Was the Fate of Ruth’s Leaner Bat This Bleak?

Babe Ruth’s Last Uniformed Appearance
June 13, 1948

On June 13, 1948, two months and three days prior to his death from cancer on August 16, 1948, Babe Ruth made his last uniformed appearance in Yankee Stadium, along with a number of other survivors of the 1923 club that were there for that first Yankee club to play in the stadium on their way to that first World Series championship so long ago.

The high-flying Cleveland Indians were the opposition that June day in 1948 ~ and with Bob Feller pitching ~ but it was the beloved Babe Ruth that 49,641 fans had come to see ~ in full awareness of his current cancer struggle ~ and just to be in his living presence ~ at least ~ one more time.

The Babe didn’t disappoint. When he finally made his solitary last field appearance from the then third base Yankee dugout, he was wearing that familiar number “3” on the back of his jersey and, even though he looked and moved a little frail from the disease, his face lit up in a smile at the sound of the crowd’s roar of approval over his presence one last time.

It was the day of that famous photo of Babe Ruth from behind ~ standing still and leaning on a bat as he looked out at the throng and the beckoning grandeur of his setting there in the stadium ~ and in baseball history.

The “leaner” bat made the picture what it is ~ and what it is today is ~ dramatically unforgettable.

And yet, the Yankees weren’t terrifically far-thinkers in planning this entry. Babe had not brought a bat to lean upon, nor had the Yankees supplied him with one that included instructions on how he should use it for appearances’ sake. Babe just needed one to use as a cane that might prevent him from a stumble or fall that could cause great harm and itself become the picture of the day for all time.

A close baseball friend told me yesterday that it was Bob Feller of the Indians who quickly responded to Babe’s need and got him a bat from Indians first sacker Eddie Robinson to use in the entry. I’m not sure how Feller was the most accessible person to the need ~ given the fact that Ruth was coming in from the Yankee side of things. but that’s only one thing I could not unscramble on a quick Google search for clarification.

My reason for writing even this much about a famous moment on short notice is tied up in what my SABR colleague told me about the eventual fate of that Robinson-owned, Ruth-revered bat. What happened to the bat was so flat-out disgusting that I decided to simply write this piece this morning. My friend has the option of either joining in with the search or remaining anonymous. Surely someone like Paul Rogers of SMU ~ or Eddie Robinson himself ~ knows the whole truth.

My friend and I both realize that what I’m reporting here may be partially to wholly wrong. Please help us clarify and specify the truth ~ by your own documented account ~ or by reference to something that is published and available to those seeking evidentiary documentation or testimony in the matter.

My Understanding. Apparently, after the Yankee Stadium day in June of 1948, the bat was returned to Eddie Robinson and remained in his possession for a period of some time. Then it supposedly moves back into the hands of Bob Feller and is placed on exposition at some kind of midwestern baseball museum for several years. Then something causes the bat to be made available for purchase and is bought by someone ~ from whom we don’t know ~ by some kind of collector/entrepreneur ~ who puts the bat up for sale to the general public ~ wood sliver by wood sliver ~ to those who wish to buy a piece of baseball history. To the best of our limited and totally undocumented knowledge, and at prices we have no idea about, the famous Ruth “loaner/leaner” bat stayed for sale until every last sliver of profit was drubbed from its wooden heart.

My Take on the Wood-Sliver Sale. If the bat wasn’t sold to a fast buck artist ~ if it went back to Eddie Robinson ~ then I say Eddie Robinson had a right to do anything he wanted with the bat that was his in the first place. I’d still hope that he would have found a way to keep it in one piece for history’s sake.

On the other hand, if it were what it appears to have been, that the bat was acquired by a fast buck artist and then converted into a sliver-sale, the whole thing makes me want to throw up. The “entrepreneur” that did this serial deal, if it really happened, deserves all the respect we once reserved exclusively for chewing tobacco spittoons.

As for people who are willing to pay good money for wood-sliver pieces of an old bat, we say go for it! ~ We get what we deserve by our willingness to trust ourselves to the kindness of strangers. And, by the way, I hear that there are still a few barber shops in far west Louisiana that still have a few locks of hair from the head of Clyde Barrow for sale.

 

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Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

 

 

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2 Responses to “Was the Fate of Ruth’s Leaner Bat This Bleak?”

  1. Mike McCroskey Says:

    Bill,
    Having met Eddie Robinson at a Hornsby SABR Chapter winter meeting in San Marcos in 2013, I believe, I have a copy of his 2011 book “Lucky Me” that he was selling that day. In it he describes the incident this way:
    The Yankees dugout was on the first base side, but had been on the third base side when Ruth played. The visitor’s dressing room was now behind third base, but the Yankees had not moved the lockers. Ruth’s old locker with his name above it was still on the third base side. The doors were kept closed. Ruth wanted to dress at his old locker one last time, so he used the Indians clubhouse that day.
    After he dressed, he sat in the dugout with the Indians and visited with them. His personal physician along by his side. He spoke in a raspy voice, “a result of the throat cancer that would soon take his life.” He seemed a little shaky as he started out of the dugout, so Robinson says he grabbed a bat and handed it to Ruth. When Ruth came off the field, he handed it back to Robinson. Eddie got him to autograph the bat before he left.
    Robinson owned a Baltimore restaurant beginning in 1952 called Eddie Robinson’s Gorusch House where he displayed the bat, along with a picture of Ruth walking back to the dugout, for several years. There was a minority owner of the Yankees named Barry Haller who had a huge Ruth collection who often told Robinson that if he ever wanted to sell the bat to let him know. One day Robinson was wondering about the value of the bat and as a test, called Haller and told him he would sell him the bat at the “impossible” price of $10,000. Halper told him he would be there with the money the next day. Robinson felt he was thebcompelked to sell it. The last time the bat was auctioned, that he knows of, Robinson said it went for $125,000. At the time of his book’s being published, the bat resided in the Bob Feller museum in Van Meter, Iowa. Robinson said it was only one of many dumb moves he had made in his life.
    He and his teammates each received an autographed picture from an unknown starlet doing a photo shoot at a LA spring training in the Rose Bowl where his team was also practicing. Robinson threw his picture away because she only put one “d” in Eddie when personalizing his photo. The unknown starlet turned out to be Marilyn Monroe!

  2. Bill McCurdy Says:

    Thank you, Mike McCroskey!

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