The story begins in 1902 in Baltimore, Maryland, where a seven-year-old Babe Ruth, troubled and not-so disciplined, is sent to the St. Mary's Industrial School for Boys, a reformatory and orphanage. Ruth is sent by his father, George Herman Ruth Sr. (Bob Swan), who cannot handle raising the boy. At the school, Ruth is schooled by Catholic missionaries and is made fun of by other children, because of his large size. Brother Matthias Boutlier (James Cromwell), the Head of Discipline at St. Mary's, first introduces Ruth to the game of baseball. During a session of batting practice, Ruth hits several towering home runs off of Matthias, who is pitching. Brother Matthias and others are stunned by Ruth's amazing power to drive the ball.
The film then flashes forward to 1914. A 19-year-old Ruth (Goodman) is on St. Mary's baseball team. Ruth continues to excel as a powerful hitter and a great pitcher. Ruth's amazing skills come to the attention of Jack Dunn (J.C. Quinn). Since Ruth is underage, Dunn decides to adopt Ruth and sign him to a contract with the Baltimore Orioles. In the middle of the 1914 baseball season, Ruth is sold to the Boston Red Sox. As a member of the Red Sox, Ruth begins to gain wide attention for his home runs and becomes popular in Boston. However, he angers Red Sox owner Harry Frazee during a party, and following the 1919 season, Ruth demands a raise, and a suite for road games, so Frazee sells him to the New York Yankees to finance his Broadway shows, which had cost him money ($125,000, equal to $1,726,727 today, the same amount of money that Frazee got for selling Ruth to be exact). Ruth becomes very popular in New York, as he helps the Yankees win the World Series in 1923. Also, in one game, he hits two home runs for a little boy named Johnny Sylvester, whom he had recently visited in hospital. However, two years later, after divorcing his first wife, Helen Woodford (Trini Alvarado), Ruth starts to go into a slump, while teammate Lou Gehrig (Michael McGrady) becomes known as the "Iron Horse". After getting pelted with lemons during a game, he gets angry and storms onto the dugout, yelling at the crowd, who continue to pound him with lemons. He also takes a second wife Claire (Kelly McGillis), but that becomes complicated too.
However, in 1927, Ruth returns to his old self and hits 60 home runs, breaking his old record of 59 home runs. In 1932, during the World Series against the Cubs, in Game 3, Ruth, during an at-bat, points to center field and hits a towering home run, "calling his shot".
By 1934, Babe is well on the decline. He wants to pursue his post-career ambition of managing a baseball team, but Yankees owner Colonel Jacob Ruppert has other intentions, releasing the Babe instead. Under the promise of becoming a manager, Babe signs with the Boston Braves, but his presence on the team is more comedic than anything else. Before a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Babe overhears the Boston owners saying he's only good for drawing a gate. He responds by blasting three home runs in the game - then dramatically shuns the owner's proffered handshake of congratulations and drops his Braves cap on the ground, indicating that he is quitting the team.
The film ends with Ruth broken, trudging alone through the entrance tunnel. He is confronted by a man; it is Johnny (Stephen Caffrey), now grown up. The Babe is still his hero, as they part he calls after him "You're the best... you're the best there's ever been".John Goodman – Babe Ruth
Kelly McGillis – Claire Hodgson Ruth
Trini Alvarado – Helen Woodford Ruth
Bruce Boxleitner – Jumpin' Joe Dugan
Peter Donat – Harry Frazee
James Cromwell – Brother Mathias
J. C. Quinn – Jack Dunn
Joe Ragno – Miller Huggins
Richard Tyson – Guy Bush
Ralph Marrero – Ping Bodie
Bob Swan – George Herman Ruth Sr.
Bernard Kates – Colonel Jacob Ruppert
Michael McGrady – Lou Gehrig
Danny Goldring – Bill Carrigan
Guy Barile – Johnny Torrio
Bernie Gigliotti – Al Capone
Ian McCabe – Kid Who Fails Math Test
W. Earl Brown – Herb Pennock
Thom C. Simmons – Bill McKechnie
Rick Reardon – Ernie Shore
Randy Steinmeyer – Ty Cobb
Wayne Messmer – Yankee Stadium Announcer
Larry Cedar – Forbes Field Announcer
Michael Kendall – Jack Warhop
Harry Hutchinson – Tris Speaker
Irma P. Hall – Fanny Baily
Stephen Caffrey - Older Johnny
The film took several liberties with Ruth's life and career, most notably in its portrayal of his "Called Shot" and his hitting of two home runs for a sick child. While the sick child story is a long-standing Ruth myth, the Called Shot's authenticity is still debated to this day. Nevertheless, the dramatic scene portrayed in the movie is mostly fabrication. The film also takes license with Ruth's first and final career homers. In the film, Ruth hits his first homer as a newcomer to the Red Sox in 1914. Ruth actually played sporadically for the Sox in 1914 and did not homer until 1915. His three final home runs did indeed come at Pittsburgh's Forbes Field in one afternoon; however, he did not retire following (or during) the game as seen in the film nor did he take a seat in the Pittsburgh Pirates dugout. Furthermore Ruth did not have a "courtesy runner" who would take over for Ruth upon reaching first base. Ruth appeared in five more games that year before injuring his knee and hanging it up.
Chicago's Wrigley Field stood in for Yankee Stadium during filming. Temporary walls were placed over the ivy-covered brick for the New York scenes. The ivy is depicted during the 1932 World Series scenes, where the action is taking place at Wrigley Field, although in 1932, the ivy had not yet been planted. Similarly, in a scene during Ruth’s career with the Yankees, in a 1925 game vs. the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park, he hits a home run and the Green Monster is depicted. The Green Monster at that time was actually covered with advertisements; it was not painted solid green until 1947.
Danville Stadium in Danville, Illinois, was where the scenes for Fenway Park and Forbes Field were filmed, as well as the black/white news footage.
The film received mostly mixed reviews from critics and currently holds a 46% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 37 reviews. In an interview on Inside the Actors Studio and The Howard Stern Show, John Goodman admitted that he was disappointed in his own performance.
The film was also not a financial success. It grossed over $19.9 million worldwide at the box-office and was pulled from theatres after five weeks.
Respected American film critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert both disliked the film, and included it on their Worst of 1992 episode on their program Siskel & Ebert.