Friday, January 9, 2015

Backstory of '59 Fleer Williams-Ruth card

Uncommon commons: In more than 30 years in sportscards publishing I have thrown hundreds of notes into files about the players – usually non-star players – who made up the majority of the baseball and football cards I collected as a kid. Today, I keep adding to those files as I peruse microfilms of The Sporting News from the 1880s through the 1960s. I found these tidbits brought some life to the player pictures on those cards. I figure that if I enjoyed them, you might too. 

One of the most popular and valuable cards in the 1959 Fleer Ted Williams card set is #2, "Ted's Idol -- Babe Ruth".

The image of that card leaped to mind the other day when I was reading microfilm of 1943 issues of The Sporting News.

There was a large photo in that issue of Ted Williams and Babe Ruth shaking hands in front of a dugout.

According to the photo caption and a news brief found elsewhere in that issue, the occasion of the meeting of the two great hitters was something a little more than the back of the Fleer card indicated.

The description on the back of card #2 says, "Williams meets his boyhood idol, 'Babe Ruth' for first time during a special hitting contest in Boston in 1943."

As far as that goes, there was a hitting contest between Williams and Ruth the day that photo was taken, but it was just part of a larger event in which the pair participated.

On July 12, 1943, during the All-Star break, Fenway Park hosted a charity exhibition game to benefit Mayor Maurice Tobin's Field Day Fund. The Mayor's Field Day is a long-time Boston tradition to raise money for the current mayor's pet projects.

The highlight of the day's doings at Fenway was a game between the Boston Braves and the "Service All-Stars" team.

Babe Ruth was the manager of the military all-stars. His squad included a number of Red Sox players then serving in the army and navy, including Ted Williams, Dom DiMaggio, Johnny Pesky and a future Red Sox star, Walt Dropo.

Prior to the 4:30 p.m. game, there was a home run derby between Williams and Ruth. As the two were introduced in the clubhouse, reporters quoted Ruth as saying, "Hiya, kid. You remind me a lot of myself. I love to hit. You're one of the most natural ballplayers I've ever seen. And if ever my record is broken, I hope you're the one to do it." Years later, recalling the moment, Williams said, "I was flabbergasted. After all, he was Babe Ruth."

Williams hit three into the stands. The 48-year-old Ruth wasn't able to clear the Fenway outfield. He fouled the second offering off his instep and was hobbled for the rest of the contest.

In the game against the Braves, the all-stars won 9-8 on Williams' three-run homer in the seventh inning, said to have been a 425-ft. shot. He also singled in the game.

Ruth coached at first base for the all-stars. In the eighth inning, he acceded to the clamor of the crowd of 12,000 and put himself in as a pinch-hitter. After whiffing on the first two offerings, Ruth connected. According to a contemporary account, he "lofted a sky-scraping fly" out to right field.

The first-ever meeting between Williams and Ruth naturally offered a prime photo op. A number of different poses from the day are commonly found, mostly versions of the traditional "grin and grip" shot.

The picture Fleer used on 1959 card #2 is credited as a Wide World photo, The photo that I saw in the The Sporting News (above) was used in 1993 on a Ted Williams Card Co, card #121.

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