It was my custom in that summer when I was 15 to walk down the dusty road to the mom and pop grocery store every morning, plunk down my three cents and get the daily paper.
Yes, three cents. Can you imagine that?
It just so happens that this year is tracking exactly (dates coinciding with days of the week) on that long ago year, so it was on a Tuesday, exactly 56 years ago this week, that I picked up the paper that had the big headline on Page One:
BABE RUTH DIES
Radio news in those days was heard mostly in the evening. There was no TV, no ‘round the clock all-news channels. What you got for news you got from newspapers.
Babe Ruth was such a gigantic figure that he was of mythic proportions. We then did not know as much about him as we do now. But we knew enough to know that he was the greatest baseball player who ever lived.
He was the fellow who saved baseball on the heels of the 1919 Black Sox scandal that came to light in 1920. Baseball was on the ropes. It is because of the Black Sox scandal that baseball, the organization, took so serious what Pete Rose did.
It is because of the Black Sox scandal that every clubhouse in baseball -- from the lowest Class A team to the New York Yankees -- advises in a large poster that all baseball players are familiar with that gambling is strictly verboten, will not be tolerated.
Fans can gamble (in fact, in some ball parks I knew, the guys who gambled on every pitch, every batter, etc. congregated right under that sign that said "No Gambling"), but not players. Rogers Hornsby defied the commissioner, in his day, and continued to play the horses.
Ruth saved baseball from imminent disaster because he was so good, so big, so unbelievable that his persona rewrote the book for ball writers. He was the leading figure in the age that created celebrities in this country. v His eminence in New York was no doubt helped there in the capital of national publicity. It was Boston's fate to sell him to the Yankees and it seems like the Red Sox sold their soul, too, way back then.
To paraphrase Plato, one is almost tempted to say -- "And so, when we have anointed him with myrrh, and set garlands of wool upon his head, we shall send him away to another city."
How could Plato have known?
It was because of Ruth's fame that he dragged others to fame. He so dominated baseball that giant figures were needed in other sports, so guys like Red Grange, Jack Dempsey, Bill Tilden, Bobby Jones were in the spotlight, too.
Ruth made gregariousness his trademark. He was the eternal kid, indulging his appetite without restraint in all areas of human interest.
Leroy Merriken, a photographer for The Sun in Baltimore made a famous picture of Ruth once. Years later, he made a copy of that photo for me and inscribed it to me. It hangs on the wall directly in front of me as I write this. There is another, larger photo in a big frame that shows Ruth at Yankee Stadium, in uniform, shortly before he died. I see that every day, too.
Some things are worth remembering.
The story of Babe Ruth is one of those tales that demonstrate that the gods are not like the rest of us mortals. Ruth was an apparent simpleton, complicated beyond understanding; a fantastic baseball player who had no idea of why he was that way and could not explain to you in a million years why he could hit the ball so well; a hero to children who had no joy in his own childhood; a savior whose final reward was to be spurned.
He is gone a long time now. But we still speak his name and remember his deeds. He is the standard against which others are measured; yes, still.
Some men are worth remembering.
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