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July 21, 1998|LARRY STEWART

What: "Outside the Lines: Babe Ruth's

Larger Than Life Legacy"

Where: ESPN

When: Today, 4:30 p.m.

ESPN's award-winning "Outside the Lines" series hits a home run with this special that commemorates the 50th anniversary of Babe Ruth's death (Aug. 16, 1948). ESPN is beating HBO to the punch, with HBO showing its Babe Ruth special on the anniversary of his death.

ESPN's tightly edited, fast-moving one-hour documentary goes beyond Ruth's appetite for home runs and hot dogs with dozens of interviews, rare footage and photos.

Actor Joe Don Baker hosts the special from the baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. "The Whammer," a character based on Babe Ruth, in the movie "The Natural," starring Robert Redford. Chris Martens, who collaborated on the book "My Dad, the Babe" with Ruth's late daughter, Dorothy Ruth Pirone, oversaw the production of "Babe Ruth's Larger Than Life Legacy," which took more than six months. Martens' aim was to show that Ruth's legacy touches sports today everywhere you look. He was the first athlete to make big money, the first national superstar, the first to sign autographs, the first to have an agent.

Many baseball people appear in the special. Ted Williams says, "There is no question that Babe Ruth was the greatest player that baseball has ever had." Former teammate Tommy Heinrich says, "Ain't no man who ever lived who could play the part of Babe Ruth off the field. He was a monster."

Hank Aaron and Mark McGwire, as well as non-baseball superstars Wayne Gretzky and Michael Jordan, also talk about the Babe.

Says Gretzky: "He gave, not only for baseball, but for other sports people, the opportunity to make a lot of money at doing something they love to do. . . . He revolutionized so many things about professional sports. All of us should feel a great deal of thanks for what he did for all of us."

Says political columnist and baseball fan George Will: "Ruth was the first national superstar, the man who gave us that category."

There are plenty of good things, and also some bad, covered in this special. It points out that Ruth was the Dennis Rodman of his time, leading the league in fines and suspensions. But the positive outweighs the negative.

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