Babe Ruth ‘Crashed’ DNC After Riot

New York Sports Experience Exclusive

Although newspapers documented the behavior of Babe Ruth for years, headlines about the New York Yankees legend from a five-day stretch in June 1924 stand out for their claims of illicit activity both on and off the field.

Babe Ruth (left) presents a bat to Democratic presidential nominee and New York governor Al Smith at Smith’s campaign headquarters on the day Ruth “covered” the Democratic National Convention

For a wire story published on June 24, The Brooklyn Standard Union opted for the header “BABE RUTH DRAWS $50 FINE FOR RIOT AT DETROIT.” On June 25, a day after the opening night of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) held at Manhattan’s Madison Square Garden, The San Francisco Examiner topped a syndicated piece with “Babe ‘Crashes’ Convention as Reporter.”

The latter story was a first-person account by Ruth of the opening day of the DNC.

Also on the first day of the DNC, Ruth played in a Yankees-Washington Senators game at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. As touched on during a live 2020 virtual video tour now available exclusively to New York Sports Experience guests, Ruth’s Yankees career had already generated significant national acclaim. The Yankees were the defending World Series champions. The previous October against Manhattan’s New York Giants, the Yankees won the first of the franchise’s 27 championships.

The scene at the Democratic National Convention is shown on June 24 1924, the day Ruth wrote about happenings there

Ruth’s DNC story hinted at an incident that had occurred the same month in a road contest against the Detroit Tigers, a game the Tigers had forfeited to the Yankees. In the top of the ninth inning with the Yankees leading, players and fans rioted on the field, including against police. Yankees players claimed Tigers pitcher Bert Cole was aiming to bean the opposition, including a pitch to Ruth’s head that Ruth barely dodged.

Cole and Yankees player Bob Meusel, who charged Cole after being hit by a pitch, received fines and suspensions. In issuing the $50 punishment to Ruth, American League president Ban Johnson cited Ruth’s “frenzied effort to participate in the trouble.”

Ruth brought a friendly pitching foe, the Senators’ part-time comedian Nick Altrock, to at least part of Ruth’s DNC adventure. On the day of the convention’s launch, they showed up together at the Midtown Manhattan campaign headquarters of Democratic presidential nominee hopeful and New York governor Al Smith.

Nick Altrock (seated) of the Washington Senators and Babe Ruth appear in a skit performed before the first game of the World Series at the Polo Grounds in Manhattan on October 4, 1922

A Smith campaign official, future president Franklin D. Roosevelt, had asked Ruth to support he governor’s presidential bid. After Ruth noted Smith’s rise from poverty on Manhattan’s Lower East Side and a shared Catholic upbringing, he signed on.

“If I could handle the delegates the way you handle the bat, the result would be all right,” Smith told Ruth at their June 24 meeting. Ruth came with a bat that he had signed with a message for Republican President Warren Harding. After Harding died in 1923 before Ruth could present him with the bat, Ruth signed the same bat with a note to Smith.

Babe Ruth (left) and 1924 Democratic presidential nominee John W. Davis appear together on October 19, 1928, in support of Al Smith’s presidential run

Smith would fail in his 1924 nominee bid to attorney John W. Davis, but four years later became his party’s presidential nominee with Ruth among his campaigners.

The 1924 DNC was held at the second Madison Square Garden, which overlooked Madison Square Park until its 1926 destruction. In addition to Altrock, Smith and Harding, Ruth’s DNC story included mention of several more personalities, including Yankees manager Miller Huggins and journalist Hendrik van Loon. Two months earlier at a newspaper publishers event, Ruth had met with van Loon at the original Waldorf-Astoria hotel then located where the Empire State Building stands today.

Journalist Hendrik van Loon (left) meets with Babe Ruth at the original Waldorf-Astoria on Fifth Avenue on April 26, 1924

Also mentioned in Ruth’s dispatch are noted sportswriters Grantland Rice and Ring Larder, humorist Will Rogers (“Bill,” to Ruth), cartoonist Rube Goldberg, and New York-based syndicated columnists Mark Sullivan and Arthur Brisbane.

Ruth’s story also references “Bryan,” presumably Williams Jennings Bryan, who was the Democrats’ 1896 nominee for president and had become a newspaper editor.

Will Rogers (left), Babe Ruth and Ruth’s wife Claire Ruth meet with hospital patient Merrill Cohan in Boston on April 25, 1929

Bryan’s brother Charles Bryan became Davies’ 1924 vice presidential running mate after the longest presidential nomination process in DNC or Republican National Convention history. At Madison Square Garden, Davis was chosen after 103 ballots.

The below footage shared during some New York Sports Tours visits to the 69th Regiment Armory (the primary home arena of basketball’s New York Knicks in the team’s early years) shows celebration on the south side of the Garden on the left with the curved-roof armory down the street on the right.

Ruth’s DNC writing gig was assigned by the Christy Walsh Syndicate, run by Ruth’s marketing agent Christy Walsh. Walsh would often employ ghostwriters for articles.

If copy style is a guide, Ruth may have written the DNC piece himself. An editor’s note that introduces the story sets the scene: “Babe Ruth attended the Democratic convention today to write his impressions. He was accompanied by a stenographer with instructions from Babe to ‘take down everything.'”

Christy Walsh (left), whose publication syndicate published Ruth’s Democratic National Convention story, poses with Ruth at the World’s Fair in New York in 1939

Ruth’s published piece, which started after a Madison Square Garden dateline, follows in italics below

This looks like the world series with a roof on it.

I’ll bet a Republican would be about as popular in here as I was in Detroit last week.

When does the show begin?

Here comes Will Rogers and Rube Goldberg. It looks like all us writers are on the job today.

I got permission from Manager Huggins to be absent from practice in order to get my lame back rubbed. What’ll he do when he finds out where I’ve been? Don’t know, unless he refuses me permission for the next Democratic convention.

No kidding—my back’s sore. Caught cold and then strained it in yesterday’s game.

Move over for Will Rogers. Here, Rube, room for you, too!

What do you think of this thing, Bill? Me—I”m supposed write a story from a ballplayer’s standpoint. Look out, that’s my sore back.

Where’d you get that press badge, Bill? All they gave me was this. I’m supposed to be sitting up there in the gallery, but nothing doing. If they’re going to change me from a ball player to a paper reporter, why, I’m going to sit right down here with Brisbane, Mark Sullivan and Lardner and Bryan and all the rest. Do you know Hendrik van Loon? Mr. van Loon this is Mr. Rogers.

Say Bill, you ought to have been with us. We just came from Governor Smith’s headquarters. Nick Altrock was along. Also a banker from Los Angeles and a publisher from Santa Barbara. You see I keep good company when I’m not playing ball.

You ought to have seen the governor shaking hands. I thought signing balls was bad enough. I got the best of Al Smith because I do my hand shaking with fountain pen, while he’s got to stand around and have his arm pumped by everybody in New York who happens to wear one of his buttons. I gave the governor a bat. About a year ago I had my picture taken with President Harding at the stadium and he asked me for an autographed bat. By the time we played again at Washington President Harding was dead.

I’ve had the bat ever since and thought it would be nice to give it to Governor Smith. He sure took it seriously and when I told him how I had put the bat aside to give to President Harding there was a tear in the governor’s eyes. He’s a human fellow, alright.

In between handshakes the governor and I talked. He had a black suit and a close shave. Funny thing, never says a word to me about politics, all he asked about was baseball. I told him I wished him worlds of luck and just as he started to say something about my chances for home runs, a lady delegate from Texas comes along and I’m out.

It wasn’t long after that till I found myself in an argument with the big cop running the press gate at the garden. He and Van Loon got into an awful argument as to whether I belonged in the “active press” or not. While they argued I quietly “crashed the gate” and nobody ever knew who I was.

Now I’ve got to go and get my back rubbed before Huggins finds out where I’ve been.