Saturday, September 27, 2014

Was Babe Ruth's first home run in Toronto?

TORONTO - Earlier this month there were a number of stories in the media celebrating the 100th anniversary of the day Babe Ruth hit his first home run as a professional baseball player.

That date as recorded in the history books was Sept. 14, 1914.

Other details around that special event: the 19-year-old Ruth, who had started that season with the Baltimore Orioles, was soon traded to the American League Boston Red Sox, a team that, unfortunately for the talented youngster, already had numerous good pitchers. As a result, Ruth was demoted its minor league team, the Providence Grays.

As it would turn out, that Sept. 14, 1914 game was against the rival International League Toronto Maple Leafs.

While “twirling” a 9–0 shutout over the Leafs, Ruth struck out seven batters and, with two men on base, scored three runs when he hit that historic home run in the sixth inning.

Now here’s where it gets confusing.

For years it has been recorded on a historic plaque erected south of the border that Babe’s first home run was hit during a game played on March 7, 1914 in Fayetteville, North Carolina.

Thanks to some detective work, retired Toronto newspaper sports writer Lou Cauz has deduced that the March 7 game was a non-scheduled event and simply a pickup game between some Orioles players passing through on their way south and intended to entertain some Fayetteville fans. The teams called themselves the Buzzards and the Sparrows. Ruth was a Buzzard when he hit that home run.

Interesting, but certainly not of historic proportions.

Lou also wishes to dispel the myth that the historic “Babe Ruth baseball” -- the one that supposedly landed in the Blockhouse Bay area of Toronto Harbour -- is not, nor was it ever, in the bay.

Here’s Lou’s story, one that has been corroborated by his friend and Blue Jays radio announcer Jerry Howarth:

Years ago the two chatted with a fellow who, as a 12-year-old Canadian National Railways telegraph messenger, was present at that Sept. 14, 1914 game. His job was to get the scores from the game to the telegraph office so they could be distributed to newspapers as fast as possible. The youngster witnessed the ball land in the right field bleachers where it was pocketed by a fan. A home run ball for sure, but certainly not one that became buried in the mud as many believe.

(Note: cancel my request for a substantial federal grant to go find it.)

As the witness -- who went on to become a monsignor at the beautiful St. Augustine Seminary in Scarborough -- told Lou and Jerry, young George Ruth had yet to become any sort of iconic ball player, so there really was no reason to think much of what was just another home run hit at the old ball stadium across the bay.

Another Toronto myth bites the dust. Darn!!
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