By: Gabriel B. Costa
| Jimmie Foxx walked
into the Heavenly Lounge. He grinned as he saw the Babe sitting with a couple of angels.
Ruth’s beer glass was empty and his ashtray contained three butts of his favorite brand of cigars, Holy Smoke.
It had been a good night. As the two angels left to get into
a fresh set of wings, Double X approached the Babe. Ruth, always glad to see the affable Foxx, was about
to offer Jimmie a drink. He changed his mind, though, when he saw that there was something on Foxx’s mind.
Foxx got right to the point. “Hey, Jidge, there’s a number of kids down there hitting
all sorts of homeruns. I’ve been following them for a few years now; boy they have everything on that Eternal.com
web site.” Babe interrupted, “I know, I know. Hank
Aaron broke my career homerun record, but that was over thirty years ago, Jimmie. And that kid Maris hit 61 homers more
than forty years ago. So, why the face, Double X?” “No, no, Babe, you don’t understand. It’s not Aaron or Maris,” Foxx explained, “It’s
these guys like Bonds from San Francisco and the recently retired Redbird, Mark McGwire.” |
“Jimmie, take it easy…I know they’re
strong, and I know, for example, that McGwire’s hitting homeruns at a pace almost as fast as I did, and I realize that
Bonds has had some good years…”
“That’s just it, Bam; Bonds hit 73 homeruns
a few years ago and broke your seasonal records for slugging percentage and walks and McGwire retired after hitting homers
at a clip faster than even you! Not only that, Sammy Sosa hit 60-plus homers three times. And not only that…”
“You’re kidding”, said Ruth, his voice trailing as he gazed out the window catching a glimpse of
St. Francis of Assisi as he passed by.
“No I’m not, Babe”, said Jimmie. Then,
to the bartender, “How about a brew? Better give another one to the Babe, too, okay?” As the waiter came over with the beers, Ruth had a curious, semi-quizzical
look on his face, saying, “Tell me more, Jim.” Foxx replied, “Babe, they’ve got these sluggers …guys like Griffey of the
Reds, Sosa, Bonds, and McGwire…guys hitting fifty/sixty/seventy homers as if it was nothing. As Casey says,”
You can look it up!’ ”. “And their muscles, power…” Foxx added wistfully.
Ruth broke in, “Hold on there. Nobody
ever hit balls harder or further than you, the Iron Horse or that kid from Oklahoma.”
Foxx quickly countered with, “Except
you, Babe.” As the two ancient sluggers drained their glasses, an interesting smile came over Ruth’s face.
When Foxx asked him what was going on in his mind, Ruth reminded Foxx of their old barnstorming days in the 20’s and
30’s. “Yeah, sure; what of it?” Foxx asked.
“Well, Jimmie, I’ll tell you what. Get Lou
and Mickey…the four of us are going to take a long, long trip. Much longer than the cruise you and I took to Japan
in ’34.” said Babe Ruth calmly. Then to the bartender, “See if you can get Dr. Giamatti on the phone, will you?”
II Bart Giamatti was only too happy to
set up the specifics and the logistics for, as Giamatti himself dubbed it, The Ultimate Blast. An eight-man homerun
derby would be bracketed according to lottery guided by none other than the Holy Spirit. For each contest, a batter would
be allowed 10 swings. He would select any ballpark, choosing any hurler from the follow dream pitching staff: Walter Johnson,
Christy Mathewson, Grover Alexander, Lefty Grove, Bob Feller, Satchel Paige, Sandy Koufax, Whitey Ford, Tom Seaver, Nolan
Ryan, and Greg Maddux. Furthermore, Mel Allen and Red Barber
would be broadcasting the entire contest while Grantland Rice and Dick Young would report the results electronically through
the latest, most advanced space-time channels. Bill Gallo’s illustrations would depict each slugger, Infinity and
Beyond would provide cable coverage, and Howard Cosell would be the roving reporter.
Giamatti continued, “Now, Babe, the four pairings are as follows. First, Sammy Sosa will
go against Lou Gehrig. Next, Mickey Mantle will be pitted against Barry Bonds. Then we’ll have Jimmie Foxx versus Mark
McGwire. Finally, Ken Griffey, Jr. will be your opponent. The Sosa-Gehrig winner will face the Mantle-Bonds victor, while
the Foxx-McGwire winner will slug it out with the winner of your contest with Junior. Obviously, the two remaining sluggers
will vie for the crown, the “ultimate” crown”!
A grinning and amused Babe simply nodded. Then he added, “Just one more favor.”
“Anything, Babe, you know that”, Giamatti replied.
“I’d like one more pitcher for this staff…an
old friend. David Wells, okay?”III Cherubim and Seraphim
filled the ballparks. They were legion in number. In the first pairing,
Sosa, facing Grove at Wrigley Field, muscled eight balls into the left-field bleachers. While Gehrig hit one rocket after
another, he could manage only five dingers off Seaver at Shibe Park. The Commerce
Comet, batting right-handed against his buddy Whitey Ford at Briggs Stadium, hit six balls into the upper deck, and one more
over the upper deck, measured at 550 feet. Bonds couldn’t out-distance the Mick, but he did out-homer him by blasting
eight homers into the light air of Coors Field, each tater served up by Maddux. Fenway Park was the scene where Foxx crushed ball after ball over the Green Monster; when finished, he had eight homers
to his credit. He nodded an appreciative “thanks” to Moses Grove. Incredibly, Big Mac bettered him by one, hitting
nine Koufax offerings deep into the left center field area of Ebbets Field. Ruth took his place at home plate as soon as the Big Train indicated that he was ready. Moments before, Junior had had
a bad time of it, hitting just two line drive homers into the right field porch of the Babe’s own House, Yankee Stadium.
Ryan’s control was fine; Griffey just couldn’t get any lift on the ball. Predictably, three pitches later, it was over. All three Johnson fastballs wound up in virtually the same spot where
Griffey hit his two. The Bam winked a thank you to Walter as they left the field together.
While Bonds and Sosa were slugging it out, Ruth relaxed with Buster Gehrig back at the Heavenly
Lounge. Gehrig nursed his glass of Cutty Sark as he asked the pensive Babe what was on his mind. Ruth admitted
that he was more than somewhat surprised that his three compatriots had been bested. He quickly added, though, that he felt
his pals were better than their opponents. Another round of drinks arrived
just as Jimmie Foxx entered the lounge. Heading straight for their table, he informed both Gehrig and Ruth that the Baker
Bowl was the site where Bonds had just edged out Sammy by a score of six to five, with Paige pitching to both stars.
While they were speaking, the bartender came over to tell the Babe about McGwire. “Well,
guys, I’d better get to the Stadium; I hear this McGwire fellow had a good day”, the Babe said, as he rose from
the table. Indeed, Big Mac had been awesome. Feller surrendered
eight homers to him at Jacobs Field. However, even that show of power paled as Ruth came to the plate in that most hallowed
of ballparks; to be sure, even the angelic visitors stirred. Ol’ Pete, now pitching to Ruth, grooved ten pitches.
Only one Ruthian blast curved foul; the rest found their way into Ruthville. And so the stage was set.IV
Bart Giamatti had arranged for the eight participants to attend a reception in George Steinbrenner’s
office at Yankee Stadium. Also present were special luminaries from the newly created unified hall of fame, known as the Galaxy
of Sport. These included Joe Louis, Jack Dempsey, Earl Sande, Bobby Jones, Jim Thorpe, Babe Zaharis, Knute Rockne, Bill
Russell and Michael Jordan. Billy Martin was extended an invitation, also, at the Babe’s insistence. Gehrig, Foxx, Mantle,
Sosa, Griffey and McGwire all toasted each other; after which, they all wished good fortune to both Bonds and the Babe.
After the preliminaries, Howard Cosell took Bonds and Ruth into a nearby studio. Wanting to
frame the upcoming contest via a boxing motif, he proceeded to give a “Tale of the Tape”, comparing and contrasting
every possible physical and baseball statistic. Not content with this, he boldly proclaimed that not only would Bonds beat
Ruth, he would destroy him. Bonds smiled; yet he also appeared
a bit embarrassed by Cosell’s prediction. Ruth, ever gracious, merely grinned while shaking Barry’s extended hand
and playfully wringing Cosell’s neck. V Christy Mathewson
warmed up in his beloved Polo Grounds while Bonds eyed the right field foul pole, not even 260 feet away. As Barry stepped
into the batter’s box, the entire Galaxy of Sport – past, present and future – focused on this
duel between these two titans. McGwire, Griffey and Sosa were
pulling for Bonds while the Iron Horse, the Mick and Double X openly rooted for the Bambino.
Matty lay in pitch after pitch. Three laser shots went far into the right field upper deck;
three made it into the centerfield bleachers, 500 feet away; three cleared the roof in right center field. However, on the
last pitch, Bonds swung through a fastball. Nine homeruns off Big Six gave
Bonds a near perfect total…but would it be enough? Not if David Wells
had his way! Wells was giddy; Wells was in Heaven. Feeling
more than ever like a little kid in the presence of his hero, he rushed up to Ruth to get an autograph. He then ran to the
mound determined to serve his idol pitches that he could cream. And so
he did. Nine pitches. Nine home runs. Before the tenth pitch, though, Ruth
stepped out of the batter’s box. Time seemed frozen as Ruth pointed to the upper deck in right field, as only he could
do. It was expectantly natural; much like the feeling when one anticipates a miracle. Wells came in with the pitch. Ruth swung…the crack of the bat rang through the ball park…the
swatted sphere took off…and rose…and rose…leaving Yankee Stadium…landing exactly 714 feet from
home plate. All Bonds could do was to truthfully acknowledge
what he, and the entire baseball universe, knew…something that Big Mac also never doubted. Bonds
and McGwire exclaimed, “Babe, you’re the greatest ever!” And all nodded in agreement. “Thanks,
keeds. Let’s have a beer.” So Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire hoisted the Babe upon their shoulders, with the other five
sluggers in tow. When they reached the Heavenly
Lounge Babe Ruth yelled to the bartender, “The drinks are on me.”
|ABOUT THE AUTHOR|
Father Gabriel B. Costa is a
Catholic priest living at the United States Military Academy at West Point, NY, where he is a professor of mathematics and
an associate chaplain. He is a member of SABR and has published in The Baseball Research Journal
and Elysian Fields Quarterly.
Father Gabe and
the 2009 WS Trophy
My Fifty Year Relationship with Babe Ruth
I grew up in Hoboken, New Jersey, the very home of Elysian Fields, where the first professional
baseball game was played in 1846. I was born in 1948, a little over a century later. And I was exactly three-and-a-half months
old when Babe Ruth died on August 16, 1948. But that didn’t stop me from
getting to know him.
Babe Ruth…there was something magical
about his name; it seemed to fit him perfectly. When I was six or seven years old, I began to ask my dad to tell me about
Babe Ruth. He told me that he actually met Ruth once – in a freight elevator, of all places. My father was impressed
by Ruth’s massive size, especially his height.
now and then, in the mid-1950’s, Ruth’s picture would appear in the New York Daily News. There was almost
always a welcoming smile on his face, and I could sense that his huge torso housed a sentimental and loving heart.
And every now and then, again in the mid 1950’s, a black-and-white film clip of a Ruthian home run
would be shown on television. There was something graceful about the swing; and the batted ball seemed to trace out
a majestic arc. And those Yankee Pinstripes. And that perfect Number Three. Babe Ruth was larger
than life…at least to me.
I loved baseball…and I loved my Yankees. Yogi
Berra…Whitey Ford…and, especially, Mickey Mantle. But I somehow sensed that these great Yankee stars
just couldn’t compare with Babe Ruth.
I just had to learn more about
Babe Ruth. And I would.
My first real contact with Babe Ruth came in
1958. I was watching him on TV one night with my father. Actually it was William Bendix playing Babe Ruth. I remember
this Babe Ruth taking an injured dog to a hospital, insisting that the doctors and nurses tend to the dog, even though he
was told that the hospital was not an animal hospital. I also remember a gritty, grimy Babe Ruth hitting three home runs in
his (as it was portrayed) last game, as a member of the Boston Braves, looking so out of place without Yankee pinstripes.
Finally, I remember this Babe Ruth dying, being wheeled on a gurney, to bravely undergo some experimental medical procedure.
I didn’t want to cry in front of my father, but I knew that the Babe was to die shortly.
very night, after the movie ended, I decided that I would read everything possible about Babe Ruth. I would try to
absorb everything I could learn about this man…not just the baseball statistics, but about the person, as
A year or two later, I met the Babe’s widow. Actually, she was being interviewed by
Edward R. Murrow on the TV show, Person to Person. Clare Ruth showed pictures of her deceased husband while telling
stories about him and their relationship. And I got to know more about this great man. Mrs. Ruth also told the viewers that
they could obtain Ruth’s autograph on cancelled checks, if they would merely send a request to her. To this day, I still
don’t know why I never took advantage of her kind offer.
Soon after, I read the Babe’s autobiography,
which he wrote with the assistance of syndicated columnist Bob Considine. The book was published right around the time of
Ruth’s death and contained dozens of pictures. These photographs helped me to see different perspectives at various
times of his life, and Ruth’s style of writing made me feel that he was talking to me.
Next, I read Babe Ruth, a book written by Tom Meany, a Brooklyn sportswriter. I continued to
learn more and more about the charismatic Ruth, getting more insights into his personality. And I wanted to learn even
In 1960 I attended my first game at Yankee Stadium. This was the House That Ruth
that green façade! In those days, fans were allowed onto the field once the game ended. I remember going to right
field…looking towards home plate…imagining how Babe Ruth must have felt standing in the very spot
where I stood. How could he throw a ball that far? Not only that, but I also touched his monument in
center field (like so many kids my age, I actually believed that he was buried at Yankee Stadium…either under
home plate or under the monument).
The next year, 1961, the American
League expanded to ten teams and lengthened its schedule by eight games. And the Babe’s ghost appeared in a spectacular
way. Yankee outfielders Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris were hitting home runs at such a fast clip, that it looked like either
or both of these stars would surpass Ruth’s seasonal total of 60 home runs, which the Bambino set in 1927.
It was impossible to read the daily sports pages without references to Babe Ruth. Controversy upon controversy ensued.
Would a new record count because of the extended season? Should a new record count because
of the extended season? In the end, Maris hit 61 and Mantle blasted seven less home runs. But Ruth was
not forgotten; on the contrary, he became even more visible in the media.
then there was Mel Allen, the radio and television Voice of the Yankees. During rain delays of games, he would tell
stories…and many times these tales would be about Babe Ruth. In his recollections, Allen provided a connection
between someone who actually knew Babe Ruth and those of us who did not. I always felt that I learned a little bit
more about Ruth after hearing these wonderful, warm stories.
As the 1960’s passed into the 1970’s,
outfielder Henry Aaron kept adding to his impressive career total of home runs. Yet even when Aaron surpassed Ruth’s
714th home run in April, 1974, Ruth still remained in the news.
the same time Aaron passed Ruth’s career home run mark, authors Robert Creamer, Marshall Smelser and Kal Wagenheim would
all write what would be considered definitive biographies on Babe Ruth.
In the late
1970’s, the art and science of sabermetrics (the search for objective knowledge about baseball, as defined
by noted sabermetrician Bill James) would emerge. Metric after metric would reveal and affirm that Babe Ruth reigned supreme
as the greatest player ever, something I never doubted.
Several years later, Stephen Lang (on
TV) and John Goodman (in the movies) starred as the Bambino. I enjoyed watching both of these productions, but Lang seemed
too lanky to be Babe Ruth and Goodman was overweight.
My personal favorite portrayal of Ruth
was by Ramon Bieri in the 1978 TV movie, A Love Affair: The Eleanor and Lou Gehrig Story. It seemed to me that he
not only looked like Babe Ruth should look, he acted like Babe Ruth should act. He was almost as realistic
as the Babe playing himself in The Pride of the Yankees, which appeared in the early 1940’s.
In 1993, a movie called The Sandlot featured both a baseball signed by Ruth along with the Babe
making a seemingly angelic visit to a young boy. And the plot of a recent cartoon movie, Everyone’s Hero, revolved
around a bat used by – not Ty Cobb, not Joe DiMaggio, not Barry Bonds – but by Babe Ruth himself.
In 1995, Hofstra University would devote four days to a convocation which celebrated the 100th
birthday of this American icon.
And less than two years ago, baseball author Leigh Montville penned yet another definitive
life of Babe Ruth titled The Big Bam.
Over the years, I have had the
good fortune to meet both Dorothy Ruth Pirone, Babe’s biological daughter, and Julia Ruth Stevens, his adopted daughter.
And I twice had the added pleasure of visiting with Mary “Mamie” Ruth Moberly, Ruth’s sister. And I learned
more about the Bambino.
Many conversations with noted expert on long distance home
runs, Bill Jenkinson, have helped me to further my understanding of Babe Ruth. Mr. Jenkinson also enabled me to meet, and
stay in contact with, Linda Ruth Tosetti, Dorothy’s daughter. Mrs. Tosetti is a warm, friendly woman, who bears some
facial resemblance to her grandfather. It strikes me that if she is like her grandfather, then – to the same extent
– her grandfather must have been like her. And to think that Babe Ruth was like his granddaughter Linda, confirms
and reinforces all the great things one thinks and feels about Ruth. By the way, her equally friendly husband, Andy, is a
(gasp!) Red Sox fan.
As the years pass, I realize more and more that Babe Ruth will never disappear. Even in the dead of winter, one
cannot read the sports pages for at most a week, without seeing some reference to Babe Ruth. Regarding other sports
luminaries such as Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky, Muhammad Ali, Pele…one can go weeks without hearing or reading
about them. Babe Ruth has been dead for over sixty years. Yet he continues to endure. It doesn’t
stop. There is always something new about Babe Ruth. And I continue to learn more and more about this legend.
Babe Ruth. I feel like I’ve come full circle. I have visited his birth place in Baltimore,
Maryland. I have blessed his grave in at the Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne, New York.
fifty year relationship has revealed to me that Babe Ruth was larger than life.
what was Babe Ruth like? He was a man-child; spontaneous, impetuous, warm, manly, generous, hedonistic,
indomitable. He could laugh and cry at the drop of a hat, so close to the surface were his emotions. He would give you the
shirt off his back. He was the greatest baseball player ever. He was the most famous athlete of all time. He loved his country.
He loved his Church. He loved kids. The man who called everyone “Kid!” was the ultimate kid.
He left an unparalleled legacy. He was real. He was genuine. He was part street kid from the Baltimore waterfront and part
St. Francis of Assisi.
THE AUTHOR Father Gabriel B. Costa is a Catholic priest living at the United States Military Academy
at West Point, NY, where he is a Professor of Mathematical Sciences and an associate chaplain. He is on an extended academic
leave from Seton Hall University, South Orange, NJ.