K OF C HELPED RUTH-GEHRIG BARNSTORMING SUCCESS IN 1920’S
Last updated 5/28/2019 at Noon
Most of today’s major league baseball players are millionaires and really don’t have to take an off-season job to make ends meet. And everybody today knows who the stars of most teams are thanks to television and the internet.
But that was not the case back in the 1920’s when newspapers and radios with more static than anything else were the only means of keeping up with the major league scene if you didn’t live near a city with a franchise.
The 1927 World Champion New York Yankees team was arguably Major League Baseball’s greatest team with their fabled Murderer’s Row that featured the most famous baseball player in the United States, Babe Ruth, and his great teammate Lou Gehrig.
But the big problem in 1927 was that only seven states plus Washington D.C. had major league teams.
If you lived west of the Mississippi River and couldn’t get to St. Louis, Chicago or farther east, your option of getting to see Ruth or Gehrig or any ball player was to hope they came to you.
Thanks to the Knights of Columbus—of which Ruth was a member—they helped popularize baseball with Ruth and Gehrig’s barnstorming tours after the 1927 World Series ended.
This Dynamic Duo toured 21 cities from Providence, R.I. to Los Angeles in a three-week barnstorming tour where fans were treated to watching long home runs by these two left-handed swingers and then an exhibition game between Ruth’s “Bustin’ Babes” and Gehrig’s “Larrupin Lous”.
These games were sponsored by the local Knights of Columbus, who had banquets for Ruth and other guests.
Ruth’s agent Christy Walsh, also a member of the K of C Order, organized the tours. By sponsoring exhibition games, hosting traveling stars and organizing other events during Babe’s tours, the Knights of Columbus played a role in popularizing professional baseball.
Walsh’s scrapbooks, preserved at the National Baseball Hall of Fame, chronicle how Ruth embarked on post-season tours through the 1920’s, appearing with vaudeville acts and playing exhibition games, according to this month’s issue of Columbian, the K of C magazine loaned to me by local Deacon Larry David.
“The Knights underwrote a game in Los Angeles on Oct. 27, 1924, raising money for their charitable fund,” the article pointed out. “In addition to Ruth, the game featured Yankee teammates Eddie Meusel, Earl McNeely and others, attracting 7,000 fans.
“Babe Ruth wasn’t the only baseball legend who was a member of the Knights of Columbus. Philadelphia Athletics manager Connie Mack and New York Giants manager John McGraw, both Knights, led their respective teams to multiple World Series championships.
“Other Hall of Fame Knights include Johnny Evers, Hughie Jenkins, Ed Walsh and Jim O’Rourke. But the Great Bambino was the biggest star of them all and the popularity of his postseason barnstorming reached its peak in 1927, when he was joined by Lou Gehrig for the 21-city tour.
“They were fresh off their now-legendary season in which the Yankees won 110 games and swept the Pittsburgh Pirates in the World Series. Ruth had hit 60 home runs, a single-season record that would stand until 1961. Gehrig was the league’s most valuable player, leading in doubles (52) and RBIs (173),” the article concluded.
The West Coast would not get a major league team until 1958 when the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants relocated to Los Angeles and San Francisco, respectively. Many of the most ardent fans remembered how, when they were still youngsters, Babe Ruth’s barnstorming tours helped to grow the national pastime.
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