The Babe comes home to Heritage

Every field of human endeavor has its outstanding participants, and the sport of baseball is no exception. Since the game’s founding in the 19th century, it has seen a host of colorful and talented players, including Ty Cobb, Lou Gehrig, “Shoeless Joe” Jackson, Frank “Home Run” Baker, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, and more. But few, if any, names stand prouder in the annals of the Great American Pastime than “Babe” Ruth.Babe Comes Home AT 3-12.jpg

Babe Comes Home (First National, 1927). One sheet (27 inches by 41 inches. Estimate  $100,000-$200,000.

Born George Herman Ruth in Baltimore, Md., on Feb 6, 1895, the future baseball superstar was entrusted to the care of a Catholic Boys’ Home when he was seven years old. It was here that he first learned the game of baseball, and it was one of his teachers who brought the talented pupil to the attention of Jack Dunn, the owner and manager of the Baltimore Orioles. Impressed with what he saw, Dunn signed the 19-year-old Ruth to a contract, although he soon traded the young player to the Boston Red Sox.

Ruth stayed with the Red Sox until 1919, when he was sold to the New York Yankees. Although he had begun to make a name for himself as both a pitcher and a hitter, Ruth’s greatest years were still ahead of him. Ruth quickly helped the under-performing Yankees become a force to be reckoned with, becoming the most recognizable figure in the game during the 1920s. In fact, he was one of the first players inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1936. Also during the height of his career, Ruth became one of America’s first media superstars.

“In the 1930s and 1940s, Babe Ruth headlined several popular radio shows,” said Grey Smith, director of vintage movie poster auctions for Dallas-based Heritage Auction Galleries, “but even earlier than that, he was part of the emerging medium of motion pictures. His first film appearance was in 1920, when he made Headin’ Home, billed as the true story of the great ballplayer. More important was his 1927 feature, The Babe Comes Home, made the same year he hit 60 home runs, a record that would stand for many years.”

The Babe Comes Home, now sadly lost to the ravages of time, was produced in a short-lived process called Vocafilm, an early attempt at making sound pictures,” Smith said. “It was a pleasant romantic comedy in which Ruth, as a tobacco-chewing ballplayer, comes to the attention of Anna Q. Nilsson, who plays the laundress who cleans his uniforms. She attends a game he’s playing in, and gets hit in the eye with a fly ball. Naturally, the two fall in love, but they soon quarrel over his tobacco use, which causes her to walk out, and Babe to go into a hitting slump. During the crucial moment of a crucial game, she, realizing how much he means to her, throws him a plug of chew from the stands, which he stuffs in his mouth and, his spirits revitalized, proceeds to hit the game-winning home run! Love triumphs over all, and Babe swears off tobacco forever! Of course, the real appeal of the film was the baseball sequences, all filmed at Wrigley Field in Los Angeles. It’s reported that Ruth was so pleased with the picture that he sat through all six reels numerous times!”

Smith said, “The poster for this landmark sports film is absolutely fabulous, featuring a wonderful portrait of the Sultan of Swat in all his glory. This movie was, of course, part of a much larger campaign to market the star athlete, as the American public couldn’t get enough of this hard-hitting, hard-living hero in his heyday. This is Ruth at his best, at the height of his career, just as he’ll always be remembered.

“One of only two known copies of this incredibly rare and desirable stone litho poster, this is sure to appeal to both sports fans and movie buffs alike. We sold this particular copy in 2003 for $138,000, and I predict it will incite even more spirited bidding this time around, as sports posters, especially those featuring iconic figures like Ruth, are always very popular.”

Heritage Auction Galleries’ upcoming Vintage Movie Poster Auction will be held March 11-12, 2008, in Dallas, Texas. For more information and full-color enlargeable photos of each lot, visit www.HA.com/MoviePosters.

COMMENT