The charming, barnstorming Babe Ruth captivates Seattle in 1924
By Clay Eals
With major-league baseball’s post-season swinging into high gear, “Now & Then” eagerly commemorates the first sighting of the Babe in our woods — George Herman “Babe” Ruth, that is.
Given today’s seemingly endless playoffs, this year’s champion team may not emerge before Nov. 4. But in the simpler schedule of 1924, the sole post-season play was the World Series, which that year ended Oct. 10. Immediately afterward, star ballplayers barnstormed, playing coast-to-coast exhibition contests, mostly west of the Mississippi — land of no big-league ballclubs.
Thus, 99 years ago, Seattle caught its first in-person glimpse of the megawatt New York Yankees outfielder known as the Bambino.
At age 29, Babe Ruth already had patented the persona of a slugger, having hit 284 of what became 714 career regular-season home runs. His 1924 batting average (.378) topped the American League. Sportswriters’ synonyms for him soared. (Sample: the “Supreme Socker.”) And his on-field performance reinforced a joyful, larger-than-life charisma. People of all ages, especially kids, revered the man.
Sponsored by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Ruth visited Seattle with teammate Bob Meusel.
In front of 9,000 fans in an Oct. 19 game enlisting local amateurs at Rainier Valley’s Dugdale Park, Ruth played errorless first base and, befitting his roots, pitched one inning.
In nine at-bats, he belted three homers and a double. His first four-bagger, the P-I’s Royal Brougham reported tongue-in-cheek, “hit Mount Rainier on the first bounce!”
During a late inning, Brougham wrote, a “curly-headed tot” ran out to Ruth, who bent over, shook the boy’s hand, patted his head and “sent him away happy.” Seventy-one years later, Dr. Bill Hutchinson told the P-I the boy was his 5-year-old brother Fred, who later gained fame as a big-league pitcher and manager and cancer-center namesake.
Ruth, here for two days, also hit balls pre-game to 1,000-plus kids in centerfield, visited hospitalized children, spoke at a banquet, “directed” conjoined twins who played “The Strike-Out Blues” on saxophone, and tossed autographed balls to fans from the P-I building at Sixth and Pine.
He even spoke against a statewide initiative to abolish private schools, saying that if not for a Baltimore industrial reform school, he “probably never would have been heard of.” The measure was defeated.
Before leaving Seattle, Ruth penned for a Western Union messenger a homily both touching and timeless:
“You can knock a home run always doing your work properly and travel the bases until you reach home plate. Success. Don’t alibi if you miss one. Play the game fair. Be there in the pinches, and in your business life you can be the ‘King of Swat’.”
Thanks to Dave Eskenazi, Mike Burns, and, at the Museum of History & Industry, Devorah Romanek, Julianne Kidder and Allie Delyanis for their invaluable help with this installment!
To see Clay Eals‘ 360-degree video of the “Now” prospect and compare it with the “Then” photos, and to hear this column read aloud by Clay, check out our Seattle Now & Then 360 version of the column.
In addition, here is a special letter from 1944 from Babe Ruth to P-I sports editor Royal Brougham, courtesy of Cathi Soriano:
The following clips are related to Babe Ruth’s two-day visited to Seattle in 1924.
The following clips are related to Bobby Burns and to the Seattle town teams he played for (Stacy Shown Jewelers and City Sash & Door). Burns was selected to bat fifth behind Babe Ruth in the Oct. 19, 1924, exhibition game.