It was a good
game, it's been said, though nobody remembers much about it specifically, such
as the score, for example. The All-Stars were nobodies, only the Babe mattered
to the crowd, and the big question was Would he play? He looked too shaky to
play, so some said, "Suspend the rules! Why not let him just go up and bat!
He can bat for the pitcher! Why not? It wouldn't hurt anything!" And
nowadays they might do it, but then you didn't pick up the bat unless you
picked up your glove and played a position, and others said that maybe it
wouldn't hurt anything but once you start changing the rules of the game for
convenience, then what happens to our principles? Or do we change those,
So the game went
along, a good game except that the Babe sat sprawled in the dugout, the little
black man dipping cloths in a bucket of ice and laying them on the great man's
head—a cool fall day but he was hot—and between innings he climbed out and
waved to the fans and they stood and cheered and wondered would he come to bat.
E.J. said to Bernie, "He'll bat all right, and when he comes, remember the
first pitch: hard and high and inside."
"He looks too
weak to get the bat off his shoulder, Dad. He looks like a breeze would blow
him over. I can't throw at Babe Ruth."
sick, he's pretending so he don't have to play like the rest of us. Look at
him: big fat rich New York son of a bitch, I bet he's getting $500 just to sit
there and have a pickaninny put ice on him. Boy, I'd put some ice on him
you-know-where, boy, he'd get up quick then, he'd be ready to play then. He
comes up, I want you to give him something to think about so he knows we're not
all a bunch of dumb hicks out here happy just to have him show up. I want him
to know that some of us mean it. You do what I say. I'm serious."
It was a good
game and people enjoyed it, the day cool and bright, delicious, smelling of
apples and leather and wood smoke and horses, and a blaze of majestic colors as
if in a country where kings and queens ride through the cornfields into the
triumphant reds and oranges of the woods, and men in November playing the last
game of summer, waiting for the Babe, everyone waiting for the Babe as runs
scored, hours passed, the sky turned red and hazy. It was about time to quit
and go home, and then he marched out, bat in hand, and 3,000 people threw back
their heads and yelled as loud as they could. They yelled for one solid minute
and then it was still.
The Babe stood
looking toward the woods until everything was silent, then stepped to the plate
and waved the bat and Bernie looked at him. It was so quiet you could hear
coughing in the crowd. Way to the rear a man said, "Merle, you get your
hands off her and shut up now," and hundreds turned and shushed him. Then
Bernie wound up. He bent way down and reached way back and kicked up high and
the world turned and the ball flew and the umpire said, "BALL ONE!" and
the catcher turned and said, "Be quiet, this doesn't concern you," and
the umpire blushed. He knew immediately that he was in the wrong. Babe Ruth was
not going to walk to first base, he would sooner strike out and would do it
himself, with no help from an umpire. So the umpire turned and walked away.
The Babe turned
and spat and picked up a little dirt and rubbed his hands with it (people
thought, Look, that's our dirt and he's putting it on his hands, as if the Babe
might bring his own) and then stood in and waved the bat and Bernie bent way
down and reached way back and kicked high and the world turned and the ball
flew and the Babe swung and missed, he said huhhhnnnn and staggered. And the
next pitch. He swung and cried in pain and the big slow curve slapped into the
It was so still,
they heard the Babe clear his throat, like a board sliding across dirt. They
heard Bernie breathing hard through his nose.
The people were
quiet, wanting to see, hear and smell everything and remember it forever: the
wet fall dirt, the pale white bat, the pink cotton candy and the gentlemen's
hats, the smell of wool and the glimmer of a star in the twilight, the touch of
your dad's big hand and your little hand in it. Even E.J. was quiet, chewing,
watching his son. The sun had set beyond rightfield, darkness was settling, you
had to look close to see—Bernie took three steps toward home and pointed at the
high outside corner of the plate, calling his pitch, and the Babe threw back
his head and laughed four laughs. (People were glad to hear he was feeling
better, but it was scary to hear a man laugh at home plate, everyone knew it
was bad luck.) He touched the corner with his bat, Bernie climbed back on the
mound, he paused, he bent down low and reached way back and kicked real high
and the world turned and the ball flew and the Babe swung and it cracked and
the ball became a tiny white star in the sky. It hung there as the Babe went
around the bases in his famous Babe Ruth stride, the big graceful man trotting
on slim little feet, his head down until the roar of the crowd rose like an
ocean wave on the prairie and he looked up as he turned at third, he smiled,
lifted his cap, strode soundlessly across home plate looking like the greatest
ballplayer in the history of the world. The star was still in the sky straight
out due northwest of the centerfield fence where he hit it. The ball was never
found, though they searched for it for years.
"Did you see
that?" your dad says, taking your hand.