On a hot and humid July day in 1947, I was among about 10,000 other kids at Shibe Park, north Philadelphia's venerable old ballpark. We had been invited to the traveling tribute to baseball legend Babe Ruth, as part of the annual American Legion Baseball All-Star Game. At the time, the Babe was national director of American Legion Baseball. I was among a half- dozen inner-city kids from the YMCA invited to the event.
We arrived by trolley car to a scene that was overwhelming. Thousands were already there. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported, "Some 10,000 youngsters went wild when an open car drove onto the field and the Babe stepped out. He was greeted at home plate by Connie Mack and addressed the group over the microphone, his voice being surprisingly vibrant and his delight at the rousing reception very apparent ... Bundled in his traditional camel's hair coat, he replied to the gracious speeches and the prayer offered by Cardinal Spellman with a husky, heartbreaking, almost incoherently audible speech about the value of baseball for boys.
Thousands wept at the sight and sound of what had been an indescribably vital American hero."
The children howled and applauded. Ruth proceeded to his third-base box seats, first row off the field, accompanied by a full entourage of VIPs and his wife. The gang from the Y was seated almost directly behind him.
I started to slowly make my way to his box. I reached the first row and an unattended metal gate that opened to the field. I made my move.
I darted just a few feet onto the field, turned and was face to face with the Babe. He was laughing with friends and was a bit startled at my approach. I thrust a piece of scrap paper and a school pencil toward him. He smiled and in a raspy voice said, "Sure, kid." He penciled "Babe Ruth" on the paper. I decided to push my luck. In a weak voice, I asked, "Could you sign it, ‘To Don'?"
"Sure, Don," he answered. "Here it is."
I scrambled back to my seat, clutching my new treasure, fully realizing that I had hit something of a home run myself: a personal autograph from Babe Ruth.
Now, some 58 years later – after a newspaper career that placed me in the company of VIPs, presidents, rock stars and other celebrities, long after Schibe Park was razed to become a parking lot – no other event means so much. I still have that scrap of paper. And to this day, when conversation turns to Legion Baseball, my mind drifts to that moment when I was 12 and heard an American legend speak those words: "Sure, Don ... here it is."
Army veteran Don McDonough is a former reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer who later worked as a public- relations executive.
The Bambino's place in Legion Baseball
Babe Ruth's final years were spent as American Legion Baseball's national director. The Ford Motor Co., a major national sponsor of the program, paid Ruth $20,000 to promote the program in 1947 and 1948. He traveled the country in those years, attending tournaments and signing autographs. In his farewell address at Yankee Stadium, he was introduced by an American Legion Baseball player as the program's national director. His final promotional visit for Legion Baseball was in Spencer, Iowa, in 1948. A few weeks later, he passed away at age 53.