By STEVE CYRKIN
—Autograph June 2009
Linda Ruth Tosetti is the one with her hand resting on the top of Babe Ruth’s sculpted head. The painting and bronze bust were presented to Linda at the celebration of Babe’s 114th birthday at Mickey Mantle’s Restaurant in Manhattan. She is his granddaughter, picked by her mom, Dorothy Ruth Pirone, to carry on the family’s message of Babe Ruth’s remarkable life.
Linda is a whirlwind of energy, with laughter lurking just below the surface and anecdotes about her famous grandfather spilling out like gold coins. The youngest of six grandchildren, Linda was born seven years after Ruth died. I ask her what stories she’s heard about Babe from her family and she says, “I hear stories about him every day. I’m a student of his life. I just got back from doing a live radio show for Baseball Digest, and I learned that in 1920, when Babe was only 25 years old, they offered him a job as player-manager. But he didn’t want to take it then, he just wanted to play ball.”
Near the end of Ruth’s career, when his playing skills were diminishing, he angled for the position of manager of the Yankees, but was shut out by the front office. “People said, ‘Oh, he can’t manage himself, how can he manage a baseball team,’” Linda says. “They took my grandfather’s partying all out of context. See, they didn’t call it the roaring ’20s for nothing. But he settled down. He wouldn’t have been able to pick up a bat if he’d kept partying the way he did when he was young.
“My grandfather would have put a person of color on the team and Landis couldn’t have that. That’s really why he didn’t become manager. Who knows what might have happened if he had! Baseball could have been desegregated a lot sooner.”
Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis was elected baseball’s first Commissioner in 1921, after the 1919 World Series where the Black Sox Scandal rocked baseball to its core.
“They say he never faced a black or Latino pitcher?” Linda continues, “They’re putting Babe in the Latino Hall of Fame because of his work in baseball in Mexico, Cuba, Venezuela. He used to barnstorm with the Negro Leagues—he’d play in the Southern states, and then go to their homes and break bread with them. And this is in a day where in a town of 800 people, 700 of them were in the Ku Klux Klan.
“See, there was an unwritten law that you weren’t to play with the Negro Leagues. But Babe broke that rule. Landis said, ‘If you don’t stop, I’m going to throw you out of the game.’
“Babe knew Landis couldn’t throw him out. So he says, ‘Fine, throw me out.’
“And Landis says, ‘Okay, I can’t throw you out. But I can throw out the players who go with you.’”
In 1922, Landis barred Babe Ruth from the first 40 games of the season for barnstorming without permission after the 1921 World Series.
So How Many Balls Did the Bambino Sign?
When Linda takes a breath, I ask the question I’ve been dying to ask: “I’ve seen pictures of Babe Ruth surrounded by mounds of balls, signing and signing. Do you have any idea how many balls he might have signed?”
She laughs. “If they lined up all the bats and balls he signed, I think it would reach to Australia.
“That was my mom’s job. When she was 5 or 6, and they lived on the farm, he used to sign baseballs and bats all winter and store them in the barn. Mom’s job was to make sure the ink was dry, wrap them in paper, and put them in boxes. That way, when he’d see kids, all he had to do was grab the bats and balls and give them out.
“He signed a lot. But most of the kids played with the balls. I get stories and calls from people all the time who say, ‘Man, I wish I had that ball now!’ Or, ‘I have the ball, but I played with it and his signature is almost all worn off.’
“Autographs weren’t a business then. And it was the Depression. If you needed a baseball, you grabbed what you could find.
“Babe never turned down a signature. He didn’t care what he was doing—in the middle of a game, he’d be in right field and someone would jump the fence to get his autograph, he’d stop and sign. And then someone else would jump over and someone else, until they’d have to stop the game to clear the field.”
Linda tells me the story of meeting Mike Mastery, an elderly gentleman living in St. Petersburg, Florida. When the Yankees went south for spring training, Mike shagged the balls. One day, he brought the bag of dirty balls to Babe and asked him to sign them. Babe asked him what he did with them.
“‘I sell them.’
“‘I tell you what, kid.’ Babe said, ‘Save some of the money from these balls, go to the sports shop and buy a bunch of the cheapest balls you can find, bring them here, and I’ll sign them all for you.’”
Mike did, and Babe signed for him. Every time. As Linda relates the story, “He’d even knock on the outhouse door, and my grandfather would say, ‘Give me a minute, there, Mikey.’ But then he’d come out and sign them.
“He never asked the kid what he was doing with the money. But when I met him, Mike Mastery told me. It was the Depression. Selling those balls kept food on his family’s table.
“‘I never properly thanked your grandfather,’ he said. ‘But he never refused me.’”
Linda Ruth Tosetti can think of one way people could thank her grandfather: retire his No. 3. I ask her why they don’t.
“I’m told they want Jackie Robinson to be the only player whose number is retired. The argument is, if you do one player then you have to do another, and pretty soon you’ll run out of numbers.
“But, you know what? If Babe had been the first, he would have been inclusive. Sure, set the bar high, but if a player meets the bar, his number should be retired.” Babe Ruth revolutionized baseball with his record home runs, and saved the sport after the disgrace of the Black Sox scandal. In 1920, Babe Ruth hit more home runs than any other team in major league baseball. He was an ambassador for baseball around the whole world.
“There was no one like him,” says his granddaughter. “He was the whole package. A comet so bright, that the likes will not be seen again!”
Nearly 50 major league players have signed the petition to retire Babe Ruth’s No. 3. You can print a copy of the petition or sign the petition online at www.retirebabesnumber.com
(Excerpted from Collecting Sports Legends: The Ultimate Hobby Guide by Joe Orlando)
In the world of autographs, there is nothing more symbolic than this man’s graceful stroke. Babe Ruth’s autograph is, quite simply, the most desired in the hobby. Ruth was, perhaps, the most prolific signer of his era. Nevertheless, the zeal for items signed by the Sultan of Swat has not wavered in nearly 80 years, leaving demand to outweigh supply.
Fittingly, Ruth’s signature was quite representative of the man—bold, flamboyant and striking. During the prime of his career, Ruth often would place quotes around “Babe” when signing his name. This practice mainly ceased during the late 1920s. In the latter stages of his life, when Ruth was being treated for cancer, he had a nurse sign some of his fan mail. Although these were non-malicious forgeries, it is still important to note.There are also several variations of his signature. From the abbreviated “GH Ruth” often found on cancelled checks, to his popular “Babe Ruth” to his rare full-name version “George Herman Ruth,” they are all highly desirable. Any one of Ruth’s signatures would sit center stage in a serious autograph collection.