The Women Behind 500 Print E-mail
Written by Jim Rednour   
Wednesday, 28 April 2010

The old saying “Behind Every Great Man Stands A Great Women” has certainly proven true over the years as 500 Home Run Club members’ spouses supported their men – before and after they became stars – through the good and lean years, and helped them to cope with the pressures and responsibilities that came with being amongst the greatest sluggers in MLB history.

The first and arguably most famous member of the 500 HRC was of course George Herman “Babe” Ruth.  After his first wife Helen died in 1929, Babe married the woman who would remain with him for the rest of his life Claire Hodgson.  An intelligent, energetic, confident and very self-assured woman, Claire married Babe a day before Opening Day at Yankee Stadium.  After their marriage, she quickly introduced much-needed discipline into Babe's life. She became Ruth’s personal manager, monitoring everything from his outrageous spending sprees to his exercise and eating habits.  Babe also acquired an instant family, which included Babe's adopted daughter Dorothy from his marriage with Helen, his newly-adopted daughter Julia from his marriage to Claire and Claire's mother and two brothers from Athens, Georgia. Babe finally had the big family he had always wanted.

Another woman who married a Pinstripe Icon was Merlyn Mantle. In 1996, she co-authored a memoir, "A Hero All His Life," in which she recalled meeting the Yankee star while he was still attending Commerce High School in Oklahoma, and she was a cheerleader at the arch-rival Picher H.S. They had their first date in 1949, at the historic Coleman Movie Theatre on Route 66 in Miami, OK.  "I developed an instant crush on Mickey Mantle, and by our second or third date, I was in love with him and always would be," she wrote.


It’s only fitting that Hank Aaron’s beloved wife Billye is as strong and successful as her Hall-of-Fame husband.  Amongst her considerable career achievements are having served as a TV show host in Atlanta and Milwaukee, as well as teaching at the high school and college level for more than a decade.  After marrying “Hammerin’ Hank”, she became his biggest fan and supporter, but never slowed down in her professional career.  She went on to become one of the premiere fundraisers for the United Negro College Fund and eventually retired in 1994 as Vice President of the Southern Region.  Upon retiring from the College Fund, Billye along with Hank, founded the “Hank Aaron Chasing the Dream Foundation,” a philanthropic trust that makes grants to pre-teen children to assist them in developing their special talents and chasing their dreams.

Ernie and Liz Banks are one of Major League Baseball’s most widely recognized and successful husband and wife teams parlaying a love of the game and dynamic people skills into a wide variety of business and philanthropic ventures.  In addition to being President of the 500 Home Run Club®, Liz also manages Ernie’s globe-trotting schedule of appearances and endorsements as he continues his post-baseball role as “Mr. Cub” and an ambassador for American baseball worldwide.  

In the 90s the duo established the “Ernie Banks Live Above & Beyond Foundation” which works to promote social welfare by supporting programs that enhance underprivileged neighborhoods, eliminate prejudice and relieve discrimination among various age groups and races
The first person Jim Thome looked for after circling the bases following his 500th Home Run (on Jim Thome Bobblehead Day at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, November 16, 2007) was his wife Andrea. The man known as “The Thomenator” demonstrated he’s really a softy at heart, especially when he it comes to his better half. “I knew she was the one instantly. I'm very blessed. She's awesome.”

“Off the field, “Big Jim” makes his wife proud by actively supporting numerous charitable causes (he was chosen as The Sporting News “No. 1 MLB Good Guy” in 2005 for his fundraising efforts in his native Peoria, IL) and is putting all 10 of his nieces and nephews through college. It was reported on ESPN's Sports Center that shortly after his nephew, Brandon, was paralyzed in a tragic accident, he asked Jim to hit a home run for him; not only did Thome fulfill the request but he hit two homers in the game. In a 2007 poll of 464 MLB players, he was voted the second friendliest player in a tie with Mike Sweeney.  No wonder his wife is all smiles.

Another member of the club who puts his wife (Juliana) and family before all else is Manny Ramirez. "My biggest dream is not to hit 500 home runs or 600 or 700," says Ramirez, who turns 36 on May 30. "My dream is for God to give me enough health to watch my kids grow up, have a beer with them, watch them graduate. That's my Hall of Fame,” said Man Ram.  "You might hit a home run or whatever, but getting home and having your kid tell you, 'Daddy, I love you,' that's priceless."  

The good news is that Manny never had to wonder if his wife started dating him because he was a famous baseball player.  In fact, when he met Juliana she was one of a select few Bostoners who had no idea who he was and wasn’t impressed by his career choice.  As Manny tells it, Juliana was working out at Bally’s Gym in Boston when she caught his eye. When he approached her, he realized she had no idea who he was.  “She’s from Brazil,” he says. “They don’t know nothing about baseball.”  Since they were married in 2001, he has done his best to introduce her to the sport, even going as far as pitching her batting practice.

And you’ve gotta love a woman who goes to bat for her man in the press, which is precisely what Megan Thomas did recently when she said her recently retired hubby “Big Frank” Thomas is "first-ballot, in my eyes," and not only as a future Hall of Fame ballplayer. “ "I have never had Frank around this much. I am pleasantly surprised and he has been an unbelievable dad, very involved. He has taken this opportunity to really spend a lot of time with us, she said.  "He's calm. He's different and he grew up, honestly. It's unbelievable. When I had the baby (17-month-old Frank Edward Thomas III), I didn't know what to expect. I mean, he had been gone (playing baseball) for so many years, so I didn't know. He has more than surpassed my expectations as a dad, so it is awesome."!Technorati!Newsvine!Blogmarks!Yahoo!
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