The umpire and
the sinner were face to face. "Forever!" cried the ump. "Never
again, so long as ball is thrown, shall thy face be seen in this park."
ain't against any rule that I know of!"
The umpire said,
"Thou hast displeased me." And he pointed outerward and E.J. slouched
So he coached his
boys. He never said a kind word to them, and they worked like dogs in hopes of
hearing one, and thus they became great, mowing down the opposition for a
hundred miles around. In 1946 they reached their peak. That was the year they
disposed easily of 15 crack teams in the Father Powers Charity Tournament, some
by massacre, and at the closing ceremony, surrounded by sad little crippled
children sitting dazed in the hot sun and holding pitiful flags they had made
themselves, when E.J. was supposed to hand back the winner's check for $100 to
Father Powers to help with the work among the poor, E.J. said, "Fat
chance!" and shoved away the kindly priest's outstretched hand. That was
also the year Babe Ruth came to town with the Sorbasol All-Star barnstorming
The Babe had
retired in 1935 and was dying of cancer, but even a dying man has bills to pay,
and so he took to the road for Sorbasol and Lake Wobegon was the 24th stop on
the trip, a day game on Nov. 12. The All-Star train of two sleepers and a
private car for the Babe backed up the 16-mile spur into Lake Wobegon, arriving
at 10 a.m. with a blast of whistle and a burst of steam, but hundreds already
were on hand to watch it arrive.
The Babe was a
legend then, much like God is today. He didn't give interviews, in other words.
He rode around on his train and appeared only when necessary. It was said that
he drank Canadian rye whiskey, ate hot dogs, won thousands at poker and kept
beautiful women in his private car, Excelsior, but that was only talk.
The sleepers were
ordinary deluxe Pullmans, the Excelsior was royal green with gold and silver
trim and crimson velvet curtains, tied shut—not that anyone tried to look in;
these were proud country people, not a bunch of gawkers. Men stood by the
train, their backs to it, talking purposefully about various things, looking
out across the lake, and when other men straggled across the field in twos and
threes, stared at the train and asked. "Is he really in there?" The
firstcomers said, "Who? Oh! You mean the Babe? Oh, yes, I reckon he's here
all right—this is his train, you know. I doubt that his train would go running
around without the Babe in it, now would it?" and resumed their job of
standing by the train, gazing out across the lake. A proud moment for them.
At noon the Babe
came out in white linen knickers. He looked lost. A tiny black man held his
left arm. Babe tried to smile at the people and the look on his face made them
glance away. He stumbled on a loose plank on the platform and men reached to
steady him and noticed he was hot to the touch. He signed an autograph. It was
illegible. A young woman was carried to him who'd been mysteriously ill for
months, and he laid his big hand on her forehead and she said she felt
something. (Next day she was a little better. Not recovered but improved.)
However, the Babe
looked shaky, like a man who ate a bushel of peaches whole and now was worried
about the pits. He's drunk, some said, and a man did dump a basket of empty
beer bottles off the train, and boys dove in to get one for a souvenir—but
others who came close to his breath said no, he wasn't drunk, only dying. So it
was that an immense crowd turned out at the Wally (Old Hard Hands) Bunsen
Memorial Ballpark: 20 cents per seat, two bits to stand along the foul line and
a dollar to be behind a rope by the dugout where the Babe would shake hands
with each person in that section.
He and the
All-Stars changed into their red Sorbasol uniforms in the dugout, there being
no place else, and people looked away as they did it (nowadays people would
look, but then they didn't), and the Babe and his teammates tossed the ball
around, then sat down and out came the Schroeders. They ran around and warmed
up and you could see by their nonchalance how nervous they were. E.J. batted
grounders to them and hit one grounder zinging into the visitors' dugout,
missing the Babe by six inches. He was too sick to move. The All-Stars ran out
and griped to the ump but the Babe sat like he didn't know where he was. The
ump was scared. The Babe hobbled out to home plate for the ceremonial
handshakes and photographs, and E.J. put his arm around him as the crowd stood
cheering and grinned and whispered, "We're going to kill ya, ya big mutt.
First pitch goes in your ear. This is your last game. Bye, Babe." And the
game got under way.