"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Blog Archives

Older posts            Newer posts

The Selling of The Babe

The Selling of the Babe

Bronx Banter Book Excerpt

Longtime Banter pal, Glenn Stout’s got a new book out and I think you’ll dig it. Here’s an except to whet your appetite. I’m sure you are gonna like this.—AB

By Glenn Stout

Entering May of 1920, Ruth’s inaugural season in New York and that of the Yankees was at a crossroads.  Ruth was hitting .226 in nine games with only a single extra base hit and one walk. The only record he was pursuing was the strikeout mark. With eight in 32 plate appearances, he was on pace to strike out more than 130 times for the season.  To date, no one had ever approached 100.  In nearly 600 appearances in 1919, Joe Jackson had struck out only 10 times and only 234 times for his entire career. Strikeouts were okay only if they were countered by home runs.

It was even worse than that.  The Yankees were only 4–6, still in sixth place. Boston?  Minus Ruth, they were a stellar 9–2.  The press was referring to them as the “Ruthless” Red Sox, fully aware of the irony the name entailed.  If there was truly a “Ruthless” team thus far, it had been the Yankees.  So far, Ruth had been a hit only at the box office, but if he didn’t start banging the ball soon, one had to wonder how long that would last.

For Ruth, the 1920 season was shaping up as a repeat of 1919, only this time he was wearing pinstripes.  Once more, just as his slow start in 1919 had buried the Red Sox, Ruth’s por performance thus far threatened to bury the Yankees, risking that whatever he did later in the season, no matter how spectacular, might be diminished.  He had been given a pass on that in 19 19, but if the same thing happened in 1920 it was unlikely to go unnoticed a second time. That was the problem with all the press in New York.  When they were on your side, it was grand, but they could also gang up on you.  More than one Yankee manager had felt their wrath.

Although the Yankee–Red Sox rivalry was not as pronounced as it would later become, each team already considered the other its main rival. The Ruth sale put an accent on that, at least in the minds of the fans.  For Boston, 9-2 on the year, coming into New York in first place was a familiar feeling. Since the founding of the American League the Red Sox, despite lacking the resources of New York City, had been the team the Yankees one day hoped to be, a champion and near annual contender.   So far, with the Yankees sixth at 4-6, already 4 ½ games out, nothing had much seemed to change.

In game one, on April 30, it appeared as if that would hold.  Before a sizable weekday crowd of 8,000 who turned out despite intermittent showers, the Red Sox tried their best to put their foot on the Yankees’ neck.  After all, a five-game sweep would virtually ruin New York, and put them in the same position the Red Sox had been a year ago, likely too far back to climb into the race.

Ruth did his best to prevent that in the first inning, cracking a single to knock in a run and give the Yankees the lead, but that was to be his only hit of the day.  Waite Hoyt settled down and Boston went to 10–2 for the season with a 4–2 win, as the Yankees fell to 4–7.

The only other notable occurrence came every time Ruth ran out to right field, and every time he ran back in.  In only his third appearance in the position at the Polo Grounds, fans packed the right field bleachers to get as close as possible, a disproportionate number compared to the rest of the stands.  Every time Ruth ran out to take his position, they cheered and applauded madly.  And every time he left them, they cheered again. The same thing happened when he stepped out of the dugout, or into the batter’s box, or scratched his nose. He hadn’t even done anything yet and was getting twenty or more standing ovations a day. One writer termed it “The Babe Ruth roar. . . . Down as far as 125th Street [in] Harlem folks can now tell when Ruth comes to bat.  The roar shakes the whole vicinity. The fans roar for Babe to hit ’em and when he misses fire they roar because he didn’t.”  In this game, it was more the latter than the former.

Shawkey, the Yankees’ ace, took the mound the next day, May Day.  Thus far, although he’d pitched well, he was 0–3—the Yanks had scored more than three runs only once all season.  Offense was up everywhere, it seemed, other than in the Polo Grounds.  Those Ruthless Red Sox, in contrast, were scoring runs at a frightening rate.  So far, they had been held to three runs or under only three times.  The rest of the time, they were clubbing teams to death like defenseless rabbits, and giving ammunition to those who still favored the scientific approach.

This, time, however, Shawkey was sharp from the start.  The only question was whether the Yankees could take advantage.  They scored one in the first—Ruth reached on a force-out, moved around to third, and then, on a ground ball to Everett Scott, Ruth deked his old shortstop into thinking he was staying at third, then timed Scott’s throw to first perfectly, taking off for home and beating Stuffy McInnis’s throw to the plate.  Although Ruth was never quite the ballplayer who “never made a mistake on the field” as the hyperbole later suggested, he was a smart player, surprisingly quick for his size—particularly before he ate his way through half of Manhattan—and he knew baseball.  Hundreds of games played at St. Mary’s had developed his instincts beyond his years.  If anything, Ruth was sometimes too aggressive on the bases, overestimating both his speed and his ability to surprise.

He did it again in the fourth. Ruth rapped a hard liner between McInnis and first base, the ball passing the bag fair, then it hit the ground, then skipped to the wall, where it caromed off the concrete base and sent Harry Hooper racing after as Ruth pulled into second for a double.  He wisely moved to third on an infield out and then, after Pratt grounded to second, Ruth timed a dash home again.  It was closer this time, but he made a splendid fall-away slide, his foot sweeping across the plate as the catcher spun and reached out to make the tag.  The Yankees led 2–0, and so far it was all due to Ruth.

Something was building, you could tell.  If he had been bothered by any lingering discomfort from the pulled muscle he’d suffered at the start of the season, the slides proved either he was healed, or the injury taped, or somehow masked over.  Ruth was feeling no pain.

Pennock struck out Pipp to lead off the sixth, bringing up Ruth, who was greeted with the now customary histrionics, this time even a little louder due to his performance in the first half of the game.

Pennock threw one pitch and a sound like no other rocketed through the park.  The ball went up and up and toward right field.

What happened next released a deluge of adjectives and adverbs from the New York press, verbiage they’d been sitting on since the first week of January.  Now that they had a chance to use it, they didn’t stop.

The embellishment prize went to George Daley, writing under the pseudonym “Monitor” in the New York World:

Ruth strolled to the plate, decided it was time to OPEN THE SEASON and sunk his war club into the first ball Pennock tried to pass over the plate.

There came a burst of thunder sound: that ball, oh, where was it?  Why clear OVER the right field roof of Brush Stadium [the Polo Grounds] and dropping into the greensward of old Manhattan Field around the junction of Eighth Avenue and 156th Street—the longest drive they say EVER seen on the P.G. and longer even that the tremendous wallop that gave Babe his twenty-ninth homer last September.

Eyes were strained in the watching of the spheroid’s flight; throats were strained in acclaiming its all-fired bigness, and hands were strained in a riot of applause to the hitter thereof as he ambled around the bases and, lifting his cap, disappeared into the dugout.

Whew.  What he meant was it left the field between the third and fourth flagpole atop the roof in right field and landed in the park next door, only the third ball ever to leave the yard, as Ruth joined himself and Joe Jackson as the only prior practitioners. To be fair, the ball was driven about 400 feet when it left the park, although no one could say with any certainty whether it struck the top of the roof or sailed cleanly over it.  The grandstand roof was some sixty feet above the field, but its front edge, where the ball passed over, only a bit more than 300 feet from home.  Regardless, it was still, in the parlance of the day, “a prodigious blast” and “fierce clout,” absolutely “lambasted,” one that “flitted out of the park,” “a bomb.”

It also gave the Yankees a 3–0 lead.  A moment later, while the fans were still cheering, Duffy Lewis, up next, duplicated the feat, although in much more mortal fashion, smacking a home run into the left field bleachers.

That occurrence, back-to-back home runs, was so rare no one could recall it happening before.  Two consecutive home runs?  Both OVER the fence?  The lively ball needed no more proof.

Ruth’s home run, his first as a Yankee, was the one he needed most.  Now the dam was broken, now everything he was supposed to be, he suddenly was, now the pressure was off and the game was fun again.  Now he was, unquestionably and everlastingly, the Babe. The remainder of his career fell beneath the shadow of what was to come.

After the game, a 6–0 Yankee win, the press noted that it was Ruth’s 50th career home run.  Heck, Ty Cobb, who had been playing since 1905, only had 67 career home runs.  Home Run Baker had just 80.  Ruth already had 50.  He had only hit one home run as a Yankee and the press was already setting goals and targets.  They would do so for most of the next fifteen years.  Hardly anyone even mentioned that the victory might prove a turnaround for the team. The Babe was all and everything.

In case no one had noticed, the next day Ruth did it again, as the Times noted, “At what was known in the old days as an opportune time.”  In his first two times up, he collected a “mighty” strikeout (they all were “mighty” now) and then lofted a “near home run” (just about any deep fly ball) before coming up in the sixth with two on and the Yankees trailing 1–0.

After a swinging strike and a foul tip off Sam Jones, his former teammate tried to sneak one past . . . and failed.  This was no blast over the roof but a drive down the line. But even that wasn’t special enough. It was described as “the lowest and fastest home run drive uncoiled in the Harlem park in years,” maybe the shortest of Ruth’s career, sneaking over the fence and into the upper deck just fair of the iron foul pole, 258 feet away.

It didn’t matter to the fans, 25,000 of whom filled the park, the second home Sunday date of the year, bringing the Sabbath total to more than 50,000. As Ruth rounded the bases, they climbed on the dugout roof and tossed papers and hats onto the field.  There were even reports of celebrations emanating from the apartment windows of buildings on Coogan’s Bluff.  Even the Polo Grounds stage wasn’t big enough for Ruth.

The countdown began the next day.  The Times noted, “Babe needs only twenty-eight more

homers to beat the big record he set last season. At the rate of one a day that mark won’t last


Yanks Serve David Ortiz Crybaby Souffle


This season might be skimpy on highlights come October but we can count the last ten minutes of Friday night’s game as one of them.

Here’s the scene: Yanks clinging to a 3-2 lead in the 9th, David Ortiz at the plate (of course), facing Andrew Miller with one out. Miller falls behind 3-1 and his next pitch, a breaking ball, fooled catcher Brian McCann but it was called a strike anyway (and looked like one, too). Ortiz yelled, stepped out the box and carried on like a bawling baby. His manager quickly came to his rescue and got thrown out. Then Ortiz looked at a called strike three, went back to the dugout before he charged back out. He too was tossed. I half-expected Jimmy Hart or Classy Freddie Blassie to climb out with him.

Far as I’m concerned it didn’t matter if Hanley Ramirez won the game. Seeing Ortiz take himself out of a critical at-bat because a call didn’t go his way was worth it. Now, he’ll make the Hall of Fame maybe one day and he’s a great hitter. But the guy seems to constantly get a pass for his tantrums. In the Globe this morning, Nick Carfare said “Ortiz will never be accused of mailing it in.” If this were A Rod it would be about how he acted unprofessionally and like an amateur and is a horrible, selfish teammate.

Naturally, he’s going to hit about 8 more homers against the Yanks this season, but hell, it was worth it.

Ramirez whiffed and Michael Kay embarrassed himself by calling the final strike like it was Game 7 of the ALCS. That, if anything, was a true indicator of just how bad this team is and how long this season will be. But it helped capped an entertaining couple of minutes.

The Full Fufkin

Artie Fufkin

The Sox are in town and the Yanks assume the position. Needles to say it’s supposed to rain all weekend.

C.C. joins Alex on the DL. Getting late early folks.

Never mind the forecast:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

Afternoon Art

Fairfield Porter

“Interior”—by Fairfeld Porter 

Taster’s Cherce


Eric Ripert’s Provencal Vegetable Soup looks worth the effort.

Putting in Work


No, you heard right. The Yanks won. Handily. Cause it happens. Maybe you should want a refund. After all, winning is not what you expected. But you’ll have to take it and like it. (Best part was seeing C.C. pitch so well.)

They might g’head and win another one tonight. I mean, ya never know, am I right?

Never mind the prosperity:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

Whadda Ya Hear, Whadda Ya Say?


Here at Bronx Banter we’re not so much on top of the news these days. Due to my work schedule posting is down considerably—and just as the Yanks head into their losing seasons, so like a Yankee fan, right? Anyhow, I’m resigned to this being a losing season so I don’t feel any urgency in letting you know what you already know—the Yanks lost again last night. Course, they’ll be at it again tonight and we will be rooting. Cause that’s what we do no matter how cruddy the squad is.

Never mind bitchin’:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

Dem Boids


Yanks visit Baltimore for the first time this year.

Um, hey fellas, how bout a win?

Never mind the drizzle:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

Why So Glum?


The Yanks ain’t no suckers. Hell, they scored a mess o runs last night, man. But they are a bad team and bad teams find ways to not win, you know what I mean? Alex Rodriguez and co. roughed-up David Price but Nathan Eovaldi, sans splitty, matched Price is suckiness. Then our boy Betances gave up the go-ahead homer in the bottom of the seventh. Not likely to see that too often, blowing a couple of games in a series, but it happened to Mo so it can happen to Betances.

Drag. Final Score: Red Sox 8, Yanks 7.

Yanks Headed For a Lost Weekend in Boston


The Yanks are so lousy right now the announcers were cranky with them last night.

Gwon’ be a mighty long season, ain’t it?

Ah, never mind nuthin’:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

Ouch, Quit it; Ouch, Quit it


Yeah, well, so Friday night went about as expected. The Yanks didn’t hit for shit and it came back to bite them when Cookie Monster popped a 2-run home run just over the Green Monster off a hanging Dellin Betances breaking ball that got too much of the outside part of the plate. The final was 4-2. Alex had some good at bats, hit a home run early, and got robbed by Bogarts late—got to admit, I really like that Bogarts, man. Oh well, whadda ya gonna do? They’re at it again tonight, and we’ll be rooting.

Never mind the awful truth:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

Comedy Isn’t Pretty


The hapless-hittin’ Yanks limp into Fenway tonight and you wonder if this is going to be a season of ass-beatings or what? Way the Yankees have been hitting, it wouldn’t come as any surprise. Then again, a cruddy Yankee team could have the Sox number, who the hell knows? Either way, we’ll be here rooting.

Never mind the hub-bub:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

Well, At Least A Rod Got Three Hits

alice and ralph

Yeah, didn’t figure that’d work either. And it’s a shame because C.C. pitched a lovely game, he really did. But when you don’t score runs it is tough to win games. Know what I mean, Vern?

Well, At Least A Rod’s Back in the Lineup

ralph and ed


Ah, never mind the re-runs:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

Morning Art





Well, at least it didn’t last long, less than two-and-a-half hours. The Yanks took it on the chin last night in Texas—10-1—but have no fear, slide on over to Esquire Classic and read all about George Frazier, the King of Style. It’s a nice distraction, I swear.

So Fresh and So Clean


Man, Eovaldi finally put together the big one, eh?—a real masterful performance, carrying a no-hitter into the seventh. Good for him. Betances got touched for a solo dinger in the eighth but was otherwise stingy and Miller sailed through the ninth on less than ten pitches to give the Yanks a tidy 3-1 win. Gotta be pleased for Eovaldi, I find him easy to root for, the big lug.

More tonight. Winning is fun. How bout some more?

Never mind the brisket:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!



Beat of the Day


It’s been awhile. Too long. Listen to the 1944 Esquire All-American Jazz Concert. It’s hot.

Walk This Way


Back on the road, first stop—Texas.

Never mind the riff raff:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

Get Outta Town


Yanks caught a beating from the Rays yesterday at the Stadium and Alex Rodriguez left the game early with an oblique injury. Team now shuffles off to Texas for three against the Rangers.

Meanwhile, over at Esquire Classic, last week gave a bunch of good stories, including features from the new issue (the last edited by David Granger)—a funny Q&A with George Clooney and a chilling feature by Tom Junod about one of the approximately 70,000 adult women who are reported missing each year. I also interviewed Junod about the piece, here. Finally, David Hirshey was the guest on the latest Esquire Classic Podcast giving us the behind-the-scenes scoop on Richard Ben Cramer’s classic profile of Ted Williams. Listen in.

Older posts            Newer posts
feed Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share via email
"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver