensibly packed mourning dress in anticipation, and she approached the sad duties ahead of her as she would so many others to come: stoically, and with a dignity rare in one of her years.
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POPnews - February 6th

[Given the scrupulously honest dealings the British have had with indigenous peoples in other parts of the world, it would have surprised me more if they hadn't tried to pull something on the Maoris of New Zealand on this day in 1840, with the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi; they did, so my worldview is safe! It seems the wordings of the English and Maori versions differ, to such an extent that a legion of lawyers have been kept busy ever since trying to sort it out, which may be the greatest evil of all; since 1975 this has been the responsibility of the Waitangi Tribunal. Despite the inequities which remain between whites and indigenous peoples there, Waitangi Day is still celebrated as a national holiday in New Zealand, marked by the awarding of the Order of New Zealand honours.]

1685 - James II of England and VII of Scotland became King upon the death of his brother Charles II, unleashing a sectarian shit-storm of epic proportions which only ended when William of Orange succeeded in hounding him out of the country in December 1688 during the so-called Glorious Revolution.

1740 - Pope Clement XII died; he was succeeded by Benedict XIV on August 17th.

1788 - Massachusetts became the sixth US state.

1815 - The first American railroad charter was granted, to John Stevens for his New Jersey Railroad.

1819 - Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles founded Singapore.

1840 - The Treaty of Waitangi - drafted by William Hobson with the help of his secretary, James Freeman and Resident Minister James Busby - was signed by the British and the Māori at Busby's house (now known as Treaty House) marking the foundation of New Zealand.

1843 - The first ever minstrel show - starring a troupe calling itself the Virginia Minstrels - opened at the Bowery Amphitheatre in New York City.

1862 - During the American Civil War Union general Ulysses S. Grant gave the United States its first victory when he captured Fort Henry, Tennessee, following the Battle of Fort Henry.

1922 - Achille Ratti became Pope Pius XI.

1934 - A botched coup attempt by right-wing extremists at the Palais Bourbon failed to topple France's Third Republic.

1936 - The fourth Olympic Winter Games opened in Germany, at Garmisch-Partenkirchen.

1952 - England's King George VI died in his sleep at Sandringham House; he was succeeded by his daughter, who became Elizabeth II while staying at Treetops Hotel in Kenya.

1958 - Seven players for Manchester United were killed - Geoff Bent, Roger Byrne, Eddie Colman, Mark Jones, David Pegg, Tommy Taylor, and Liam 'Billy' Whelan instantly, Duncan Edwards of his injuries 15 days later - in the Munich air disaster, along with co-pilot Kenneth 'Ken' Rayment, cabin steward Tom Cable, three members of Man United's staff, eight journalists, and two supporters; there were also 21 survivors.

1971 - Astronaut Alan Shepard hit a golf ball on the Moon.

1987 - Justice Mary Gaudron became the first woman appointed to the High Court of Australia.

1989 - The so-called Roundtable Talks began in Poland, oddly enough resulting in the Polish Roundtable Agreement; by May 1990, similar talks would be held in Hungary, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, and Bulgaria, thus marking the onset of the overthrow of communist rule in Eastern Europe.

1993 - Tennis star Arthur Ashe died of complications arising from AIDS, which he contracted from a tainted blood sample received during open heart surgery in 1983.

1998 - Corsican prefect Claude Erignac was assassinated in Ajaccio, presumably by Yvan Colonna.

2005 - Britain's Tony Blair became the Labour Party's longest-serving Prime Minister with his 2,838th day on the job - surpassing Harold Wilson, who was PM twice from 1964–1970 and 1974-1976.
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