Babe and His Money Soon Parted

Damon Runyon

Wilkes-Barre Evening News/April 3, 1925

Perhaps you have sometimes wondered what becomes of the immense sums of money that flow through the fingers of baseball players, boxers, jockeys and other sport professionals, since you are constantly reading of them being broke.

A little light is shed on the subject by Babe Ruth’s admission that he lost $7,700 at the race tracks last May. He didn’t have the ready cash at the time, so he told the bookmaker he would pay later.

The unfeeling bookmaker assigned the claim to another man who has brought suit against Ruth. The suit disclosed the fact of Ruth’s temporary financial embarrassment.

Also it may partly explain what Ruth did with some of his income of $70,000 last year. If he lost $7,700 that he didn’t pay it is conceivable that he lost plenty that he did pay.

But the race tracks probably didn’t get all Ruth’s money last year.

He probably found many other ways of spending it.

The writer a couple of years ago traveled with Ruth from New York to Hot Springs, and en route Babe narrated some astounding incidents of his experience with money.

He probably doesn’t know himself exactly how it gets away from him. He spends it, loses it, gives it away. His dollars are equipped with wings, also skates and motors.

He is the victim of many impositions. He is a big, good-natured, free-handed fellow who can’t say no.

He told the writer he once made $40,000 on a vaudeville tour that cost him $45,000. He couldn’t account for one-third of the money to save his life. It went—that’s all there was to it.

Also he said—this was two years ago—that he intended saving some of his money in the future. No doubt poor Babe really tries to save. But he is like many thousands of other men who can gather in big money but can’t keep it.

The fortunate man who has the faculty of saving says of the spendthrift, “He’s a fool.”

And, of coure, he is.

But many men—and women—don’t know how to save.

The lesson of thrift should be taught to the very young. That’s the only time they can learn it.

Gambling is one absolutely sure way of getting rid of money. But there are many other ways equally sure. One of them is high living, which is extravagance.

That’s how most of Tod Sloan’s money went.

Sloan was the greatest moneymaker of his time in sport—king of the jockeys, lord of the turf on two continents.

His yearly income rolled up into many thousands at a time when money meant even more than it does now. He must have had at least half a million dollars at one time.

He lived like a prince of the realm. Nothing was too good for Sloan. The money seeped away into high living during a long period of idleness. Today Sloan is broke.

He gambled some, made some bad investments. But mainly he was extravagant beyond any other young fellow in sport before or since his time.

James J. Jeffries had a considerable fortune when he quit the ring. So did Jess Willard. No one thought these ex-heavyweight champions would ever be broke.

Jeffries lost most of his money investing in a mine that turned out worthless. He put the money into the mine without asking the advice of his family or friends—always a dangerous procedure.

Willard dropped a lot of his earnings from the prize ring in oil investments that proved bad investments. Both Willard and Jeffries have recouped their fortunes to some extent; neither can be said to be broke.

Extravagance and a life that brought on many troubles with the law broke Jack Johnson, another former heavyweight champion of the world.

Johnson, now living around Chicago, had a great deal of money at one time. For years he was a fugitive from this country, compelled to live abroad. He lived there in royal state. Rockefeller’s fortune wouldn’t have held out for Johnson’s lifetime at the rate he lived.

His legal affairs must have cost the negro immense sums.

It isn’t always dissipation, and it isn’t always bad investments that take the money of the men of the sport game. Sometimes it is just plain bad luck—circumstances over which they have no control.

Willie Jackson, a New York lightweight of considerable ability a few years ago, at one time had fully $200,000 saved up. It is said domestic troubles broke him.

Ad Wolgast, a former lightweight champion of the world, encountered something similar, it is said. He probably had even more money than Jackson. Now he also is broke.

The writer could name scores of other instances of once noted figures in the sport game who are penniless.

For every retired ball player, boxer, or jockey, who has enough money to live on, you find twenty who are broke. Some have gathered in well over $100,000 in a single year.

Of course not every ball player, boxer or jockey has enough during his active career. Only comparatively few get to the top. Perhaps the proportion of big earnings is no greater in sport than in any business or profession.

But the man in sport has only a few years of earning capacity, at best, and he should save from the beginning.

It’s better to have them say: “He’s got the first dollar he ever made,” than “He hasn’t got a quarter.”

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