Of course they called him Babe.
George Ernest Ruth had the fortune, for good or ill, to enter Organized Baseball when the legend of George Herman Ruth was still fresh in fans’ minds. He appeared in the lower reaches of the Cincinnati Redlegs’ farm system in 1957, less than a decade after the original Babe died. Furthermore, George Ernest happened to be an outfielder with some pop in his bat, just like George Herman. So it was no great surprise when fans and sportswriters in central and western New York state, where he played minor-league ball, embraced the story of “the new Babe Ruth.”
The original Babe remade the majors. The second Babe never even made them. Still, George Ernest Ruth won a few games with his booming bat in that long-ago summer. This is the story of one of them — a game that allowed fans and writers to chatter once again about “Ruthian drives,” more than 20 years after the Bambino’s last hurrah.
The matchup of George E. Ruth’s Hornell (New York) Redlegs and the Olean (New York) Oilers on June 25, 1957, brought together the two worst teams in the Class D New York-Penn League. The Oilers, a Phillies farm club, were seventh at 19-32, 15 games behind first-place Corning. The Redlegs were last at 16-33, 17 games out.1 The Redlegs hadn’t even existed when the season started. The team was hastily assembled in late May to take the place of the independent Bradford (Pennsylvania) Blue Sox, who dropped out of the circuit for financial reasons after 20 games.2
The new Hornell team kept only a few of Bradford’s players, bringing in a crop of Cincinnati farmhands — among them George E. Ruth of Reedsville, Ohio. George E. signed with the Redlegs fresh from the University of Cincinnati, where he hit .407 as a senior and ran track. The “junior Babe” hastened to point out that he was no relation to George Herman Ruth.3 He also told reporters that, while he respected the Babe, Ted Williams was his baseball idol: “What I wouldn’t give if I could develop his eye at the plate.”4 In his first pro game, the youngster indicated he was on the right track. He homered in his first at-bat with Hornell on June 14, earning mention in The Sporting News.5
On June 25 George E. batted leadoff and played center field. Hornell’s starting lineup also included two names major-league fans would recognize. Future big-league skipper Dave Bristol served as the team’s 24-year-old player-manager, hitting third and playing second base. And Cuban outfielder Tony Gonzalez, who spent most of the 1960s as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies, hit sixth and played left field. No other Hornell player made the big leagues. The team’s starting pitcher was 19-year-old righty Bill Ainsworth, who went 2-1 with a 4.00 ERA in seven games in his only professional season.
Olean also boasted a player-manager who landed in the majors. Paul Owens, later a longtime Phillies general manager and the manager of their 1983 National League championship team, batted third and played first base for the Oilers. According to Baseball-Reference, Owens hit .407 in 107 games that season. No other Olean players that season reached the bigs. The Oilers’ starter on June 25 was 19-year-old lefty Ed Clancy, who went 2-9 in 25 games for two New York-Penn League teams — Hornell/Bradford and Olean — in 1957. It was his only recorded year in professional baseball.
George E. Ruth gave the 450 fans at Olean’s Bradner Field an immediate thrill. On Clancy’s second pitch, the righty-swinging Ruth drilled a 375-foot homer to left-center field to give the Redlegs a 1-0 lead. This display of power inspired one local sportswriter to wax poetic: “It was strictly ‘a la Bambino’ and had the onlookers talking of the Babe’s homer.”6 Olean threatened to come back in the bottom half, as a single by center fielder Mike Santoli and two walks filled the bases with two out. But Olean right fielder Bart DuPont popped out to shortstop James Passilla to end the inning.7
Olean threatened again in the third inning but could not score. Left fielder Charlie Randall hit a ground-rule double into the right-field seats. When third baseman Eddie Parsons singled to left, Randall tried to score, but a throw from Gonzalez cut him down at home. The Oilers also put a man on in the fifth, only to have Hornell turn a 6-4-3 double play to get out of the inning.8
Ainsworth yielded six hits and six walks over the course of the game but wiggled out of any threats. As one game story colorfully put it: “Ainsworth was tougher to crack than one of those real African nuts. The Oilers, several times, had him set up but, in the clutch, he always came through.”9
Olean’s Clancy held the Redlegs to one run until the seventh, when Hornell filled the bases on an infield single by first baseman Don Pray, a single by right fielder Hank DeVincent, and a beaten-out bunt by Gonzalez. Clancy induced a groundball from the next hitter to force Pray at the plate. But catcher Jim Prendergast flied out deep enough to center to score DeVincent, making it 2-0.10
Having impressed the fans with his power, Ruth showed them his speed in the eighth inning by beating out a slow infield roller. Two more infield outs moved him to third, and DeVincent’s third hit of the game drove him in to give Hornell a 3-0 lead.11 Clancy threw a scoreless ninth, closing with a pitching line of 10 hits, three runs, only one walk, and six strikeouts.
The game’s only error, by Hornell shortstop Passilla, gave Olean brief hope with one out in the ninth. But Santoli lined out to Passilla for the second out, and second baseman Monty Howard skied one to the “junior Babe” in center field for the final out.12 The game ended in 2 hours and 20 minutes. News accounts pointed out that the game was much more tightly played than many low-minor-league contests: “Both (pitchers) came up with jobs good enough to win the normal New York-Penn League game. It so happened (Clancy) had the misfortune to bump into Ainsworth when that lad had one of his better nights and excellent support afield.”13
Later that summer, George E. told a reporter: “You know it’s quite an honor to be called Babe Ruth. I’d give anything to uphold his name. I don’t necessarily mean hitting home runs but just being a good professional baseball player.”14 Unfortunately, being a good pro ballplayer was not in George E.’s long-term future. According to Baseball-Reference, he hit .227 with six home runs in 60 games and 203 at-bats in 1957 and never appeared in Organized Baseball again.
Online searches do not clearly establish what the “junior Babe” did after his year in baseball. We know he had ideas for his life after sports. He envisioned serving in the armed forces and was considering a career as a high-school teacher, having earned a bachelor’s degree in education. He also discussed an interest in coaching.15 It’s possible that generations of teenagers knew him as “Mr. Ruth” or “Coach Ruth,” never knowing about the summer when fans and sportswriters called him Babe.
In addition to the specific sources cited in the Notes, I used the Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org websites for general player, team, and season data.
Neither Baseball-Reference nor Retrosheet provides box scores of minor-league games, but the June 26, 1957, editions of the Olean Times Herald and the Hornell Evening Tribune published box scores for this game. The box score shown is from the Hornell paper.
The author would like to thank the Hornell Public Library for research assistance.
1 New York-Penn League standings as published in the Wellsville (New York) Daily Reporter, June 25, 1957: 7.
2 Associated Press, “Hornell Joins NYP League,” Elmira (New York) Advertiser, May 25, 1957: 6.
3 Associated Press, “George ‘Babe’ Ruth to Play with Hornell,” Rochester (New York) Democrat and Chronicle, June 9, 1957: 1B.
4 Andy Lamb Jr., “Andy’s Anvil,” Elmira (New York) Advertiser, July 9, 1957: 11.
5 “Babe Ruth’s Namesake Makes Debut in Style — With Homer,” The Sporting News, June 26, 1957: 41.
6 Mike Abdo, “Oilers Bow, 3-0, in Well-Played Tilt; Batavia Here for 2 Tonight,” Olean (New York) Times Herald, June 26, 1957: 9.
7 “Nothing Like Pitching: Ainsworth Proves It in Shutout at Olean,” Hornell (New York) Evening Tribune, June 26, 1957: 12.
8 “Nothing Like Pitching: Ainsworth Proves It in Shutout at Olean.”
10 “Nothing Like Pitching: Ainsworth Proves It in Shutout at Olean.”
11 “Nothing Like Pitching: Ainsworth Proves It in Shutout at Olean.”
12 “Nothing Like Pitching: Ainsworth Proves It in Shutout at Olean.”
Hornell Redlegs 3
Olean Oilers 0
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