Baseball, Ruth vs Gehrig

Considered by many to have been the best baseball team ever fielded, the 1927 New York Yankees featured a “Murderer’s Row” of batters including Babe Ruth (this was his 60th home run season), Lou Gehrig (47 homers), Earle Combs, and Tony Lazzeri. Just a week after celebrating their world series sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Ruth and Gehrig appeared in Omaha as members of opposing local teams, Ruth for the Brown Park Merchants and Gehrig in the uniform of the Omaha Prints.

The local teams were the finalists for amateur city champion, and their teams played to a 1-1 tie before darkness halted their contest after the tenth inning. Prior to that game, the exhibition featuring Ruth and Gehrig was a crowd pleaser for the 4,500 fans in attendance. As the Omaha World-Herald of October 17, 1927, reported, the crowd witnessed heroics by both Yankee stars. Although the reporter was unhappy that the issue of city champion was yet unresolved, he felt:

Full value was given in the opening game, featuring Ruth with the Brown Parks and Gehrig with the Prints. Both started at first base and both later took the mound.

Gehrig couldn’t get the range, partly because the hurlers were having difficulty in putting the ball over the platter, but he did lace out a triple to deep center field and a questionable single in and out of the Babe’s mitt.

However, Ruth upheld the honor of the fence-busters by golfing one over the center field fence in the fourth inning with none on, and then by lashing one over the right field palisades with two riding the sacks. The latter clout cinched the victory, 9 to 5, for the Brown Parks and also brought Gehrig into the box.

Gehrig Fans Bambino

Lou was nicked for one run on doubles by Pezdirtz and Matulka in the eighth frame, hit a batsman, walked one and struck out two. One of the whiff victims was the mighty Babe himself, and Gehrig set the stage of purposely passing Hunter to load the bases as the Bambino came up. Several times Ruth fouled Lou’s offerings and then 

slithered through the air with a mighty final swing. Whether it was horseplay or not, Gehrig was applauded roundly for his feat.

Ruth, who broke into the big time as a pitcher and who still holds some sort of record for hurling in the world series, clowned while he was in the box but still prevented any scoring. He was in trouble when he first took the mound when Vachel singled and Guinnotte doubled, but Babe calmly whiffed three men to retire the side.

A notable feature was the zest and spirit with which the two Yankee stars entered the contest, side by side with the amateurs, several of whom showed signs of nervousness and stage fright at appearing in the same lineup with the big boys. The batting behemoths kept up a lively chatter throughout the game, encouraging the hurlers and keeping up the pep of the contest.

Today’s fans might be amazed that Ruth and Gehrig played exhibition baseball with and against amateurs because of the risk of injury, but in those days professional baseball players joined and formed barnstorming teams to supplement their incomes in the off-season. Later Ruth fronted the “Bustin’ Babes” and Gehrig led the “Larroupin’ Lous” on a barnstorming tour, which added to both their legions of fans and to their own pocketbooks.

(November 1997)

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