MINEOLA, N.Y. — John Dale (Johnny) Sylvester, who became the most famous little sick boy in America after Babe Ruth promised to smack a World Series homer for him--and hit three--has died 63 years later. He was 74.
Sylvester died Monday at a Mineola hospital. No cause of death was given.
In 1926, Sylvester was suffering from a serious infection of the forehead caused by a kick from a horse when he told his father, "I wish I could see Babe Ruth wallop a homer before I die."
The family sent telegrams to the New York Yankees while they were playing in St. Louis. Back came an airmail package containing two baseballs, one autographed by the St. Louis Cardinals, the other signed by several Yankees, including Ruth, who wrote, "I'll knock a homer for you on Wednesday."
Ruth hit three that day. In a follow-up note the day of Game 6, Ruth said he would "try to knock you another homer, maybe two today," but he went homerless. He hit one in Game 7, but it was not enough to prevent the Yankees from losing the Series. In fact, Ruth was caught stealing for the final out.
Ruth visited the Essex Fells, N.J., boy at his bedside after the Series. No miraculous recovery occurred, but the visit certainly did no harm. It took Sylvester three years to recover fully. Sylvester returned the gesture in 1948, visiting Ruth four months before the slugger died of cancer.
The 1926 episode was in the movie "The Babe Ruth Story," but the screen version stretched the truth by having Ruth make his home run promise at Sylvester's hospital bedside.
Earlier, in the 1942 movie "The Pride of the Yankees," Hollywood had stretched the tale even further with a promise of two home runs by Lou Gehrig.
Sylvester served in the Navy in World War II and was later president of Amscomatic Inc., a manufacturer of packing machinery.