Babe Ruth played at Yale Field in 1929, just one day after two fans were trampled to death at Yankee Stadium

Yankee immortals, left to right, Bob Meusel, Babe Ruth and Earl Combs are pictured during their championship season in 1928. They were all in the ill-fated game at Yankee Stadium the following year, and Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Leo Durocher, were among those who played the next day when the Yankees lost to the Eastern League Profs at Yale Field. (AP Photo)
By Joel Alderman
 
The New York Yankees agreed to play an in-season exhibition game against the Eastern League New Haven Profs at Yale Field in 1929. Nobody in the organization or at that prestigious university, however, could have imagined it would take place on the heels of what was and still may be the worst day ever at the old or new Yankee Stadium.
 
It’s doubtful you’ll ever see a feature about this event on the YES Network’s “Yankeeography.” It is nothing of which the club could be proud. The event on May 19, 1929, was not about the play on the field, where 50,000 were gathered to see the Yankees and Babe Ruth face the Red Sox in what was to have been a double header.
 
Tragedy struck
 
Before the first scheduled game had gone four and a half innings, an unthinkable tragedy broke out in a section of the right field bleachers known as “Ruthville.” That was the area where most of the Bambino’s home run balls landed.
 
A quick change in weather
 
In the third inning Ruth and Lou Gehrig hit back-to-back home runs. Gehrig’s was an opposite field drive to left and was an inside the park blast. The game had started in sunlight but by the fifth inning it was raining. Most of the bleacher crowd stayed seated, hoping the conditions would improve. Some, however, got up and congregated around an exit atop a stairway, ready to make a dash out of the rain in case the game was stopped.
 
Pictured here in 1927, Yankee Stadium then was a lot less spacious, and therefore more dangerous, than it is today (AP Photo).
Pictured here in 1927, Yankee Stadium then was a lot less spacious, and therefore more dangerous, than it is today (AP Photo).

The exit became a death trap

 
With one out, as the rain continued, Ruth came to bat again and grounded out. As Gehrig walked to the plate, a bolt of lightning and a peal of thunder reverberated over the Stadium, followed by a gigantic cloudburst of pelting rain.
 
According to the Associated Press, when play was stopped, 6,000 fans made a rush for the exit which led to 157th Street. The pressure they exerted from behind soon caused those in front to fall and others to pile on top of them.
 
People were screaming and crying, two bleacherites lost their lives, and almost a hundred were injured in a mad dash for cover. In almost in an instant the exit was clogged with a screaming, battling mass of humanity.
 
The ultimate victims
 
A 60-year old chauffeur, Joseph Carr, of Manhattan, was lying dead when he was picked up in the passageway. Eleanor Price, a 17-year old Hunter College student from the Bronx, was taken to a dressing room beneath the stands, where she died after emergency treatment failed to revive her.
Her 14-year old brother, George, who was with her, was one of the injured.  The injuries ranged from slight bruises to fractured skulls. Most of the casualties were taken to nearby Lincoln Hospital and 18 of them remained there overnight or longer.
 
The alley, through which the crowd attempted to force its way, was 35-feet long and only 12 feet wide (Associated Press).
 
The New York Times wrote, “Already drenched, clothing was torn and ripped by the frantic efforts of the crowd to fight its way from the mass at the foot of the stairs; and coats, torn from their owners’ backs, hats and even shoes lay scattered among the unconscious figures.”
 
Doctors, who were in attendance, helped with first aid after fighting their way through the crowd. An emergency hospital was set up in the ladies’ room in the right field stands. Ambulances, taxi cabs and private cars transported the injured to various hospitals.
 
Reinforcements were called in and soon 300 patrolmen were holding back the crowd and opening up lanes for removal of the injured. A report by the United Press began, “Two persons were trampled to death and about 100 others were injured this afternoon when a large crowd of bleacherites at the Yankee stadium stampeded in a sudden downpour of rain.”
 
As the day turned into night, a large number of people were at hospitals in search of injured friends and relatives.
 
A doctor on the scene criticized the first aid facilities at the Stadium
 
Dr. Edward S. Cowles, a neurologist who attended the game and helped with medical assistance, said that he had never seen so few facilities for taking care of the injured as those afforded by the Stadium.
 
He told The Times that there were no medical provisions of any kind and nowhere to place the injured, except on the floor. They were cold, had only wet clothes, and there were no blankets for them, the doctor said.
“We had to take off our coats to help out. No drugs of any kind were available, and pending the arrival of the ambulances the volunteers could resort to only the crudest of medical methods in an effort to save lives. The ambulances did not come until after twenty minutes or more had passed,” he continued.
 
In defense of the Yankees
 
On the other hand, New York Police Commissioner Whalen told The Times: “This seems to be one of those unfortunate occurrences which could not be helped. There is no provision which could have been made in order to avoid such a thing.”
 
District Attorney John E. McGehan, of the Bronx, investigated and said the responsibility for the accident was with the spectators who had left their seats when the rain started, hoping to see the game at the same time, and that, without thinking, they blocked the exits.
 
Colonel Jacob Rupert, the owner of the Yankees, had always considered the Stadium as providing the last word in safety to the public. He seemed stunned at what had happened. Miller Huggins, the Yankee manager, was also visibly upset.
 
A hollow victory for the Yankees
 
The game never resumed. Having gone the minimum four and a half innings, it was an official contest and the Yankees were declared the winner over the Red Sox, 3-0. It was, and probably still is, the least popular victory in the history of the Yankees. It was nothing the team would want to publicize on “Yankeeography.” However, it cannot be denied that it happened and is forever a part of the history of the organization.
 
19 years after he played against the Profs, Babe Ruth returned to Yale Field to present baseball captain George Bush with the original manuscript of "The Babe Ruth Story," which was placed in the university library. (AP Photo)
19 years after he played against the Profs, Babe Ruth returned to Yale Field to present baseball captain George Bush with the original manuscript of “The Babe Ruth Story,” which was placed in the university library. (AP Photo)

The contest in New Haven went on as scheduled

 
If the tragedy had a sobering effect on the Yankees and baseball in general, it did not change the New Yorker’s plans for the next day, a Monday. So the team journeyed to Yale Field in West Haven, Connecticut, for its exhibition with the defending Eastern League champion New Haven Profs. Before 6,000 fans at the college ballpark on a dry day, Ruth managed only one single and Gehrig went hitless as the minor league Profs won, 3-2. That’s a story we’ll save for another day.
 
Ruth tried to console the injured
 
Back in New York, after the game at Yale Field, Babe Ruth and his wife went to Lincoln Hospital to visit nine boys and seven men who were still confined there for the injuries they had suffered in the stampede two days earlier.
 
According to the old Brooklyn Daily Eagle, a paper that once had the largest afternoon circulation in the country, the Ruth’s first visited 11-year old Leon Gassner of the Bronx, N.Y., who suffered a fractured skull at the Stadium. When he saw them, the boy was reduced to tears. He was then presented with a baseball signed by the Babe and Mrs. Ruth. Another autographed ball was given to Edward Devlin, 14, of Yonkers, N.Y.
 
The couple then was taken to a ward where 14 other victims were confined. Morris Lerner, 14, of the Bronx, asked Ruth if he would hit two home runs next time he went to Yankee Stadium. “I’ll try,” he promised, according to the Daily Eagle.
 
And so they went, from bed to bed, including a visit to 60-year old Thomas Maloney, also of the Bronx. Ruth gave him a ball and quipped; “Now I suppose you’ll play in the back lots, too, eh?”
 
Are there any survivors?
 
It is now 86 years since this tragedy struck Yankee Stadium. Two of those there that day never made it out of the Stadium alive.
 
Others may have gone through their child and adult years with the terror of the event always in their memories.
SportzEdge would like to know if there are any survivors left and to share with our readers what their recollections are. The survivors would have been around age ten at the time and now be in their 90s.
 
They would probably agree that the disaster in “Ruthville” no doubt remained with them and the others who experienced what was probably the darkest day ever at Yankee Stadium. 

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