The older the subject, the more challenging it is to add to the discourse. There is nothing new under the home run, and few names are as instantly recognizable in baseball as the legendary George Herman Ruth—otherwise an archetype, as “the Babe.” Actually, Ruth’s reputation precedes him so that he has garnered several additional monikers. In one memorable scene from popular film, the young misfits in The Sandlot (1993) cycle through a list of the alternate names, each title an attempt to convey Ruth’s hard-hitting renown: “The sultan of swat!”; “The king of crash!”; “The colossus of clout!”; “The great Bambino!”
Here’s a man. Here’s a man with more noms de guerre than a prince or king. Here’s a man during his career with easily more mentions in newspapers than his extraordinary number of homeruns. Here’s a man whose name graced more endorsement contracts than any athlete before him. Anyone care for some Red Rock Cola, Murphy-Rich soap, or All American Athletic Underwear? What about tobacco? The Babe peddled for Old Gold Cigarettes and Pinch Hit Tobacco, too. With a wide range of Ruth biographies, baseball histories, and young adult and children’s titles, there’s also not any shortage of Babe Ruth publishing products. So, again, Ruth being so popular a personality in life and in death, is there anything left that’s new to say?
I’ll kill the suspense: no, there’s probably not.
However, this 1933 Sanella Babe Ruth card may be new to you—that is unless you’re the kind of collector with a ludicrous desire and improbable goal to acquire a pre-WWII Ruth card whilst on a trading card budget as tight as the skinny man’s pants worn by a fat man. But that only makes the rare purchase, the rare deal, all the more special. Even better for “the poor collector”: a lump sum of $80-85 will occasionally yield not merely this meticulously crafted card, hand-colored in the pre-press process and issued during Ruth’s playing days, but also the full 1933 Sanella set with its official Handbuch des Sports album.
Like the rest of its set, the 1933 Sanella Ruth is not particularly rare or very valuable, especially compared to earlier, more coveted Ruth issues. Criminy! The flimsy stock isn’t actually cardboard; it’s really more paper than card. Even the nearly identical Astra variation carries a significantly higher price than the Sanella one. Then there’s the obvious sticky point that it’s not American but German, though perhaps that’s all the more appropriate since Ruth’s parentage was German-American.
But let’s face it: no matter how precious, prized, or exorbitantly priced a 1933 Goudey Ruth or 1914 Baltimore News rookie card of Ruth may be, these frail portraits in miniature will never manage to truly convey the enormity and vitality of Ruth’s life. The often weathered substance and time-muted color palette of these artifacts do even less so to capture, contain the icon. The 1933 Sanella is no different when it comes to such shortcomings.
That’s not at all to diminish the intrinsic worth of these cards. Their mere existence today, the perseverance to survive the passing of various stewards whose watchful care must always at some point cease before transition to some new, more watchful sentinel—this culture of cards alone is a testament to Ruth’s life and heritage.
He mattered. And that fact is abundantly clear in every one of his surviving vintage cards, no matter the state of pristine condition or decay. That’s clear, too, in the 1933 Sanella issued by his ancestors’ homeland.
Like most products (indeed all trading cards) to feature Babe Ruth, the Sanella card focuses on a positive quality or moment of triumph, instead of some flaw or folly. Surely it was not a pretty sight when a man of Ruth’s size whiffed at a pitch and struck out, as he almost necessarily did in that stellar year of 1927, for example, with 89 strike outs. There’s none of that here. The still image glorifies Ruth when he was at his best, an apparent instant after full contact and thunderclap: on a stage laid in earth and grass, with a “Hotel Congress” billboard for the set’s stark backdrop, and before an audience all aquiver as a hazy array of apple blossoms. Here Ruth’s follow-through form is less slugger than ballet artist for the ages.