The Bambino’s big show at Forbes Field

During one of those blustery, so-called “spring” days last week, we decided to cheer ourselves by exploring a few of our old baseball files. We started with a folder labeled “Ruth, Babe.” Inside were two fading images made during the Bambino’s historic visit to Pittsburgh in 1935.

At the time, Ruth was nearing the end of his career. He was 40 years old, overweight and playing for the Boston Braves, one of the league’s worst teams. It’s strange to see pictures of Ruth wearing something other than Yankee pinstripes.

But he was still the Babe, and he knew how to put on a show. He did it twice during his swing through Pittsburgh, giving performances that were at once unexpected and memorable.

The first show is legendary: In one game at Forbes Field on May 25, he blasted three home runs over the old stadium’s right field wall. Ruth sent one ball into the lower deck, one into the upper deck and, incredibly, one over the stadium’s 86-foot roof. The last homer was a monster. Some estimate the ball traveled more than 600 feet, and we’ve heard stories that boys chased the ball as it bounced down Jonciare street. It’s a beautiful scene to imagine.

Babe’s second show is less famous, but still impressive. It was witnessed not at Forbes Field, but at the old Schenley Hotel, which we now know as the William Pitt Union. The night before he hit his final home runs, Ruth attended a banquet honoring Rabbit Maranville, who’d played for the Pirates in the early 1920s and, like Babe, was wrapping up his career with the Braves. Babe was one of the featured speakers and he delivered “what many believed was the best address they’d ever heard,” according to a report by the Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph.

Babe stepped up to the microphone and began talking about Rabbit, who was quite a character. He was a shortstop who stood 5-feet, 5-inches tall and was known as one of the game’s best and most brutal practical jokers.

After a few minutes, though, Babe started exhorting youngsters to take up baseball as a way of staying out of trouble. That’s when things got interesting. Suddenly, the Babe began to tear up, then he was speechless. Soon he was bawling.  “He began to grab at things in an attempt to overcome the emotions that overwhelmed him,” read the Sun-Telegraph, “but the tears could not be stopped.”

Maranville, sitting nearby, tugged at the Babe’s trousers in an attempt to shake him out of his crying fit, but it didn’t work. The Sultan of Swat was beside himself.

Ruth finally got a grip. He “uttered a few offensive oaths as if to relieve his feelings,” then the crowd rose to its feet and gave the Bambino an ovation. As if on cue, the band struck up a tune.

Ruth woke up the next morning, walked over to Forbes Field and made history. Five days later, he retired from the game.

PG sportswriter Bob Dvorchak examines Ruth’s visit to Pittsburgh in this week’s episode of “Sports ‘n ‘at.”

Steve, a writer and photographer at the Post-Gazette, has lived and worked in Pittsburgh so long that some of his images appear on "The Digs."

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