Historic Ruth jersey a part of Hall of Fame history
By matching photos of the time to the uniform in Cooperstown – with the Yankee pinstripes providing unmistakable lines for proof – the jersey’s journey could be easily followed.
And fortunately, Ruth left the greatest clue of all in his silver screen performance in "The Pride of the Yankees”.
Ruth played himself in the 1942 Samuel Goldwyn picture and was given a uniform – as were the other actors in the movie – by the Western Costume Company. The film features two scenes where Ruth wore a pinstriped home Yankees jersey, and in both cases the stripes match up perfectly with the jersey the Hall of Fame acquired from Ruth on June 13, 1948.
“The producers of the movie tried really hard to make it historically accurate,” Shieber said. “When Ruth first appears in a Yankees uniform, it is 1923, when the Yankees wore plain, pinstriped jerseys. The movie makers got that right. A later scene, however, is supposed to take place in 1933. Ruth and his teammates are seen wearing uniform numbers on their jerseys, which is accurate, but they are also wearing the familiar interlocking “NY” on their shirt fronts, which is wrong: at no time during Ruth’s tenure with the Yanks did the club wear the iconic design on their jerseys. Thankfully, these mistakes helped explain a mystery. The incorrect “NY” on Ruth’s jersey can be seen in the movie and in movie publicity stills at two, subtly different locations relative to the unmoving pinstripes. This came about because movie scenes are not shot in chronological order.
“Indeed, the stitches on the ‘3’ and the “NY” were very loose – the tailor at the studio was leaving it loose so they could take it on and off for different shots. When the “NY” was returned to the jersey for some final scenes, it was replaced at a slightly different location on the front of Babe’s jersey.”
Interestingly, the pants worn by Ruth on June 13, 1948 were not used by the Bambino in either “Pride of the Yankees” or any of his known appearances with the “retired number jersey” throughout the 1940s. But in many of those appearances, Ruth wore pants that match another pair in the Museum’s collection – pants that were donated to the Museum following his death in 1948.
Why the change?
“It’s likely because the Babe had lost weight by the spring of 1948 due to his bout with cancer,” Shieber said. “The pants from ‘The Pride of the Yankees’ were too large for Babe. The pants he donned on June 13, 1948 have a smaller waistline and likely date from much earlier playing days.”
Mystery solved – and more to come. It’s all a labor of love for the Museum’s history detectives.
“The magic of baseball is in its history – stories that preserve the details of the game as well as moments that make up the American experience,” Shieber said. “A jersey like the one the Babe gave us on June 13, 1948 is more than just a shirt. It’s a personal artifact of a man who remains larger than life, even more than 60 years after his death.”
Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum