Even though he was surrounded on this day by a galaxy of stars, Babe Ruth always seemed to shine the brightest in the eyes of baseball fans. And so it came as no surprise when, after being honored along with the greatest stars his sport had ever known, it was the Bambino’s surprising appearance with bat in hand that brought down the house.
It was 74 years ago, on Monday, June 12, 1939, when Cooperstown, would for at least one day be considered the baseball capital of the world. Earlier in the day the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum would hold it’s first-ever Induction Ceremony in which the game’s immortals, including Ruth, would forever be enshrined. But now an all-star baseball game was taking place with the best active players of the day participating.
In the fifth inning, and wearing a uniform from a 1934 baseball tour of Japan, the 44-year-old Ruth appeared from the dugout ready to pinch hit. Would the Sultan of Swat be able to steal the show from baseball’s living immortals on this day of all days?
The picturesque village of Cooperstown, settled in 1786 by the father of famed American novelist James Fenimore Cooper, was deemed the “Birthplace of Baseball” in 1907 as the result of findings by the Mills Commission, which was appointed to determine the game’s origin two years earlier. The Commission stated specifically that “the first scheme for playing baseball, according to the best evidence available to date, was devised by Abner Doubleday at Cooperstown, N.Y. in 1839.”
Some 30 years later, plans were underway in the central New York hamlet to host a four-month celebration in the summer of 1939, honoring the game’s 100th anniversary.
“Baseball has become, through the years, not only a great national sport but also the symbol of America as the melting pot,” wrote President Franklin Roosevelt in a letter earlier that year. “The players embrace all nations and national origins and the fans, equally cosmopolitan, make only one demand of them: Can they play the game?