On Tuesday, July 9, 2019, Hunt Auctions held a live event wherein lot #114 — an aged 10.25″ high by 12.75″ wide Type 1 photo showing Babe Ruth making his last public appearance at Yankee Stadium in 1948 — sold for a record $164,500. It is an iconic image of baseball’s biggest star addressing the Yankee Faithful for the final time. This is the story behind the unforgettable photo.
THE START OF RUTH’S DEMISE
In November 1946, 11 years removed from his playing days with the New York Yankees, Ruth entered French Hospital in Manhattan, New York, to undergo some medical tests. His visit revealed he had an inoperable malignant tumor in his neck. Following three months of experimental treatments including radiation, a noticeably thinner Ruth was discharged from the hospital. Though he showed initial signs of improvement, his condition gradually worsened. On August 16, 1948, Ruth passed away. He was 53.
In between the original diagnosis and the day he died, Ruth was honored by his longtime team. On June 13, 1948, he was invited to participate in Yankee Stadium’s Silver Anniversary celebration as well as his own jersey number (3) retirement ceremony. A frail-looking Ruth, some 75 pounds lighter than his 215-pound playing days, appeared in full uniform. Leaning on a bat he borrowed from Cleveland Indians pitcher Bob Feller as he made his way out of the visitor’s dugout, he addressed the massive crowd of nearly 60,000 in attendance.
“Thank you very much ladies and gentlemen.You know how bad my voice sounds. Well, it feels just as bad,” a raspy-voiced Ruth said into the microphone.
“You know this baseball game of ours comes up from the youth. That means the boys. And after you’re a boy and grow up to know how to play ball, then you come to the boys you see representing themselves today in your national pastime, the only real game, I think, in the world, baseball. As a rule, some people think if you give them a football, or a baseball, or something like that — naturally they’re athletes right away. But you can’t do that in baseball.
“You’ve gotta start from way down [at] the bottom, when you’re six or seven years of age. You can’t wait until you’re fifteen or sixteen. You gotta let it grow up with you. And if you’re successful, and you try hard enough, you’re bound to come out on top — just like these boys have come to the top now. There’s been so many lovely things said about me, and I’m glad that I’ve had the opportunity to thank everybody. Thank you.”
THE WORK OF NAT FEIN
That day the New York Herald Tribune assigned photographer Nat Fein to cover the event. Having photographed previous subjects including Albert Einstein, President Harry Truman and Queen Elizabeth, Fein readied himself at the ballpark. Not normally a sports shooter he knew he wanted to capture something unique. And that’s exactly what he did.
Unlike the throng of other photographers on hand, who lined themselves up and down the first baseline, Fein positioned himself behind Ruth. From that unique vantage point, Fein captured the magnitude of the moment, Ruth’s iconic No. 3, and the weakened state of baseball’s most famous player all in the same frame. Fein went on to win a Pulitzer Prize for his picture, which was aptly entitled “The Babe Bows Out.” It was the first Pulitzer Prize ever awarded to a sports photographer.