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AUG. 16, 1948

The Passing of Ruth Brought House Down

August 16, 1999|BEARL GUSTKEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Babe Ruth, 53, who rose from being a teen thug in a Baltimore street gang to become arguably the most famous of all American athletes, died 51 years ago today.

Even though it was widely known he had been battling throat cancer for two years, the news still shocked Americans.

President Herbert Hoover, recalled giving a speech in 1930 in Los Angeles and being approached afterward by a boy asking for three of the president's autographs.

Hoover asked the boy why he wanted three.

"Because it takes two of yours to trade for one of Babe Ruth's," the youngster replied.

Readers of Ruth's obituaries were moved by the comments of Pete Sheehy, for 50 years the Yankees' clubhouse supervisor.

"When the Yankees won the World Series . . . Babe went to every player, holding his hat, getting money for the clubhouse attendants and bat boys," Sheehy said.

"I got a hundred dollars. That was big money then. I'll never forget him for doing that."

Sheehy personally supervised the placing of the bier for Ruth's African mahogany coffin at Yankee Stadium. Police reported 25,000 people had viewed the body by 11 p.m., with 10,000 still in line.

Also on this date: In 1920, USC's Charles Paddock won the gold medal in the 100-meter sprint at the Antwerp Olympics. . . . On the same day, Cleveland shortstop Ray Chapman suffered a skull fracture when hit by a pitch from New York Yankee pitcher Carl Mays. Chapman fell, started to walk off the field, collapsed, and was carried off by teammates. Later that night, he underwent brain surgery. . . . In 1941, in Milwaukee, the Fraternal Order of Eagles held a free show featuring Tony Zale vs. Billy Pryor, resulting in the largest crowd to see a boxing event in the United States--135,132.

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