As a lifelong baseball fan, the advent of opening day and the return of baseball to the national scene has prompted me to pass on a few random thoughts about our national pastime.
Not too long ago I was visiting family in Denver, Colorado. We were having lunch in a Red Robin restaurant, the walls of which were adorned with sports memorabilia. During bites from my hamburger, I happened to glance at the wall nearest me. I was startled to see an autographed baseball containing signatures of two ballplayers I hadn’t heard about for years – Gil Coan and Al Kozar. These two played for the old Washington Senators, a team I followed when I was a kid growing up in Washington, D.C.
That team is best remembered for its futility and is memorialized by the old addage coined by an unrecalled congressman, “Washington, first in war, first in peace, and last in the American League.”
The late Harmon Killebrew, a Hall of Fame hitter, came up with the Senators in 1954. He was dubbed a “bonus baby” by the press because he was paid what was then an enormous sum to sign, $25,000.00. When the Senators finally assembled enough talent to be truly competitive, including pitcher Bob Porterfield, center fielder Bob Allison, and catcher Earl Battey, the franchise was moved to Minnesota where it became the Minnesota Twins. Later, a new team was organized and located in Washington D.C. It was also called the Washington Senators and was briefly managed by another Hall of Famer, the legendary Boston Red Sox slugger, Ted Williams. That franchise ultimately moved to Texas where it became known as the Texas Rangers. After 2004, Major League Baseball moved the Montreal Expos, a National League franchise, to Washington D.C. and renamed it the Washington Nationals.
On another subject, I read in a local newspaper the other day that Julia Ruth Stevens. an adopted daughter of Babe Ruth, turned 97. She is legally blind and gets around in a wheelchair. One of the great disappointments of the Babe’s life was that he never got a chance to manage a major league club after he retired in 1935. His daughter claimed in this article that it was because major league owners feared he would bring in black players, more than a decade before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947. According to the article, Ruth would often frequent New York City’s Cotton Club and befriended black athletes and celebrities.
Babe Ruth was definitely a great athlete, being a premier American League pitcher before becoming one of the great hitters, some say the greatest, of all time. Between 1914, his rookie year, and 1919, he won 89 games for the Boston Red Sox, one year winning 24 games, 23 in another, and 18 in another. He pitched 29 consecutive shutout world series innings, a record which stood for many years. In 1919, his first full year as an outfielder, he hit 29 home runs, which set a new major league record. Then in 1920, after being sold to the New York Yankees in the off season, he hit 54 home runs, yet another record, restoring much needed credibility to the world of baseball after the shock of the 1919 Black Sox scandal when members of the Chicago White Sox were accused of trying to throw the world series to the Cincinnati Reds. Finally, in 1921, as if to prove that 1920 was not a fluke, he hit 59 home runs, which was then still another home run record, the third in a row, never before and never since accomplished. In 1927, as a key part of the Yankees famed “murderers row,” he eclipsed his 1921 mark by hitting 60 home runs, a record which stood until 1961.
One final news item about the Babe. A recent story spotlighted his beginnings in Baltimore, Maryland, where he was born in 1895. He was incorrigible as a kid and was sent to St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys, an orphanage/boarding school/reformatory, when he was six or seven, where he remained, in and out but mostly in, until he was 19. That year, 1914, he was signed to a professional baseball contract by Jack Dunn, owner of the then minor league Baltimore Orioles, and later that year sold to the Boston Red Sox. So, Ruth jumped from reform school to the major leagues in one year, quite a feat!
Baseball’s Hall of Fame began in 1936. There were five players elected that charter year, three hitters, Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, and Honus Wagner, and two pitchers, Walter Johnson and Christy Mathewson. Cy Young, who won the most games in baseball history, 511, was not elected until 1937. Players usually have to wait five years after retirement before becoming eligible for Hall of Fame consideration. There are three exceptions: Babe Ruth, who retired in 1935 and was elected in 1936, Lou Gehrig, who voluntarily retired in 1939 because of the onset of a fatal illness and was elected that same year, and Roberto Clemente, who died in a plane crash in 1972, still an active player, and was elected in 1973.
The foregoing reflects but a few of my thoughts garnered over a lifetime of reading about the game of baseball. I’ve always been interested in baseball history as well as watching the game itself. For those of you who, like me, enjoy baseball history, there is a marvelous book which came out in 1966 entitled “The Glory of Their Times,” by Lawrence Ritter. It is about the sixty to seventy years of baseball before the so-called modern era and contains stories told by the men who played the game itself. Red Barber has called it “The single best baseball book of all time.”
Copyright©Arnold G. Regardie. All rights reserved.