•babe ruth & associates
Text written by Albert Kilchesty
This painting replicates a photograph of Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth posing with the cream of Japanese-American ballplayers in Fresno during an off-season barnstorming tour in 1927. The tour pitted two squads of professional players in a series of exhibition games, the Larrupin Lou’s v. the Bustin’ Babes. For this game, the Larrupin Lou’s were joined by Japanese-American all-stars Johnny Nakagawa, Kenichi Zenimura, Fred Yoshikawa and Harvey Iwata; they shellacked the Babes by a score of 13‒3. The player sandwiched by the two American giants is Kenichi Zenimura, known today as the “Father of Japanese-American Baseball.” Japanese American ballplayers were not welcome in Major League Baseball during this time, but played in their own leagues and became ambassadors of the American game across the Pacific. Zenimura, a giant in spite of his small stature, was a gifted organizer as well as a ballplayer, a bēsubōru Johnny Appleseed who would later lay the groundwork for the famous 1934 tour of Japan by Ruth, Gehrig and associates.
Tokyo Babes Brand (private collection)
The Japanese began playing baseball (bēsubōru) in the late-nineteenth century, so by the time American touring teams visited the country in the 1930s the game was already established as a fixture. The 1934 tour is best remembered, largely due to the presence of such stars as Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, catcher/spy Moe Berg and, of course, Babe Ruth. When the Americans arrived in Tokyo, they were met by a throng of enthusiastic Japanese. The biggest cheers were for Ruth, who rode through the crowd waving Japanese and American flags to cries of “Bēbu Rūsu!” The Babe traveled with his wife and daughter during the trip, so his appetites were kept largely in check, but it’s curious to speculate how deeply he may have explored local customs.
Bebu Rusu Brand
Bēbu Rūsu’s excesses are legion and legendary, enough to fill several volumes. There’s little reason to think that Ruth would have behaved any differently in Japan, despite cultural obstacles. In this painting the Sultan of Swat appears to be suffering the after-effects of knocking back too much sake the night before. He’s posed here with a group of youngsters during the 1934 Japan tour, some of whom may have turned their veneration of the Babe into an insult during island fighting in World War II. On more than one occasion American GI’s reported that the cry “F—k Bēbu Rūsu!” was used by the Japanese in an effort to unnerve their enemy.
Pitchin' Babes Brand
While everyone is aware of Babe Ruth’s slugging prowess, less-well known is his skill as a pitcher. Early in his career, Ruth was the left-handed ace of the Boston Red Sox, posting more than 20 wins in the 1916 and 1917 seasons. In the 1918 World Series, the Babe pitched 29 and 1/3 innings of shutout ball, a record that stood until broken by Whitey Ford in 1961. He won the most games of any southpaw in the majors between 1915 and 1917, and his career winning percentage of .671 is twelfth on the all-time list. His mound opponent in this painting is Mildred “Babe” Didrikson Zaharias (1911‒1956), the most famous female athlete in America during the 1930s and ’40s, best-known for her achievements in golf, basketball and track-and-field. She claimed that she acquired her nickname in childhood after bashing five home runs in a game. Didrikson skyrocketed to fame after winning two gold medals and a silver at the 1932 Olympic, held in Los Angeles. She would also become the country’s first female golf celebrity in the 1940s, even competing in a men’s PGA tournament. Her baseball exploits include participation in traveling exhibitions with the barnstorming House of David team. Babe is consistently listed among the top ten Greatest North American Athletes of the twentieth century.
Like a Girl Brand (private collection)
A couple of rubes square off in this painting, the eccentric southpaw Rube Waddell (left) and the “Father of Black Baseball” Andrew “Rube” Foster. Waddell (1876‒1914), christened George Edward, starred for the Philadelphia Athletics and St. Louis Browns during the Deadball Era, 1901‒1919. The talented pitcher was better known for displays of odd behavior, such as leaving the mound to chase a fire engine, and for being easily distracted by clever opponents. These lapses of attention were tolerated only because Waddell was such an excellent pitcher. Rube Foster (1879‒1930) was a renowned twirler who’s remembered best for founding the Negro National League in 1920, the first black professional league, and for establishing the Chicago American Giants in 1911, the greatest black sports team at the time. One historian said of Foster: “He was Christy Mathewson, John McGraw, Connie Mack, Al Spalding and Kenesaw Mountain Landis—great pitcher, manager, owner, league organizer, czar—all rolled into one.”