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Should Major League Baseball retire Babe Ruth's No. 3 jersey?

By Rory Sharrock

rsharrock@news-daily.com

As sports fans, we often have somewhat of a spiritual relationship with our favorite athletes.

We invest our time, passion, energy and money in their ability to ascend our souls from our everyday reality to championship paradise.

However, there are a select group of athletes that have transcended their sports and fanhood. These rare men and women live as timeless pop culture icons, becoming descriptive references of any special person, place or thing.

Muhammad Ali, Billie Jean King, Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky and Tiger Woods are a prime example of those sports superstars who've crossed over the threshold of immortality as marketing gems and historic figures.

While these giants already have their images carved in the landmark moments of history, one particular athlete who's shadow still looms heavy from coast to coast, even 60 years after his death, is George Herman "Babe" Ruth.

Ruth was more than just a baseball player with a knack for hitting home runs and winning World Series titles.

This titanic figure was the ultimate rock star of his generation.

The Babe drank beer and whiskey as if it were going out of style. He stopped traffic when he walked the streets. He splurged on food, clothes and women with no remorse. He had an abundance of cash and wasn't shy about it, saying to a reporter in 1930 what he thought about his yearly salary of $80,000 being more than President Herbert Hoover's $75,000, "I know, but I had a better year than Hoover."

While the game of baseball is filled with transcendent players, none seem to carry the same overwhelming status of Babe Ruth.

With 714 long balls, he's third on the career home run list behind Hank Aaron, who hit 755 and the controversial Barry Bonds with 762, yet he's still the poster child of the ultimate power hitter.

Because of his overall impact on baseball, even from beyond the grave, the Babe's granddaughter, Linda Ruth Tosetti, has increased awareness to her campaign to have Major League Baseball retire the No. 3 similar to that of Jackie Robinson's No. 42.

Both men are well-known for the roles in baseball as well as American history and share a host of fans from all walks of life.

Here in the Southern Crescent, the debate over retiring No. 3 throughout the sport is as hot a topic as the haze rising from the pavement and has drawn interesting perspectives from all angles.

"I could go either way. I don't care how young or old you are, you know Babe Ruth. You know he's the guy who hit home runs. It's good for the Yankees and maybe they should just keep it with the Yankees," said John Smith of Stockbridge.

While some have a clear-cut response to the issue, Ruth's larger than life influence on his sport and the eye-popping numbers has other local baseball fans on the fence as to a league-wide retirement of his famed No. 3 jersey.

"I don't know, it's really hard to say," said Dave Murray of Tucker. "All things being what they are, Babe Ruth's legacy has withstood the test of time. I've never seen him play a game and no one in this room saw him play, but everybody knows the legend of Babe Ruth. It opens up a real good debate."

This debate presents several problems with an assortment of conflicting issues stored inside Pandora's box.

What about the host of other athletes whose cultural significance or historic records rival that of Ruth?

If you make it acceptable for him, than surely we must do the same for players like Mickey Mantle or Roberto Clemente.

Should MLB decide to go this route, their destined to slide down a slippery slope into a pool of controversy and generational arguments.

"What about Roger Maris' number? He broke his record (single-season home run, which was since surpassed twice by Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds). Why not leave his (Ruth) number retired with the teams that he played with," added Michelle Beasley of Stockbridge.

The discussion over Ruth's jersey also hits home for transplant baseball fans who now call the Southern Crescent home.

For Chicago native Brady Smith, the decision to retire Ruth's number is a non-issue.

He feels there are other athletes more deserving of such an honor.

"He hit a lot of home runs in his time, but he wasn't a true athlete. I'd retire (Michael) Jordan's number before Babe Ruth," said Smith, who works in Henry County.

While people have valid points on the subject, this hot-button debate is far from being resolved.

With the foreseeable tributes to mark the 60th anniversary of his death in August, combined with closing of historic Yankee Stadium, also known as 'The House that Ruth Built', at season's end, we're sure to revisit this topic with even more interesting comments from fans of all generations.