Vaudeville is a theatrical show that is comprised of many different acts on one “bill.” These might include classical and popular music, comedy sketches, dancing, magicians, acrobats, children acts, skits and so on. Vaudeville troupes traveled around the country, playing in a variety of settings, from small town granges to opulent, cosmopolitan theaters.
The organizers of vaudeville tours discovered that adding celebrities to the bill was a good way of selling tickets, and so athletes often found themselves on the stage. Many players worked the vaudeville circuit in the offseason, including King Kelly, Cap Anson, Christy Mathewson, Rube Marquard, Chief Meyers, Eddie Collins, and Ruth’s teammate in both Boston and New York, Waite Hoyt.
It was the early 20th century equivalent of hosting Saturday Night Live. And like hosting SNL, some athletes did better than others. Most athletes would say something about life in baseball, maybe tell a few scripted jokes. But Ruth was made for vaudeville—outsized personality, love of being the center of attention, real joy around people, and complete lack of inhibition. So Ruth did several skits and even sang a song. Graded on a curve set by other athletes, many of them stiff and uncomfortable away from the baseball diamond, Ruth was a natural.