The Babe, a chicken and a record for both
Babe Ruth was many things to many people: A hero to children and a superstar to baseball fans. However, the one thing he was not was a chicken.
Or was he? As the United States celebrates National Fried Chicken Day on July 6, we take a look back at the intersection of The Bambino and his poultry counterpart.
Newspaper headlines such as “Babe Ruth Seeks Record for Eggs,” or “Babe Ruth Slow on 168th Laying,” might give the average reader pause. In 1927, though, there was more than one Babe Ruth in the news, and the feathered one was receiving just as much attention as the home run-hitting one.
By Sept. 24, the human Babe Ruth – a Baltimore-born slugger for the Yankees – was knocking one round tripper after another, chasing his record of 59 home runs, set in 1921. The avian Babe Ruth was a white leghorn hen known as “Lady Amco of Norfolk,” as she hailed from the Norfolk, Neb., chicken farm of A.R. Landers. But she might have been more Lou Gehrig than Babe Ruth.
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Much as the media followed the human Babe Ruth on an everyday basis, so, too, did it keep tabs on the feathered Babe. Stories about mating the chicken to a Colorado rooster appeared in newspapers, describing the Rocky Mountain rooster’s owner as having “serious objections to the setting up of a new chicken kingdom to be called ‘The House of Babe Ruth.’”
Of course, Yankee Stadium is the house Ruth built.
The United Press reported on Oct. 13, that the two Ruths would finally meet when the barnstorming ballplayer visited Omaha for an Oct. 16 doubleheader. Apparently, any eggs laid in the interim would be served to Ruth for breakfast that morning.
At the American Milling Company’s chicken yards, the two met before spectators and movie cameras. Ruth greeted the hen with a shake of her foot.
“‘Cluck, cluck, cluck,’ returned Lady Norfolk,” according to the United Press. “Which translated into ‘Chickenese’ by A.R. Landers, her owner, meant ‘The honor is all mine, big fellow.’”
Ruth marveled at the chicken’s feat.
“One a day for 171 days!” noted Ruth, drawing agreement from Gehrig. “Gosh, how I wish I could do as well.”
Upon his first at-bat, Ruth received the 170th egg, enclosed in a jewel box and presented by H.J. McLaughlin, Nebraska’s secretary of the department of agriculture. The box was inscribed “From the Queen of Eggs to the King of Hitters.”
All good streaks must come to an end, however, and so it was for Babe Ruth the hen on Oct. 19. After 173 consecutive days of laying eggs, she turned up nothing. Some suspected “fowl” play, but George A. Danforth, who ran the contest for the American Egg Laying Association, explained why.
“Babe Ruth’s food was changed,” he said. “Her proteins were taken away from her, and she was fed carbohydrates instead.
“She could have continued until she laid 300 or more eggs if we had continued to feed her proteins, but in doing so she might have killed herself. We did it for her own sake.”
Ruth the human continued to feast on opposing pitchers, though, hitting home runs at a prodigious pace. He finished with 714 (and an additional 15 in the postseason) when he retired in 1935.
Articles featuring this and other notable Ruth highlights are chronicled in the Babe Ruth Scrapbooks, kept by his agent, Christy Walsh. These have been scanned and are available for view at PASTIME, the Baseball Hall of Fame’s digital repository.
Matt Rothenberg is the manager of the Giamatti Research Center at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum