Posts Tagged ‘myth and legend’

Joseph Campbell and Baseball

April 3, 2010

The definitive book on mythology is written by Joseph Campbell. It looks at what myths are, how they develop, and how they grow. Many of his ideas are applicable to baseball. As you may have noticed if you’ve managed to hang around here for very long, I have a fascination with the mythology and legend of baseball. In the future I want to do a series of comments on baseball legend and mythology. To do that I need some help.

If you looked at the Dizzy Dean post you saw some comments at the bottom. In them I asked for other people’s opinion of just who has moved from ballplayer to mythological or legendary figure. I suggested Babe Ruth (who I refer to here as BABE RUTH!!!!! when dealing with the legendary aspect of the man), Sandy Koufax, Lou Gehrig, Jackie Robinson, and of course Dean himself. Bill Miller added Satchel Paige, Shoeless Joe Jackson, and Nolan Ryan. SportsPhd suggested Yogi Berra.

All of those are certainly people to explore and I will. But I’d like other people’s opinion. Who am I missing that you think has gone beyond mere ballplayer to myth? To put it into another field, who’s gone from actor to John Wayne!!!!? I promise I’ll take a look at the people. I don’t promise I’ll buy off on all of them, but I’ll check ’em out. Give me your “able to leap tall buildings at a single bound” list and I’ll study it. At some point, and it will be at least a couple of weeks, I’ll start a post, or more likely a series of posts, on the idea of legend, mythology, and baseball. Deal?

The Three State Home Run

March 9, 2010

One of the enduring legends concerning BABE RUTH!!!!!  (by now you know how to pronounce it with proper dignity, right?) is that he hit a home run in Alabama that finally came to rest in Louisiana. It’s a great story. It’s also a good way to look at how a legend is made.

According to the story, Ruth  (not RUTH, which is how I separate the legendary player from the real player)  is involved in an exhibition game in Mobile, Alabama. During the game he hits a home run that goes completely out of the stadium (now we start to get to the RUTH aspects). There’s a railroad track running along the outfield wall and there just happens to be a freight train rumbling by at the time. One of the cars is an open hopper and the ball drops into the car. The train doesn’t stop until it pulls into the rail yard in New Orleans where someone finds the ball. Thus the ball is hit in Alabama and ends up coming to a rest finally in Louisiana.

Great story, right? It’s a classic BABE RUTH!!!!! (maybe a little patriotic music here) type tale and worth a good telling anytime. Let’s take a minute here and desconstruct the thing. What problems come up when we do that?

First, note there is no year mentioned. Because it involves Ruth as a hitter rather than a pitcher, we can guess it has to occur in his Yankees years (1920-1934), but we aren’t sure.

Second, the game is an exhibition game played in Mobile, Alabama. Did the Yankees play exhibition games in the period, and if so did they play them in Mobile, Alabama? The answer to the first part is yes they did play exhibitions. It was fairly common for big league teams in the Ruth era to leave the south at the end of spring training and stop on the way north to play either another big league team or a minor league team, or even a local team. It brought in money, made the game more popular, and gave increased exposure to the particular team and its players. As to the latter issue, there were minor league teams in Mobile, Alabama at the time, so a team is available for Ruth to face. Did they actually play in Mobile? Not sure but it’s possible. 

Third, no opponent is mentioned. Although I’ve pointed out in the paragraph above that a game in Mobile is not out of the question, nothing in the story indicates which team Ruth faced. Remember also that Ruth had gotten in trouble with Commissioner Landis in the early 1920s for barnstorming, and had even been banned for a short while for doing so. It’s, therefore, possible that the game in question was a barnstorming stunt and had no official sanction.

Next, the ballpark is next to a railroad track. Certainly not impossible. A number of old time ballparks were near rail lines and rail yards. I haven’t been able to track down one in Mobile that was, but I also haven’t found every major ballyard in Mobile either.

A freight train with an open car is going by when the home run is hit. The ball falls into the car. Both are certainly possible.

Further, the train doesn’t stop until it reaches New Orleans where the ball is found. Well, maybe. But freight trains are famous for stopping frequently to load and unload cars and a train going from Mobile to New Orleans is likely to stop in at least Biloxi if nowhere else.

Finally, the ball is recognized as the ball Ruth hit. There is no possibility that it came from any other source like kids playing alongside the tracks or some hobo dropping it, or…

So here we have a standard BABE RUTH!!!!! (yeah, patriotic music does work) story and as with most legends it has massive holes in it. It’s just possible enough that it’s true that it becomes legend, so the holes are generally ignored, particularly if someone like BABE RUTH!!!!! (or maybe religious music)  is involved. I’m also sure the story got better with the telling over time.

Is it true? Well, it’s not impossible. Do I believe it? Not one lick. But is it a great story? Heck, yes.