Who has not been moved by the 1948 photo of a frail Babe Ruth in his Yankee pinstripes bidding farewell to his fans in Yankee Stadium? Two months later, at age 53, he died, reportedly of throat cancer brought on by a fondness for tobacco and liquor.
But that's all wrong, according to an article published in the July 2008 Journal of the American Dental Association, in which Dr. William J. Maloney, '02, Clinical Assistant Professor of Cariology & Comprehensive Care, and Dr. Mea A. Weinberg, Clinical Associate Professor of Periodontology and Implant Dentistry, report previously unknown information about Babe Ruth's fatal disease and the Yankee star's willingness to take part in an experimental treatment that might someday help others.
According to Drs. Maloney and Weinberg, despite biographers' claims that Babe Ruth died of throat cancer as a consequence of heavy drinking and smoking, he actually died of a very rare cancer, nasopharyngeal carcinoma, which causes less than one percent of deaths in the US, though the cancer is far more prevalent in parts of Southeast Asia and northern Africa. What Drs. Maloney and Weinberg also discovered was that Babe Ruth was the first person to try a new chemotherapy drug developed by oncologist Richard Lewisohn, over the objections of colleagues who said it was too unproven to try on humans.
The use of the new drug, teropetrin, worked well for Ruth for a short time. It also laid the groundwork for a whole range of more successful chemotherapy treatments.
The JADA article came to the attention of Babe Ruth's granddaughter, Linda Ruth Tosetti, who says she was pleased to learn that her grandfather had taken part in an experimental treatment without any promise of success.
"I was stunned," says Ms. Tosetti. It was the first I was reading that my grandfather did not have throat cancer and that he had volunteered for early cancer research trials. I want people to know that he was a humanitarian as well as the greatest slugger in baseball history. He followed his heart, not what people told him to do, but what was right. He gave to the very end."