Babe Ruth stopped by one day

and wowed us all

Among the highlights of the 1927 baseball season in Fort Wayne was an exhibition game played at League Park 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 Fort Wayne on their way to take on Chicago. At what is now Headwaters Park between Calhoun and Clinton streets, League 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 Park’s grandstand was filled with more than 3,000 fans, as was all the available standing room, that 1927 exhibition season. Enthusiastic Fort Wayne fans came streaming in, eager to see high drama from George “Babe” Ruth, Lou Gehrig and the other Yankee legends. The fans were not disappointed. All in the stands were sensing the Babe’s charge into the annals of American history. During the regular 1919 season, playing for the Boston Red Sox, Ruth established what was dubbed an “unreachable mark” of 29 home runs. However, the very next year, the Bambino, as his fans nicknamed him, crushed his record by knocking out 54 homers. A year later, in 1921, he hit 59.

Earlier, on 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 were played. The Lifers held the Yankees to a 3-3 tie in the 10th, 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, the ball landing on the roof of one of the city utility barns across Clinton Street.

The stands emptied as adoring fans mobbed the Babe. A newspaper illustration appeared of Ruth blasting a mighty 10th 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 that marked Ruth’s 60th of the season. It was a record that stood for 34 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-game 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 Fort Wayne, according to the Bambino’s version. He was on a barnstorming tour after the 1927 season and played a game at League Park on North Clinton Street. Ruth belted a ball over the left-centerfield fence and claimed the ball landed in a freight car that was passing the park at the time. Local baseball historians are quick to note that if that were true, the ball would have had to clear the fence, then make a right angle and travel another 600 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.

First appeared in the August 2015 issue of Fort Wayne Magazine.

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