Though my Babe Ruth book’s a novel — as in FICTION — one of the fun consequences of writing about the Babe has come when people share with me their Babe memorabilia. Because the Babe was way more than just a great ballplayer. He was and remains a huge cultural figure. I offer a couple of exhibits.
At the semi-famous Dan Moldea Writers’ Dinner this week night (we writers have to dine together because few others want to eat with us), none other than Mr. Moldea, who you know as the relentless pursuer of the Jimmy Hoffa killer and other mysterious evildoers, shared with me some souvenir baseball cards he acquired . . . sometime or other. They’re not from Ruth’s era, but they have some great photos of the Babe.
Start with the Babe’s marriage to 16-year-old Helen Woodford, his waitress at a Boston restaurant when he was a rookie with the Boston Red Sox in 1914.
Is that a charming picture, or what? It’s so easy to forget the young Babe, the one who captured the heart of the nation (and is featured in my novel).
Then Dan’s treasure trove yields up an image of Babe from 1919, the first year he played the outfield fulltime for the Boston Red Sox and led the league in homers with 29, hit .322, and drove in 113 runs.
Oh, yeah, he also kept pitching that season when the Bostons needed him to. In 1919, he pitched 133 inning, racking up a 9-5 record with an earned run average of 2.97.
Be honest: you might not even have recognized him in that image, right? He looks so young and slender, so full of promise. Of course, the camera doesn’t reveal how much he made himself a pain in the neck to the Red Sox so they’d send him to another team, the heretofore no-account New York Yankees, until then a perennial also-ran in the American League.
Babe changed the Yankees forever, leading them into two World Series in 1921 (a centerpiece of my novel) and 1922 (after the novel ends). Babe performed heroically in that first series as a Yankee. In the second one, though, the Babe came up small, hitting an anemic .118 with no home runs.
He spent the next winter at the farm he and Helen owned in Massachusetts, using farm chores to get into great physical condition. That process is commemorated in the final photo from the Moldea trove, a dinner in New York honoring the Babe and his putative workout partner, a model of a cow.
How did the bovine workouts turn out? Babe returned to form in the 1923 season, batting an amazing .393, blasting 41 homers and driving in 130 runs.
My final bit of Babe-orabilia came from baseball savant Paul Dickson, who found this cookie jar . . . somewhere or other. Outstanding, eh?