It’s World Series time. Of all the World Series heroes, none are greater than Babe Ruth who called his own shot against the Cubs in the 1932 World Series in one of baseball’s most iconic moments.
Although Rochester did not have a major league team, Rochester fans were able to watch the Bambino six times: four times in 1914 when Ruth played for Baltimore and Providence in the International League, in 1920 on a barnstorming tour and in 1921 when the Yankees played Rochester in an exhibition.
This survey is indebted to the work by local sports historian Bill Flynn who researched Ruth’s 1914 season and to Monroe County Library Assistant Dr. Emily Morry who wrote on the 1921 game for Local History ROCs!.
Ruth first played in Rochester on May 20th, 1914 as a member of the Baltimore Orioles. Already Ruth’s reputation was growing as the Democrat and Chronicle noted, “the Baltimore southpaw youngster had created something of a sensation in the Maryland city.” However, Ruth did not have a good day, lasting only 2 1/3 innings: “The Hustlers took a couple of innings to feel out Ruth but when they did make acquaintance with the Baltimore southpaw they laid their weight into him.” In his only at bat, Ruth grounded into a fielder’s choice as the runner on third was thrown out at the plate.
While Ruth was mainly known for his pitching, he was also gaining notice as a hitter. In the next days’ game, Ruth was used as a pinch hitter in the 9th inning. With runners on second and third, he hit a grounder to the short stop who threw home, but the catcher Williams failed to tag Hall. Ruth would later score on a double. At that time, box scores did not list runs batted in, but Ruth would have been awarded an RBI as the box score did not list any errors for Williams. So Ruth was 0 – 1 (fielder’s choice) with 1 run and 1 RBI.
Two days later, Ruth was again used as a pinch hitter, striking out in the ninth.
Ruth’s next and final 1914 game in Rochester was as a member of the Providence Grays after the Orioles sold Ruth to the Grays’ parent club, the Boston Red Sox. Ruth was dominant in the second game of a doubleheader, giving up one run in a complete game outing. At the plate, he was one for three with a single and a run scored. The losses allowed Providence to overtake Rochester in the pennant race.
As mentioned, in a 2009 column, Bob Matthews reviewed Bill Flynn’s research on Ruth’s 1914 season:
Ruth’s next appearance was in 1920 during a barnstorming tour following the World Series. Ruth hit an astounding 54 home runs that season and was now a national sensation. The game attracted 4,500 spectators, motion picture men and amateur photographers eager to see the King of Swat.
The highlight of the game was Ruth’s long home run over the left field fence in the ninth inning, a feat never before accomplished. According to the Democrat and Chronicle:
His [Ruth’s] drive over the score board, which marked the first time a batted ball had been lifted over this barricade seemed easy — that is, the way Ruth did the trick.
The excited crowd swarmed the field making further play impossible.
At the same time, Ruth’s wallop was perhaps problematic. Ruth had not hit a long ball in his previous at bats. The crowd was clamoring for a homer, so the opposing team walked three consecutive batters to give Ruth one more chance. Possibly the pitcher offered Ruth an easy ball to hit.
The game included a historical coincidence. According to Kal Wagenheim in Babe Ruth: His Life and Legend (1974), Franklin Delano Roosevelt was in Rochester the same day campaigning for Vice President. As FDR arrived at the train station, police had to escort him and his group through a large crowd that spilled out to the streets behind the station. At his hotel was another mob, but one seemingly indifferent to Roosevelt’s arrival.
As his campaign was losing, Roosevelt was please by such an unexpectedly large turnout. One of the local Democrats dampened FDR’s enthusiasm: “I hate to discourage you, sir, but the crowd didn’t turn out for your speech. Babe Ruth and his barnstormers are expected in shortly to play a ball game here.” See FDR’s first visit to Rochester as a national candidate
Ruth’s next and final game was a year later when the New York Yankees played an exhibition game against Rochester on July 7th, 1921. Here I turn to Emily Morry’s July 2016 article published in Local History ROCs!. I added the first photo and the newspaper clippings.
— Emily Morry
Exactly 95 years ago this month, local baseball fans were treated to an appearance by the legendary “Sultan of Swat,” Babe Ruth.
The former Red Sox outfielder had been traded to the New York Yankees the previous year and was already proving well worth his $125,000 purchase price. On July 5th, 1921 just two days before his visit to Rochester, Ruth scored his 31st home run of the season.
This achievement only further mounted anticipation among locals for the impending Yankees’ exhibition game versus the International League’s Rochester Club on July 7th.
“No exhibition game arranged for Rochester in years — if ever before — has attracted the attention and aroused the enthusiasm of the one with the New York club, for everybody wants to get a glimpse of “Babe” Ruth,” the Democrat & Chronicle noted.
Fans not only wanted to see Ruth, they wanted to witness one of his patented homers. The Rochester Club’s manager, George Stallings, made it clear, however, that the Rochester Club would in no way assist the Yankee achieve this feat.
He informed reporters, “I shall instruct my pitchers to pitch to Ruth as hard as to any other batsman. Then, if he does drive one over the fence, the fans may be sure that it is something more than an empty honor…The fans want to see him hit. Nevertheless my pitchers will not aid or abet him in any way to adding to the home runs he has made. If the ‘Babe’ makes a home run it will be in spite of, rather than because of the pitching he gets.”
Nearly 6,000 eager sports fans descended upon the Bay Street ball yard for the exhibition game on July 7th, 1921.
Requests for advance tickets had poured in from every town and city in Western New York.
Although excitement surrounding the match-up had reached fever pitch by the one o’clock start time, the game itself proved fairly mundane.
The Great Bambino’s less than great performance garnered some cutting criticism from the Rochester club’s fan base. Reporters on the scene noted that “the crowd apparently went out to the Bay street yard to razz him, for the “Babe” came in for some especially hard calls from the fans.”
And although many fans had hoped to see a Babe Ruth home run, there was in fact much joy in Rochester(ville) when the mighty Bambino struck out.
The Rochester club ultimately defeated Ruth and the New York Yankees, 4-2.