No. 1: Babe Ruth's legend and legacy spans generations

They pass through the tiny row home at a steady clip, 50,000 pilgrims a year on a mission to visit their mecca. Here, in a second-floor bedroom of a narrow little residence on Emory Street, on a bitter cold day in 1895, George Herman Ruth was born.

Humble digs, indeed, for one who'd grow up to be larger than life. But as Lorie Vaughan toured Babe Ruth's birthplace on Tuesday, she said the locale wasn't as important as the aura around it.

"I've been to Monticello (Thomas Jefferson's home), which is, by far, a better structure," said Vaughan, of Norfolk, Va. "But, in terms of what it means to me, this place is tops. Babe was the best."

That Baltimore should produce the man many call the greatest baseball player of all time is "a great tribute to the city," said Alan Paviglianiti, of Matawan, N.J. "In fact, Babe may be the greatest athlete ever. He drank like a fish, he ate like a fiend, and he womanized. Yet look what he accomplished. He was a natural. Had to be."

A steady stream of visitors, mostly out-of-staters, filed through the museum, stopping to examine precious keepsakes from Ruth's life, from a catcher's mitt he used as a youth to his hymnal from St. Mary's Industrial School. Inside the hymnal, he'd written, "George H Ruth, world's worse (sic) singer, world's best pitcher."

It was his prowess both on the mound and at the plate that sells today's wary fans on Ruth's greatness.

"The fact that he set World Series records as a pitcher (29-2/3 consecutive scoreless innings), and season records as a hitter (60 home runs) speaks for itself," said Joe Piccone, of Sparta, N.J. "That's phenomenal.

"We revere our star athletes, but the truth is, there aren't many museums for players. Mickey Mantle doesn't have one."

Mantle visited Ruth's birthplace, as have other sluggers including Stan Musial, Al Kaline, Cal Ripken, Sadaharu Oh and Hank Aaron, who surpassed Ruth's career home run mark.

Though most of his records have fallen, his stature has not. In a 22-year career with the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and Boston Braves, Ruth batted .342 (10th all-time), hit 714 homers (third) and had 2,213 RBI (second). He played on seven World Series champions and was a charter member of the Hall of Fame in 1936.

"He has survived the test of time," said Jeff Scott, of Utica, N.Y. "You say his name to a 7-year-old playing Little League, or a 107-year-old watching baseball, and he's going to know who Babe Ruth is.

"Maryland has other (athletes) to be proud of, like Ripken and Michael Phelps, but Babe Ruth is the man. He blows them all away."

Perusing the exhibits, including Ruth's 1914 baseball card, when he played for the Baltimore Orioles, Jason Jarecki wished that card could come alive.

"His joy for the game was endearing to people. He played the game like he was a big kid. For my generation, players like Babe don't exist anymore," said Jarecki, 40, of Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

"His numbers speak for themselves. Who knows, a guy like that might hit 1,000 home runs today, with the help of sports science instead of a steady diet of beer and hot dogs."

Some tourists, like Adam Howard of Bentonville, Ark., padded past the memorabilia in near-revential silence.

"To be in his birthplace is something special," Howard said. "He made the game what it is today. He's the first famous person whom you learn about as a kid. He played before there were pitching machines, indoor batting cages and weightlifting. Everything Babe Ruth did was natural."

Howard paused, looked around and shivered.

"It gives me cold chills to be here."

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