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  (MARCH  1927, EXCERPT)  FIVE O'CLOCK LIGHTNING: BABE RUTH, LOU GEHRIG AND THE 1927  NEW YORK YANKEES, THE  GREATEST BASEBALL TEAM EVER.
Written by Harvey Frommer

Comfortable among the high and mighty or the ordinary, friendly with the press, moving around all over without body guards, Babe Ruth basked in his superstar status in spring training. Getting a close have in the downtown barber shop, telling a few jokes each morning, visiting hospitals and cheering up the sick especially children, patiently signing autographs at the dog track, posing for photos, followed by fans on the St. Petersburg streets, wending his way from bar to bar, boating and fishing for migrating king mackerel or chasing grouper in the Gulf of Mexico, prevailing upon a hotel cook to prepare the fish for supper, the Babe was having the time of his life.  A Yankee bridge game began in spring training. And the Babe plunged himself into that, too. The extroverted Ruth and the shy Gehrig were pitted against Mike Gazella and Don Miller, a young hurler from the University of Michigan.

The Yankees were quartered at the Beaux Arts style Princess Martha Hotel, built in 1923. Babe Ruth was supposed to be registered there, too. But no one really saw much of him. The word was that he had meals in his rooms, leaving when he wanted to from a side door in the hotel.

Rising early before baseball practice, he would play golf at the two-year-old Renaissance Vinoy Resort and Golf Club in downtown St. Petersburg.  Catcher Benny Bengough, pitchers Waite Hoyt and Bob Shawkey were also good golfers  and would play there, too. Ruth could drive the ball further than many pros and had scores in the mid-70s. However, the short game was not his forte. A lousy putter, the Babe would disgustedly toss his club when he hit the ball too hard causing it to roll past the cup.

Much was made of the time a man came around that spring of 1927 and said he was the uncle of Johnny Sylvester. He made a big deal about telling all about how well Johnny Sylvester was doing.  The Bam graciously made a big deal out of sending regards.

But moments after the uncle departed, Ruth bellowed: "Who the hell is Johnny Sylvester?" 

Johnny Sylvester had been the subject of much newspaper attention. He was a sick kid who the Yankee slugger had promised to hit a home run for during the 1926 World Series.
   
Babe Ruth just could not remember names, not even the names of teammates. Most people were called "kid," by the Babe. Others had variations like "sister" for young women and "mom" and "pop" for those with seniority. Others got nick-names, some logical, others totally illogical. The Babe called Waite Hoyt "Walter" and no one could explain why.  Pitcher Urban Shocker was dubbed "Rubber Belly" and no one not even the Babe could explain why. Those who did claimed it had something to do with the flabbiness of Shocker's mid section, but they wouldn't swear to it.   Catcher Benny Bengough, who coined the name  "Jidge" (German for "George" ) for Ruth, was called "Googles," a kind of affectionate corruption of part of his surname. Catcher Pat Collins was "Horse Nose," a derogatory reference to his most prominent facial feature.  Railroad station redcaps were "Stinkweed."

Beer baron Jake Ruppert could remember names but never addressed anyone by a first name. The Yankee owner was characterized in Ed Barrow's memoirs as an "imperious" man, one who "in all the years I knew him, always calling me 'Barrows,' adding an 's' where none belonged.

Ruppert "was a fastidious dresser," Barrow remembered, "who had his shoes made to order, changed his clothes several times a day, and had a valet." Arriving in style with his secretary Al Brennan for spring training in St. Petersburg in his own private railroad car, it was said that the honorary Colonel savored the comforts of his own drawing room and sleeping in a silk brocade nightshirt.  Ruppert was particularly interested in and impressed with the man he had sunk all that money into.

"Ruth looks great," he announced. "Watch that boy. In fact, he may set another home run record. The team as a whole is in fine shape, shows real fighting spirit and looks like a winner, although I admit I'm not much of a prophet." 

Harvey Frommer is his 33rd consecutive year of writing sports books. The author of 39 of them including the classics: "New York City Baseball,1947-1957" and "Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball,"  his REMEMBERING YANKEE STADIUM: AN ORAL AND NARRATIVE HISTORY OF THE HOUSE THAT RUTH BUILT (Abrams/ Stewart, Tabori and Chang) will be published in 2008 as well as a reprint version of his "Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball."

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You can reach Harvey Frommer at:   

Email:  harvey.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU 

About the Author:

Harvey Frommer is in his  38th year of writing books. A noted oral historian and sports journalist, the author of 42 sports books including the classics: "New York City Baseball,1947-1957" and "Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," his acclaimed REMEMBERING YANKEE STADIUM was published in 2008 and his REMEMBERING FENWAY PARK: AN ORAL AND NARRATIVE HISTORY OF THE HOME OF RED SOX NATION was published to acclaim in 2011.  The prolific Frommer is at work on When It Was Just a Game, An Oral History on Super Bowel One. 

His work has appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, New York Daily News, Newsday, USA Today, Men's Heath, The Sporting News, among other publications.

FROMMER SPORTSNET (syndicated) reaches a readership in the millions and is housed on Internet search engines for extended periods of time.
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Dr. Frommer is the Official Book Reviewer of Travel-Watch. 
*Autographed copies of Frommer books are available .
 

Other Frommer sports related articles can be found at:   

Harvey Frommer along with his wife, Myrna Katz  Frommer are the authors of five critically acclaimed oral/cultural histories, professors at Dartmouth  College, and travel writers who specialize in cultural history, food, wine, and Jewish history and heritage in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. 

This Article is Copyright 1995 - 2014 by Harvey Frommer.  All rights reserved worldwide.

 

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