1939 Tripleheader

Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth were among the ten "immortals" inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame during the 1939 centennial celebrations. Both came from humble backgrounds and transcended troubled, violent upbringings to rise to the pinnacle of the game. In nearly every other way, however, they were a study in contrasts.

 
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20¢ Ty Cobb (Legends of Baseball Issue) postal card, 2000
Scott Catalogue USA UX340
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20¢ Babe Ruth (Legends of Baseball Issue) postal card, 2000
Scott Catalogue USA UX344
 
 

Tyrus Raymond "Ty" Cobb (1886–1961) dominated the game during the years he wielded this bat for the Detroit Tigers. An unusually aggressive competitor, he was prone to quarreling with other players and fans alike and given to outbursts of blustering self-importance. The spiral tape on the handle and tobacco stains on the barrel are characteristic of Cobb, who liked to intimidate opposing pitchers by glaring at them while spitting tobacco juice. His .366 career batting average has never been surpassed.

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Ty Cobb game-used bat, 1910–1915, on exhibit
Loan from The Stephen Wong Collection

George Herman "Babe" Ruth (1895–1948) used this Louisville Slugger during his 1920 debut season with the New York Yankees, in which he hit fifty-four home runs and single-handedly saved the sport from ruin in the wake of the 1919 World Series gambling scandal. This bat can be dated to 1920 by the “hand bone rubbed” trademark branded into the handle. Hillerich & Bradsby company records show only one such bat ordered by Ruth—on July 24, 1920. Cleat marks along the barrel resulted from Ruth knocking dirt off his shoes at the plate.

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Babe Ruth game-used bat, 1920, on exhibit
Loan from The Stephen Wong Collection

Even as New York commemorated baseball's centennial, word was spreading that Yankees great Henry Louis "Lou" Gehrig (1903–1941) had checked himself into the Mayo Clinic for treatment of an undiagnosed ailment. The grace and humility with which Gehrig confronted his fate made him a national hero.

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Lou Gehrig’s New York Yankees road jersey with Baseball Centennial arm patch, 1937–1939
Loan from The Stephen Wong Collection

Gehrig wore this gray flannel jersey (sans Yankee pinstripes) for away games during the 1937 season, when his team-leading thirty-seven home runs helped the Bronx Bombers claim their sixth World Series title. The 1939 Baseball Centennial patch on the left sleeve indicates that Gehrig also wore the garment during the abbreviated final season that defined his legacy.

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25¢ Lou Gehrig stamp from approved sheet, 1989
Scott Catalogue USA 2417
Loan from United States Postal Service, Postmaster General's Collection

The U.S. Postal Service commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of Gehrig's retirement and his July 4, 1939, "Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth" speech with this 1989 postage stamp.