Babe’s on Film

New research confirms earliest known moving images of Ruth in Yankee uniform

June 11, 2014

When referring to Yankee greats, one of the first names that comes to mind is Babe Ruth.

Now, a new chapter in the Great Bambino’s history has been discovered.

As the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum finishes its preparations for the opening of the new Babe Ruth: His Life and Legend exhibit on June 13, senior curator Tom Shieber has identified what he believes to be the earliest known footage of Ruth in a Yankee uniform.

Shieber, who received the 36-second clip from the University of South Carolina’s Moving Image Research Collections in December 2013, was recently able to date the footage. He has confirmed the video was filmed just months after Ruth was sold to the New York Yankees in late 1919.

“I’ve seen a lot of Ruth footage, and this is the earliest Ruth footage in a Yankee uniform I’ve ever seen,” Shieber said.

The clip shows Ruth taking batting practice before a Spring Training game in Miami, Fla., in 1920.

“It’s really fun to see his swing because he changed batting stances throughout his career,” Shieber said. “He has a very closed stance, which was rare for that time period.”

Ruth can be seen hitting three pitches before the video cuts to a close-up of his face. In the background are several other players warming up. It was these players that led Shieber to clarify the video’s date.

“Two of the guys in the background have something on their left chests,” he said. “It’s a C for Cincinnati. It’s similar to what the Reds wore during that time period.”

Shieber researched the 1920 Spring Training schedules of both teams and found they played each other in a three-game series on March 15, 16 and 17. The final game of the series was at a hotel in Palm Beach, Fla. whereas the video features a ballpark. Because of this, Shieber was able to eliminate the March 17 contest and confirm that the previously undated footage was filmed on either March 15 or 16.

Through historical newspapers – and with the help of Hall of Fame library associate Bill Francis – Shieber was also able to identify the field in the video as Tatum Field, which stood until 1964 when it was demolished to make room for an expansion on the Orange Bowl.

The video, along with other rare footage of Ruth, will be available to the public as part of the Babe Ruth: His Life and Legend exhibit.

“It will be part of one of the two video screens in the exhibit,” Shieber said. “We're the only museum that has this footage on exhibit.”

The exhibit will feature a scrapbook theme, which will allow viewers to experience Ruth’s legacy in an entirely new way.

“You’re going to experience Babe Ruth as if you were flipping through a scrapbook,” Shieber said. “It’s like a time machine. It’s almost like you’re experiencing it as it happens.”

Kristen Gowdy is the 2014 public relations intern in the Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum