The best players in baseball will take the field on July 10 when the Major League All-Star Game is played in Kansas City, Mo., and fans throughout the country will cheer on their hometown favorites.
While one fan living north of Boston will be cheering on the standouts of today, he will also be comparing them to the baseball greats of the past, particularly Babe Ruth, a two-time all star and seven-time World Series champion.
For the past seven years, 63-year-old Tyngsborough, Mass., resident Steve Folven has been impersonating Babe Ruth by a replica Yankee uniform and traveling to different ballparks, charity events and baseball card shows. His vast knowledge of Ruth’s life and career, and an uncanny resemblance to “The Bambino”, has brought him a lot of publicity around New England. Now, Folven is branching out to other cities, including Los Angeles. He made an unofficial visit in character to Dodger Stadium last year during a trip to Southern California to tape a segment on Ruth for a baseball fan website, and was surprised to find that many fans here have fond memories of “The Babe”.
“The young kids know him from the movie ‘The Sandlot’, or John Goodman when he was in ‘The Babe’, but a lot of the Baby Boomers like myself remember Babe Ruth and relate to his accomplishments,” Folven said. “When I go to a Major League park, people just want to talk baseball. They love it. The reaction is very friendly.”
A lifelong baseball fan, Folven often attends games at Fenway Park. After friends and relatives joked that he looked a lot like Ruth, his brother Raymond gave him a Yankee uniform, and things took off from there. Later, on a trip to Las Vegas to visit a friend, Folven donned the uniform and went to a game featuring the Las Vegas 51s, the Dodgers’ triple-A affiliate from 2001-08. He said he was surprised by the attention he received.
“I got a great response. I went in as Babe Ruth and talked to people. A photographer from the Las Vegas Sun ended up taking my picture, and I was in the paper the next day,” Folven said. “From there I got some help putting together a webpage, and I started doing it a lot.”
One of the most prolific rivalries in all of sports exists between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees, and at the heart of the rivalry is the 1919 trade that sent Ruth from the Red Sox to the Yankees. It became known as “The Curse of the Bambino”, which Boston didn’t put to rest until 2004, when the team finally beat their rivals in the American League Championship Series after a losing the first three games, and went on to beat the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series, the team’s first championship in 86 years.
Folven is quick to point out that Ruth, whose real name was George Herman Ruth Jr., played for Boston from 1915 to 1919, but his reputation as a home run hitter was really solidified after he went to the Yankees. He set a Major League record with 54 home runs in 1920, and in 1921, hit 59 home runs and 171 RBIs. When the Yankees moved into a new stadium in 1923, it was nicknamed “The House That Ruth Built”. In 1927, “The Babe” hit 60 home runs, a record that would stand for more than 30 years. He helped the Yankees win seven American League championships and four World Series titles. At the end of his career in 1935, Ruth had become a household name nationwide. He held the home run record for decades with 714. Ruth passed away in 1948, the year Folven was born.
The statistics are all part of Folven’s repertoire when he suits up and visits with fans, granted he primarily wears a Red Sox uniform when appearing in the Boston-area. Ruth was know for drinking and outlandish behavior off the field, so Folven sometimes breaks the ice with a joke like, “I would have been here sooner, but I had a rough night.” He said he keeps the act clean, however, particularly for the younger fans. Folven said “The Babe” always had a special place in his heart for children, and often participated in events for the younger fans.
“I really like doing the charity stuff, because it means a lot to everybody,” Folven said. “When kids see me as Babe Ruth, they think I really am Babe Ruth, so I do my best to represent the legend the best I can.”
Folven said one of the best things about impersonating Babe Ruth is the places it takes him. He has been invited to appear at charity baseball games and special events, such as the 100th anniversary of Rickwood Field in Alabama, and has mingled with baseball greats such as Jim Palmer and Yogi Berra. Folven makes a lot of contacts through his website, and in 2009, he was invited by a group of Red Sox fans to attend the induction ceremony for Boston outfielder Jim Rice into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. He said it was one of the most memorable experiences of his career impersonating Babe Ruth, topped only by a visit to Yankee Stadium two years ago on the Fourth of July.
“I took the uniform and went to the ballpark as “The Babe”. I talked to people and they loved it,” Folven said. “I looked up in the seventh inning and I was on the Jumbotron. It was really exciting.”
Folven said he is currently preparing to appear in a play later this summer in Boston with a Ty Cobb impersonator that will feature the two ball players reminiscing about their careers.
“I’m keeping the spirit of Babe Ruth alive, his philanthropy and his greatness,” Folven said, adding that he draws the line at wearing the Yankee uniform to Fenway Park.
“I wouldn’t do that,“ he joked. “They’d probably kill me.”
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