Baseball Ink

Baseball The Way It Was Meant To Be

Shaking Hands With The Babe

Young man fulfilled his dream of meeting the Sultan of Swat

by Steve A. Maze

It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many people, and most will never get to experience it. If it does happen, you will definitely remember it the rest of your life. I am talking about meeting one's idol. What most of us wouldn't give to be able to talk to our idol—if only for a few seconds—or to shake their hand. Well, that's exactly what happened to one of my friends 66 years ago at Yankee Stadium.

Tyrus Cobb "Tat" Bailey was born in 1913 and named after a popular baseball legend of that era—Ty Cobb. Bailey even has a baseball and baseball bat permanently mounted on the front door of his home to honor the Georgia Peach. But as a youngster growing up on an Alabama farm, Bailey's attention would be drawn to another baseball great—a player by the name of Babe Ruth.

"I learned about Babe by listening to the radio and reading the few newspapers that were available during those days," Bailey says. "I grew up playing sandlot baseball and was impressed when I heard that the Babe would buy tickets for poor kids so they could go to the ballpark. The more I heard about him, the more I wanted to meet him. I didn't know that I would have to join the U.S. Navy in order to meet him, however."

Bailey was only 21 years old when the ship he was serving on, the USS Portland, docked in New York City during June of 1934. He immediately made plans to attend a New York Yankee game and arranged to meet his brother, Keith, also a sailor, at the ballpark. The brothers entered the grand and spacious Yankee Stadium by paying the 10-cent admission for sailors.

Bailey observed Ruth's every move once inside the ballpark. He watched as the Babe trotted to his right field position in the top of the first inning. After the opposing team was quickly retired, Bailey noticed the right fielder step on second base on his was back to the Yankee dugout—a habit (or superstition) that the Bambino repeated at the end of each inning. Bailey also got to witness Ruth's hitting prowess when the Yankees came to bat in the bottom of the first inning. The Sultan of Swat worked the count full on the pitcher before launching a towering home run over the right field fence.

"I was thrilled to see Babe hit a home run the very first time that I had gotten to watch him play in person," Bailey says. "A guy sitting next to me in the stands said that he had been going to Yankee games for 12 years and that was the first time he had ever seen Babe hit a home run."

Bailey was so anxious to try and meet Ruth after the game that he doesn't remember much about the game itself, other than the Yankees won. After the game had ended, Bailey and his brother noticed that Ruth was still in the dugout and was in no apparent hurry to leave the ballpark. The brothers walked down to the bottom row of the stands and stood next to a railing that separated the fans from the field.

They were determined to see Ruth and joined the scores of men, women, and children who were trying to coax their hero out of the dugout. Ruth eventually sauntered over to the railing where he chatted and signed autographs for his adoring fans. Keith was even lucky enough to get the Bambino to sign a baseball for him. But better yet, Ruth posed for a photo as Keith raised his camera and took a snapshot of the famous Yankee slugger. The Babe then reached over the railing and shook hands with both brothers.

"Babe was really nice," Bailey says. "He noticed our Navy uniforms and that may have been the reason he went out of his way to pose for the picture, but he was very cordial to all of the fans. Babe was oversized—even chubby looking, but I was glad to finally get to meet him and shake his hand."

Bailey wasn't as fortunate as his brother that day. He didn't have a baseball for Ruth to autograph. Yet, he has no regrets. The Alabama farm boy had accomplished what he so much wanted to do. He had met his idol, and he had gotten to shake hands with the great Babe Ruth.

Steve A. Maze is a former "wanna-be" major leaguer who wasn't talented enough to play baseball and is barely talented enough to write about it.