Although newspapers documented the behavior of Babe Ruth for years, headlines about the New York Yankees legend from a five-day stretch in June 1924 stand out for their claims of illicit activity both on and off the field.
For a wire story published on June 24, The Brooklyn Standard Union opted for the header “BABE RUTH DRAWS $50 FINE FOR RIOT AT DETROIT.” On June 25, a day after the opening night of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) held at Manhattan’s Madison Square Garden, The San Francisco Examiner topped a syndicated piece with “Babe ‘Crashes’ Convention as Reporter.”
The latter story was a first-person account by Ruth of the opening day of the DNC.
Also on the first day of the DNC, Ruth played in a Yankees-Washington Senators game at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. Ruth’s Yankees career, as touched on during a New York Sports Tours virtual tour this summer, had already generated significant national acclaim. The Yankees were the defending World Series champions. The previous October against Manhattan’s New York Giants, the Yankees won the first of the franchise’s 27 championships.
Ruth’s DNC story hinted at an incident that had occurred the same month in a road contest against the Detroit Tigers, a game the Tigers had forfeited to the Yankees. In the top of the ninth inning with the Yankees leading, players and fans rioted on the field, including against police. Yankees players claimed Tigers pitcher Bert Cole was aiming to bean the opposition, including a pitch to Ruth’s head that Ruth barely dodged.
Cole and Yankees player Bob Meusel, who charged Cole after being hit by a pitch, received fines and suspensions. In issuing the $50 punishment to Ruth, American League president Ban Johnson cited Ruth’s “frenzied effort to participate in the trouble.”
Ruth brought a friendly pitching foe, the Senators’ part-time comedian Nick Altrock, to at least part of Ruth’s DNC adventure. On the day of the convention’s launch, they showed up together at the Midtown Manhattan campaign headquarters of Democratic presidential nominee hopeful and New York governor Al Smith.
A Smith campaign official, future president Franklin D. Roosevelt, had asked Ruth to support he governor’s presidential bid. After Ruth noted Smith’s rise from poverty on Manhattan’s Lower East Side and a shared Catholic upbringing, he signed on.
“If I could handle the delegates the way you handle the bat, the result would be all right,” Smith told Ruth at their June 24 meeting. Ruth came with a bat that he had signed with a message for Republican President Warren Harding. After Harding died in 1923 before Ruth could present him with the bat, Ruth signed the same bat with a note to Smith.
Smith would fail in his 1924 nominee bid to attorney John W. Davis, but four years later became his party’s presidential nominee with Ruth among his campaigners.
The 1924 DNC was held at the second Madison Square Garden, which overlooked Madison Square Park until its 1926 destruction. In addition to Altrock, Smith and Harding, Ruth’s DNC story included mention of several more personalities, including Yankees manager Miller Huggins and journalist Hendrik van Loon. Two months earlier at a newspaper publishers event, Ruth had met with van Loon at the original Waldorf-Astoria hotel then located where the Empire State Building stands today.
Also mentioned in Ruth’s dispatch are noted sportswriters Grantland Rice and Ring Larder, humorist Will Rogers (“Bill,” to Ruth), cartoonist Rube Goldberg, and New York-based syndicated columnists Mark Sullivan and Arthur Brisbane.
Ruth’s story also references “Bryan,” presumably Williams Jennings Bryan, who was the Democrats’ 1896 nominee for president and had become a newspaper editor.
Bryan’s brother Charles Bryan became Davies’ 1924 vice presidential running mate after the longest presidential nomination process in DNC or Republican National Convention history. At Madison Square Garden, Davis was chosen after 103 ballots.
The below footage shared during some New York Sports Tours visits to the 69th Regiment Armory (the primary home arena of basketball’s New York Knicks in the team’s early years) shows celebration on the south side of the Garden on the left with the curved-roof armory down the street on the right.
Ruth’s DNC writing gig was assigned by the Christy Walsh Syndicate, run by Ruth’s marketing agent Christy Walsh. Walsh would often employ ghostwriters for articles.
If copy style is a guide, Ruth may have written the DNC piece himself. An editor’s note that introduces the story sets the scene: “Babe Ruth attended the Democratic convention today to write his impressions. He was accompanied by a stenographer with instructions from Babe to ‘take down everything.'”
Ruth’s published piece, which started after a Madison Square Garden dateline, follows in italics below.
When does the show begin?
Here comes Will Rogers and Rube Goldberg. It looks like all us writers are on the job today.
I got permission from Manager Huggins to be absent from practice in order to get my lame back rubbed. What’ll he do when he finds out where I’ve been? Don’t know, unless he refuses me permission for the next Democratic convention.