May 28, 2023

Babe Being Babe

June 29, 2009 by · 3 Comments 

Eighty-eight years before “Manny Being Manny” finally put Ramirez in the commissioner’s dog house, another popular slugger thumbed his nose at the baseball establishment in 1921 and drew a six-week suspension.  It was just another case of Babe being Babe.

Bryan Holt’s fantastic article about Manny Ramirez coupled with a question from a friend reminded me of an incident that occurred during the offseason between 1921 and 1922.  Larry Richards wondered about the public’s reaction to Ramirez’s stint in the minors in relation to previous incidents: “I’m just wondering if this pathetic fan behavior has always been around or if this is something relatively new,” he wrote.  I’m sure there are many examples of how fans reacted to the return of their fallen heroes, but here’s one I’ve actually researched.

Upon completion of the 1921 World Series, Yankees slugger Babe Ruth announced that he planned on taking a handful of teammates with him to Buffalo to begin a barnstorming tour.  That was problematic because the rules prohibited the two World Series participants from engaging in the practice of barnstorming so that the integrity of the postseason games wouldn’t be cheapened by a series of staged exhibitions. Kenesaw Mountain Landis warned Ruth about the rule, but Ruth stood firm and insisted that they’d be playing baseball until November 1 and there was nothing Landis could do about it.

Landis warned him again, “If you do, it will be the sorriest thing you’ve ever done in baseball.”  Legend has it that sportswriter Fred Lieb was with Landis when he refused Ruth permission to go on the trip.  Lieb rushed over to Yankee co-owner Tillinghast Huston’s room at the Martinique Hotel in Manhattan to convince him to stop Ruth only to find Huston and Boston Red Sox owner and drinking buddy Harry Frazee passed out in a drunken stupor.

Carl Mays and Wally Schang, who were supposed to accompany Ruth on the trip, wisely reconsidered and dropped out. Outfielder Bob Meusel and pitchers Bill Piercy and Tom Sheehan continued onward to Buffalo with Ruth. Public opinion swayed in Landis’ favor. “He [Ruth] will not gain friends, neither among fans or elsewhere, by an attitude of defiance towards the commissioner, who has taken upon himself the task of ridding baseball of abuses and keeping it free from them,” opined a newspaper editorial. “Baseball needs a Landis much more than it does a Ruth.”

Meanwhile Huston and his partner Jacob Ruppert were frantic. They did everything they could to talk their slugger out of making the trip, but Ruth was persistent. “I still think I’m in the right and Judge Landis is wrong,” the slugger decreed. “I see no reason why this rule should be invoked against us when [George] Sisler of St. Louis, and others, who shared in the world’s series money are playing exhibition games unmolested by Judge Landis.”

Landis had threatened to fine Ruth his World Series share, but the Babe would earn almost as much in his first three exhibition games, so he was willing to make the sacrifice for a larger chunk of change. But it wasn’t a fine Huston was worried about; it was the thought of a suspension, which he feared might be for the entire season. The Colonel traveled to Pennsylvania to convince Ruth to stop the tour, which he eventually did by paying off the promoters and the players involved. But it was too late.

Landis suspended Ruth, Meusel, and Piercy for the first six weeks of the 1922 season and fined them their World Series shares. Since Sheehan was not on the Yankees’ World Series roster, he was neither fined nor suspended.  The Red Sox also suffered from Landis’ ruling; Piercy was acquired in a trade that sent Everett Scott, “Bullet Joe” Bush, and “Sad Sam” Jones to the Yankees on December 20 and now the Sox were without his services until May 20.

With Ruth and Meusel on the ineligible list, the Yankees were without two-thirds of their outfield and their two best hitters for the first six weeks of the season.  The team responded well, however, and jumped out to a 22-11 mark thanks to the hitting of center fielder Whitey Witt and the pitching of Jones and Waite Hoyt.  The day before Ruth and Meusel returned to the lineup, the Yankees trounced Cleveland, 12-4, and increased their lead to two games over the second-place Browns.

Some newspapers trumpeted Ruth’s return like that of a conquering hero. “There is joy in Gotham and also in Mudville,” wrote the Boston Globe. “On this day the exile of the King of Swat expires, and the fans are crowding at the gates or waiting expectantly for news, confident that the Babe will knock one, perhaps two, out of the lot.” And the New York Times celebrated the occasion. “It was a long time coming, but the baseball season will finally start this afternoon—the real season that is, with Babe Ruth, Bob Meusel and the Ruthian home runs as the decorative trimmings.”

But the Philadelphia Inquirer was less than excited about the fans’ reaction to the behemoth’s return, calling his rise in popularity despite his disruptive behavior “deplorable” and accusing him of being “one of the spoiled darlings of the fickle public.”

Before his first game, Ruth received a silver loving cup filled with dirt from his old baseball diamond at St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys in Baltimore. He was also given a silver bat and a floral wreath shaped like a diamond from the National Vaudeville Association. But that’s where the love ended; Ruth wasn’t greeted by fans as warmly as expected. The Polo Grounds stands were packed with 38,000 patrons, who were “willing to cheer the returned warrior, but were not willing to worship at his shrine…they broke out into a storm of applause when he toed the plate for the first time. But it was a storm and not a hurricane.”

Perhaps the Inquirer owed the New York fans an apology; they weren’t so fickle after all.

Ruth and Meusel went hitless in an 8-2 loss to the Browns, who were nipping at the Yankees’ heels; at 20-12, St. Louis was only a game behind New York with three games left in the series. Ruth doubled in his second game back, a 6-5 win over the Browns, then hit his first homer of the season in a 4-3 victory on May 22. But he was struggling at the plate and the fans were getting on him. Ruth doffed his cap sarcastically a couple of times when fans derisively cheered two routine catches he made prior to hitting his first circuit clout. It was obvious that they were bitter about his suspension, and the fact that he wasn’t hitting home runs at will, as if any batter could, made matters worse.

Three days later the slugger finally snapped. In the third inning of New York’s game against the Washington Senators, Ruth slapped a single to center and attempted to advance to second when outfielder Sam Rice fumbled the ball. Rice recovered and his throw nipped Ruth at the bag. Umpire George Hildebrand called Ruth out, which prompted the slugger to throw dirt in Hildebrand’s face. Hildebrand immediately ejected Ruth from the game and the booing began immediately. “Every step of the journey was a signal to the crowd to jeer and hoot,” wrote the Times. “To this demonstration Ruth…lifted his cap in courtly manner; a satirical gesture that had only the effect of increasing the volume of jeers and hisses.”

Things went from bad to worse in a hurry. Insults rang out from behind the Yankees’ dugout; Ruth turned his attention to two Pullman car conductors who were particularly harsh. He jumped into the stands to confront the men, who scampered to a safe distance before being verbally pummeled by the irate slugger. The fans seemed to be on the conductors’ side—someone yelled out “Hit the big stiff!”—but other than to stand between Ruth and the target of his ire, no one dared challenge him. He jumped back onto the field and began the long march across the diamond to the clubhouse, which was located beyond center field. Again the fans booed, although some cheered and applauded. To those few admirers, he lifted his cap.

“They can boo and hoot me all they want,” Ruth later told reporters at the Ansonia Hotel where he had an apartment. “That doesn’t matter to me. But when a fan calls insulting names from the grandstand and becomes abusive I don’t intend to stand for it. This fellow today, whoever he was, called me a ‘low-down bum’ and other names that got me mad, and when I went after him he ran.”

The Sporting News took him to task, claiming that he was “under the delusion that he owned the national game” and that he had “made a fool of himself” by going into the stands to confront the hecklers. The weekly also opined that it would take “exemplary conduct” and a return to form in the batter’s box for Ruth to regain the adoration of fans, or he’d lose out to new heroes who were hitting the ball out of the park.”

The 1922 season proved to be Ruth’s worst in the seven-year period from 1918-1924, but he overcame it all, and indeed regained the adoration of fans.  The Yankees overcame it as well, winning their second straight American League pennant.  And TSN’s claim that Ruth would “lose out to new heroes who were hitting the ball out of the park?”  The Bambino enjoyed a full season in 1923 and smashed a league-leading 41 four-baggers, then continued his assault on the record books with seven more home run crowns, including 1927 when he belted a record 60 roundtrippers.  From 1923 to 1934, his last with the Yankees, Ruth blasted 511 home runs, 163 more than runner-up and teammate Lou Gehrig.

Ruth belted six more homers at the age of 40 for the 1935 Boston Braves before calling it quits in late May with a career total of 714.  At the conclusion of the ’35 season, Gehrig was a distant second on the all-time list with “only” 378 home runs.  So much for “new heroes.”


3 Responses to “Babe Being Babe”
  1. tom barthel says:

    With a book in progress on Babe Ruth’s postseason barnstorming, thanks for the article on Babe’s sort of vacation.
    I see that you and I are fellow McFarland authors.

  2. Mike Lynch says:

    Hey Tom, it’s nice to meet you. Please let me know when your book is finished so I can check it out.


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  1. […] good fun, or recklessness, rules are broken.  With the imminent return of Ramirez to Mannywood, Seamheads looks back at another slugger who ran afoul of the League Commisioner: Babe Ruth.  After losing the World Series to the Giants, Ruth organized a barnstorming tour […]

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