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Ruth And Cobb Battled On The Greens
By Joe Guzzardi
When the U.S. Open field tees off at the Los Angeles Country Club, June 15, the golfers should give a hat tip to the man who made their $20 million purse possible – Babe Ruth, the sport’s pioneer. The “Big Bam” took up golf in 1914 when he was a rookie left-handed pitcher and played the Scottish Game all his life. Ruth recalled that one year he played 365 rounds, and wished for more. As Ruth said, “You never get anywhere in golf playing only four times a week.” His countless golf trophies housed in the Cooperstown Hall of Fame attest to Ruth’s command of the sport.
During the 1920s, excellent golfers like Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen played tournaments before sparse crowds. But when the Associated Press documented that Ruth, playing in Newton, at Massachusetts’ Woodland Golf Club, drove the ball more than 395 feet, the word got out, and interest in golf exploded. Until the 1900s, professionals refused to give golf lessons to left-handers. But because Ruth was the Babe, Scottish pro Alex Morrison, who also instructed Bing Crosby, Jack Dempsey and Charlie Chaplin, persuaded the New York Yankees’ home run king to abandon his baseball swing and adopt a more mature approach to his overall game. Ruth steadily improved, most noticeably his short game.
Ruth took up golf full-time after his baseball days ended, and he whittled his handicap down to 5. Ruth was a determined amateur golfer who loved to bet against his opponents. He won $100 a day wagers from fellow Hall of Famer Dizzy Dean and preeminent journalist Grantland Rice. When he retired, the Bambino was more available than ever to raise money for charity. Throughout his active playing days and after leaving baseball, Ruth always was ready to lend a hand to good causes.
In 1937, Ruth teamed up with Babe Didrikson Zaharias, a 1932 Summer Olympic three-metals winner, to fundraise for New York’s needy children. “Little Babe” and “the Big Babe,” as Zaharias called her childhood hero, set off pandemonium among the unheard-of 10,000-strong crown at Fresh Meadow Country Club in New York. The AP, again on the scene, reported that “the wildest and craziest crowd that ever stampeded through a sand trap” disrupted the event after Babe and Babe sewed up a win. Big Babe had a shirtsleeve torn off and was knocked to his feet. Little Babe bulldozed her way to safety.
Ruth played dozens of events, some at elite country clubs where food, drink and lodging were comped; others at municipal courses. At Ohio’s Acacia Country Club, while playing in The True Temper Open, Ruth drew Cleveland’s largest-ever crowd; at the Lakeside Country Club in California, Ruth played with celebrities Bing Crosby, Oliver Hardy and W.C. Fields. Then, on the 1939 inaugural Baseball Hall of Fame weekend and while at the Leatherstocking Golf Club in New York, Ty Cobb issued a golf challenge to Ruth, his bitter diamond rival: “I can beat you at the Scottish game any day of the week and twice on Sunday.” In 1941, after Cobb spent two years backpedaling, Ruth forced his hand: “If you want to get your brains knocked out, come right ahead.”
The two titans played opposite styles of baseball and golf. Ruth went for the long ball which Cobb, a small ball proponent, abhorred. In the never-ending debate about who the better player was, the “Georgia Peach” lorded over Ruth his higher inaugural HOF vote tally – 222-215. Now the famous duo would take to the links to decide who was better. Cobb’s 8 handicap versus Ruth’s 5 meant that an even-Steven match awaited enthusiastic fans. A best-of-three match play series was set for suburban areas around Boston, New York and Detroit, with the proceeds donated to children’s charities. The first two locations provided an edge for Ruth who played for the Red Sox and the Yankees, and the third venue favored Cobb, a Tigers great. The media hype rekindled the competitive juices between the adversaries. From Hollywood, Bette Davis wired the competitors: “May the best man win!” Match one went to Cobb, 3-2. After watching Cobb excel on the greens, Ruth called him “a putting fool.”
During a sweltering New York heatwave, Ruth won the second match on the 19th hole. In the tiebreaker, eternal bragging rights would be settled at Grosse Ile Country Club in Michigan. The golf was forgettable; Ruth shot 81, and Cobb 78. Cobb won the best of three 2-1 in what Ruth and he called “The Left-Handed Has-Beens Golf Championship.” Both winner and loser were gracious, and stayed close friends until Ruth’s 1948 death at age 53.
As Ruth described his looming demise from throat cancer, “the termites got me.” Later, when reminiscing about Ruth, Cobb said that he wished he could have been more like the Big Bam, friendly, outgoing and beloved. Cobb talked tearfully about how much he missed the man he called “a great, big kid.” Mellowed from his fiercely combative Tigers’ days, Cobb, a multimillionaire thanks to his Coca-Cola and General Motors investments, died in 1961 at age 74. The Georgia Peach took his MLB record .366 batting average with him to his grave.
Joe Guzzardi is a Society for American Baseball Research and Internet Baseball Writers Association member. Contact him at email@example.com.
Sovereign Lord is my strength William Lawrence Sr Cryptowit 6-12-23
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Answer to yesterday’s William Lawrence Sr Cryptowit quote puzzle: The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights.