Babe Ruth & Western Pa. Football: June 2020

First of all, I’m asking for a favor because if I don’t get more “followers” by the end of this year, I will probably discontinue my blogs. So, if you could pass the word to sports fans who you know and suggest that they sign up to follow this site, that could help. Thanks.

TRIVIA: Johnny Sain, one half of the pitching duo that led the Boston Braves to the ’48 pennant (remember the famous “Spahn and Sain and pray for rain” quote?), is the answer to a very obscure trivia question–who was the last man to pitch against Babe Ruth and also the first one to pitch to Jackie Robinson in the majors (1947). The Ruth at bat is the tricky part because that took place during a fund raising game for the armed forces in 1943. Not wanting to humble the bloated, out of shape Ruth, Sain threw pitches out of the strike zone. Ruth walked, was lifted for a pinch hitter, and never appeared again in uniform during a contest according to Sain.

Pittsburgh fans may know that Ruth’s last home run in the majors came as a member of the Braves at Forbes Field and that he blasted the first ever homer over the right field roof which loomed high above the playing field. Nobody had hit one over that target in the park’s first 26 seasons to date. The Pirate who served up that home run was Guy Bush. Somehow the aging Ruth mustered his old bat magic that day (May 25, 1935) and hit three home runs, but (contrary to what is sometimes portrayed) he did not retire after that barrage. He went on to play uneventfully in five more games, going hitless over 13 plate appearances, wrapping up his career after, I believe, grounding out as a pinch hitter against the Phillies.

For my Pittsburgh/Western Pennsylvania readers: The book Pittsburgh Sports presented an extremely impressive stat about the Steel City vicinity and how it produced so many great football players: “In the early 1970s the Pittsburgh area . . . ranked highest in major college recruiting” with Allegheny County ranking #3 in the entire nation. Then, remarkably, when based on per capita stats, FIVE of the top 11 counties in the country were from the southwest portion of Pennsylvania. They were– Beaver County at #2; Westmoreland (#6); Washington was 7th best; Fayette ranked 8th, and Allegheny stood #11!

That reminded me of something from my book America’s Football Factory about football in the Pittsburgh area–at one point almost exactly one out of every four modern era quarterbacks in the Hall of Fame were from that region: Blanda, Unitas, Namath, Kelly, Marino, and Montana. That is an unbelievable, defying-all-odds statistic.

In a 1975 ranking, the Philadelphia area boasted they had nine of the top 100 Pennsylvanians in the state’s high school football history, and the south-central part of the state produced 15. Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh area was responsible for 38 (31 from the WPIAL).

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