1927, EXCERPT) FIVE O'CLOCK LIGHTNING: BABE RUTH, LOU GEHRIG AND THE
1927 NEW YORK YANKEES, THE GREATEST BASEBALL TEAM EVER.
Written by Harvey Frommer
Comfortable among the high and mighty or the
ordinary, friendly with the press, moving around all over without body
guards, Babe Ruth basked in his superstar status in spring training.
Getting a close have in the downtown barber shop, telling a few jokes
each morning, visiting hospitals and cheering up the sick especially
children, patiently signing autographs at the dog track, posing for
photos, followed by fans on the St. Petersburg streets, wending his way
from bar to bar, boating and fishing for migrating king mackerel or
chasing grouper in the Gulf of Mexico, prevailing upon a hotel cook to
prepare the fish for supper, the Babe was having the time of his life.
A Yankee bridge game began in spring training. And the Babe plunged
himself into that, too. The extroverted Ruth and the shy Gehrig were
pitted against Mike Gazella and Don Miller, a young hurler from the
University of Michigan.
The Yankees were quartered at the Beaux Arts style Princess Martha
Hotel, built in 1923. Babe Ruth was supposed to be registered there,
too. But no one really saw much of him. The word was that he had meals
in his rooms, leaving when he wanted to from a side door in the hotel.
Rising early before baseball practice, he would play golf at the
two-year-old Renaissance Vinoy Resort and Golf Club in downtown St.
Petersburg. Catcher Benny Bengough, pitchers Waite Hoyt and Bob Shawkey
were also good golfers and would play there, too. Ruth could drive the
ball further than many pros and had scores in the mid-70s. However, the
short game was not his forte. A lousy putter, the Babe would disgustedly
toss his club when he hit the ball too hard causing it to roll past the
Much was made of the time a man came around that spring of 1927 and said
he was the uncle of Johnny Sylvester. He made a big deal about telling
all about how well Johnny Sylvester was doing. The Bam graciously made
a big deal out of sending regards.
But moments after the uncle departed, Ruth bellowed: "Who the hell is
Johnny Sylvester had been the subject of much newspaper attention. He
was a sick kid who the Yankee slugger had promised to hit a home run for
during the 1926 World Series.
Babe Ruth just could not remember names, not even the names of
teammates. Most people were called "kid," by the Babe. Others had
variations like "sister" for young women and "mom" and "pop" for those
with seniority. Others got nick-names, some logical, others totally
illogical. The Babe called Waite Hoyt "Walter" and no one could explain
why. Pitcher Urban Shocker was dubbed "Rubber Belly" and no one not
even the Babe could explain why. Those who did claimed it had something
to do with the flabbiness of Shocker's mid section, but they wouldn't
swear to it. Catcher Benny Bengough, who coined the name "Jidge"
(German for "George" ) for Ruth, was called "Googles," a kind of
affectionate corruption of part of his surname. Catcher Pat Collins was
"Horse Nose," a derogatory reference to his most prominent facial
feature. Railroad station redcaps were "Stinkweed."
Beer baron Jake Ruppert could remember names but never addressed anyone
by a first name. The Yankee owner was characterized in Ed Barrow's
memoirs as an "imperious" man, one who "in all the years I knew him,
always calling me 'Barrows,' adding an 's' where none belonged.
Ruppert "was a fastidious dresser," Barrow remembered, "who had his
shoes made to order, changed his clothes several times a day, and had a
valet." Arriving in style with his secretary Al Brennan for spring
training in St. Petersburg in his own private railroad car, it was said
that the honorary Colonel savored the comforts of his own drawing room
and sleeping in a silk brocade nightshirt. Ruppert was particularly
interested in and impressed with the man he had sunk all that money
"Ruth looks great," he announced. "Watch that boy. In fact, he may set
another home run record. The team as a whole is in fine shape, shows
real fighting spirit and looks like a winner, although I admit I'm not
much of a prophet."
Harvey Frommer is his 33rd consecutive year of writing sports books. The
author of 39 of them including the classics: "New York City
Baseball,1947-1957" and "Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," his
REMEMBERING YANKEE STADIUM: AN ORAL AND NARRATIVE HISTORY OF THE HOUSE
THAT RUTH BUILT (Abrams/ Stewart, Tabori and Chang) will be published in
2008 as well as a reprint version of his "Shoeless Joe and Ragtime
You can reach
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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Frommer along with his wife, Myrna Katz Frommer are the authors of
five critically acclaimed oral/cultural histories, professors at Dartmouth
College, and travel writers who specialize in cultural history, food, wine, and Jewish history and heritage
in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean.
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