Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The day Babe Ruth came to Deadwood

Ruth  was 27 when he came to Deadwood.
By Larry Miller

1922.  It was a pretty fair year for the New York Yankees baseball team.  Despite the "Americans" having lost the World Series to their local rivals, the New York Nationals in four straight games, the New York Americans had handily won the American League pennant.  Even better, they would no longer be tenants in the Polo Grounds, since they were building a new stadium across town that would become known as "Yankee Stadium."

To many, it would become known as the "House that Ruth built."  George Herman Ruth was a slugger extraordinaire.  In that 1922 season, he slammed 35 home runs and amassed 99 Runs Batted In (RBIs), helping the Yankees win 61 percent of their regular season games.

With the major league season over, "The Babe" hit the road with teammate Bob Meusel for a western "barnstorming" tour, and Deadwood, South Dakota was part of their 8-game schedule!  Game day was set for October 19, 1922.

Many businesses across the region closed that day, allowing employees and families to head for Deadwood to see the the legendary slugger play ball.  Ruth and Meusel were "treated royally" while they were in the Hills.  A group of Deadwood businessmen met them in Sturgis and accompanied them to Deadwood by way of the Boulder Park Highway, and they were treated to a luncheon before being escorted to the ballpark.

The Deadwood baseball club had finished at the top of the six-team Black Hills League, which was composed of Lead, Spearfish, Sturgis, Rapid City, Aladdin, and Deadwood.  For this exhibition game, Deadwood would be up against an All-Star Team of top players from the other five teams in the league.  They were dubbed the Black Hills League All-Stars. 

Both Ruth and Meusel played first base that day — Ruth for Deadwood and Meusel for the All-Stars.

Deadwood won the game, 4-2, in what was a relatively lackluster game.  "The Babe" got two hits and struck out once.  Muesel collected just one hit at four bats.  But, alas, there were no home runs — likely a big disappointment to the fans who had packed the Amusement Park that afternoon.

Deadwood's Bill Ewing
The Weekly Pioneer-Times later wrote, "…those who saw yesterday's contest saw nothing that should cause thirty-five thousand New York fans to stand in line from daylight in the morning until two o'clock in the afternoon to secure a ticket, permitting them to see these fellows perform."

Nonetheless, it was heady stuff for local baseball fans.  And Babe Ruth would go on to lead New York to eight pennants and four World Series Championships over a 14 year career with the Yankees. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1936.

Playing center field for the Deadwood team that October day back in 1922 was Bill Ewing.  As the game program noted, "Bill was a hard worker and during the season played in nearly every position on the team, pitching two games, winning both; caught three games, played the initial sack three games, and held down second base in three games…he hit in "clean-up" position and his hard hitting, especially early in the season, was often the deciding factor in winning games for the local club."

Ewing's grandson, Bruce Taylor from Oregon, was kind enough to share a copy of his grandfather's program booklet from that day.  Click on the link below and enjoy!

 The program for the Oct. 19, 1922 Baseball Game