whose chamber of commerce had advertised Ruth and the Yankees throughout
Florida like a circus, he played golf with Pitcher Bob Shawkey and Infielder
Del Pratt and on one hole mis-hit the ball so badly he broke the head off his
club. In early practice sessions at the ball park he worked out at third base
and surprised the other players with his left-handed agility. His winter of
golf and baseball in California had left him in pretty good shape. His weight
was just about 200. He quickly became an accepted member of the team and
enjoyed himself hugely, clowning about in practice. One day when the chunky
5'8", 195-pound Bodie cut in front of him to take away a grounder, Ruth
yelled in mock anger, grabbed Bodie, turned him upside down, dropped him on the
grass and sat on him. He and Bodie got along well; they were roommates and
often ate together. Bodie had been considered the biggest eater on the club
before Ruth came along, but now he admitted defeat. "Anybody who eats three
pounds of steak and a bottle of chili sauce for a starter has got me," he
said. Hilarity did not always prevail, however. Ruth got fed up with the biting
gibes of a spectator one afternoon and went into the stands after him. The man
stood his ground and pulled a knife. Pitcher Ernie Shore, who had been Babe's
teammate in Baltimore and Boston, pulled Ruth away, and the fan left
Off the field,
except for an occasional round of golf with other players, Babe was gone most
of the time. Lee Allen described Ruth years later as "a large man in a
camel's hair coat and camel's hair cap, standing in front of a hotel, his broad
nostrils sniffing at the promise of the night." The essence of that vivid
picture suited him in spring training in 1920. There was an outsize complement
of reporters from New York's dozen or more newspapers in camp, most of them
there because of Ruth, and they had trouble catching up to him off the
When the team
would come into a town on its way North, a player's luggage would be delivered
to the hotel and left in the lobby. Each player would pick up his own bag and
take it to his room. But Ruth would go from the train directly into town,
looking for a girl he knew, or knew of, or hoped to know. In the hotel the
good-natured Bodie would pick up his bag and the Babe's and carry both up to
their room. Ruth might look into the room for a change of clothing during his
visit, but he was usually absent, and more often than not Bodie would dutifully
bring Babe's luggage back downstairs when it was time to leave. An enterprising
reporter, scraping around for some sort of new angle on the Babe, approached
Bodie one day and asked him to talk about Ruth.
"I don't know
anything about him," Bodie said.
with him. What's he like when you're alone with him?"
"I don't room
with him," Bodie said, in a remark that entered baseball legend. "I
room with his suitcase."
A trip from
training camp to Miami proved so riotous—Ruth, still hazy one morning, ran into
a palm tree chasing a fly ball—that Jacob Ruppert, the Yankee owner, never
again let his team play a spring game in that city. In any case, Ruth started
slowly that year and did not hit his first home run until April 1. Luckily,
Ruppert was there and was delighted by the homer, which was especially Ruthian.
The fence was 429 feet from the plate and 10 feet high, and the ball cleared it
by 50 feet. Ruth hit more homers and lifted his batting average above .300
before the season began, but it was not a particularly good spring for the
Yankees. Bodie, beset by personal problems, jumped the club in March and did
not return until the season was well under way. Another outfielder, the
colorful Chick Fewster, was hit in the head by a pitched ball and was so badly
hurt he was unable to speak for nearly a month. He was eventually sent north to
Baltimore for surgery to remove a blood clot and was out almost all season.
Before he was hurt Fewster had inspired a choice bit of sports-page
Said slim Chick
Fewster to big Babe Ruth,
I haven't had a hit since Hector was a youth.
Said big Babe Ruth to slim Chick Fewster,
You don't hit the ball as hard as you uster.
With Bodie and
Fewster gone, Ruth asked Manager Miller Huggins if he could play centerfield.
He said he did not want to play left or right because he might run into the
short outfield walls in the Polo Grounds. "I'll get myself all smashed up
going after a fly ball," he said. Huggins acceded to the request, and Ruth
made his regular-season debut with the Yankees as a centerfielder. It was not
an auspicious debut. The Yankees opened in Philadelphia against the Athletics,
and Ruth gave the last-place A's the game-winning runs when he dropped a fly
ball in the eighth inning with two men on base and two out. At bat all he could
produce were two meek singles.
Joe Dugan, the
Philadelphia infielder (known as Jumping Joe for his practice of jumping the
club at irregular intervals), hit the fly ball Ruth dropped. Dugan, who liked a
laugh, felt that Ruth's muff could not be ignored. After the game he scraped
around and found a brown derby, in those days a symbol of singular ineptitude
( Al Smith had not yet made it nationally famous as a political trademark). He
had it wrapped up, and the next afternoon a messenger brought it onto the field
just as the game was about to start. Such presentations were not uncommon, and
the umpire obligingly called time. The other players gathered around, and Ruth
opened the package. When he lifted out the brown derby, the crowd and the
players and even the umpires howled with laughter. Huggins tensed, waiting for
Ruth's famous temper to explode. But after staring at the derby in stunned
surprise for a moment, Babe grinned, put it on and waved to the crowd.