Today is the 123rd birthday of the Sultan of Swat, the King of Crash, the Colossus of Clout: Babe Ruth. The Great Bambino.
For one day on October 3, 1924, Ruth donned an Altoona uniform.
Ruth often barnstormed around the country during offseasons, playing exhibition games in towns across the map.
In 1924, Ruth’s New York Yankees missed the American League pennant to the eventual-World Champion Washington Senators. Ruth won the only batting title of his career that year, hitting .378 with a league-best 46 homers.
Following the season, he embarked on a coast-to-coast barnstorming tour, traveling for many of those games with his Yankee teammate, Bob Meusel.
Ruth arrived in Altoona in the early morning hours from Hartford, Conn., where he had played the previous day. He settled in at the Penn-Alto Hotel on the corner of 12th Street and 13th Avenue before being guided on a tour of the city with a stop at the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Juniata Shops.
That evening, Ruth suited up and played first base for the Altoona Works Independents, or “Indies,” one of Altoona’s most successful railroad teams in the era. Meusel played third base for the opposing Jaffa Shrine team. The exhibition took place at Cricket Field, a park built in the 1870s by the Pennsylvania Railroad Company at Chestnut Avenue and 7th Street.
Ruth collected four hits in the game, including a home run in the second inning against Christ Davis that the Altoona Mirror as the “longest hit ever made on the field,” which landed on the sidewalk at Lexington Ave. and 7th Street, skipping across to 8th Street. In today’s landscape, it would have bounced off of a Sheetz.
“Not since the park has been build has a ball been lifted over the centerfield fence,” the Mirror said.
Ruth reached base in all five of his trips to the plate with a walk, two singles and a double, including a single that the Mirror described as “A fly that soared straight up. No one got under it because nobody wanted to spend the balance of the day in a hospital.”
Meusel matched Ruth with a fourth-inning homer of his own and had a pair of hits. The game was won by Ruth’s Altoona Works, 11-2.
As was typically the case in his stops, Ruth also took time to sign baseballs for fans during his visit.
General admission tickets for the game cost $1, with boys admitted for 50 cents.
After leaving Altoona, Ruth’s 1924 barnstorming tour took him out to Kansas City, then on to the Pacific Northwest for stops in Spokane, Tacoma, Seattle and Portland. It continued through California with dates in San Francisco, Dunsmuir, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and San Diego before concluding on October 31 in Fullerton.
Baseball continued in Altoona in the following years with the Pennsylvania Railroad teams and other clubs working their way through the area. Satchel Page pitched in a game at Cricket Field in 1931. The park also hosted games for the Negro League’s Homestead Grays with Hall of Famers Josh Gibson, Bill Foster and Oscar Charleston.
Along with the railroad teams, Altoona was home to four minor league teams from the late 1800s through the 1930s and also briefly served as the home of the Altoona Mountain City of the Union Association in 1884. After a long hiatus, affiliated professional baseball made its return to Altoona in 1999 with the Curve.
The 20th season of Altoona Curve baseball, presented by Stuckey Subaru, begins on April 5 at Peoples Natural Gas Field. Season Tickets, Mini Plans and Flex Books are on sale now at AltoonaCurve.com, by phone at 877.99.CURVE and in person at the PNG Field offices.