Ruth's heaven-sent message is one of good luck for tenants of old home

John Steadman

April 03, 1992|By John Steadman

Dialing George Herman Ruth in heaven was a pursuit born of fantasy. Amazing that he answered the call. How the heck ya been, Babe?

"Fine, I was just out taking batting practice. My hands are a little tender."

What do you think about the new ballpark in your own hometown?

L "I wish them a lot of success. Baltimore deserves the best."

Are you aware they built it where you once lived?

"Yeah, I heard that. I hope everything those Orioles hit this year turns into base hits."

Where was your house located?

"My father had a saloon and we lived upstairs. It was at 408 West Conway St., a neighborhood made up of a lot of immigrants. Our old place of business is about where short centerfield is. We had some great times back then before dad sent me to St. Mary's Industrial School."

Your sister, Mamie, told us you got in a lot of street fights because kids taunted you about "having the name of a sissy," Ruth. Is that right?

"If Mamie told you, it's right. I would belt those boys when they hollered I had a girl's name. I blackened a few eyes and sent them home crying. Their mothers would always come complaining to my mother."

Did you run through the aisles of Lexington Market kicking over baskets of vegetables?

"Yeah, I guess you have been talking to Mamie. Kids didn't have much to do back then. So we'd kick over some apples or peaches and run the hell out of the place down Eutaw Street with the stall-owners in hot pursuit. That was a lot of fun. Compared to what's going on today I would probably get a good conduct medal."

How did you feel about the role Baltimore played in your life?

"Look, without the Orioles and Jack Dunn I never would have gotten into baseball. They signed me on the recommendation of the Xaverian brothers who taught at St. Mary's. I remember Mount St. Joseph's College, where all the ritzy kids went. We beat their ears off in baseball."

What do you think of all the money the modern players are making?

"More power to 'em. They make the game. I remember the contract battles I had with Jake Ruppert, owner of the New York Yankees. He wouldn't pay a dime to see a monkey ride a bicycle from Glen Burnie to Ellicott City. I got a lot of laughs the year I wanted $80,000 or was it $90,000? That's when they told me I asked more than President Herbert Hoover and I answered that was true but I had a better year than Hoover."

L You once met the current president, George Bush, didn't you?

"Yeah, it was up at Yale. They invited me to be there and he was a first baseman and captain of the team. We had our picture taken together. Let me tell you, he could handle the glove. Great hands and looked the part of a ballplayer."

Who was your favorite politician?

"I was always an Al Smith man. My pal, Tony Lazzeri, and I campaigned for him in 1928."

What do you think of William Donald Schaefer?

"Never heard of him. What league did he play in?"

Did you know Schaefer was opposed to naming the new park in your honor?

"Yeah, my friend Rodger Pippen, who was on the News when I broke in as an Oriole in 1914, told me that. It would have been nice. When they put the name Camden Yards on it you're naming it for a Britisher who never set foot in America and wouldn't know a resin bag from a wicket."

There was considerable support because your name would have brought Baltimore a lot of attention. Do you realize Jim Palmer, Jon Miller, Jim McKay and Larry King endorsed the idea?

"Yep. And so did a lot of people who understand baseball. Men like Roland Hemond, Ernie Harwell, Dave Anderson of the New York Times, Tom Callahan of the Washington Post, Bob Molinaro of the Virginia-Pilot, Bob Broeg of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Lou Sleater, Lou Grasmick and a lot of others. That fellow Gil Dunn gave it a lot of backing, too."

Any messages for Baltimore?

"Not really. Just tell 'em to look up in the sky on Monday and have a beer on me."

What are you going to be doing now?

"Have a peaceful drink and play golf with Ty Cobb, Moe Berg and Lefty Gomez."

With that the Babe excused himself. How difficult was it to reach him? All it required was the proper area code.

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