When Babe Ruth and Other Baseball Legends Hung Out in Iowa
In the 19th and early 20th centuries professional athletes didn't make much money. Before earning some of the rights they have today (i.e. making millions of dollars in their contracts and sponsor deals), owners held a large majority of the funds coming in to the team.
These athletes had to find other ways to make money, and thus, the phenomenon known as barnstorming was born.
Barnstorming is known as "sports teams or individual athletes that travel to various locations, usually small towns, to stage exhibition matches," according to Wikipedia.
Given the lack of radio and television technology at the time, these barnstorming tours not only offered the athletes an extra pay day in the offseason, it also gave smaller towns across the country an opportunity to see and meet some of their sports heroes. In today's world, a person in eastern Iowa can drive four or five ours to get a glimpse of their favorite player in Chicago. That wasn't nearly as possible back then.
It was a mutual benefit for fan and player.
Even some of the greatest athletes the sport had seen at the time played a part in these trips across the country to earn an extra buck.
Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Dizzy Dean, Satchel Paige, Bob Meusel, Jackie Robinson, and Iowa's very own Bob Feller all participated.
Ruth, who held the Major League Baseball record for career home runs with 714 for 40 years, is one who's most well remembered. His appearances were catalogued in small county newspapers all over the state.
Ruth and Meusel came to town in Perry in 1922, playing in an exhibition match between Perry and Pella. Ruth represented Perry while Meusel joined the Pella squad.
Per theperrynews.com, general admission to the game was $1, with reserved grandstand seats at $1.50 and box seats at $2.50.
In today's money, general admissions would be $16.46, grandstand seats $24.49, and box seats were $37.64.
The site adds the following:
Meusel (who had a grand slam) also had a single, he ended up 2 for 4 with 1 strikeout. Babe Ruth had two triples and a single and ended up 3 for 5.
Following the game, the men were guests of honor at a dinner sponsored by the Knights of Columbus at the Hotel Pattee. Babe was said to have visited St. Patrick’s School while he was in Perry.
In 1927, Ruth and Gehrig both came to the state capital, and according to desmoinesregister.com:
happened just 11 days after the Yankees swept the Pittsburgh Pirates in the World Series and 17 days after Ruth hit his major league record 60th home run of the season, a mark that stood until 1961.
Representing their own teams at the time, the Bustin’ Babes and Larrupin’ Lous, Ruth's team took the victory by a score of 15-7.
John Hart, a local Clay County car salesman, was at one point in his life, an amateur baseball player. He had played with Ruth in exhibition games before. The pair's connection resulted in a visit to Spencer.
Hart told a Spencer Reporter this about their time playing together:
The one thing that meant the most to me was when I played with his club in 1927 (possibly in the same game mentioned above). It was an exhibition game against Des Moines. I played first and he pitched three innings. Babe hit three home runs and every time, I was on base. The thing I remember most is that he was just like a big kid.
Though Ruth's visit came years after his retirement, the town set up "Babe Ruth Day," on June 22, 1948. A double-header was arranged for Spencer's semi-pro team at the time, the Cardinals.
This event took place just two months before Ruth would pass from nasopharyngeal cancer.
Over his brief stint in Spencer, the Great Bambino signed dozens of baseballs for fans. As of 2012, according to sportscollectorsdaily.com,
Eight of those unlikely investments from 64 years ago sold at auction over the weekend after family members consigned them. The final tally totaled $216,000.
The highest graded ball (PSA DNA 8.5) sold for $77,000 in the Heritage Auctions sale.