Bambino Fest Ruth Conference Draws Fans, Poets in Gathering for Baseball at Heart

By 1995, Knight-Ridder Newspapers | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), April 29, 1995 | Go to article overview

Bambino Fest Ruth Conference Draws Fans, Poets in Gathering for Baseball at Heart


1995, Knight-Ridder Newspapers, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


"R is for Ruth To tell you the truth, There's no more to be said Just R is for Ruth." Ogden Nash, "Lineup for Yesterday"

Thirty poets and 1,000 baseball fans proved Ogden Nash wrong Thursday. For on the first day of the Babe Ruth conference, torrents of words were uttered in the name of baseball's greatest player.

And while the Babe himself might have wanted to "whack the corn into pulp and pig fodder" - to quote one versifier - it surely was a day for the baseball at heart.

Old ballplayers told dugout stories. Stat freaks one-upped each other. And fans of various hues - particularly red-soxed and pin-striped - reveled in their passion.

"How could you not come?" said Wally Ackley, an accountant and Boston Red Sox fan from Weston, Mass. "This is history."

You can't argue there. For certainly, "Baseball and The Sultan of Swat" is the most extensive academic conference ever devoted to a single American athlete.

Nearly 100 scholars are presenting papers on Babe Ruth, who played 22 seasons for the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees. He died in 1948. The academicians are examining everything from the Babe's connection with Walt Whitman to his influence on Japan. Hundreds of other academicians are in attendance - alerting the uninitiated to the fact that a 40-page epic poem on Babe Ruth can be a master's thesis.

"My program director had never heard of such an idea, but he said why not?" said David McGimpsey, a Canadian poet from the University of Nova Scotia.

The conference is being held at Hofstra University, a private university of 12,000 students. Spring is in the air on the quaintly beautiful campus on Long Island, 45 minutes from Yankee Stadium, where Ruth played 15 of his 22 seasons. And the student chatter in the Uni-Span - a covered walkway over the parkway - was joined Thursday by the animated discussions of baseball fans.

Because this is not simply a convention of eggheads padding their academic resumes. It's a gathering for baseball fans who know the difference between Bob Shawkey and Tom Yawkey - but don't usually get to prove it in public.

There's Phil Baker, a retired postal worker from Long Beach, Calif., and former college baseball coach, who came on a whim, and marveled Thursday at the hundreds of Ruth photos - "Many of them were new to me, and I thought I'd seen all the Ruth photos."

Over there is Dean Georges, an owner of three Manhattan florist shops - not to mention two stadium seats from old Yankee Stadium - who summoned up the nerve to tell his partners he was taking off this National Secretaries Week.

"This is our biggest week; we have a shop in Rockefeller Center," he said. "But this is a once-in-a-lifetime event. Babe Ruth transcends baseball."

Certainly, Ruth transcends what Hofstra administrators expected. They anticipated about 600 spectators, which is what they usually draw for their acclaimed series of conferences about U.S. presidents.

Instead, they registered 1,000 guests Thursday. They expect double that for today's weekend session, when Hofstra students and townspeople typically attend the annual event. …

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