Santa Barbara was in a state of high excitement on October 27, 1927. First of all, it was Navy Day and the citizens were honoring the officers and crew of the battleship USS Colorado, which was anchored just offshore. The second reason was that two of the biggest baseball stars in the country, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, were in town on a barnstorming tour.
In 1927, Babe Ruth enjoyed the single most famous season in baseball history. His New York Yankees stormed to the American League pennant by 19 games that year, were never out of first place, and swept the World Series against their National League opponents in four games. Ruth hit for a .356 average, knocked in 164 runs, and, most importantly, hit 60 home runs, arguably the most famous record in sports. He was the centerpiece of a Yankee dynasty that would dominate the major leagues for five decades. He was a megastar of international renown and he was coming to Santa Barbara.
His Yankee teammate, in only his third full season, was already carving out a career that ultimately would land him in baseball’s Hall of Fame. In 1927, Lou Gehrig hit for a higher average than Ruth (.373), drove in more runs (175), and his 47 homers were more than anyone had ever hit in major league history except for Ruth. Although not quite as well known as the “Sultan of Swat,” Gehrig was a star of the highest caliber.
Three days after closing out the World Series, the two embarked on a 21-game barnstorming trip that would take them from Rhode Island to California. Barnstorming in the off-season was fairly common in those days. Many ballplayers made little more than the average worker and barnstorming was an important income supplement. The tour was highly successful; Ruth’s Bustin’ Babes and Gehrig’s Larrupin’ Lous played before packed houses everywhere they went.
The two stars arrived in Santa Barbara on October 26, and were put up in the Carrillo Hotel (now the Hotel Andaluc-a), which catered primarily to business travelers. As was the custom, pick-up teams would compose the opposing nines; Ruth’s team consisted of players from the USS Colorado, while Gehrig’s team was made up of locals. The game was sponsored by one of the local newspapers, Reginald Fernald’s Morning Press.
Wet weather left the field at Santa Barbara High School’s Peabody Stadium in less than ideal condition, but copious amounts of sawdust made the surface playable. Some 3,500 fans, including many schoolchildren, who had written parental permission to attend the game, enjoyed the pregame homerun-hitting contest between the two Yankees. Kids paid a quarter to get in and adults were charged $1.10.
At 2 p.m., the teams were introduced. Among the locals playing for Gehrig were a young George Castagnola, future city councilmember Ray Wilson, and Ortine Good, who worked for Fernald’s rival, Thomas Storke’s Daily News. Pitching was Hal Bacon, a retail clothier.
The contest did not disappoint. Ruth hit a homerun his first time up and ended up going two for four on the day. Bacon actually struck out Ruth his third time up; decades later, Bacon still laughingly referred to that strikeout as his proudest achievement. Gehrig perhaps supplied the biggest thrill of the day when he launched a homerun in the third inning, which one observer felt would have traveled 500 feet if the ball had not struck a car in the parking lot. Gehrig got three hits in his three at-bats. Down 6-1, the Larrupin’ Lous staged a furious rally in the bottom of the seventh to tie the score. Ruth and his cohorts then scored once in the eighth and that’s how it ended, 7-6, game to the Bustin’ Babes. It had been a glorious baseball afternoon.