Major League Baseball is getting into the stretch run of its 2014 season. We love our baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet, as the old song goes. The American pastime is featured in many of the countries biggest cities, and occasionally, some of our smaller cities and towns too.
All the way back in 1922, one of Major League Baseball’s biggest stars showed up in one of America’s smallest cities. A fellow by the name of George Herman Ruth, affectionately known as Babe, made an appearance in Sleepy Eye, Minnesota, an event they still talk about today.
Babe Ruth and Bob Meusel pose for a picture before a barnstorming game in Sleepy Eye, Minnesota, in 1922 (Photo courtesy of the Brown County Historical Society)
Life was a lot different for the biggest Major League Baseball stars back then. There were no multi-million dollar salaries, and money was only just beginning to flow into baseball, as it was the only major pro sports league of its time.
Babe Ruth was one of the reasons money had begun to flow into Major League Baseball. In March of 1922, he signed a three-year contract with the New York Yankees for 52,000 dollars. His reason for signing that contract? “He wanted to make a grand a week,” said Randy Krzmarzik, a Sleepy Eye resident who’s written a couple in-depth articles on the Babe’s visit to the area.
Ruth, like many major leaguers of hid time, would conduct what he called “barnstorming” trips. “Up to that point, he was making more money on the trips than he was in baseball,” said Krzmarzik. “He continued to barnstorm, even after signing the contract, because it was so lucrative,” said Krzmarzik. “Plus, I think he was someone who really enjoyed getting out, and the idea of sitting around doing nothing during the offseason, when he could be out making money, meeting people, and hitting home runs, was too good to pass up.”
No one is sure how the tiny town of Sleepy Eye got on the same barnstorming schedule as bigger towns like Denver, Kansas City, and Omaha. “It’s always been a little bit of a mystery,” said Krzmarzik. “I’ve never really found something that said this is the specific reason.“ There seem to have been a couple different theories floating around since then.
One theory involved the Knights of Columbus. Krzmarzik said, “One rumor is that some of the local chapter of the Knights of Columbus got involved in attracting Ruth to Sleepy Eye.” Ruth was a Catholic, and was said to be fond of the local KC chapters that honored him in New York.
The Herald-Dispatch newspaper at that time was quick to credit the local business community. The paper was quick to praise the “alertness of the Sleepy Eye businessmen” for securing the visit of the stars.
In addition to the Babe, the barnstorming tour included his teammate, Bob Meusel. They left for the tour on October 11, the day after that year’s World Series finished up.
The stop in Sleepy Eye was initially intended to be a for-profit venture. Krzmarzik said, “The stars were to receive the first 2,000 dollars of the gate receipts, less a war tax.” Anything after that was to go to the event promoters for profit.
Randy Krzmarzick of Sleepy Eye, Minnesota, has written articles on Babe Ruth’s visit to Sleepy Eye back in 1922 (Photo courtesy of SleepyEyeOnline.com)
The promoters were hoping for a big turnout, and installed temporary seating all the way down the foul lines. They were hoping for a crowd of up to 10,000, or at least a large turnout if the October weather would cooperate. It did not.
The big day was set for Monday, October 16. As the sun began to rise, temperatures were sitting at a low of 27 degrees, with a bitter Northwest wind blowing, and the first snow flurries of the year riding the air currents.
The Brown County Journal newspaper said, “There was no guarantee of a minimum payment to the stars, so Babe and Bob gambled against the weather conditions, popularity, etc., and lost at Sleepy Eye.” Krzmarzik said, “It may not have been a money-making event, but it still was a memorable day for those who braved the weather.”
About 500 people showed up at the event, some coming from as far away as the Twin Cities and Marshall.
After an all-night train ride from Omaha, the stars were greeted by a very chilly band, and presented a key to the city by then Sleepy Eye Mayor Fialka.
After all the festivities wrapped up it was time to play baseball with the Yankee stars. Babe and Bob played on different teams, with some of the best players around southern Minnesota were enlisted to fill out the teams. Krzmarzik said, “Local Brown County players included Wally Cady of Comfrey, Art Mach and Roy Black from Springfield, Bill Born Roy Borchert of New Ulm, and Noel Hoffmann and Len Current of Sleepy Eye.”
Ruth showed his baseball versatility, playing right field, then second base, and lastly, pitched the ninth inning. His forte, as baseball fans know, was hitting. He hit two long home runs off Sleepy Eye’s town team pitcher Sylvester “Sox” Schueller. The New Ulm Review said the home runs were, “Wicked liners and not rising more than 50 feet off the ground.”
Schueller was quoted years later as saying, “He hit those balls so hard, they still ain’t found them yet!” Krzmarzik said someone claimed to have found one of the baseballs after the game. “There was somebody that claimed to have a ball Babe hit, but I don’t know if we can prove that,” said Krzmarzik. “Where the actual home runs ended up, I have no idea.
Meusel played left field for the other team and went hitless. Ruth’s team wound up winning the game by a 9 to 7 score.
After the game, Ruth and his entourage attended a banquet at Saint Mary’s High school auditorium, which is now the second floor of the elementary school. Then, they held a dance at the Standard Opera House, above where the palace is now. The Yankee stars then hopped on a train for Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and another game the next day.
The visit to Sleepy Eye must have made an impression on the baseball legend. Krzmarzik said, “During an interview the next day, Ruth told a local reporter he couldn’t believe how many people came out to watch the game in Sleepy Eye because the weather was so cold and miserable.”
Here is a link to a very good story done by Fox Sports on the Babe’s visit to Sleepy Eye: