Sammy and the Babe

The big news in Texas baseball last week came out of Arlington, where future Hall of Famer Sammy Sosa hit career home run number 600, becoming only the fifth player and first Latino to reach that milestone.

Sosa’s historic blast came against his former team, the Chicago Cubs, the franchise he represented in the unforgettable summer of 1998 when he and Mark McGwire chased, eclipsed, and ultimately shattered, the single-season home-run record of Roger Maris. Sosa now joins Hank Aaron, Barry Bonds, Willie Mays and, of course, Babe Ruth as one of the greatest power hitters in the history of the game.

Of course, in the nine years since Sosa and McGwire captured the imagination of a nation and helped return baseball to favor after the bitter disappointments of the 1994-95 strike, all feats of slugging prowess have become shrouded in suspicion. Neither Sosa nor McGwire — nor the much-vilified Bonds — were proven to be steroid users, but the circumstantial evidence (the otherworldly growth of their physiques, the oddly extreme increases in their power stats, and the swift, premature breakdown of McGwire’s body) will forever attach an invisible asterisk to their careers.

No comparable controversy has ever tainted the achievements of Sosa’s most famous peer, George Herman “Babe” Ruth. To get a sense of how Ruth towered above the game, consider that in 1920, Ruth’s first season with the New York Yankees, he led the American League with 54 home runs. No one else in the major leagues had more than 19 homers.    

It’s been more than 77 years since Ruth graced the Alamo City with his presence. The year was 1930 and the 35-year-old Babe had just signed a two-year deal that paid him $80,000 per season. Ruth and the Yankees were in town to play an exhibition game against the San Antonio Indians and the city was buzzing with anticipation. The two teams met at League Park on March 31 before a throng of over 10,000 spectators who came to see the Bambino.

“The gates opened at 1:00 P.M. for the 3:00 P.M. game, and by the time the Yankees came to bat in the first inning, all the foul ground beyond the bases was roped off for standing room-and filled,” recounted David King in his book, San Antonio at Bat: Professional Baseball in the Alamo City. “Ruth gave the crowd its money’s worth in his first trip to the plate. He came up and asked Indians catcher Pete Lapan about a famous homer that the New York Giants’ Mel Ott had hit there during spring training. Lapan pointed out where it had disappeared, just to the right of the scoreboard in the deepest part of the park. ‘Well, I’m going to crack it over the other side of the board,’ he was quoted as saying in the Light. He did just that.”

When he wasn’t at the plate murdering the ball, Ruth was busy signing several hundred autographs in left field. After the contest, the notoriously hard-living Ruth took center stage at the newly built Municipal Auditorium, where he warned more than 2,500 kids about the dangers of smoking, profanity, and not getting to bed early. “In every walk of life, and especially baseball, one must think fast with the rest of the people,” the Babe reportedly told the Evening News.

The SA baseball descendents of the Indians, our venerable Missions, have been recently forced into some fast thinking of their own. Despite a promising start, the Missions spent the majority of the first half of the season in the Texas League South Division cellar. The team started the second half of the season on a positive note, however, going 4-2 and matching the Frisco RoughRiders for the division lead.

In addition, five members of the team were selected to the 71st Texas League All-Star Game including pitchers Josh Geer and Paul Abraham, outfielders Peter Ciofrone and Will Venable, and standout third baseman Chase Headley, who was recently called up to the majors for a shot with the San Diego Padres. Missions play-by-play announcer Roy Acuff was slated to call the All Star Game from Corpus Christi and among other recent honors, Cesar Ramos was named Texas League Pitcher of the Week, and Venable became the first Mission to hit for the cycle since 2002.

“I’ve been trying to get out of my little funk here and haven’t been getting the barrel of the bat on the ball,” said Venable on “More than hitting for the cycle, it was great to have a game where I was seeing the ball well and getting some good swings. It’s been frustrating. In the last week leading up to this, I’ve been feeling good. I think I needed one good swing to get me back to where I’m feeling good.” 

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