Thursday, November 17, 2016

A deserved re-post of "Babe Ruth in Deadwood"

Babe Ruth excited Deadwood fans
...but local reporter was unimpressed

by Larry Miller
Babe Ruth played in Deadwood in 1922
The 1920’s hadn’t quite begun to “roar” yet, and the devastating dust bowl of the 1930’s was still a decade away.  Baseball had become the national pastime, and for residents of the northern Black Hills, it didn’t get any better than a fall day in 1922 when the legendary Babe Ruth came to Deadwood as part of a nationwide “barnstorming” tour with Yankee teammate Bob Meusel.
Although Ruth had begun to ascend as a baseball star by 1921, it was an unusual season — his second year with the New York Yankees, and he blasted 59 home runs that season, helping the Yankees to win the American League pennant and face cross-town rival the New York Giants in the World Series.  Ruth was injured in the second game of the series, however, hampering his performance for the remaining games.  The Giants won the series.
It wasn’t long before Ruth was on the road in a “barnstorming” tour, which was a violation of the rules for world series players.  Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis suspended Ruth for the first six weeks of the 1922 season.  Although he batted .315 that short season, it was rather a disappointing one for the Babe.  It ended with yet another lost world series – again to the New York Giants.
The Deadwood Daily Pioneer-Times
printed this image of Mrs. Ruth, who
apparently was not with "the Babe."
We don’t know if Ruth was suspended for his 1922 encore barnstorming tour, but he surely delighted folks in western South Dakota when he and Meusel appeared for the seventh in a series of exhibition games across the west one day in late October.  He and Meusel journeyed by train from Sioux City, Iowa, to Norfolk, Nebraska, and then on to Sturgis.  There, they were greeted by an entourage of Deadwood businessmen who drove the big leaguers by automobile over the “Boulder Park Highway” to Deadwood.
The Deadwood Daily Pioneer-Times, in its October 19, 1922 edition, reported their arrival in great detail.  “In honor of the event, practically all of the Deadwood business houses will be closed, most of the Black Hills will declare a holiday; the local schools and the Spearfish Normal will be closed this afternoon, and a general holiday will be in effect during the time of the game this afternoon between the hours of 2 to 4 o’clock.”  Ruth and Meusel were “entertained at a luncheon” and then transported to the Amusement Park for the game.
An advertisement in the paper encouraged readers to “See Babe Ruth and Bob Meusel, American League World Series Stars, hit a home run in an exhibition baseball game at Deadwood Amusement Park today.”  Ruth was selected to play with the Deadwood team, which had just won the 1922 Black Hills League championship, while Meusel played for the Black Hills All-Stars, a group of players from the other five teams in the league, Lead, Spearfish, Sturgis, Rapid City, and Aladdin. Both Ruth and Meusel would play first base.  By all accounts, it was a good game, but the big league sluggers provided no home runs.  
The newspaper reporter who covered the event seemed not terribly impressed by the two Yankees.  “The high altitude or the background may have affected the sluggers.  At any rate, those who saw  yesterday’s contest saw nothing that should cause thirty-five thousand New York fans to stand in line from daylight in the morning until two o’clock in the afternoon to secure a ticket, permitting them to see these fellows perform,” he wrote.  Meusel was an unimpressive one for four at the plate for the day, while Ruth was two for three.  But it was the bottom of the seventh inning that seemed to especially delight the reporter.
Teammates Bob Meusel, Lou Gehrig and
Babe Ruth pose for this undated photograph.
It seemed that he (Ruth) really did try this time to knock one over the mountain, but the balls had a tendency to cross the mountain at his rear instead of traveling toward the outfield hillside.  Here it was that the fans, realizing that this would probably be his last time at bat, were in a state of great expectancy.  The big “Bam” gripped his 48 ounce bat with a firm grip and prepared to do things.  After two balls had been called, he fouled one and then let the third ball pass him.  On the next one, he slashed mightily at the crack of his bat as it met the white horsehide sphere, resounding throughout the park but the ball went for a foul, number two.  Six more fouls followed in quick succession, some of them going over the grandstand, some of them into the grandstand, and some of them out over the line of cars, but none over the outfield fence or even close to it.  Finally after sending eight foul balls into the air, causing a happy uprising of merry yells which died out almost as quickly as they arose, he managed to hit a Texas-leaguer over second base for a trip to the second sack where he was left when the side was retired.”
Ruth and the Deadwood team prevailed over Meusel and the All-Stars, 4-2.  And while there were no dramatic homeruns by anyone, everyone seemed to have a good time.  The Pioneer-Times writer finally offered that “…It may be that the local pitchers, Gorum and Gill for the Deadwood team and Meade and Hedje for the All-Stars are not as back-woods in their ball playing as might be supposed by two star homerun hitters who have played before audiences 34 or 40 times as large as the one yesterday.”
After the game, Ruth and Meusel boarded the Northwestern passenger train headed south to Scottsbluff, Nebraska, for yet another exhibition game – and no doubt more thrills for local fans.  Maybe even a home run for the Babe, which he was denied in Deadwood that fateful day in 1922.