Babe ranks at head of the Hofstra class

April 26, 1995|By JOHN STEADMAN

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. -- Studious and concerted attention is about to be focused on America's most illustrious sports hero, the kid who came out of an industrial school in Baltimore and, starting his career with 11 cents in his pocket, rode to heights of incomparable achievement by swinging a baseball bat.

Now Hofstra University offers additional evidence to his importance with a symposium on Babe Ruth that is scheduled for the next three days. The panel includes the mayors of two major cities, 51 college professors from all parts of the country and a varied assemblage of baseball authors, biographers and historians.

Ruth will be studied from virtually every aspect in a probing discussion of his ability and personality and the resulting impact he made on the nation.

In the past, Hofstra's cultural center has reviewed and scrutinized the lives and careers of such diverse historic figures as Albert Einstein, Walt Whitman, Johann Sebastian Bach, Lord Byron and His Contemporaries, Vincent Van Gogh, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, James Joyce, Peter Tchaikovsky.

And now Babe Ruth. Oh, yes, nine former U.S. presidents also have been included in the roster of previous conferences held at Hofstra.

"We're doing it because of the perpetual interest in Ruth, the man and athlete," explained Dr. Eric J. Schmertz, the conference director and distinguished professor in the Hofstra University School of Law. "He had a persona that truly makes him a unique American."

Such subjects that will be dealt with include "Babe Ruth and the Politics of Greatness: A Critique of Sabermetric Assumptions" by professors Leonard Cassuto of Fordham University and Dave Grant of the University of Colorado; "Myth and Manhood: Ruth, DiMaggio and American Baseball" by Dr. Michael Riccards, president of Shepherd College; "Escapism Within a Closed Frontier: Babe Ruth, Baseball and the American Spectator in the Jazz Age," by Dr. Sarah-Jane Corke of the University of New Brunswick.

Mayor Kurt Schmoke of Baltimore and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani of New York, plus Mel Allen, longtime broadcaster, will offer the keynote speeches, after internationally renowned baritone Robert Merrill sings the national anthem. Members of the Ruth family will be there and so will four former players who faced him in the major leagues, namely Elden Auker, Ray Hayworth, Jo-Jo Moore and Billy Rogell.

Three members of the Baseball Hall of Fame -- Ralph Kiner, Robin Roberts and Enos "Country" Slaughter -- will reflect on what Ruth meant to baseball. John "Buck" O'Neil, a former standout in the Negro Leagues, will talk of Ruth's presence in exhibition games against black teams and recollections of his hitting home runs in spring training.

"Babe Ruth in Music, Art and Vaudeville" will be addressed by Dr. Richard Miller of Brooklyn College; "The Babe In Film" by Dr. Frank Ardolino of the University of Hawaii; and "The Many Faces of Babe Ruth" by Dr. Peter Levine of Michigan State University. Also, the "Called Shot," "The Barnstorming Babe," "The Babe In Literature" and almost every conceivable topic even remotely associated with the man will be explored.

David Eisenhower, son of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, will deliver the luncheon address at the conference on Saturday. Michael Gibbons, executive director of Baltimore's Babe Ruth Museum, will head a panel on "The Myth, Legend and Psychology of Ruth."

Never will so many words be concentrated on one sports hero in discussions that often begin at 8 a.m. and continue until 10 p.m., with timeout for only lunch and dinner.

Such biographers of Ruth as Robert Creamer, Kal Wagenheim, John Thorn and Lois Nicholson, on the faculty of the Cape St. Claire (Md.) School, will appear on the program as will sportswriters from the New York Times, Newsday, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Associated Press, and Baltimore Evening Sun, plus former major-league players Clyde King, Roy White, Ron Blomberg and Ryne Duren.

Through it all, there will be insightful discussions regarding Ruth. It's doubtful, however, if anything will be as perceptive as comments provided by the Baseball Hall of Fame from two of the Babe's late contemporaries.

Waite Hoyt, a former teammate and Hall of Fame member, once said, "Don't tell me about Ruth. I've seen what he did to people. I've seen them: fans driving miles in open wagons through the prairies of Oklahoma to see him in an exhibition game as we headed north in the spring. I've seen them: kids, men, women, worshipers all, hoping to get his name on a torn dirty piece of paper or hoping for a grunt of recognition when they said, 'Hi-ya Babe.' He never let them down, not once. He was the greatest crowd-pleaser of them all."

Another Hall of Famer, Lloyd Waner, talked about how Ruth once sat on a folding chair and signed autographs for five hours outside Forbes Field in Pittsburgh.

"He would never disappoint anybody if he could help it," remarked Waner in obvious awe and appreciation.

Babe Ruth, from humble background, is now being dissected posthumously at a symposium by men and women of letters, a century after his birth in a room of a narrow rowhouse on Baltimore's Emory Street. No American athlete has ever been afforded such a compliment.

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