Before writing this, I checked on who was considered to be the greatest baseball player of all-time and found a listing on my computer that placed Babe Ruth as No. 1.
He has always been my choice because of his batting feats and ability to pitch with the best. He is also the greatest to play his sport in Bristol, although there have been some standouts here in baseball and football during earlier decades.
Ruth played here in exhibitions in both 1919 and 1920 with his first appearance making Muzzy Field history. The Big Bambino, Sultan of Swat or whatever you call him, he belted the first official home run out of Muzzy Field and to show how much a feat that was, by the 1940s it was said that only a half dozen or so had taken place. That’s amazing, too, when considering all the players and the number of games played at the historic field.
The day was Sunday, Sept. 21, 1919, and the Boston Red Sox came to town to play the New Departure ball club, one with best talent around, some having been former major league players. The game was advertised well and between 5,000 and 6,000 fans, depending who claimed to make the count, were in attendance...standing room only.
Some of those on the Sox were bench players but that made no difference to Bristol fans. This was the first big league baseball team to appear in town for a game and Ruth was coming off a year with 432 at-bats, 103 runs, 29 homers, 113 RBI and .322 batting average.
The New Departure News, a publication by the manufacturing firm, wrote the following in its Sept. 27, 1919, edition, the first entry since the Boston-N.D. game:
“In hitting practice, ‘Babe’ calculated the distance between home plate and somewhere in Rockwell Park by lifting two over into the park off old Heinie Wagner who was tossing them up for him.”
This brought the crowd to its feet, because no one had ever hit a ball over the fence, a playing ground that had similar distances than that of a major league ballpark. Everyone cheered Ruth, who was 24 years old at the time. This was a first for this baseball loving town.
“In the third inning, however,” according to the New Departure News report, “the big southpaw cracked the pill high and wide over the right field fence scoring Harry Harper from first.”
The crowd once again went into an uproar in witnessing this historic shot. This gave the Sox a 4-0 lead on the way to a 6-2 win. The Bristol Press recalled the feat in 1922, stating that, “It was a tremendous slam and the Bristol folks for many years to come will rave about that drive made by the Sultan of Swat.”
Legend has it that once over the fence, the ball disappeared by rolling into the Pequabuck River and with this in mind, Mike Saman, now president of the Bristol Historical Society, and I went to the field a couple of years ago to measure out the distance. We started at today’s home plate and went to the right field fence to measure that distance. We then went around the backside of the fence and added the length from there to the river and it was well over 600 feet.
Following the game, Ruth talked to the press with some kind words about the local fans.
“It has surely been a pretty nice greeting you Bristol people have given our team today,” Ruth said. “It was as nice a crowd as we have played before in any place outside of the big cities.”
Ruth would return in early October of 1920 in playing for the semi-pro Hartford Polis out of East Hartford, a team which had competed with New Departure often. He went 4-for-4 which included two singles and two doubles but no home runs. He career average at the Bristol field was now .750 in hitting safely on six of eight occasions.
Although hoping to see Ruth swat one over the fence during that second visit, those in attendance, an estimated 3,200, were able to witness him launch four over the wall in batting practice, one said to have cleared it by over 60 feet.
Contact Bob Montgomery at email@example.com.