BABE RUTH: BOSS OF THE YOUTH OF AMERICA

BRC has made some great friends over the years of hosting BabeRuthCentral.com. One of those friends is Charles Poekel, author of “Babe & The Kid” the legendary, true story of Babe Ruth and his amazing impact on a sick boy by the name of Johnny Sylvester.

Back in June of 2009, he did a presentation at the 2009 Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture Co-sponsored by the State University of New York at Oneonta and The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. The presentation focused on what a strong and positive connection Babe had with kids every where during his time and what a critical icon he was to the children of his day.

Charles was good enough to give us approval to share that speech (please see below) with our audience of Babe Ruth fans. Thank you for the opportunity to Charles!

BABE RUTH: BOSS OF THE YOUTH OF AMERICA

Introduction
It was late afternoon in the fall of 1928, and a man was driving to New York City in his shiny new brown coupe from having visited an orphanage in Paterson, New Jersey. In the back seat were some gloves, bats and balls leftover from his goodwill trip. Traveling along Main Street in Union City the driver dutifully stopped at a red light. The driver, a man in his thirties, was wearing a collarless shirt and an old sweater. There was nobody else in the car. Suddenly the light turned but the car wouldn’t move. Soon two dozen cars were in a traffic jam and their frustrated drivers started honking. A traffic cop rushed to the scene. The driver exited the coupe and lifted the hood to check out the engine and then shook his head. How ironic indeed that the driver who had learned to be a tailor had broken down in the heart of a New Jersey town known as ”the embroidery capital of the Untied States.” Suddenly a small boy recognized the man’s face – “It’s Babe Ruth!” he shouted out. A crowd of hero worshippers soon formed but no one could start Babe’s car. Ruth went to call for another car but it took some time since the first operator didn’t believe who he said he was and hung up on him. By the time another car was being sent the crowd rose to over 1,500. When the new car arrived and Ruth went to transfer the leftover baseball equipment the kids in the crowd spotted them and yelled so loudly that Babe had to dole them all out as gifts.

Just the day before Ruth had returned by train a hero for hitting three homeruns and leading the New York Yankees to a four game sweep of the Cardinals in the World Series. Upon leaving the train at New York’s Grand Central Station Ruth had gone directly to the nearby Biltmore Hotel and suite of New York governor Al Smith who Ruth was supporting for president. Smith enthusiastically welcomed the Babe to his suite telling him: “If I could count on as many votes as you have kids yelling for you, I’d be sure I’m going to be elected.” Governor Smith heartily congratulated Ruth and for the man who was known as the Sultan of Swat, the Big Bam, the Bambino, Caliph of Clout and the Monster of Mash was presented him with a new moniker – “the boss of the youth of America.”

Babe Ruth had the most extraordinary and unique relationship with children of any figure in the history of American sports. From the beginning of his professional career in baseball just prior to the start of the roaring twenties until his agonizing death at age 53 in 1948, Ruth’s life was intertwined by a love and devotion of the youth of America and its love and adulation of him.
In order to truly understand and appreciate this unique relationship, one must examine its origins and trace its magnificent manifestations. One must turn to his immediate family for their intimate perspectives as well as to those of the great sportswriters who covered Ruth on a daily basis. Just as the 1920’s were known as the Golden Age of Sports the period would also be known as the Golden Age of Sportswriters – men like Grantland Rice, Tom Meany and Paul Gallico. Also, one must turn to the Ruth biographers who did the research and conducted the interviews for their perspective. But perhaps true understanding can only come from the boys themselves – now men in their golden years who will never forget their encounters with “the boss of American youth.”

This paper is not an arcane scientific treatise but a joyous historical look at a great baseball legend and his youthful followers. Ruth’s wife Claire summed it up best saying: “Babe Ruth and kids went together. They loved each other, and this is the only word to describe the relationship.”

Origins
“I was a bad kid,” begins Babe Ruth’s autobiography. Being somewhat incorrigible Ruth was shipped away to a special school called the St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys in Baltimore, Maryland and it was there that he spend twelve of his most formative years.. The school was founded by the Zaverian Brothers – a Catholic order whose goals were the education and moral training of young men. From the Xaverians Ruth not only received his early training in baseball but he witnessed the strong bonds between the brothers and their young wards.

Julia Ruth Stevens, Babe’s beloved adopted daughter, has attempted to explain why her dad was “the pied piper of kids” but even she can’t definitely explain it. She writes that “perhaps it was because as a child he did not receive the love all children deserve, perhaps it was because his childhood was such a difficult one – being reared in an orphanage/reformatory – or perhaps it was because of something all together different. “ She added that her “father never tried to hide his roots and difficult childhood, and once he became established he did much to help St. Mary’s and the Xaverian Brothers who ran it.”  And help came sooner than anyone had expected.

Babe Ruth’s Boys’ Band
On April 24, 1819, a fire broke out and destroyed most of the buildings that comprised St. Mary’s. Since insurance only covered about one sixth of the loss, the school embarked on a major fundraising campaign to raise $2 million and what better way to raise funds than to send the St. Mary’s School Band on the road with Babe Ruth and the Yankees for the last part of the team’s western trip in 1920. The band had long enjoyed a national reputation for excellence and one year it had even played the “Stars and Stripes Forever” under the baton of its composer John Phillips Sousa.

On September 2, 1920, 49 members of the band, most ranging from 9 to 14 years of age, along with their musical director and Brother Matthias boarded two special Pullman cars at Union Station in Baltimore for the trip of a lifetime – a trip that would take them over 3,500 miles to Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Baltimore, New York and Philadelphia. Besides having the music for their usual blend of classical, popular and parade music the band members were armed with a song that was composed especially for the tour – “the Battering Babe.” Before the trip was over the whole country had heard of what became known as “Babe Ruth’s Boys’ Band.”

The first stop on the tour was Cleveland where the boys saw Tris Speaker play and Ruth hit his 47th homerun. It was then on to Chicago where the mayor made a large donation to St. Mary’s and it was reported that Ruth was receiving a bonus of $500.00 for every homer hit beyond the 29 he had hit in 1919 – half of which he was donating to St. Mary’s; After three days in Chicago Ruth and the boys crossed Lake Erie by boat on the way to Detroit. Onboard the boys gave a concert and watched the Yankees toss their straw hats into the lake in celebration of the end of summer. A collection was taken onboard and Ruth announced that anyone wanting his autograph simply had to write a check to him and he would endorse it and turn it over to his alma mater. In Detroit the boy watched Ruth hit his 48th and 49th homeruns.
The group then went to St. Louis and Indianapolis before heading back to Baltimore.

In Richmond, Indiana, hundreds of men, women and children who had heard Ruth were on the train showed up at the station for a view of Ruth. They shouted to see him and Ruth, who was busily playing cards, came out on the platform and shook as many hands as he could. For the boys, the highlight was Ruth coming into their cars and announcing “All you kids who want ice cream come with me into the diner,” for which Chicago newspaper reporter Sam Crane commented: “It is just such things Babe Ruth does to please others that is one of his best traits. And he never forgets that he was once a boy himself.”

The final stop was the Polo Grounds in New York where Ruth made good on his pre-season prediction of hitting 50 homeruns. On September 24th Ruth said “this was the greatest day I ever lived, for the brothers from my old school in Baltimore and the school band of little kids were watching me when I slammed out my fiftieth and fifty-first home runs, a mark the experts say probably will stand for many years after I have drifted along.” John Joseph Sterne, who at age ten had played the cornet in the band, would recall years later that “it was a September to remember, especially by us youngsters who saw in the Babe another boy like ourselves.

The tally after the season ended showed St. Mary’s with over $11,000 extra dollars, Ruth with a batting average of .376, a slugging average of .847 (a record never broken) and 54 homeruns and the Yankees being the first team in all of sports to draw over one million spectators during a season.

“Little Ray”
Mention “mascots”: to baseball fans today and you will hear of such costumed characters as “Mr. Met” of the New York Mets, “Mariner Moose” of the Seattle Mariners, the “Swinging Friar” of the San Diego Padres, “Paws” of the Detroit Tigers, “Bird” of the Baltimore Orioles and “Billy Marlin” of the Florida Marlins. These humanized puppets dance and prance on top of the dugouts and lead the fans in performing the wave. But Babe Ruth had his own mascot – a 3 year old boy. He was Ray Kelly, known as “Little Ray” and Ruth had discovered him one day in 1921 playing baseball with his father near the Babe’s Riverside Drive apartment in New York. The next day Little Ray was with Ruth at the Polo Grounds.

“Little Ray” would be Ruth’s personal mascot for the next ten years. Asked in later years what his exact role was as Ruth’s mascot Kelly replied “I was just there to sit on the bench and look cute.” “Little Ray” would sit in the dugout with the Yankees at home games and even accompanied them at certain road games. He was even at Wrigley Field in 1932 and watched Ruth’s famous “called shot” which Kelly always maintained was true.

Kelly would later comment that the Babe treated him like the son that he never had and that Ruth “treated children with a great deal of respect and adults appreciated that.”

Christy Walsh
In 1921, a brash former newspaper cartoonist turned publicist arrived in New York City with $8.00 in his bank account but full of ideas and a lot of moxie. Christy Walsh impersonated a beer deliveryman to meet Ruth and then convinced him that he could make money for him by having ghostwriters give him a byline in the dailies. Walsh succeeded in helping Ruth make money and by gaining him publicity by using his newspaper contacts. He would enable Ruth to live for the rest of his life without financial worries. Some thought that Ruth’s affection and love of children was simply the product of Walsh’s publicity machine. But was it?

The year 1923 saw the opening of a new stadium in New York – some wanted it to be called “Ruth Field” but Yankee owner Colonel Ruppert insisted it be called Yankee Stadium but it would forever be done unofficially as “the house that Ruth built.” Before it opened Ruth was quoted as saying that he would give a year of his life if he could hit the first homerun in the new stadium. Ruth’s wish came true in the fourth inning of the season’s opener against his old team the Boston Red Sox when the Bambino drove a ball deep into the right field stands.

Christy Walsh, ever on the lookout for publicity for the Babe, had reached out to his contacts at the Los Angeles Examiner to sponsor a homerun hitting contest among the high school baseball players in the Los Angeles area. The winner’s prize would be the bat that Ruth used for the first homerun he hit in Yankee Stadium. Victor Orsatti, an 18 year old, won the contest and Ruth dutifully inscribed the bat several days after the game “To the Boy Homerun King of Los Angeles – Babe Ruth, NY May 7, 1923.” To grab more attention a young girl took the train from California to New York to pick up the bat.

Victor Orsatti kept his prized trophy most of his life and then presented it to his caregiver Maria Tejeda, who kept the bat under her bed for twenty years. In 2006, the bat was auctioned off for $1.265 million – quite a good sum considering that the original Yankee Stadium had cost $2.5 million to build. In keeping with Ruth’s love of children a portion of the auction proceeds went to an orphanage in Mexico.

Although Walsh may have exploited Ruth’s love and affection for children to generate publicity, Ruth himself demonstrated on countless occasions that his affection and love for children was genuine and done with any publicity in mind. Just a few weeks before Yankee Stadium opened Ruth was in Vicksburg, Mississippi when he learned there was a sick boy in town who was praying to get better in order to see Ruth play. Ruth immediately summoned an automobile and journeyed seven miles into the country and ended up spending an hour with the boy.

Grantland Rice, one of the leading sportswriters of the era, recalled that Ruth before one world series’ game went sixty miles out of Chicago to visit a sick child. Ruth warned him that if he wrote a story about it “he’d knock my brains in.”

Also confirming that Ruth didn’t want publicity for things he did for children was the Yankee pitcher Lefty Gomez who said that Ruth went to dozens of hospitals where he didn’t want anyone to know about. Gomez would comment; “I can still remember seeing those little guys laying their bed until they’d spot the Babe. All of a sudden their faces would lighten up. Babe was probably the biggest kid of them all.”

Years later, in honor of Ruth’s fiftieth birthday Arthur Daley of the New York Times would write: “The joy this good-natured man brought to sick or crippled children never adequately can be computed. Occasionally word leaked out of some of his expeditions to hospitals or homes but the Babe never did anything of that sort for publicity purposes. He did it because he wanted to.”
If Ruth reached out to the kids of America, the kids of America reached out to Ruth. In October of 1923, Ruth was mobbed by six thousand screaming youngsters after an exhibition game in Scranton, Pennsylvania. When Ruth tripped and fell them all piled on and only because of several policemen and a waiting car Ruth was able to escape unharmed.

Babe’s unfettered devotion to children made him do almost anything for them.
Babe’s wife Claire recalled an incident when she, Dorothy and Julia were with the Babe driving though Harlem after the Babe had played in an exhausting doubleheader at the Stadium. When they stopped at a red light some Black children recognized the Babe and approached him saying “Come on Babe, let’s see you hit a few.” That was all it took and Babe parked his care and for the next thirty minutes gave those boys the thrill of a lifetime.

Babe’s daughter Julia tells the story of a young man named Matthew who wrote her father requesting a lock of his hair. Babe, not willing to turn down a request from a kid, dutifully sent the boy some of his hair with a letter telling him: “I don’t know what you’re going to do with it, but I hope you enjoy it.”

Paul Gallico, a sportswriter, even wrote an article advocating the canonization of Ruth for what he did for sick children. He wrote that Ruth “even became endowed with powers of healing.” A verified story relates of an incident in Phillips Field in Tampa, Florida when a man drove a car onto the field with his son who had lost the ability to walk and in fact couldn’t even stand up. Babe came over to him and said “Hi’ya Kid!” and then the boy suddenly jumped up and greeted the Babe. Tears of joy streamed down the father’s face and Babe would later comment that “I worked a miracle that spring in Tampa.”

Fred Lieb, another one of the leading sportswriters of the twenties, wrote that Ruth “was especially interested in the lame, the crippled and kids injured in accidents or suffering from a serious, if not fatal disease. He visited untold numbers of boys in hospitals, private homes, even six story walk-up tenements. He always gave them the greeting “Hello kid, now you get well.” Usually he closed by saying “I’ll hit a homer for you tomorrow.”

One such lucky boy was named Johnny Sylvester.

Towards the end of the summer of 1926, Johnny Sylvester, an 11 year old boy from Essex Fells, New Jersey, who was vacationing with his family in Bay Head, New Jersey, was riding a horse when suddenly he and the horse went down. The horse got up and kicked Johnny in the head. Johnny suffered a serious head injury which was diagnosed as osteomyelitis of the brain. He was taken out of school and committed to bed rest that fall. When doctors had practically given up on him Johnny’s father asked him what he most wanted to feel better. When Johnny replied “a baseball from the World Series.” Johnny’s influential father reached out to his contacts for help
During a rain delay in game three at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis a ball was brought into the dugouts of the Yankees and the Cardinals. Several Cardinal players including Rogers Hornsby signed a ball and several Yankee players signed a ball. On the Yankee ball Babe Ruth wrote: “I’ll knock a homer for you in Wednesday’s game – Babe Ruth.”

Wednesday’s game was the fourth game of the series and Ruth not only made good on his promise to knock a homer but hit three towering homeruns – the third of which went 530 feet out of the ballpark and was the longest ball ever hit in Sportsman’s Park. Johnny got better and Ruth got a legend of truly Ruthian proportions.

The day after the series ended Ruth was scheduled to play in an exhibition game in Bradley Beach, New Jersey. Most of Ruth’s exhibition games were orchestrated by Christy Walsh who just might have come up with an idea for Ruth that would generate even more publicity. Ruth, instead of going from New York City directly to Bradley Beach went with Walsh and a New York Daily News reporter to Johnny’s home in Essex Fells, New Jersey, for a surprise visit. Ruth rang the bell at the Sylvester residence and the maid inquired who was there and was told “Babe Ruth to see Johnny.” The maid, who probably was the only person in the country not to know who Ruth was, dutifully asked if he should be let in. Ruth was let in and went to Johnny’s second floor bedroom and caught the boy totally off guard. Johnny was tongue-tied and later could only say “Gosh, ain’t he big!” The visit of “Dr. Ruth” to Johnny’s house made the front page of the New York Times and the New York Daily News as well as appearing in most of the major newspapers in the country.

Was Christy Walsh responsible for the Ruth-Sylvester legend? The writing on the baseball and the hitting of the homeruns were pure Ruth. The idea of the trip to Essex Fells probably originated with Walsh since he was the organizer of the barnstorming game in Bradley Beach the same day and was with Ruth on his visit. But Ruth’s desire to aid and help sick Johnny Sylvester came from him directly. Walsh just helped to publicize it.

Just four days after Ruth’s visit to Johnny he was in Lima, Ohio, for an exhibition game and before hitting two of the longest homeruns in the Lima ballpark he visited the Allen County Children’s’ Home. The visit was part of Ruth’s planned visit and a telegram to the organizers stated that the visit was “in keeping with the Babe’s well known love for children.” The reception in Lima showed that Ruth’s attraction by the youth of America had spread throughout the entire country. In 1929, in a 4,000 capacity ballpark 11,000 showed up and the kids swarmed all over Ruth when he took his position in the outfield. And in Scranton, Pennsylvania 4,000 kids mobbed him and he had to be escorted by police to a waiting car barely escaping injury.

Ruth took his young fans seriously and became apologetic when he couldn’t perform for them. During an exhibition game in March of 1927, Ruth pulled a tendon and had to be removed from the game. Later that evening Ruth told William Hennigan of the New York World:

I wanted to continue in the game for the sake of those kids who came out to see me. That’s the reason I started out for center field in the last half of the fourth inning, but the pain was too great and I was forced to quit. When I saw all those kids in the park I knew that they wanted me to treat them to a home run. I’m sorry to disappoint them.

Even one of Ruth’s quite frequent motor vehicle incidents would turn into a youth spirited event. In 1928, Ruth received one of his not so infrequent speeding tickets while driving in Secaucus, New Jersey. When word spread that the Bambino would be appearing in traffic court hundreds of boys from the town showed up to see their idol. When they were told that the mayor had arranged for Ruth’s ticket to be disposed of the boys vowed that when they grew up they would vote for anyone else but the mayor. The next day the mayor announced that the boys would be the guests of Babe Ruth at the Stadium the following month.

As Babe’s reputation as a lover of children grew, incidents arose that would bring it to the forefront in the news of the day.

In May of 1929, tragedy struck Yankee Stadium. It began when a deluge suddenly came down during a game and many of the spectators, especially those in what was commonly referred to as “Ruthville” – the right field bleachers panicked and decided to leave en mass and stormed the exits. When it ended a sixty year old man and a Hunter college student were trampled to death and some sixty-two persons, mostly children, were injured and had to be hospitalized. The Babe paid a special visit to Lincoln Hospital bringing with him a basket full of baseballs to autograph. The kids were so appreciative that a week later they brought the Babe a basket full of balls with their signatures on them.

According to Tom Stevens, Babe’s grandson, Ruth believed very much that kids should be allowed into the bleachers at Yankee Stadium free of charge. He often argued with the owner Colonel Jake Ruppert who was against it. As a result Ruth would often buy up large blocks of bleacher tickets and have them distributed to the kids.

Although not an orphan himself, Ruth’ years at St. Mary’s gave the public the impression that he was one. Ruth never tried to correct the mislabeling but instead devoted himself to assisting orphans and orphanages his entire life.

A group of six New Jersey orphans became national heroes themselves in May of 1933, when they stepped out on the tracks before an approaching train to have it stop before it struck a washout and crashed. When the boys spoke of a possible reward they said that perhaps Babe Ruth would be sympathetic to orphans and could help them get Yankee tickets. The newspapers, of course, reached out for Ruth who was nursing a bad cold in Detroit, but nevertheless got out of bed, autographed six baseballs and sent the boys the following telegram:

I HAVE HEARD OF YOUR BRAVERY IN PREVENTING A TRAIN WRECK YETERDAY AND SAVING THE LIVES OF HUNDREDSS OF PERSONS. I AM PROUD OF YOUR COURAGE AND FEEL VERY HAPPY THAT YOU THOUGHT OF ME. THE SAME COURAGE WILL HELP YOU MAKE GOOD IN LIFE. I WILL TRY TO HIT AN EXTRA HOME RUN FOR YOU THIS SUMMER AND WILL HAVE YOU AS MY GUESTS AT THE YANKEE STADIUM WHEN I RETURN FROMT HIS TRIP. MY HEARTY CONGRATULATIONS GO WITH THIS TELEGRAM.

What else could one expect from “the boss of the youth of America,” who later commented “That’s the biggest kick I ever got of anything. – those boys asking for me – and I’ll never forget them.”

Ruth was ever cognizant of the role model he portrayed to the youth of America. Although hardly a teetotaler himself and known to smoke cigars, he spoke to kids about not smoking and he never personally endorsed alcoholic or tobacco products. He dedicated his autobiography to “the kids of America.”

William Creamer, one of Ruth’s premier biographers, writes that Ruth’s “affection for children was genuine and it remained with him his whole life.” In his book Creamer writes of an incident in 1943 when Ruth was playing golf on a rainy day at the Commonwealth Country Club outside of Boston. When Ruth noticed two boys intently peering at him through the course’s fence he asked the club’s pro to “Show ‘em into this joint.” Ruth waited for the boys to come in for his first tee shot and then had them accompany him on all the holes.

Young adult biographer Lois Nicholson writes that “Americans were fascinated by Babe’s achievements in baseball and the joy he brought to the game, but they also respected the slugger for his dedication to children.”

Ruth would retire from baseball in 1935. In discussing retirement the Babe had this to say: “I am going to take things easy. Play a game of contract if I feel like it or go out and shoot some golf. I can also hunt and fish. And then, if I find that things are sort of boring, there are always enough vacant lots around that I can go out and have a game of ball with a bunch of kids. No doubt that there were at least some boys now grown up from Harlem who didn’t doubt him for a minute.

By order of the commissioner of baseball “Babe Ruth Day” was celebrated in all sixteen major league ballparks. The day before Johnny Sylvester, now 31 years of age and a successful businessman working in Long Island City, New York, paid a visit to ailing Ruth at his Riverside Drive apartment. This time it was Johnny who was there to try and lift the Babe’s spirits. Sylvester brought with him the autographed balls from the 1926 series and he and the Babe reminisced about the players. Upon leaving the apartment Johnny remarked: “He’s one great guy!”

The next day at Yankee Stadium Ruth addressed the multitudes in an extremely hoarse voice. In his brief address Ruth explained that with the game of baseball “you’ve got to start from way down at the bottom when you’re six or seven years old. You can’t wait until you’re fifteen or sixteen. You’ve got to let it grow up with you.” In a voice he told the crowd that felt as bad to him as it did to them to hear, the Babe summed up not only his theory of baseball but the link that tied him to the youth of America. As Babe spoke his host committee included Commissioner Chandler, the presidents of both leagues and one 13 year old boy named Larry Cutler who was represented all boys.

On October 19, 1947, Brother Gilbert, the Xaaverian brother who had brought Babe into professional baseball by introducing him to Jack Dunn of the Baltimore Orioles, passed away while saying his prayers at Keith Academy in Lowell, Massachusetts. Knowing that the Babe might be too ill to attend the funeral services 10 year old Frank Haggerty sent Ruth the following telegram:

I’M SORRY YOUR FRIEND DIED. IF YOU WISH AND THE BROTHERS WILL
LET CHILDREN GO TO THE MASS, I WILL GO FOR YOU AS I LIVE IN DAVERS
I WILL BEHAVE.
LOVE, FRANK HAGGERTY

Ruth replied with the following telegram:

DEAR FRANK:
THANK YOU FOR YOUR LETTER AND I WILL BE MOST GRATEFUL TO YOU IF YOU WILL REPRESENT ME AT BROTHER GILBERT’S FUNERAL. I AM UNABLE TO GO BUT I WILL FEE I AM THERE IN SPIRIT THROUGH YOUR GRACIOUS GESTURE TO GO IN MY PLACE. BROTHER GILBERT WAS A WONDERFUL MAN AND EVERYBODY’S FRIEND. WE HAVE ALL LOST A VERY GOOD FRIEND.
BABE RUTH

“Santa” Babe
Babe Ruth knew and understood that Christmas was the most special holiday for the kids of America and over the course of his life he selflessly extended himself to insure a wonderful holiday especially for those less fortunate than himself.

In 1931, Babe donned a Santa suit and put on a white beard and appeared before 300 handicapped children from New York City hospitals. The costume didn’t fool the kids who said “We know, you, Babe!”

In 1932, Babe went to the site where Dr. Clement Moore penned “Twas the Night Before Christmas” and he again dressed as Santa to receive 100 of the New York’s neediest kids. This time the disguise worked and when Ruth removed his beard the kids burst forth in loud cheers.
Perhaps the most amusing Christmas party came in 1939 when Babe was joined by comedians Bud Abbott and Lou Costello along with prizefighter “Two-Ton” Tony Galento. All four were dressed in red costumes and distributed over 1,500 bags of food. The only complaint came from Galento who said his costume was too small and too difficult to remove so he was going to wear it back to Jersey.

In December of 1947, Babe participated in a Christmas party for forty young polio victims. Most of the kids used canes, one was in a wheelchair, and one 21 month old girl who was paralyzed in both legs was carried by her mother. Babe told the kids in his cancer-stricken voice “I want to take this opportunity to wish all the children not only of America, but of the whole world, a very Merry Christmas.” Two weeks later Babe would have his last Christmas.

Memories
Steve Macanga has operated an appliance store in Caldwell, New Jersey, for over 54 years. Steve grew up in Belleville, New Jersey, and his boyhood idol was Joe DiMaggio. But Steve, 11, along with his friend, Johnny was also fans of the Bambino. In 1947, they listened to the “Babe Ruth in Person” Radio Show broadcast from New York City and sponsored by Spaulding. When they heard it announced that tickets for the show could be obtained by writing to the show they pleaded with their parents to write. Soon tickets arrived in the mail. Steve, now 74, remembers like it was yesterday when he and his friend Johnny attended the show. He says that the show opened with what listeners thought was the crack of the Ruth’s bat but which was really “a man hitting a hammer on a bat.” And he vividly remembers at the end of the show when Ruth came out, sat on a folding chair, and the kids lined up to shake his hand and receive a program that had Ruth’s autograph. “I’ll never forget shaking Ruth’s hand, “says Steve today whose family for years hasn’t forgiven him for misplacing the signed program. While the program is lost for ever, the memories of “that handshake” are forever with Steve.
Frank Strauss was eleven years old in 1947, and had a job walking a dog for lady in his apartment building in the Jackson Heights area of Queens, New York. One day he was taken aback when he saw Babe Ruth leave the woman’s apartment and go into a big black Lincoln parked in front of the building. She told young Frank that the next time he saw the Lincoln parked outside he should come up to her apartment and she would introduce him. A couple of weeks later, Frank, armed with an autograph book, spotted the Lincoln and immediately went up to the lady’s apartment. He went in and there he was face to face with the Babe. Ruth asked him if he were a Yankee fan and wrote “To Frankie Strauss – Babe Ruth.” Frank had never been called Frankie before but the autograph, unlike Steve Macanga’s, has remained with him for 63 years. The meeting with Ruth was an inspirational turning point in Frank’s life. He would go on to be a publicist and in 2008 he published a book entitled Dawn of a Dynasty: The Incredible and Improbable Story of the 1947 New York Yankees, iUniverse, 2008.
Tom Gartland was born in 1939 – four years after Ruth stopped playing professional baseball. But as a young boy growing up in New Jersey he was wrapped up like so many other kids with an adulation of Babe Ruth. In New Jersey a favorite roadside restaurant of the Gartlands and of the Babe was Donohue’s located on the Newark-Pompton Turnpike in Wayne, New Jersey. It was rumored that the Babe had met Jimmy Donohue during prohibition days and the two became good friends and Babe often frequented one of Donohue’s restaurants. It has even been said that the Babe visited Donohue’s five days before his death on August 16, 1048. One day in what Tom believes was1946 Tom was with his parents and his sister Peg in the family car outside Donohue’s Restaurant in Wayne. His father went in for hotdogs and had run into the Babe. The Babe was buying hot dogs for himself and two women. Tom’s father spoke to the Babe and before you know it the Babe pulled his car up next to the Gartlands’, rolled down the window, waived and said to Tom: ”Hi ya Tommy” and “Hi ya Honey” to his sister. Tom is now 70 years old and a realtor in Fairfield, New Jersey. “My encounter with the Babe is something I’ll never forget, “says Tom who says the story is a revered part of his family’s history.
Tom Reynolds has his own financial consulting firm and is an adviser to multi-million dollar pension funds. In July of 1948, Tom was 8years old and he and his eight brothers and sisters idolized Ruth. Tom says his family was by no means the largest one in the neighborhood. When Tom and his younger brothers – Johnny, age 10, and Jimmy, age 13, heard that Ruth was leaving Memorial Hospital (now Sloan Kettering) the next day they asked their mother if they could go. She agreed.
The next day the foursome walked from their Hell’s Kitchen apartment to Memorial Hospital. When they arrived there was already a huge crowd. Tom, being one of the youngest, was able to sit on the curb underneath the police barrier signs. Tom remembers the atmosphere as ”very eerie, almost like we were in church.” His mother brought her rosary beads and the entire crowd was in a reverential mood. After waiting 2-3 hours Tom remembers “receiving the thrill of a lifetime” when the Babe exited the hospital, tipped his camel hair cap, and entered a large black car. Ruth went to the far side in order to view the crowd and to waive again.
When asked why he would want to see Ruth even though he had never seen him play, Reynolds responded “seeing Ruth made me feel closer to my older brothers who had seen him play since I could tell them I too have seen Babe Ruth.”

During his final days when Ruth was in Memorial Hospital children of all ages held vigils outside of the hospital hoping to catch a glimpse of their ailing hero. According to his grandson Tom Stevens, when Ruth felt up to it he would go to his window and waive to the kids camped out below. The Babe would also open the window and drop autographed index cards to the kids. Stevens still has a couple of those index cards and cherishes them as small tokens of the huge lifelong love that existed between Babe Ruth and kids.

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