Given the normal image of Babe Ruth as a hard-drinking, skirt-chasing home run machine — and given that he played major league baseball from ages 19 through 40 — this photo of him in an Army uniform looks like a gag.
It ain’t. Turns out that Ruth actually joined the New York National Guard (104th Field Artillery, if you must know) in 1924 as part of a public membership drive. A New York Times story from the time reported that he signed up in front of a “big crowd” in Times Square.
It wasn’t entirely a publicity stunt — Ruth was in for a three-year hitch — but it didn’t stop him from playing baseball, either. He hit 46, 25, and 47 home runs over those three seasons.
Of course, the year Ruth got out of the Guard, 1927, was the year he hit a record 60 home runs. Guess he finally relaxed.
Ruth almost did get dragged into the Army years earlier. Congress passed a Selective Service Act in 1917, during World War I, requiring able-bodied men to register. But Ruth was deferred as a married man, according to Kal Wagenheim’s 2001 biography Babe Ruth.
Here’s 29-year-old Pvt. Bambino saluting “Black Jack” Pershing, the Army’s legendary top dog from WWI, after receiving his uniform in 1924:
More Ruth photos here.
(Photos courtesy of the U.S. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.)