The 1927 New York Yankees, Babe Ruth
and Lou Gehrig
and Company: How Murderers' Row Shaped Baseball
(Adapted from Remembering Fernway Park)
When Yankee owner Colonel Ruppert's "Rough
Riders," as some called them, were not going head to head
against their American League competition, they were playing
exhibition games in Buffalo, Omaha, Rochester, Columbus,
Everyone in the little cities and small towns wanted to
catch a glimpse of the Babe, Lou and the others. Wherever
the Yankees went, there were always packed ballparks and
playing fields. The team was a magnet, a syncopated jazz
band playing a baseball song with the Babe leading, striking
up the band with his home run baton, his bat. Whole towns
came out early and they stayed late studying the moves of
"the Colossus of baseball," how he walked, how he ran, how
he swung a bat, how he caught and threw a baseball, how he
joked and wrestled with kids in the fields of play, how many
different kinds of home runs he hit. Demand for the Yankees
came from all over. Murderers' Row even played exhibition
games in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, National League cities.
In Omaha, Nebraska, the King of Clouts, Ruth, and his
protégé the "Prince of Pounders," Gehrig seemed genuinely
happy to make the acquaintance of one "Lady Amco" who was
known as the "Babe Ruth of chickens." She was a world champ
at laying eggs. The morning the Babe and the Buster met her
she produced on cue, laying an egg for the 171st straight
day. In Indianapolis, the Sultan of Swat failed to homer or
even swat the ball out of the infield in his first three
times at bats.
Each time the smattering of boos and heckling became louder,
all good natured, of course. According to reports, Ruth in
his fourth at bat tagged the ball, and it leaped over the
fence in right field into the street bouncing into box cars
in a nearby freight yard. That was the story.
And its punch line: "I guess I did show those people
something, make fun of me, will they," the Big Bam boomed
going into the dugout. In a dilapidated park in Ft. Wayne,
Indiana before 35,000 against the Lincoln Lifes, a semi-pro
team, the scene was all too familiar. Hundreds of kids
screamed, ached to ogle, to get an autograph or just to be
close to George Herman Ruth, their idol.
The Bambino, to save his legs, played first base, as was his
custom many times during those exhibition games. Gehrig
played right field. Going into the tenth inning, the score
was tied, 3-3. Mike Gazella was on first base when Ruth
stepped into the batter's box. Always the showman, signaling
to the crowd that they might as well start going home, the
Big Bam poked the ball over the right field fence giving the
Yankees a 5-3 win. Hundreds of boys who had been relatively
controlled and contained mobbed their idol as he crossed
home plate. It took quite a while before Ruth and the
Yankees could clear out of the park.
Wherever the exhibition games were staged, overflow crowds
sat in the outfield watching the action. Attendance records
were broken. Mobs cheered. They roared and howled and jumped
to their feet, marveling at the power and magic of the
mighty Yankees and especially George Herman Ruth. "God, we
liked that big son of a bitch. He was a constant source of
joy, Waite Hoyt said. "I've seen them kids, men, women,
worshipers all, hoping to get his name on a torn, dirty
piece of paper, or hoping for a grunt of recognition when
they said, 'Hi-ya, Babe.'
He never let them down; not once. He was the greatest crowd
pleaser of them all." In a game played at Sing-Sing, New
York against the prison team, Ruth slugged a batting
practice home run over the right field wall and then another
over the center field wall. "I'd love to be riding out of
here on those balls," one of the prisoners joked. During the
game the Sultan of Swat turned to the crowd of cons in the
stands and bellowed in that big booming baritone voice of
his: "What time is it?" Many of the cons shouted back the
answer. "What difference does it make?" the showman Ruth
yelled. "You guys ain't going anyplace, any time soon."
The Yankees were going anyplace they could play baseball. On
May 26 they were at West Point. Entering the Mess Hall at
noon to dine with the Cadets for lunch, the team from the
Bronx received a standing and enthusiastic ovation from the
1,200 West Pointers. Before the baseball exhibition game
began at West Stadium, "Jidge" Ruth presented members of the
Army nine with autographed baseballs and a specially
autographed baseball to the leading ball player of each of
the twelve companies.
The Yankees used virtually their regular lineup except that
Ruth and Gehrig switched places in the field. Earle Combs
walked to start the game. Mark Koenig singled. Babe Ruth was
struck out by Army pitcher Tim Timberlake and that got a
mighty rise from the Cadets.
James Harrison later described the scene in The New York
Times: "'Aw, he didn't try to hit the ball,' said one of the
cadets. 'He was just trying to make us feel good.' "
However, the truth of the matter was that the Big Bam was so
eager to hit a homer for the Hudson folks that he went after
bad balls which he couldn't have reached on a stepladder.
No matter. A good time was being had by all until lightning,
thunder and a soaking rain brought the festivities to a
quick conclusion after just two innings. The Yanks, as
usual, won another, 2-0. It was said that the Babe got a big
kick playing in exhibition games. It was said that he liked
that time to show off his skills, play without pressure, and
have fun. That was what was said. But there was also the
unpublicized financial benefit. At the beginning of his
participation in exhibitions gigs, Ruth received 10 percent
of the gate receipts. That arrangement ballooned later to a
guaranteed $2,500 against 15 percent of gate receipts.
Just how many became fans of the Yankees after attending
those exhibition games cannot be measured. Just how many
heard about the dramatic doings of the team and became
lifelong fans of the team that were calling "Murderers' Row"
is also beyond calculation.
# # #
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Harvey Frommer at:
About the Author:
Harvey Frommer is in his 38th year of writing books.
A noted oral historian and sports journalist, the author of 42 sports
books including the classics: "New York City Baseball,1947-1957" and
"Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," his acclaimed REMEMBERING YANKEE
STADIUM was published in 2008 and his REMEMBERING FENWAY PARK: AN ORAL
AND NARRATIVE HISTORY OF THE HOME OF RED SOX NATION was published to
acclaim in 2011. The prolific Frommer is at work on When It Was
Just a Game, An Oral History on Super Bowel One.
His work has appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times,
Washington Post, New York Daily News, Newsday, USA Today, Men's Heath,
The Sporting News, among other publications.
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