JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — Babe Ruth hit 714 career home runs. The Bambino smacked 60 homers during the 1927 season with the “Murderers’ Row” New York Yankees.
But did the Babe hit one out of Point Stadium when he visited Johnstown that year?
The question had been debated for decades after the Yankees played an exhibition game against the Johnstown Johnnies as almost 10,000 people packed the nearly brand new Point Stadium on July 25, 1927.
The Point, which opened a year earlier, wasn’t the house that Ruth built – a la Yankee Stadium. But the “Sultan of Swat” probably felt right at home before, during and after the game against the Johnnies.
The anticipation of Ruth’s arrival built up as the date approached.
The Johnstown Tribune’s evening edition on July 22, 1927 noted, “Johnstown baseball fans who attend the big exhibition game between the New York Yankees and the Johnstown Middle Atlantic Leaguers in the Point Stadium Monday are certain to see the greatest exhibition of hitting ever witnessed in this city.”
The newspaper explained this line of thinking.
“For several years, Babe Ruth has stood out as the greatest home run hitter in all baseball history, but he has close rivals on his own team this year.” The story cited the batting numbers put up by Yankees first baseman Lou Gehrig, second baseman Tony Lazzeri and catcher Pat Collins.
The biggest star was Ruth.
Not far behind was Gehrig, the Ironhorse who set a record of playing 2,130 consecutive games that stood 56 years – until Cal Ripken Jr. broke the mark and finished with 2,632 straight.
Ruth drew a crowd in every city he and the Yankees played during his record-setting career. Johnstown was no exception.
“The Babe was very busy before and during the game meeting local fans and in autographing baseballs and programs,” The Tribune reported on July 26, 1927. “Ruth proved himself a genial fellow and was glad to shake the hand of every kid who could get near him. He visited the local hospitals yesterday morning. From the time of the arrival of the New York club in this city until its departure, Ruth was the center of attraction.”
Not all of the Yankees played in the exhibition. How else would you explain that a team that eventually won 110 games and swept the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1927 World Series lost 7-5 to the Johnnies, a minor league club?
Ruth, Gehrig, Bob Meusel and Mark Koenig were “Murderers’ Row” regulars who did play at the Point that July afternoon.
Johnnies go deep
Manager Chief Bender’s Johnnies capitalized on center fielder Nat Hickey’s three-run home run in the first inning and second baseman Lafe Byard’s three-run shot in the second.
But what about the Babe?
“The first time Ruth was at bat, he clouted a hot grounder which Byard speared and the Bambino was retired at first base,” The Tribune story said.
“The second time up, Ruth grounded to Roth and would have been out, but Hartman missed Roth’s throw.” Claude Roth played first, and Joseph Hartman was the pitcher.
“The third time he came up, Fay, new Johnstown left-hander, was pitching,” the article continued.
“Fay had a count of three and two on the Bambino when he threw over a wide one for the fourth ball. On his fourth trip to the plate, Ruth crashed a long liner to (right fielder Peter) Gallupe, who was playing almost back against the fence when he made the catch.”
Finally, in his fifth at-bat, Ruth filled a spot in the hit column of the box score.
“Ruth raised a long, high fly into the corner of the right-field stands,” the game story reported.
In those days, a ball hit into the seats in the short right field section of the original Point was ruled a double instead of a homer.
Gehrig fared a bit better with two doubles and three ground outs. Yankees reserve third baseman Julie Wera went 4-for-4 with three singles and a double.
There it was in print – the official box score and a detailed story. Ruth didn’t hit a home run in the game at the Point.
But the multiple deck of headlines used by the newspaper in those days provided a glimpse of why so many people among the 8,081 paid attendance at the game swore years later that they had seen Ruth hit the ball out of the park at the Point.
“Johnnies beat New York Yankees in Exhibition; Ruth Fails to Hit Homer,” the first headline stated.
“However, Bambino Crashes Sphere Over Right Field Fence in Practice,” the secondary headline expounded.
The game story provided more details:
“Everybody was prepared to see Babe Ruth knock the ball about a mile, but the Babe’s best effort during the game was a long high fly to the extreme corner of the right-field bleachers, which was good for only two bases. However, those fans who arrived at the park a little early were privileged to see the Bambino clout the sphere clear of the distant right field fence in batting practice.
“Ruth connected for a liner which disappeared over the brick wall near the scoreboard, a distance of more than 400 feet and about the longest drive ever seen on The Point.”
Perhaps this is why when I wrote about Ruth’s appearance two decades ago and noted he didn’t hit a home run, an angry older gentleman called to inform me how wrong a then-much-younger writer was.
The caller made his point with a great deal of passion, almost fury.
Another person wrote a detailed Reader’s Forum letter bashing the notion that the Babe didn’t homer during the game.
The writer said he was there and saw Ruth launch the ball over the fence.
How could the Babe not go deep at the Point, right?
Such friendly disagreements are part of what makes the game of baseball so great.
Ninety years have passed, and the Babe’s trip to Johnstown still is newsworthy.
Information from: The Tribune-Democrat, http://www.tribune-democrat.com