Imagine what this offer would bring on ebay.com: a chance to travel back in time to 1929 and become Babe Ruth's roommate for an entire Yankees road trip. What kind of bid would that bring at auction-$5 or $10 million maybe?
That's $5 or $10 million more than it would have brought from major-league players back then.
In '29, the Yankees couldn't pay someone to be the Babe's roommate. Not that he wasn't a nice guy. He was a very nice guy and treated everybody well. It's just that he wasn't an easy man to share a room with, not when you had to play a game the next day and needed your rest.
Babe was always carousing at night. He'd burst into the room in the middle of the night and start eating loudly, or worse. He was famous for drinking beer in his room, or worse. OK, no point in sugar-coating it, I guess: a big reason the Yankees had so much trouble finding a roommate for Ruth was his penchant for burping and passing gas. Some things a man just can't sleep through, and by all accounts, Ruth's gas was definitely one of those things.
The regulars on the team didn't want any part of rooming with the Babe, so the Yankees would always bring up a rookie and assign him to be Ruth's roommate. By the end of the road trip, the rookie could barely stand up, much less stand in against the best pitching he had ever seen.
Finally, the Yankees found a young shortstop who had what it took to withstand rooming with Babe and all his late-night interruptions. The kid made it through the first road trip and didn't utter a single complaint about his new roommate. The rook didn't show any of the normal signs of fatigue the others had shown. The next road trip arrived; they had the kid room with Ruth again, and again the roommate aired no complaints for the entire trip. The Yankees were convinced that they had finally found a roommate for the Babe and rid themselves of a nagging headache.
Then, during maybe the third trip the Yankees took with Ruth and his seemingly compatible new roommate, the Babe noticed he had been spending his money even more rapidly than usual. At the same time, some of the guys in the clubhouse noticed that they were missing some valuables, including money, watches, and rings.
This was very unusual; in that era, the sanctity of the clubhouse was such that I could lay a thousand-dollar bill on the floor on Opening Day and it would be there in the same spot, untouched by human hands, on the final day of the season. Fooling with a teammate's possessions was a taboo. Period. It just wasn't done. I would never have thought about reaching into someone else's locker to take anything, not even something as harmless as a bar of soap.
Ruth had more money than anyone on the team, so it was no surprise that he became the thief's No. 1 target. The Babe grew suspicious when he had to start checking for a hole in his pocket, he was spending his money so fast. Finally, when a gold pocket watch someone had given to him turned up missing, Babe decided to set a trap for the thief. He marked five $100 bills.
The Yankees were in town to play the Tigers (four years before I joined the team), and were staying at the Detroit Leland Hotel, where I first reported when I came up and where I first heard the story of how Ruth trapped and punished the thief.
From Sleeper Cars and Flannel Uniforms by Elden Auker with Tom Keegan.
Copyright © 2001 by Elden Auker and Tom Keegan. Used by permission.