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Mudville: June 22, 2024 4:34 am PDT

Bambino Begins

On July 11, 1914, Babe Ruth got off the train that brought him to Boston from Baltimore at around 10 am. He and a teammate from the minor leagues walked to the Landers Coffee Shop, where Ruth gave an order of ham and eggs to a waitress named Helen, who was to become his first wife, although a few accounts dispute this happening on the day Ruth arrived in town.

Ruth had been a star pitcher with the Baltimore Orioles of the International League, but the team’s owner, Jack Dunn, was having financial problems, possibly because of the Baltimore franchise of the newly founded (and short-lived) Federal League.

Dunn sold Ruth and two other players to the Boston Red Sox for $25,000. In his biography of Ruth, “The Big Bam”, author Leigh Montville wrote how later reports put the figure at $12,000 and even $8,000.

Departing the train from Baltimore, Ruth and the two other players went to Fenway Park and the offices of the Red Sox. Ruth and the others signed their contracts and were taken to the locker room to be fitted for uniforms, and then to the field to be photographed. Ruth was informed he’d be starting that afternoon’s game against the Cleveland Naps in which he pitched seven innings and won the game 4-3. He gave up three runs on eight hits, striking out one batter and walking none and was relieved by Hubert “Dutch” Leonard, who picked up his first save of the season. Ruth went 0 for 2 at the plate with a strikeout. He pitched in four games in 1914 for the Red Sox, winning two and losing one with an ERA of 3.91.

The Red Sox had an established starting rotation, and Ruth pitched sparingly, so sparingly that when the team acquired a minor league club in Providence, they sent Ruth there so he could pitch on a regular basis.

UNDATED: Pitcher Babe Ruth of the Boston Red Sox practices his delivery circa 1914. Babe Ruth played for the Boston Red Sox from 1914-1919. (Photo by National Baseball Hall of Fame Library/MLB via Getty Images)

He was recalled after Ruth helped the Providence team win the International League, and on October 2 he faced the Yankees, winning a complete game 11-5. He also had his first major league hit – a double – in that game.

Ruth became a regular starter for Boston in 1915: he won 18 games that season, the following year he made 41 starts, had a record of 23-12 with an ERA of 1.75. In 1917 he started 38 games, had a record of 24-13 and an era of 2.01.

When he joined the Red Sox in 1914, Ruth was playing for his third team that year.

It all started, of course, at St. Mary’s Industrial School in his hometown, where Ruth had lived and played ball since his father put him there when he was seven years old.

Baseball was the National Pastime and everybody played it, and everybody watched it. Even a teenager at a school for poor children who had a good arm could get noticed by baseball professionals.

At the recommendation of a Brother at another school, Dunn went to St. Mary’s to see this “kid.” Dunn saw the left-handed Ruth play catcher that day, which he played deftly. He made accurate throws to second base on attempted steals. Afterwards, Dunn, so the story goes, told Ruth he would sign him to a contract to play for the Orioles. His salary would be $250 a month, which is $250 more than he’d ever seen, spent or saved. He’d never been his own or responsible for himself. From years living a Spartan existence at the school, he discovered there was a world of sumptuous foods, liquor and women, which he indulged in for most of the rest of his life.

Ruth was an immediate sensation. But Dunn, a former major league player, saw his bottom line affected by a Baltimore franchise in the newly founded (but short-lived) Federal League. He had staked all his money to buy the team, and it was losing money. With few options available, he sold off his best players to keep the team afloat.

On July 4, Dunn met with Red Sox owner Joe Lannin at a Washington, D.C. hotel and hammered out a deal. Lannin acquired Ruth and two other players for $25,000 (other reports had it for half and a third of that amount).

Ruth didn’t want to leave. Baltimore was all he knew. He even continued to play for St. Mary’s when he wasn’t playing for the Orioles.

But business was business. Ruth and the other two players boarded a train to Boston.

Twenty-one years later, Ruth’s career ended with the other Boston club, the Braves.

By 1935, Ruth’s age and sybaritic lifestyle had caught up with him. The Yankees released him after the 1934 season. Offers were few, the best coming from Judge Emil Fuchs, owner of the Braves, who offered Ruth a salary of $25,000, a vice presidency, the option to buy team stock and, probably most important for Ruth, a chance to eventually manage the club.

It was all a sham, according to Ruth. All he did as vice president was sign autographs and appear in public. The stock options were worthless, as the club was broke. And the possibility of becoming manager was a fantasy.

But Ruth gamely went on, and on May 25, against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Forbes Field he hit three home runs, including his final one, number 714. One writer described the first two as “ordinary,” as they landed in the rightfield seats. The third one, however, left the stadium, clearing an 80-foot wall.

In the trainer’s room, Ruth told an employee, “That (last) one felt good.” It was the final hit of his career.

UNDATED: Babe Ruth of the Boston Red Sox watches the flight of the ball as he follows through on a swing during a game. Babe Ruth played for the Boston Red Sox from 1914-1919. (Photo by National Baseball Hall of Fame Library/MLB via Getty Images)<br />

That should have been the game to go out on. Many people, including his second wife, agreed, and Ruth had gone to Fuchs and asked to be placed on the voluntarily retired list. But the judge said advance tickets to exhibitions and games were already sold. Ruth said would play until a doubleheader in Philadelphia on Memorial Day against the Phillies at the city’s Baker Bowl, where, as author Jane Leavy pointed out in her book “The Big Fella”, he had appeared in his first World Series twenty years earlier.

In the first game that day, Ruth came to bat with one out in the first inning. He grounded out to the first baseman, headed to the dugout, took himself out of the game, and called it quits. His stats for his final year were six home runs, 12 RBIs and a .181 average. Three years later, he was in the first class of inductees to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Ruth had come a long way from that day in 1914 when he signed with the Red Sox. He and Helen divorced (she later tragically died in a fire), and after he was sold to the Yankees there was the infamous “Curse of the Bambino” as the Red Sox failed to win a World Series for eight decades. His record for most home runs in a season was surpassed by Roger Maris in 1961, and his career homerun total was eclipsed by Henry Aaron in 1974 (although some people might argue Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds passed those records, too). But he became bigger than life while alive and a legend since his passing.

I wonder, though, if on that July day when he broke into the major leagues, he tipped Helen when he paid his bill at the cafe.

Jon Caroulis has been writing about baseball for more than 20 years. Many of his articles have been about "unusual" events or players. He is a graduate of Temple University.

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