Coming back to "the House That Ruth Built" for the final time on June 13, 1948 to have his uniform number 3 retired, to help celebrate the famed edifice's 25th anniversary and the 25th anniversary of the 1923 Yankees, he was a sad shadow of his once vigorous self. Ruth wore his old uniform which was sizes too big for him. He mingled with his teammates from the 1923 team in the clubhouse. They played a two inning exhibition game against Yankees from other teams. The Babe looked on. The day was damp and rainy and somehow a camel's hair coat wound up over his shoulders.
The "Voice of the Yankees" Mel Allen introduced each of his 1923 teammates. Yankee Stadium was filled with applause and cheers. Then Allen introduced Babe Ruth. The ovation rocked the Stadium.
The camel's hair coat was doffed. Using a bat that he had borrowed from Bob Feller as a makeshift cane, he shuffled out slowly to home plate to a thunderous ovation and the sounds of the crowd of 49,647 singing "Auld Lang Syne." The Babe mentioned how proud he was to have hit the first homer in Yankee Stadium and said: "...lord knows who'll hit the last."
"Thank you very much ladies and gentlemen," the Big Bam spoke in a raspy voice. "You know how bad my voice sounds. Well, it feels just as bad. You know this baseball game of ours comes up from the youth. That means the boys. And after you've been a boy, and grow up to know how to play ball, then you come to the boys you see representing themselves today in our national pastime."
Afterwards in the locker room with all the ceremonies completed, Joe Dugan poured a beer for the Babe.
"So, how are you?" his old buddy asked.
"Joe, I'm gone," the Babe said. And he started to cry.
All the years of smoking, chewing tobacco, dipping snuff, abusing his body finally caught up to him. Surgery and radiation treatments had done little to help him. When he had been released from the hospital on February 15, 1947, his wife Claire and his doctors did not reveal the fatal diagnosis of throat cancer to him.
Later that day back in the hospital the most famous personage in all the history of the national pastime, Babe Ruth tried to keep his sunny side up signing autographs and watching baseball on TV. Just some of the hundreds of letters that were sent to him each day were read to him by his wife. Visitors came. Visitors went. At 8:01 P.M., on August 16, 1948, after a two year battle, the Babe passed away in his sleep at age 53.
More than 200,000 over two days paid their final respects as he lay in state at Yankee Stadium. August 19th was one of those sweltering, humid New York City summer days. The funeral was held at St. Patrick's Cathedral where Francis Cardinal Spellman celebrated requiem mass before a packed house. The Babe was always a draw. Ruth's old teammates were pallbearers. In the streets, along Fifth Avenue and the funeral route tens of thousands lined up to say good bye to the man who had been Yankee baseball.
Waite Hoyt told Joe Dugan: "I'd give a hundred dollars for a cold beer."
"So would the Babe," Hoyt said.
The man many consider the greatest player in the history of baseball was laid to rest in the Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne, New York, just about a half an hour from Yankee Stadium.
His tombstone reads: "May the Divine Spirit that motivated Babe Ruth to win the crucial game of life inspire the youth of America."
The Babe's gravesite is the most visited one of all baseball players and is always a place of notes and gifts and wishes from people from all over the world.
Harvey Frommer is his 33rd consecutive year of writing sports books. The author of 40 of them including the classics: "New York City Baseball,1947-1957" and "Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," his acclaimed REMEMBERING YANKEE STADIUM, an oral/narrative history (Abrams, Stewart, Tabori and Chang) was published in 2008 as well as a reprint version of his classic "Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball." The prolific Frommer is at work on REMEMBERING FENWAY PARK (2010).
Frommer sports books are available direct from the author - discounted and autographed.
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