(“Along the Heritage Trail with Tom Castaldi” – August 2015, No. 127)
Among the highlights of the 1927 baseball season in
was an exhibition game played at by the New York
Yankees against the Lincoln Lifers. Blake Sebring in his Fort Wayne Sports History wrote that the Yankees who were in first
place had stopped off in League
Park Fort Wayne
on their way to take on Chicago.
Now at what is
between Calhoun and Clinton streets, Headwaters Park had erected a wooden
structure in 1883. Rebuilt several
times, the place received a major overhaul in 1908 with new grandstands and a grass
infield. After the damage caused by the great
flood of 1913, additional restoration was required. It was readied as a host
park for semi-pro Central League teams including the Lifers when they moved up
to a minor league status. Bob Parker writing in, Batter Up: Fort Wayne’s Baseball History, mentions the “Chiefs” as another
local team that went up to become a St. Louis Cardinal farm team. League
October 26, 1926, Babe Ruth had come to town on a personal
visit. After putting on a show during
batting practice, he joined the Lincoln Lifers’ squad in a game against a very
good Kips team. Ruth proceeded to put on
a demonstration by playing every position except catcher. He topped the game off by hitting two balls
out of the park. The
Lifers won 11 to 1.
Returning to the Lifers-Yankee exhibition game of
May 6, 1927
the regulation nine innings was played.
The Lifers held the Yankees to a 3 – 3 tie in the tenth, with two out
and a runner on first when “The Sultan of Swat,” another of Ruth’s appellations
came to the plate. He took two strikes
and then in classic style belted the next pitch over the center field wall landing
on the roof of one of the city utility barns across Clinton Street.
The stands emptied as The Babe was mobbed by adoring fans. A newspaper illustration appeared of Ruth blasting a mighty tenth inning home run enabling the New York Yankees to defeat the Lincoln Life team 5 to 3. It has been said that the Babe often referred to that blow as possibly the hardest hit ball of his career.
Later that year on
September 30, 1927, facing St. Louis Browns’
pitcher Zack Walton, Babe stood waiting in the batter’s box on a ball he
liked. When it came, it was in the
eighth inning and a two-run, game-winning, record-setting homer which marked
Ruth’s 60th of the season. It was a record that stood for thirty-four
years from 1927 to 1961. Baseball historian Don Graham, however, has made the
observation that in 1961 “Ruth hit his 60 home runs in a 154 game regular
season schedule. Roger Maris hit his 61 in a 162 regular season schedule. It
took every one of those 162 games to hit both number 60 and 61. Maris ‘set’ a record,
but did not ‘break’ a record.”
John Ankenbruck wrote that after citing the official long hits by Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle and others, one sportswriter declared that, Ruth hit a longer one in
Wayne, according to the Bambino’s version. He was on a barn storming tour after the 1927
season and played a game at on League
Park North Clinton Street.
Ruth belted a ball over the left-centerfield fence and claimed that the ball
landed in a freight car which was passing the park at the time. Local baseball historians are quick to note
that if true the ball would have had to clear the fence then make a right
angle, travel another six hundred feet to land on the railroad tracks.
Even so, 1927 was a memorial year for baseball and stamped with the name of George Herman Ruth, the “Babe,” the “Bambino,” “the Sultan of Swat.” It was a year to remember baseball in
Fort Wayne and Babe Ruth
was on hand to help to make it more than just a big hit.
Allen County Historian Tom Castaldi is author of the Wabash & Erie Canal Notebook series; hosts “On the Heritage Trail,” which is broadcast. Mondays on WBOI, 89.1 FM; and “Historia Nostra” heard on Redeemer Radio.
106.3 FM and South Bend 95.7
FM. Enjoy his previously published
columns on the Ft. Wayne ’s blog, “Our
Stories,” at history centerfw.blogspot.com. History