By Glen Sparks
Babe Ruth sounded terrible.
The greatest player in baseball history shuffled to the microphone at Yankee Stadium on April 27, 1948. He was a dying man. Doctors told Ruth that he had throat cancer, and there wasn’t anything that the medical community or the Sultan of Swat could do about it.
Following a short introduction, Ruth talked for less than two minutes. The crowd of 58,339 fans at Yankee Stadium—the House that Ruth Built—cheered their weakened hero. Ruth wore a camel’s hair coat and doffed his cap. Reporters, photographers, ballplayers and Cardinal Francis Spellman, a friend of Ruth’s, stood near-by.
Ruth spoke in a rough whisper. “You know how bad my voice sounds,” he said. “Well, it feels just as bad.”
What he said, on Babe Ruth Day throughout the major leagues, was piped into every ballpark scheduled to play that afternoon. He thanked the fans and encouraged every boy to play baseball, “the only real game,” he said. Ruth told the boys to start hitting, pitching and fielding just as soon as they could.
“You’ve got to start from way down at the bottom when you’re six or seven years of age,” Ruth told the crowd. “You can’t wait until 15 or 16.”
Ruth learned the game while spending much of his rambunctious youth at the St. Mary’s Industrial School of Boys in Baltimore. He hit 714 home runs during his incredible big-league career, 659 of them as a Yankee. He was baseball’s first and, in the minds of many, still its greatest slugger. In 1921, Ruth moved ahead of Roger Conner on the all-time home run list with 139. Ruth was just 26 years old, and he hit another 575 round-trippers after that. Oh, and he also compiled a 94-46 won-loss mark as a pitcher.
Finally, the Bambino told the boys that if they worked hard enough, they too could make it to the major leagues someday. “You’re bound to come out on top just like these boys (the major leaguers on hand) have come to the top now,” he said.
Babe Ruth died Aug. 16, 1948. He was just 53 years old.