Coming back to "the House That Ruth
Built" for the final time on June 13, 1948 to have his uniform
number 3 retired, to help celebrate the famed edifice's 25th
anniversary and the 25th anniversary of the 1923 Yankees, he was a
sad shadow of his once vigorous self. Ruth wore his old uniform
which was sizes too big for him. He mingled with his teammates from
the 1923 team in the clubhouse. They played a two inning exhibition
game against Yankees from other teams. The Babe looked on. The day
was damp and rainy and somehow a camel's hair coat wound up over his
The "Voice of the Yankees" Mel Allen introduced each
of his 1923 teammates. Yankee Stadium was filled with applause and
cheers. Then Allen introduced Babe Ruth. The ovation rocked the
The camel's hair coat was doffed. Using a bat that he
had borrowed from Bob Feller as a makeshift cane, he shuffled out
slowly to home plate to a thunderous ovation and the sounds of the
crowd of 49,647 singing "Auld Lang Syne." The Babe mentioned how
proud he was to have hit the first homer in Yankee Stadium and said:
"...lord knows who'll hit the last."
"Thank you very much ladies and gentlemen," the Big
Bam spoke in a raspy voice. "You know how bad my voice sounds. Well,
it feels just as bad. You know this baseball game of ours comes up
from the youth. That means the boys. And after you've been a boy,
and grow up to know how to play ball, then you come to the boys you
see representing themselves today in our national pastime."
Afterwards in the locker room with all the ceremonies
completed, Joe Dugan poured a beer for the Babe.
"So, how are you?" his old buddy asked.
"Joe, I'm gone," the Babe said. And he started to
All the years of smoking, chewing tobacco, dipping
snuff, abusing his body finally caught up to him. Surgery and
radiation treatments had done little to help him. When he had been
released from the hospital on February 15, 1947, his wife Claire and
his doctors did not reveal the fatal diagnosis of throat cancer to
Later that day back in the hospital the most famous
personage in all the history of the national pastime, Babe Ruth
tried to keep his sunny side up signing autographs and watching
baseball on TV. Just some of the hundreds of letters that were
sent to him each day were read to him by his wife. Visitors came.
Visitors went. At 8:01 P.M., on August 16, 1948, after a two year
battle, the Babe passed away in his sleep at age 53.
More than 200,000 over two days paid their final
respects as he lay in state at Yankee Stadium. August 19th was one
of those sweltering, humid New York City summer days. The funeral
was held at St. Patrick's Cathedral where Francis Cardinal Spellman
celebrated requiem mass before a packed house. The Babe was always a
draw. Ruth's old teammates were pallbearers. In the streets, along
Fifth Avenue and the funeral route tens of thousands lined up to say
good bye to the man who had been Yankee baseball.
Waite Hoyt told Joe Dugan: "I'd give a hundred
dollars for a cold beer."
"So would the Babe," Hoyt said.
The man many consider the greatest player in the
history of baseball was laid to rest in the Gate of Heaven Cemetery
in Hawthorne, New York, just about a half an hour from Yankee
His tombstone reads: "May the Divine Spirit that
motivated Babe Ruth to win the crucial game of life inspire the
youth of America."
The Babe's gravesite is the most visited one of all
baseball players and is always a place of notes and gifts and wishes
from people from all over the world.
# # #
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
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