Ask most baseball fans about Babe Ruth’s last appearance in a big league ballpark and their answer would likely correspond to his well-chronicled and photographed appearance at Yankee Stadium in June of 1948. Nat Fein’s photograph of Ruth leaning on Bob Feller’s bat as he faced the field and listened to the cheers from fans on Babe Ruth Day won a Pulitzer Prize.
That wasn’t Ruth’s last visit to a stadium, though. Struggling with throat cancer, Ruth managed to honor another appearance that month, hundreds of miles away from the Bronx. A photo from that visit, featuring the 53-year-old Ruth and Joe DiMaggio, is among the items at RMY Auctions this month.
The 6 1/2″ x 8 1/2″ photo shows DiMaggio presenting Ruth with a trophy honoring his contributions to the American Legion Baseball program. In fact, Ruth came to Sportsman’s Park because of his association with the program that was underwritten by Ford Motor Company. He was on hand for a clinic attended by 10,000 St. Louis area boys and girls, an appearance that was heavily advertised. His voice weak, Ruth was hard to hear that day, but his presence was enough for youngsters and according to newspaper reports, he signed “scores of autographs.” The St. Louis Post-Dispatch carried both the photo with DiMaggio and another shot of Ruth putting his name on a baseball.
Ruth’s appearance was heavily advertised but the paying crowd that day was barely over 5,000 fans. He died just 58 days later.
The Yankees won the game that day, thanks to a Ruthian performance from third baseman Billy Johnson, who belted two homers and drove in seven runs.
Ruth’s visit to St. Louis came 22 years after he had smacked three homers at the same ballpark in the 1926 World Series–but was thrown out trying to steal second base in the seventh and deciding game of the Series with the Cardinals.
The photo, which includes the original caption still stuck to the back, is one of hundreds in RMY’s May Collectors Auction, which runs through Saturday.