Babe Ruth from a granddaugher’s perspective
DERBY — On April 25, nearly 85 baseball enthusiasts packed the library’s meeting room to hear Linda Ruth Tosetti spin tales for nearly two hours about the grandfather she never met.
“I’ve studied (Babe Ruth’s) personal life,” said Tosetti of Durham, who was born in 1954, six years after the Bambino’s death. “I’m considered one of the leading authorities on his personal life.”
Thursday’s event marked the 417th meeting of the Silver Sluggers, who gather every Thursday at 10 a.m. in the library. They are managed by Rich Marazzi, an Ansonia author, major league baseball rules consultant and former coach, umpire and athletic director.
The meeting marked Tosetti’s third appearance.
Tosetti, who bears a striking resemblance to Ruth, traces her connection back to Juanita Jennings, a California woman who bore a daughter after having an affair with Ruth in 1920. The daughter, named Dorothy, was later adopted by Ruth and his first wife, Helen. When Helen died and Ruth remarried, she went to live with his new family.
Dorothy was married twice and had two sons and four daughters, including Tosetti. She died as Dorothy Pirone in 1989 in Connecticut.
By now, members knew the rough outlines of George Herman “Babe” Ruth Jr.’s life. They were down to the minutiae:
Was the Leewood exit on the Bronx River Parkway specifically created to give Ruth a shortcut to Yankee Stadium?
“No. That was a cow pass to get cows from one place to another,” she said. “But Babe used... it a lot as a shortcut to the Stadium.”
What about his bat? Did he really swing a 54-ounce bat?
“He used it from 1916-22 until he hurt his wrist and he came down two ounces,” she said adding the bat was also 40 inches long.
She and her husband, Andrew, passed around a replica 36 inch long 54-ounce bat they had made up and a replica of the small baseball glove Ruth used patrolling right field. The glove looks nothing like the bread baskets ballplayers use today.
And her favorite Ruth movie?”
“Sandlot,” she said. The film stars James Earl Jones as a blind, former Negro League ballplayer patterned after Hall of Famer Josh Gibson, often called the black Babe Ruth.
Around the year 2000, Tosetti said, she met a true Negro League legend, Ted “Double Duty” Radcliffe at Baseball’s Hall of Fame. Radcliffe knew Ruth from their barnstorming days and called Tosetti over.
“He (Ruth) used to come to a lot of my games,” she said Radcliffe, then 97, told her. Black players were excluded from the Major Leagues until Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947.
“He knew we belonged in the Major Leagues,” Radcliffe said. “He (Ruth) spoke up.”
When asked about Jane Levy’s 2018 bestseller “The Big Fella: Babe Ruth and the World He Created,” Tosetti called the book “more of the same just structured differently” from other biographies of the great ballplayer.
“I know he hit homeruns. I know he set records,” Tosetti said. “I want to know how he felt after hitting a homerun, or calling the shot. As his granddaughter, I want to know more of the personal stuff... The only book that will answer that is the book I’m writing.”
Tosetti and William Maloney, a New York University professor, plan a book called “Ruthian Regards — A Granddaughter’s Journey.”
For the book, she spoke with Paul Hopkins of Deep River before he died. Hopkins served up homerun 59 in 1927 a day before Babe hit number 60—a record that lasted until Roger Maris hit 61 in 1961.
On June 15, she’ll be at Yankee Stadium for the start of a three-day auction of several of her grandfather’s memorabilia. Her collection includes photographs, a pair of hunting gloves and an urn from Ruth’s barnstorming trip to Japan.
“Our Murders’ Row signed baseball was stolen years ago,” she said. The signed ball was from the 1927 Yankees, considered the greatest team ever.
Tosetti told stories about Ruth’s love for children: the time the Christian Brothers in the St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys where Ruth spent much of his young life wondered why the stack of collars near his sewing machine was small. Then they looked out the window to see them flying as the tails to kites.
Or how Ruth would buy sweets for kids and make good on promises to hit homers for them.
So it was only fitting, she said, that a 13-year-old’s promise years ago to help her convince a president to award Babe Ruth the Medal of Freedom came true.
Tosetti said her persistence and the help of White House staffer Billy Maloney, the son of her co-author, allowed her request to end on President Donald Trump’s desk. It was signed in November.
“Wouldn’t that be a Babe Ruth story?” she said. “A little boy promised it and he ended up getting it done.”
Tosetti is also petitioning to have the Babe’s number 3 retired from use by all major league baseball teams, much like Jackie Robinson’s number 42.