By Dick Flavin
Boston Red Sox Poet Laureate
and New York Times Best Selling Author
THE HISTORIC EVENT THAT HISTORY FORGOT
July 12 th is the 74 th anniversary of what should be one of the most famous days in baseball
On that day in 1943 the two greatest hitters of all time of faced off against each other for
the only time in a home run hitting contest. Those hitters were Ted Williams and Babe
The contest took place before a charity exhibition game between the Boston Braves and a
team of World War II service all-stars. Williams was brought up from pre-flight school in
North Carolina to play in the game and Ruth was recruited to manage the all-stars. The
Braves were the home team but, because Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey had offered its
use, the event was held at Fenway Park. Ted, for the only time, wore a road team gray
Boston uniform for a game at Fenway. Ruth, because he always traveled with it, wore a
Yankee home uniform.
Williams arrived at the park wearing his Navy uniform, and was introduced for the first
time to Ruth. The newspapers of the day described him as being “tongue tied,” a
condition not normally associated with the outspoken slugger. Asked about it years later,
Ted confirmed the description. “I was flabbergasted,” he said. “He was Babe Ruth, for
The event took place on the Monday before the All-Star game, played in Philadelphia
that year, which might explain why it is not more famous. All the baseball beat writers
and big-time columnists were in the City of Brotherly Love for the big game. The local
newspapers covered the Boston event but didn’t play it up very much. Ted was only
twenty-four and, though he’d already hit .406, hadn’t achieved the iconic status of his
later years. Ruth was forty-eight, nine years retired from baseball but still relatively
young. It was assumed that there would be many more meetings between the two. But, by
the time Ted was discharged from the service and back with the Red Sox, Babe was
already sick with the cancer from which he would die in 1948.
When he appeared on the field Williams was given a lusty cheer, but it was dwarfed by
the reception accorded to Ruth. In pre-game ceremonies Babe took the microphone and
his showman’s instincts won over the crowd. “Boston’s my starting town,” he said.
“Here’s the town I love.”
If there ever was a Curse of the Bambino it was unbeknownst to Babe Ruth.
Then the home run competition began. Each player was allotted ten swings. Ted, who
hadn’t faced bit league pitching in almost ten months, deposited three balls into the seats
for homers. Then came the Babe. On his second swing he fouled the ball off his ankle
and yowled in pain. He hobbled around for a few more swings, but the ankle swelled up
and he sat down without hitting one ball hard.
In the seventh inning of the game, with the all-stars trailing, Ted hit a game winning
homer ten rows deep into the centerfield bleachers. That got Ruth’s competitive juices
flowing and in the eighth inning he inserted himself as a pinch hitter. The result was what
the newspapers described as a fly ball to short right field. It must have been pretty short
right field because the putout was made by Tony Cuccinello, the second baseman.
It had begun as the Babe’s day, but it ended with a virtuoso performance by Teddy
TED VS. BABE
On the twelfth of July many decades gone by,
Forty-three was the year long ago,
This happened, the truth, Ted Williams, Babe Ruth,
Faced off, bat to bat, toe to toe.
Fenway Park was the spot where the battle was fought,
At home plate, believe it or not.
This was the great test, which one was the best,
The Kid or the Sultan of Swat.
Ted was just twenty-four. He had gone off to war,
But was brought back for the big day.
The Babe, twice as old, but nonetheless bold,
Was convinced that he’d have his way.
For a charity game all-stars of great fame
From the military were there.
Ted was just one who’d join in the fun.
On hand to greet all was the mayor.
And up from Broadway came Ruth for the day,
But the game would take a back seat
When an idea was hatched, a home run hitting match,
The Kid and the Babe would compete.
First up was the Kid and here’s what he did,
Ten swings, three into the seats.
On the Babe’s second swing he fouled off the thing.
Hurt his foot, and conceded defeat.
Then in the game Ted homered again
The Babe could not stand to lose face.
But at age forty-eight he was no longer great,
And he popped out to second base.
For one day, at least, the argument ceased.
Yankee fans, we hope you’re not hurt,
But let it be said, if you bet against Ted,
Then you, I’m afraid, lost your shirt.
Gene Conley, the two-sport champion who passed away the other day, was a colorful
character. He was the subject of many great stories and this was one he liked to tell on
himself. When the Red Sox released him in 1963 he realized that his career in baseball
was over, so he stopped in at a church seeking some solace. A priest, seeing him alone in
the empty church, approached him and said, “Son, you look like you’ve lost your best
friend.” Gene said, “It’s worse than that. I’ve lost my fastball.”
He enjoyed pointing out that, though a reserve player with the Celtics, his number
seventeen hangs in the rafters of Boston Garden alongside of those retired numbers of
other Celtic greats. Of course, it didn’t hurt that the guy who wore seventeen after Gene
was a kid from Ohio State named Havlicek.
Rest in peace.