I came across this photo yesterday. It’s one of my all time favorites. It’s a shot taken in Syracuse in August of 1922 that features Babe Ruth surrounded by a throng of kids. He stands in the middle of the crowd, glowing like a sun that is creating a gravity from which no kid can escape. I think this photo perfectly captures the incredible charisma that Ruth displayed for the American public.
I believe this was taken at Burnet Park where the Babe appeared at a game between two teams in the newly formed Babe Ruth League. One of the teams was from the House of Providence orphanage in Syracuse and many of the kids in this photo are no doubt orphans. They surely felt a keen kinship with Ruth who had been sent to St. Mary’s orphanage in Baltimore by his parents when he was an out of control child. He was one of their own.
It was easy to love the Babe when I was a kid. I read everything I could on him, knew his stories and stats inside out and remember my Grandmother telling me about seeing the Babe play when she and my Grandfather were on their honeymoon in 1921. I also remember standing in front of his locker at Cooperstown the first time I was there as a child, looking on at his bat and uniform as though I were a true believer gazing at some ancient religious artifact. His big hands had actually gripped the thick handle of the bat. That amazed me because he was more a mythic character than real man at that point– Paul Bunyan dressed in pinstripes.
He really was a character out of myth. Everything about him was big– his physical stature, his appetites and excesses, his generosities and his successes and failings. He won and lost on a grand scale. In many ways, he was a pure symbol of our country at that time. Big, brash, loud and naive. Famous and wealthy but still of the people. He was a Horatio Alger rags-to-riches hero come to life. He was America at the time.
I could just go on and on about the Bambino but I think this photo just about sums its up. His big round head dominates the scene and the kids reflect back to him the unabashed affection that he emitted towards them. I always think of this photo as a the head of a sunflower with Babe being the very center and the kids being the golden florets that surround it. The faces of those kids are wonderful as well, like a compilation of Americana pulled from Norman Rockwell paintings. I would imagine almost all are long dead since this photo was taken 91 years back but I wonder what became of many of these kids, what sort of lives they led. How they made it through the coming Depression and World War and where they ended up. But I can probably imagine that most of them remembered the day that they stood with Babe Ruth until the day they died.
Just a great photo…