Babe Ruth, the greatest legend in baseball, turned baseball on its ear after joining the Yankees in 1920. Traded by the Boston Red Sox to New York he began slugging home runs as no pitcher had seen before, and the “Deadball Era” was soon forgotten.
He would be instrumental in shifting public interest away from the 1919 Chicago “Black Sox” scandal of 1919, quite possibly saving the sport from uncertainty. The attention given to Ruth in sports pages and magazines across America transcended that given to politics and movie stars, and through 1926 had hit 356 homers in 13 seasons.
It was no surprise that enormous crowds would show up to see him play, especially when he would spend the off-season barnstorming across America with a slew of players, including his Yankees teammate, Lou Gehrig. When teams left Florida after spring training, they would head north to begin the regular season, but not after stopping in cities on the way to play exhibition games.
On April 6, 1924, the Yankees faced Brooklyn tied 8-8 in front of 12,000 fans, some of who lined the outfield hills due to the overflow. Hits into the right- and centerfield crowds were ruled doubles, with any hit into the leftfield throng would be ruled a triple.
So many wanted to get a look at Ruth, at 3 PM the ticket office was closed so the game could begin. Some fans had come to the park at 9 AM with anticipation.
Before the game, someone gave Ruth two large twists of Tennessee tobacco. He hit a single in five plate appearances for the game.
Two games took place in 1925 with Ruth aboard, the first on April 1 when the Dodgers met the Yankees in Nashville. Brooklyn lost to New York, 10-7, and Ruth had a single and a double. Although both teams rapped out 30 hits between them, some must have felt the game was boring. Scoundrel lit a fire in the grandstand to liven things up a bit.
The local Exchange Club rounded up 700 orphans for the next game to see their hero sock a four-bagger. Ruth invited them to come, then let them down, but with free soda pop and noisemakers, it was a fine time for each one.
Ruth had a single but played flawlessly in right field. Brooklyn won, 9-8, on a two-run double by Cotton Tierney in the ninth inning.
Ruth made another appearance in Nashville on April 1, 1926, in a game between the Yankees and the Brooklyn Robins, postponed from the day before due to cold wind and snow. Newspaper reports ballyhooed the arrival of Ruth and the stars of both clubs.
Anticipation turned to depression when Ruth did not get a home run, must less even a measly hit, and only made it to first base on a walk. Lou Gehrig had a round-tripper, as did Tony Lazzeri, in the Yankees win, 11-4.
In 1927, New York came to Nashville to face the St. Louis Cardinals, the team that beat the Yankees in the 1926 World Series.
The excitement surrounding “The Bambino” playing in Nashville’s brand-spanking-new ballpark, Sulphur Dell, was not limited to the average fan. On the morning of April 7, the day of the game, the 65th General Assembly of Tennessee adjourned early to see the game. A resolution
had been adopted to invite Ruth to address the Senate, but Ruth sent word that it would be impossible for him to appear because of a lack of time.
Perhaps he stayed out late swatting down a couple of brewskis at the Andrew Jackson Hotel the night before. After all, he was known as “The Sultan of Swat.”
In the bottom half of the first inning, Ruth lived up to his fame and hit a scorching liner that cleared the outfield fence. Adding to his legend, some said it landed in a railroad coal car that ended up in Birmingham, Alabama to set a record for distance – a 200-mile-long homer. With a damp field under cloudy skies, 5,000 fans saw the Cardinals beat the Yankees 10-8.
Ruth would hit 60 home runs that season.
Facing Nashville’s Benny Frey in the first inning on April 4, 1928, Ruth smashed a towering home run. Hitless for the remainder of the game, Nashville scored in the bottom of the 10th to win, 11-10, over New York.
After a one-year hiatus from appearing in Nashville, the Yankees returned to face the hometown Vols on April 9, 1930. During batting practice before the game, Ruth hit three balls out of the park. Catcher Bill Dickey hit two home runs for New York during the contest while Ruth was hitless and walked three times, each time left for a pinch-runner, Bill Karlon. New York won the game, 8-3.
By this time Ruth had led the American League in home runs for five consecutive seasons with 47, 60, 54, 46, and 49. With a new contract valued at $80,000 for the season ahead, he was destined to do so again in 1931, with 46.
Considered to be in the best shape he had been in some time, he arrived in Nashville on Sunday, April 5, 1931, for a two-game set versus the Vols.
He cracked a home run in the first game, but not before taking in a round of 18 holes at Belle Meade Country Club where he had an 81.
That afternoon the Yankees and Vols faced off on a chilly afternoon before 3,500 fans, and the visiting team won, 14-5. In the second game, the Yankees embarrassed the Nashville ball club by scoring 23 runs to 3 for the home team. Ruth had two singles.
The Vols were embarrassed again two years later when New York won 13-0 on April 4, 1933. Ruth had two singles, and Nashville’s defense racked up 23 assists in front of 2,500 fans Once again, Ruth scheduled a round of golf at Belle Meade but called it off due to time constraints.
Manager Charles Dressen’s Nashville Vols won over the Yankees, 5-4 at Sulphur Dell on April 7, 1934. Before a crowd of 3,000, the Yankees were stymied by the pitching of Hal Stafford, who relieved in the fifth inning and allowed only four hits through the last five innings, while striking out five.
James P. Dawson, New York Times reporter, described Sulphur Dell’s unique feature as “the right field here is cut out of a hill and is terraced, making it necessary for a fly-chaser to combine hill-climbing ability with speed and accuracy in fielding the ball”.
Ruth was one of those fly-chasers. Dawson reported the Babe “almost broke one of his legs catching Rodda’s fly on the climb in the first. The Babe slipped and stumbled but climbed on and came up with the ball”.
Ruth went 2 for 4 that day, as did Lou Gehrig. Neither hit a home run.
The next day, the teams played before a crowd of 5,000, and the Vols beat Joe McCarthy’s Yankees 6-5 for the second day in a row. Dawson reported in the New York newspaper that two home runs at Sulphur Dell “cleared the high fence and a 30-foot wire extension on the abbreviated mountain in right field.”
Neither of them was hit by Ruth, but he was 2 for 3 and drove in two runs, Lou Gehrig was 1 for 2, and Bill Dickey was hitless in 5 appearances at the plate. It was Ruth’s last game in Nashville.
Ruth, always the man who seemed larger than life, according to reports about the way he lived it, made his appearances in Nashville and contributed to his larger than baseball persona.
The New York Times
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