Baseball and sick kids have been linked at least since 1926, when Babe Ruth delivered on a promise to hit a home run while young Johnny Sylvester listened by radio from his hospital bed. In Boston, however, this bond has produced a philanthropic enterprise. The memory of a 12-year-old cancer patient who was buoyed by bedside visits from his major league heroes lives on in a charity that, 50 years after its creation, still bears the name the Jimmy Fund.
What began as a single fund-raising effort has grown into an organization that last year collected $15 million to help pay for research and care at Boston's Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Much of that money is raised by the Boston Red Sox, who in making the Jimmy Fund their official team charity have continued a tradition started by the Boston (now Atlanta) Braves.
Little was known about childhood cancer in 1947 when the Children's Cancer Research Foundation was created in Boston with help from the Variety Club of New England, a society of professional entertainers. Dr. Sidney Farber directed research for the foundation out of a basement room in Boston's Children's Hospital, where many young cancer patients were treated. To draw attention to the cause, George Swartz, a member of the Variety Club, and William H. Sullivan Jr., publicity director for the Braves, planned a visit to the hospital by members of the team. Then they persuaded popular radio personality Ralph Edwards to broadcast the visit.
On the evening of Saturday, May 22, 1948, when Edwards broadcast his program Truth or Consequences live coast-to-coast, he had a remote microphone feed into a room at Children's Hospital. Edwards, in Hollywood, explained to his studio audience before hooking up with the room's occupant, "Tonight we take you to a little fellow named Jimmy. We're not going to give you his real name, because he's just like thousands of other young fellas and girls in private homes and hospitals all over the country. Jimmy is suffering from cancer, but he doesn't know he has it. He's a swell little guy, and although he can't figure out why he isn't out with the other kids, he does love his baseball and follows every move of his favorite team—the Boston Braves."
Once the connection to Boston was made, Edwards and Jimmy began talking baseball. Edwards asked, "Who's the catcher on the Braves, Jimmy?"
"That's right. Have you ever met Phil Masi?"
Suddenly a third voice was heard: "Hi, Jimmy! My name is Phil Masi."
When Edwards asked innocently, "Who's that, Jimmy?" the boy could be heard gasping before he shouted back, "Phil Masi!"