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Babe Ruth made home run history in Wilkes-Barre

July 2, 2007
On October 12, 1926, Babe Ruth visited Wilkes-Barre's Artillery Park to play in an exhibition game between Hughestown and Larksville. Suiting up for Hughestown, the Yankee slugger challenged Larksville's hurler Ernie Corkran to throw him his "best stuff" -- a fastball right down the heart of the plate.

Corkran obliged and Ruth crushed the pitch into deep right field. When the ball cleared the fence, a good 400 feet away from home plate, it was still rising. It finally landed in Kirby Park on the far side of a high school running track.

Ruth himself was so impressed by the feat that he asked that his homer be measured. Originally estimated at 650 feet, the prodigious blast is considered to be the longest home run in baseball's storied history.

Bill Jenkinson, author of Recrowning Baseball's Greatest Slugger: The Year Babe Ruth Hit 104 Home Runs, recently made the determination after studying old newspaper accounts of the event and aerial photographs of Artillery Park as well as taking on-site measurements of the field.

"I've personally researched more than 1,000 home runs hit by Babe Ruth," insisted Jenkinson, "and this is the only time he asked someone to measure how far it went. Immediately after he hit it, he declared it to be the farthest home run he had ever hit."

Babe Ruth was both a product and a catalyst of the Roaring Twenties. Outgoing and boisterous, Ruth loved being the center of attention. His image appeared on everything from advertisements for men's underwear to baseball cards. He starred in silent films and rodeos, and he quickly won over the hearts of youngsters, beginning a cult of hero worship that continues to this day.

Ruth had a special affection for children, probably because he was raised in an orphanage and was denied the love of a mother. He lavished his attention on youngsters, signing autographs, playing pick-up games, and visiting hospitals. In fact, Ruth, during his visit to Wilkes-Barre, paid a visit to Mercy Hospital where he shook hands with many patients, including a few youngsters. According to one newspaper account, the experience "was emotional" for Ruth who had "a special fondness for children."

During the off-season the Babe went on barnstorming excursions, playing in exhibition games in small towns across the country. Northeast Pennsylvania was one of his favorite stops. He spent considerable time fishing at hunting near Blakesly, where he kept a cabin.

Ruth also had many friends in the area, including Mike Gazella of Olyphant, a utility infielder for the 1927 Yankees, and Buck Freeman of Wilkes-Barre, one of the premier sluggers of the Dead Ball Era. Ruth allegedly modeled his own uppercut swing after Freeman's. In fact, Freeman's single-season tally of 25 home runs in 1899 stood as a major league record until 1919 when Ruth clouted 29 round-trippers.

The "Sultan of Swat" went on to revolutionize the game with his power hitting, being the first player to hit 30, 40, 50 and 60 home runs in a season. Because of his hitting exploits, the Yankees were perennial contenders, if not World Series champions, during the decade of the 1920s.

Although Ruth's legendary home-run totals - 714 in his career and 60 in 1927 - are no longer records, the one he hit at Wilkes-Barre's Artillery Park in 1926 has stood the test of time.

"I think the people from this area can rightfully claim that the longest ball in competitive baseball history was hit here," said Jenkinson. "I think we can fairly conclude that this ball traveled well over 600 feet. There's no question about where the ball landed. There are several accounts that say the ball landed on the far side of the running track. It's just a question of whether or not the running track and home plate are in the same location."

"No matter what direction this thing takes from this point on we are going to find out that this ball traveled well over 600 feet. I don't think that there is any way that it didn't."

William Kashatus is a baseball historian who writes for the Citizens Voice. He can be contacted at [email protected]