Portrait Gallery Adds Babe Ruth to the Lineup

The subject of the National Portrait Gallery’s new “One Life” exhibition, which opens June 24, is the Sultan of Swat, Babe Ruth. The Bambino — as in the “Curse of the Bambino,” which befell the Red Sox for selling him to the Yankees in 1920 — is the first sports star to be featured in this series of mini-biographies; earlier shows focused on, among others, Elvis, Katharine Graham, Martin Luther King Jr. and, most recently, Latina activist Dolores Huerta.

About 35 images and objects are on display in the one-gallery exhibition, which runs through May 15, 2017: classic and rare photographs, caricatures, magazine covers, blowups of Daily News front pages (“Ruth Quits”), a signed baseball (“Little Mary from Babe Ruth”), a chocolate bar wrapper (Ruth’s Home Run, not Baby Ruth). There is also a kiosk showing video clips.

Nearly 70 years after his death, with his records broken by others, Ruth — far from a matinee idol with his round face, broad nose and pudgy torso — is still a household name, immediately recognizable even by those who care little about baseball. One can only imagine (with the help of this exhibition) how much excitement he generated in his 1920s home-run heyday, removing the stain of the 1919 World Series. Not for nothing was Yankee Stadium (1923–2008) known as “The House That Ruth Built.”

Though the mass media helped to make him an American hero, exhibition curator James Barber notes that, in accordance with the practices of the time, Ruth’s drinking and womanizing were left out of the story. “He wouldn’t have lasted in this day and age,” Barber says.

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