Barnstormin' with the Babe
By R. A. Cabral
The following is an excerpt from Cabral’s novel “Barnstormin’ with the Babe,” an unpublished sequel to his first novel, “The Pitch.”
In the fall of 1927, America was buzzing over Ruth’s record-setting sixty home run performance and the Yankees’ four-game sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1927 World Series. Yankee teammate Lou Gehrig had challenged Ruth throughout the season, finishing with 47 home runs. The Ruth and Gehrig tandem offered one of the most popular attractions of that era, rivaling aviation hero Charles Lindbergh, who crossed the Atlantic by air earlier that spring.
Christy Walsh, Ruth’s agent and business manager, wisely capitalized by organizing “The Bustin’ Babes and The Larrupin’ Lous” tour that stretched from Providence, Rhode Island to San Diego, California, with some 21 contests in between. Walsh cleverly rekindled the Yankee home run rivalry by offering a “Copper Cup” trophy to the one with the most home runs at the tour’s end. Crowds had been filing in droves into the ball parks to catch a glimpse of the “Spanking Yankees,” “Thumpin’ Twins,” “Mighty Swatsmen” and the penultimate title ladled out by the adoring sportswriters: “King Ruth and Crown Prince of Swatonia.”
By the time the tour had departed Denver, where Ruth’s Piggly Wiggly scored 15 to Lou’s Denver Buick’s 8, Babe was leading in the Copper Cup trophy competition 13-4. Both Yankees were knocking the ball all over the park. The train had descended from the Sierra Nevada Mountain range and came roaring into the Central Valley on its way to Oakland. Waiting in Sacramento to join the tour was San Francisco Examiner sportswriter Abe Kemp. Walsh had granted Kemp a ride-along interview with Babe and Lou on the way to the Bay Area.
Walsh opened the door to the private room and escorted Kemp into the room. Babe was semi-reclining on the divan smoking a cigar, while Lou was sitting down reading the paper. Ruth wore light tan pants and cocoa-colored silk stockings with raisin brown patent leather shoes. Gehrig had on a seersucker powder blue suit, and appeared cooler by contrast. Both athletes had dispensed with their jackets, while Ruth’s shirt collar was unbuttoned and his tie loosened.
“Good to meet you boys,” Kemp said.
“Sit down. Make yourself comfortable,” Walsh said, gesturing to the empty chair next to Gehrig, who was folding the front section of the Sacramento newspaper.
“See you’re readin’ the competition, there,” Kemp said gamely.
“Aw, well, we ain’t hit town yet.” Lou smiled, cheeks dimpling at their deepest, his autumn bronze face set off by the stark white shirt. “When we pull into ‘Frisco, you can bet we’ll pick up the Examiner.”
Walsh winced almost imperceptibly at the faux pax. He knew, however, the reporter would overlook Gehrig’s hick reference to “‘Frisco.” Ruth was an experienced barnstormer, but this was the first time for the 24-year-old Gehrig, the rising star of the Yankees and the American League’s Most Valuable Player in 1927. The tour represented more than baseball exhibitions. It marked a “coming out” for Gehrig, who until that time had never ventured beyond the Mississippi. Half the country was getting its first look at baseball’s new iconic hero, and the people liked what they saw.
“You figure, we gonna draw big crowds this time around?” Ruth asked the reporter. He winked at Walsh, who was leaning against the wall.
“Aw, you guys’ll be whammo,” Kemp said. “Rec Park’s gonna be packed, you watch.”
“Rec Park?” Gehrig wondered.
“Yeah, that’s where the Seals play. They’re the Pacific Coast League team,” Babe informed his touring partner. Ruth straightened up on the divan. “Say, they didn’t’ move those fences back, did they?”
“No. They’re in the same place when you were last here—1925, right?”
Babe turned to Lou. “You’re gonna love it—right field’s closer than Yankee Stadium. We’ll be blastin’ balls all over the lot.” Gehrig smiled at the thought of increasing his total in the Copper Cup competition.
“Speaking of blastin’ them balls, you boys just completed the best year ever for hitting home runs. Tell me, what’s the secret?”
Ruth pulled out his cigar and used it to gesture at the reporter. “Well, a lot of it is in the eye.”
“And the swing,” Gehrig added.
“You must have good eyes, then,” Kemp said with a smile.
“Sure,” admitted Ruth, “but a lot of times, I never even see the ball.” The writer stared, incredulous. “That’s right, look at me funny, but I tell ya, lots of times when I sense the ball is coming in a certain place, I just close my eyes and swing.”
Read more at ThePitchBook.com.