It was the week of October 10th, 1927. Days after winning the World Series, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, the two biggest names in Major League Baseball and American celebrities, made their way up to Providence for an exhibition for the ages.
Photo: Library of Congress
Their New York Yankees just won 114 games and swept the Pirates in the World Series, making them arguably one of the best teams in baseball history. Ruth and Gehrig packed their bags and went on the road, starting a 21-game tour across the country that would showcase the two best sluggers in the game. Ruth hit .356, with 60 homers (more than any other team in the American League) and drove in 164 RBIs, while Gehrig was right behind him hitting for an average of .373, with 47 homers and 175 RBIs. It was a grueling tour, traveling more than 8,000 miles with over 220,00 thousand fans in attendance.
Prior to the Providence game, Ruth and Gehrig did an impromptu homerun derby contest, which excited the crowd, especially the thousands of young fans present. Ensuring the fans would get their money's worth, the rules of the game were Ruth and Gehrig could not be walked by any pitcher. They either could make it hit or get out, but no walks allowed.
The reason for the tour was the money, surprisingly enough. Baseball contracts were vastly different back in the early 1900's compared to today. Baseball teams literally "owned" the players. Known as the "reverse clause", players could not be a free agents and negotiate with other teams. Because of this, salaries were very low, despite the players success and notoriety. Ruth's Salary by the Yankees was $70,000, while Gehrig's salary was a mere $25,000. This exhibition tour brought in nearly $220,000.
A little piece of Rhode Island history that not a lot of people know, Babe Ruth already had ties in the 40. Providence held a special place in The Babe's heart, as he played for the Providence Grays in 1914. He spent two months and 46 games with the team, before being picked up by the Boston Red Sox, leading them to three World Series.
The historic game was played at Kinsley Park, which is the stadium the Grays occupied. Unfortunately it no longer stands, but it was originally located at the corner of Kinsley Avenue and Acorn Street. It was the premiere stadium for Providence, but primarily used for minor league baseball.
Professional football and soccer games were also held there at time, as it was best known as the site of the first night game in National Football League history. The game was between the Providence Steam Roller, who were members of the National Football League for just seven seasons, 1925-1931, and the Chicago Cardinals (Blog coming next month on this one).
Photo: 1879 National League champion Providence Grays at Kinsley Park / Sporting News