By Eric Crawford, WDRB Sports
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Babe Ruth died 70 years ago next month. He last played professional baseball more than 80 years ago. You can’t watch his exploits on YouTube, save for a few newsreel-type clips here and there.

Yet, when the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory unveiled a special-order bat used by Ruth and made it available for museum visitors to hold on Monday morning, its small auditorium was full of people, who waited in line for a chance to hold a piece of history.

What other bat of what other player could draw such a crowd on an ordinary Monday morning?

People who weren’t alive when he played, whose parents weren’t alive, slipped on batting gloves and posed with the bat, smiling, next to a mannequin of Ruth. It was part of the museum’s celebration of the 100th anniversary of Ruth signing his first contract with the bat maker, July 9, 1918, when he was still a young pitcher for the Boston Red Sox.

“Isn’t it amazing?” museum curator Chris Meiman said. “Everybody knows and admires Babe Ruth. It’s a universal. . . . Nobody else does this. I can’t think of anybody else, maybe Ali, in sports history, that everybody knows who it is.”

Ruth was no stranger to Louisville.

“He came here before spring training in ’27,” Meiman said. “And they made a bunch of bats for him, and he didn’t like them right away. He said, ‘I don’t want them.’ Then he went back to New York and used some of his other bats, and said, ‘No, send me those.’ And those wound up being the bats he used that season.”

He used them pretty well, crushing 60 home runs, a record that would stand for 34 years.

Ruth was back in Louisville a year later, coming to town to stump for Democratic presidential candidate Al Smith in October of 1928. He made his speech, then sat back down in his seat at the head table. Moments later, the chair gave way beneath him. (Smith didn’t fare much better. He was trounced in Kentucky, and around the nation, by Herbert Hoover.)

Later that day, Ruth and Lou Gehrig appeared in a charity game at Parkway Field, organized by The Courier-Journal and Louisville Times. The two Yankee sluggers, fresh off the 1928 World Series, mind you, played for opposing teams and wowed a crowd of more than 3,000 in both batting practice and the game.

From the C-J account: “Prior to the opening of the game, babe and Lou thrilled the crowd by slashing drives all over the park and to points out of the park. Ruth hit two balls which are believed to be the most vigorous ever propelled at Parkway Field. One hit the Thomason Oil Station on the first bounce and another struck the middle of a warehouse roof adjacent to the Thomason Oil Station.”

And more detail: “In practice Babe bruised seven balls over the fence. . . . Ruth achieved two homers on his first two efforts at bat."

The game ended somewhat clumsily, as a supply of 107 baseballs had been exhausted (most came back to Ruth and Gehrig in the hands of fans seeking autographs).

Ruth came back to Louisville for his first and only trip to the Kentucky Derby 1936.

On the wall of the museum hangs a photo of Ruth with Bud Hillerich at the Derby, and a letter from his widow to the company thanking it for the photo.

Also on display is Ruth’s first contract, which gave the company rights to use his name and likeness forever. A bat on display shows the notches Ruth made above the logo, something he did every time he hit a home run with a bat.

The bat available in the “Hold a Piece of History” exhibit was used sometime in the 1933-34 seasons and was modified for training purposes. It was hollowed out, filled with lead and sealed with cork.

Ruth was perhaps the first sports mega-celebrity in American history. And he came along at a time, after World War I, when the country was looking for a larger-than-life hero. Ruth certainly fit that bill, and his mammoth home runs changed the game of baseball.

“Ruth's home runs were exalted, uplifting experience that meant more to fans than any runs they were responsible for,” baseball historian Glenn Stout wrote in his 2002 history of the New York Yankees. “A Babe Ruth home run was an event unto itself, one that meant anything was possible."

And all these years later, he apparently can still pack them in.

The Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory is located at 800 West Main Street, and is open Monday – Saturday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., and Sundays 11 a.m. – 5 p.m., with extended summer hours. Admission is $15 for adults, $14 for seniors (60+), $8 children (6-12), and free for children 5 and under. For more information, including holiday hours and extended summer hours, visit or call 502-588-7228.

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