NEW YORK – “The only real game, I think in the world, baseball”. These words echoed throughout the hallowed grounds of Yankee Stadium on a glorious Sunday afternoon, April 27, 1947. They came from the raspy voice of a once towering figure, who, for 15 years, was synonymous with the national pastime. Slowed by a diagnosis of throat cancer a year earlier, retired slugger Babe Ruth appeared at the Stadium to thank the people that had cheered him to the heights of the sport more than a decade ago.
He had been given the honor of having a day in his name by baseball commissioner Happy Chandler, as news of Ruth’s ailment had circuited throughout the country and beyond. Released from the hospital in February after major surgery to remove the malignant tumor that had grown in his neck, hundreds of admirers came to greet the Babe as he was slowly led to his waiting car. Though donning his familiar camel coat and hat, it was obvious that with his dramatic weight loss and thinning gray hair, he was not long for this world.
Showing their appreciation for ‘The Bambino’ and everything he contributed to the game, both the Yankees and visiting Washington Senators were joined on the field by such notables as Francis Cardinal Spellman, Chandler, National League President Ford Frick, American League President William Harridge, and 13-year old Larry Cutler, representing the American Legion. After each guest spoke to honor the great man, it was then that broadcaster Mel Allen boisterously introduced the Babe to the multitude.
Standing on the field, Ruth walked to a group of microphones, including those for Mutual Broadcasting and WABD. He waited for the thunderous applause to subside. ‘Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. You know how bad my voice sounds? Well, it feels just as bad’ he said. Babe went on to speak about the youth – in whom the foundations of the national pastime were planted, in whom later blossomed into the men that were standing in uniform on that very day. ‘There’s been so many lovely things said about me, and I’m glad that I’ve had the opportunity to thank everybody. Thank you’.
The crowd of 58,339 at the stadium roared with a cacophony of applause, whistles, hoots and hollers. Babe’s speech was piped into baseball parks across the United States.
It was a little over a year later that Babe made his final appearance at Yankee Stadium. In June of 1948, a celebration was held to honor the first 25 years of the house that he built with his prodigious home runs. Gathered for the event were the living members of the 1923 Yankees team. The Babe, being the most esteemed, had his old number ‘3’ retired, the second man to receive such an honor.
On August 16, 1948 at 8:01 P.M., George Herman ‘Babe’ Ruth Jr. passed away in his sleep. He was only 53-years old.