October 2000 | Volume 51, Issue 6
It was September 1945. I was seven. Sunday morning promised as much excitement as I could handle with our Pine Orchard pickup team playing an important sandlot baseball game against our archrivals, Hotchkiss Grove. My father threw a monkey wrench into my plans when he announced that we were going to New Haven to meet Babe Ruth and ride the train with him to Hartford for a hitting exhibition.
I protested that there was nothing more important than facing the Grovers, but Dad, who was the sports editor of the New Haven Register , put his foot down and demanded that I get dressed immediately.
We met the train on schedule, at ten-thirty, to be exact, and with many grumblings I made my way to the dining car. “We’re going to have breakfast with Babe Ruth, so try not to spill anything,” my father warned.
Breakfast? I had just eaten half a loaf of bread, two bowls of cereal, and two sweet rolls. I wanted lunch, not breakfast. As we sat down at the table, I looked around, unable to decide which of the three other gentlemen was the retired slugger. Fortunately, a fan came up and said to the biggest of them, “Mr. Ruth, may I have your autograph?” During the meal, small talk escaped me, but my father kept the conversation lively and seemed to fit in with the others. In no time we arrived in Hartford, rode in a car a short distance to Mr. Ruth’s hotel, and even accompanied him to his room, a spacious suite filled with Schaefer beer, one of the sponsors of the upcoming exhibition.
The next thing I remember is sitting in the stands. A pitcher warmed up while Babe Ruth swung a few bats in the on-deck circle. It wasn’t long before he whacked a towering drive. It sailed over the light standard out in deep right center, a truly Ruthian shot. The crowd stood, cheered, and howled, in complete awe at what had just taken place.
A few minutes later a new pitcher took over, threw aspirin tablets in warmups, and then decked Babe on the first pitch. If justice had been in the hands of the crowd, that pitcher’s blood would have spilled. As it turned out, he never did regain his control, and he was lifted for another who threw only strikes and who spent the next 20 pitches throwing and ducking. Some of the Babe’s line drives scorched the infielders’ gloves.
As suddenly as the exhibition began, it was over. We headed for the locker room, where Ruth, dressed in sweats, was signing baseballs. My father asked me if I wanted his autograph.
Autograph, I thought. I certainly didn’t want an autograph; they hurt. Why would my father want me hurt? I somehow thought autograph meant “tattoo.”
“No, sir, I don’t,” I answered. My father gave me a look that said something like “We’ll talk about this when we get home” and took a ball from Ruth anyway. The inscription read: “To Danno, from Babe Ruth.” My father said very little to me for the rest of the day.
That Monday I took the ball to school and was showing it around. A teacher demanded to know what was going on, but when she saw the ball and who had signed it, her stern demeanor changed into kindness toward me and mild rebukes for those dirty hands. Indian Neck School had only two rooms, and before long the other grade was invited to look but not touch.
Recess came, and I was the only one with a baseball (Charlie Callahan had a bat) for hit-the-bat. In that game, one batter hits any kind of fungo he wants. The fielders catch the ball and then throw it into the dirt and cinders to try to hit the bat. The person who succeeds is next up.
A very simple game, it tore a baseball to shreds within twenty minutes.