March 1, 1920 was supposed to be a red letter date for the New York Yankees. It was their opening day of spring training and it would be the first time Babe Ruth would suit up in Yankee pinstripes. Unseasonably cold weather, however, was griping the club’s training site in Jacksonville, Florida when the big day arrived.
Due to the frosty temperatures, Miller Huggins, the Yankee manager, made the first day of practice optional. Undaunted, all but a few players headed for the diamond. Ruth was among the few. He headed to the golf course.
Three months earlier, the biggest deal to date in professional sports had taken place: The sale of Ruth by the Boston Red Sox to the Yankees for $125,000. Before the Yankees would sign off on the transaction, they had Miller Huggins locate Ruth and make sure he was on board with the deal. It required Huggins to travel by train from New York to Los Angeles, where Ruth was enjoying the early days of December 1919.
Huggins found Babe just as he was completing a round of golf at a public course near Griffith Park. The two men huddled just off the 18th green. Huggins reviewed the terms of the transaction and what Babe’s compensation would be from the Yankees. Babe gave his blessings to the deal.
Babe had taken up golf with almost unbridled zeal four years earlier. His trademark on the course was the same as it was on the diamond: long booming drives. Babe’s swing at the plate was massive and powerful. The torque of his swing would twist his feet completely around. He employed the same swing when driving a golf ball. In an interview soon after he joined the Yankees, he explained one of the chief reasons he enjoyed golf so much, “I like to feel that when I hit something I am making an impression. When you hit a golf ball you can feel that you are making an impression.”
Many in baseball, including Ty Cobb, believed that golf had a negative impact on a player’s hitting. Many clubs discouraged its play during the season. Some even forbid it.
The Yankees’ front office was far from fond of Babe’s preoccupation with golf but they chose not to make an issue out of it. If golf was a threat to a player’s batting performance, given his feats at the plate, Babe had to be immune to it.
Babe’s passion for golf is best typified by his answer to a reporter’s question at the conclusion of his 1931 season with the Yankees in which he hit 46 home runs, drove in 163 runs, and had a batting average of .378. The reporter wanted to know what he felt his greatest accomplishment had been during that year. Babe replied, “Shooting a 73 at St. Albans Golf Club.”
David Sowell is a free lance writer. He has written about golf for a number of leading golf publications including, the ‘USGA’s Golf Journal.’ He is the author of the recently released book ‘Ike, Golf, & Augusta.’