The Babe, Bill Jenkinson, and the Red Sox

During the aforementioned trip to Baltimore, I had the opportunity to hear baseball historian Bill Jenkinson, the author of The Year Babe Ruth Hit 104 Home Runs, give a talk at the Sports Legends Museum, near Camden Yards. Keenly aware of the many Sox fans in the area, Jenkinson focused on the Babe's connections to Boston.

We know, of course, that Ruth played here in Rhode Island for the Providence Grays before going on to star as a left-handed pitcher for the Red Sox. But Jenkinson talked up how Ruth once hit a longer home run than Ted Williams's famous Red Seat shot at Fenway. In response to the author's question, I humbled submitted that marking this spot (from a pre-1934 bleacher configuration) would be a great idea for the 2012 centennial of the ballpark. Sure, Babe achieved his greatest fame as a Yankee, but a big part of the beauty of Fenway is how old-time greats like the Babe, Walter Johnson, and a pantheon of others have played there. Dr. Charles, are you listening?

In contrast to the popular image of Babe as an overweight glutton, Jenkinson says, Ruth was trim and athletic for much of his career with the Yankees. It was only in his later years that he put on more girth. Jenkinson explained that the Yankees had Ruth under orders not to run, other than during games, because of a belief at the time that it would be detrimental to his playing (!), and that he could only keep the weight off for so long by playing golf and other means.

The author, who clearly has little use for Barry Bonds, noted that Ruth's top salary was $80,000, and that he finished his career with the Boston Braves, making his debut with a home run in an otherwise forgettable season.

One of Jenkinson's best anecdotes touched on the different relationship between ballplayers and fans over the generations. While MLB encouraged players to flip balls into the stands after third outs, as a way to rebuilding bonds after the mid-90s' strike, that's a far cry from the way it used to be.

Jenkinson recalled being told by his father, who grew up in Philadelphia, that the Yankees would stay at a hotel five blocks from the former Shibe Park when they were in town to play the Philly A's during the 1920s and early '30s. Not only would they walk the distance to the ballyard, he said, they would carry their own equipment! All except Ruth, said Jenkinson, who would characterisitically tote one, two, or even three children in his arms, with a trail of kids following behind him.

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