north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program
 

 
 
 

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      George Herman Ruth Jr., known as “The Sultan of Swat,” “The Colossus of Clout,” “The Great Bambino,” or simply “The Babe,” is considered by many the greatest baseball player who ever lived. In an era absent of steroids and multimillion dollar contracts, Babe Ruth dominated as a power hitter and became the first sports celebrity whose fame transcended baseball. However, few people today know that Ruth hit his first home run and received his famous moniker in Fayetteville while playing an exhibition game with the Baltimore Orioles.

      Ruth began playing baseball as a young man for St. Mary’s Industrial School in his native Baltimore. When Ruth was nineteen, Jack Dunn, manager of the Baltimore Orioles, spotted him and signed the prospect to his first professional contract at $100 a month. A few weeks later, the Orioles headed to Fayetteville enroute to Florida for spring training.

      While in Fayetteville, it came to the attention of teammates that Dunn had legally adopted George H. Ruth to keep him with the team. Ruth’s parents forced Dunn to become Ruth’s official guardian in return for allowing their son to depart Jesuit-sponsored St. Mary’s two years earlier than was standard practice. The development, combined with Ruth’s incessant playing on the elevators at the Lafayette Hotel in Fayetteville resulted in the older players teasing him as “Dunn’s baby,” which was later shortened to “Baby” and “Babe.”

      A few days after their arrival in March 1914, team members walked a mile from the hotel to practice at the old Cape Fear Fair Ground. Although not all the players had reported yet, the Orioles who were present divided into two teams, the Buzzards and the Sparrows, for an inter-squad game. They were so short of players that several local reporters joined in the game.

      In the last inning, Ruth hit a long home run to right field. Some who were present said it landed in a cornfield beyond the fence. Others claimed that that it had soared past the field and landed in Mallet’s Mill Pond. Rodger H. Pippen, a reporter playing center field, claimed that he measured the home run’s distance at 350 feet. Ruth described the home run saying, “I hit it as I hit all the others, by taking a good gander at the pitch as it came up to the plate, twisting my body into a backswing and the hitting it as hard I as I could swing.” Maurice Fleishman, who at age eleven served as batboy that day, never forgot the moment and later led the effort to commemorate the event with a historical marker.

      The Orioles left Fayetteville soon afterwards. In his autobiography, Ruth said of the city, “I got to some bigger places than Fayetteville after that, but darn few as exciting.” Ruth spent only five months with the team before being traded to the Boston Red Sox. After five years in Boston, he became a New York Yankee where he spent the greatest years of his career from 1920 to 1934. He retired in 1935 after one year with the Boston Braves.

      A year after his retirement Ruth became one of the first players elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. He died on August 16, 1948, from cancer at the age of fifty-three. At his death the New York Times eulogized Ruth as, “a figure unprecedented in American life. A born showman off the field and a marvelous performer on it, he had an amazing flair for doing the spectacular at the most dramatic moment.” Yankee Stadium is often referred to as “The House that Ruth Built.”


References:
Babe Ruth, The Babe Ruth Story (1948)
Jim L. Sumner, “Babe Ruth’s North Carolina Spring: The Tar Heel Perspective,” Maryland Historical Magazine, 86 (Spring 1991): 51-54
Baltimore American, September 3, 1950
(Raleigh) News & Observer, April 16, 1992
Charlotte Observer, July 8, 2000
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George Herman "Babe" Ruth

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