Ruth’s visit was an IM ‘half-holiday’

George Herman “Babe” Ruth, New York Yankee outfielder, was dubbed the “Sultan of Swat” in 1922 due to his phenomenal hitting ability. On the afternoon of October 28, 1926, the Bambino demonstrated his batting skills in Iron Mountain, playing an exhibition game with area baseball players at Athletic Park on the West Side to a crowd of over 3,000 enthusiastic fans. Ruth and his manager, Christy Walsh, a New York newspaperman, left Des Moines, Iowa, the previous evening, traveling by rail throughout the night to Beloit, Wisconsin, and then on to Oshkosh by automobile, where they were met by Ted Kingsford and Joe Lannan, who brought them to Iron Mountain just in time for the exhibition. Ruth is pictured here with Nello “Fungo” Tedeschi, one of the pitchers for the opposing local team who, together with Jones, a Channing pitcher, succeeded in striking him out.

IRON MOUNTAIN – The 33rd installment of Menominee Range Memories, a series of articles by William J. Cummings, Menominee Range Historical Foundation historian, now available on the Dickinson County Library’s website, is titled “The Roaring Twenties – The Sultan of Swat Visits Iron Mountain on October 28, 1926.”

Ninety-two years ago the appearance of George Herman “Babe” Ruth on Iron Mountain’s Athletic Field (today’s Iron Mountain High School football field), on the afternoon of Thursday, Oct. 28, 1926, was certainly the most exciting athletic event to occur on the Menominee Iron Range in the 1920s.

The 1926 World Series, the 23rd playing of Major League Baseball’s championship series, pitting the National League champion St. Louis Cardinals against the American League champion New York Yankees, had just finished. The Cardinals defeated the Yankees four games to three in the best-of-seven series, which took place from Oct. 2 to 10, 1926, at Yankee Stadium and Sportsman’s Park.

This was the first World Series appearance, as well as first National League pennant win, for the Cardinals. The Yankees were playing in their fourth World Series in six years after winning their first American League pennant in 1921 and their first world championship in 1923.

On Oct. 6, 1926, in the fourth game of the World Series, Yankee slugger Ruth hit a record three homers against the St. Louis Cardinals. The Yanks won the game 10-5, but despite Ruth’s unprecedented performance, they lost the championship in the seventh game.

(On Oct. 18, 1977, Yankee Reggie Jackson became only the second player to hit three homers in a single World Series game, tying Ruth’s record.)

Just 10 days after the last World Series game, on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 1926, Ruth was signed to play in Iron Mountain a week later in what was termed “the greatest baseball attraction ever to be staged in the upper peninsula” in an article appearing in The Iron Mountain News the following day.

Promoters of the exhibition were George Zieglebauer and Ned Fox. The newspaper stated they deserved credit for “a lot of nerve and faith in upper peninsula fans” to turn out to see Babe Ruth. “The gamble was on the weather and fortunately, they won.”

George Ziegelbauer ran a grocery store on the corner of Edsel Street and Fulton Street in Kingsford Heights in 1925. Ned B. Fox was in partnership with Thomas Lieungh in the firm Lieungh & Fox, manufacturers and distributors of Kyl-Fyr, located at 207 East Hughitt St., Iron Mountain, in the 1925 city directory.

According to the agreement, the Babe would play here as a member of one of two Upper Peninsula all-star teams. One team was to be formed from Dickinson County players while the other team would be selected from other “baseball lights” from outside of the county.

As the promotors of the project assumed “heavy expenses” in bringing the Yankee star to Iron Mountain, players on the two all-star teams were asked to volunteer their services, “hoping that the opportunity to play with the Babe or against him and the chance of meeting him personally” would be enough compensation.

In preparation for the exhibition baseball game, goal posts were supplanted by bases at Iron Mountain’s Athletic Park.

On Tuesday, Oct. 26, it was announced that “all employees of business places who desired to see the Babe in action” would be “permitted to leave their jobs during the hours of the game,” although there would be “no general suspension of business.” Barber shops of the city were closed for the event.

Several weeks earlier, when the American League Stars were to have played at Iron Mountain, a similar agreement was reached. Unfortunately the contest was “rained out.”

The majority of public schools “would declare a half holiday” Thursday afternoon. Other schools would “dismiss their classes at 2:00 p.m. so that the students would be able to attend.”

According to The Iron Mountain News, on Wednesday, Oct. 27, “a telephone conversation with the Bambino yesterday (Tuesday) completed the last minute detail plans” so there would be no hitch in Thursday afternoon’s proceedings.

Ruth played an exhibition game in Des Moines, Iowa, during the afternoon of Oct. 27. Plans were for Ruth to immediately “climb aboard a plane to be dashed to Chicago,” where he would spend the night and begin his journey north the morning of the Iron Mountain exhibition.

Somewhere between Iron Mountain and Milwaukee “Ted” Kingsford would meet Ruth’s party and bring them to Iron Mountain, arriving in time for the opening of the game at 2 o’clock. Ruth indicated that there would be four in his party, including his secretary.

Also in Wednesday’s edition of The Iron Mountain News, the following players who would participate with Ruth in the exhibition game were listed as follows: pitchers – Jack Rahoi, Jab Murray (Menominee), Tom Jones, Joe LaForce, “Fungo” Tedeschi, D.E. Lancey; catchers – Frank Valenti, Bert Werley, Youngquist (Norway), Charles Crocker; outfielders – Bunzie Rahoi, Soderberg (Norway), Hayden, George Rahoi, Miller, Si Saxon, Johnson (Crystal Falls); infielders – Teabault (Marquette); Engblom (Marquette); Belanger (Marquette), Ashenbrenner, Bud O’Conner (Oconto, Wis.), Pultz, Web Jacobsen [sic – Jacobson], and Saxon.

Interest in the game – which had been only lukewarm the first few days following the announcement – gradually increased as the date approached. By Thursday, Oct. 28, the day of the event, “even the most doubting of ‘Doubting Thomases’ had to admit that the big deal was going to be pulled off after all.”

The weather conditions were ideal, especially considering the event was held in late October. A dry field and warm temperatures were all the promoters could have wanted.

Ticket sales began at noon at Athletic Park. The crowd began to gather well before 2 p.m. when the affair was to begin. According to the newspaper article, “the ones more confident of the fact that the Babe would actually appear going inside the park and selecting their seats and the more dubious remaining outside and keeping possession of their coin until their doubts had been removed by the sight of the Bambino. And he did come.”

While the crowd, numbering about 3,000, was not the largest on record to gather at Athletic Park, it was the biggest in recent years. It was, however, easily the most representative gathering of Upper Peninsula athletic fans ever seen in Iron Mountain.

Copper Country newspapers predicted that their sports lovers would be down “in large numbers” and Escanaba and Menominee were also well-represented. Cars bearing name plates of cities from miles around were seen at the grounds.

Ruth’s actual trip to Iron Mountain from Des Moines, Iowa, where he played Wednesday afternoon, was an accomplishment in itself. The Babe and his manager, Christy Walsh, New York newspaperman, “left Iowa City at 9:30 Wednesday night and were carried to Beloit, Wis., by train,” according to a telegram received from Walsh on the morning of the event.

Ruth and his party were rushed to Oshkosh by automobile, where they were met by Ted Kingsford and Joe Lannan, completing the final leg of the trip with their arrival in Iron Mountain at about 2:30 p.m.

Once inside the park “the Yankee star had to fight his way through the crowd and out into the open spaces which ceased to be open spaces as soon as he arrived. The throng was good natured, but it absolutely refused to stay back.”

The Iron Mountain News sports reporter summarized the event as follows which has been compiled from two different accounts:

“Babe Ruth, who has been more or less intimately identified with the New York Yankees and home runs during the past few years, dropped over from Des Moines, Ia., yesterday afternoon to hoist a goodly number of Mr. Spaulding’s official cork centers over the fence of the Athletic park and incidentally give an assemblage of some 3,000 enthusiastic fans their money’s worth and a bit more.

“Well over a dozen balls were sent outside the yard by the prodigious Babe, including one clout of the home run variety with two on base. But that was while they were still playing something that resembled baseball. In the seventh inning – (or was it the sixth? – who knows, or cares?) the Bambino came to the plate and remained there for 15 minutes or so showering the outfield with horsehide until his brow became damp in spite of a cool breeze and the arm of LaForest began to weary. The ball game had been forgotten, but the crowd – the biggest in recent years at the park – wended its way home satisfied.

“The score? That, too, is a mystery. Just one more detail lost in the enthusiasm which was centered upon Ruth. They sent him to the plate in almost every inning and what happened in the meanwhile was a total loss.

“‘Dutch’ Kochendorfer, Norway hurling ace, opened up things by tossing ’em over while the Babe lofted fly after fly deep into right field and over the fence. Somebody finally picked two teams from the players who had volunteered their services and a ball game was started.

“Fungo Tedeschi opened on the mound against Ruth’s team. The first two men to face him went out and the Babe did likewise, Miller to Bresenham. That was not so good — with the crowd.

“Ruth went out to first base instead of his regular outfield position and the inning was ended without anything of importance. On his second trip up the Babe struck out. The third time, with Pitcher Jones, of Channing, in the box, he again was retired and the crowd was getting peeved. Jack Rahoi then went to the mound and Umpire Gould held the Babe to the plate until he had hit safely.

“At about the seventh inning Ruth went to the plate and with the unspoken consent of all players he stayed there for about 15 minutes, clouting the offerings of LaForest high, wide and far. Which was what the crowd wanted. And when it was done the audience went home satisfied with the fact that it had seen Ruth in action at close range. And for some of those who stood along the sidelines and onto the field, it was real close range.

“To Bunzie Rahoi went the honor of catching the first ball hit inside the Athletic park by Ruth. And, while we are speaking of the local players it is worthwhile to mention that fact that Rahoi, Soderberg and Web Jacobson, each came through with catches which were among the best seen on the local field this season. They looked like real big leaguers.

“The following players took part in the play while there was a ball game going on: Youngquist, Norway; Bunzie Rahoi; Soderberg, Norway; Jacobson; Bresenham; Miller, Crystal Falls; L. Keekendorfer, Norway; Hayden; Tedeschi; Valenti; Pults Ashenbrenner; Werley, Escanaba; “Dutch” Kechendorfer [sic – Kochendorfer], Norway; J. Hayden; Jab Murphy, Menominee.

“The Caseys’ Clown band added much to the day’s entertainment.

“At the park Ruth was presented with a basket of flowers by the Knights of Columbus and then he spent a while autographing balls for the fans.

“Several balls which are to be disposed of for charitable purposes were autographed for Mrs. Louise Coriagliotte. (In an earlier article it was noted that immediately preceding the game Ruth was be asked to autograph a number of balls which would be disposed of later by Mrs. Louise Coriagliotte, a charity worker, and the funds would be used to aid crippled children of the city.)

“Ruth had a sweet time getting out of the field after the game. He was literally mobbed by small boys who tackled him about the legs in an effort to hold him with them for a while longer. And, despite the fact that he had been through a trying journey, he kept his good nature.”

In a sports column titled “Home Brew by Mark,” one item noted:

“‘Tuck,’ our star reporter, says he’s now ready to die, having lived a useful and glorious career. Now that he’s interviewed Vice President Dawes, Henry Ford and Babe Ruth, he feels that there’s nothing more to live for. [“Tuck” would have been Lawrence D. Tucker.]

Following the exhibition game, the Lions Club hosted a dinner with Babe Ruth as the honored guest, together with Christy Walsh, his manager and head of the Christy Walsh newspaper syndicate of New York City.

Frank O. Morett, president of the Lions Club, presided at the dinner and T.J. Masterson served as toastmaster.

Other noted guests included: George Zieglebauer and Ned Fox, who brought the Babe to Iron Mountain; Dr. F.O. Logic, president of the Kiwanis Club; J.A. Payant, head of the Knights of Columbus; Wells Hallenbeck and W.J. Cudlip, representing the Rotary Club; and Joseph Lannen.

The Babe entertained with one or two stories and a few chatty remarks. Ruth stated he was very pleased to have been in Iron Mountain, noting that while here he had been offered the purchase of Pine Mountain at a price of $100,000 “for the iron that’s in it.”

“The entire meeting was quite informal and the Babe established himself a real fellow devoid of any ‘high hat’ characteristics, despite the fact that he is a national character and about as well known as President Coolidge.”

Both Ruth and Walsh were life members of the Lions Club.

Following the dinner the Babe autographed a number of baseballs, a task which he was frequently called upon to perform while he was in the city, and conversed with club members.

Late in the evening, Ruth and his party were taken to Pembine to catch a train for Minneapolis, where he was to open a vaudeville engagement the next day.

Read the rest of this 13-page story on the Dickinson County Library’s website (www.dcl-lib.org) which includes the verbatim accounts of Babe Ruth’s visit to Iron Mountain as they appeared in the columns of The Iron Mountain News.

New installments will be added to the Library’s website and on the Library’s local history research computer.


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