Parting shots: Two local men recall being witness to Babe Ruth's final three home runs
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Babe Ruth hit his final three home runs at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh. There are 714 baseballs in the illustration above, 17 across and 42 down. The three yellow ones at the bottom right are the three that he hit at Forbes Field.
Click photo for larger image.
BABE RUTH WAS 41 AND HITTING .150, well below his weight of 250. No longer a Yankee, no longer an American Leaguer, the prodigious Bambino was near the end of his prodigious career when he arrived in Pittsburgh in 1935.
Paul Warhola and Sam Sciullo didn't care. They were 12 going on 13, they loved baseball and they revered the Babe, who had been released in the offseason and signed by the Boston Braves.
So they went to Forbes Field, separately, that day, May 25, to see Ruth in only his second appearance against the Pirates. A mere home run would have satisfied them. Instead, they watched him launch three over the right-field wall -- into the lower deck, then the upper, then over the majestic roof. Numbers 712, 713 and 714.
For 38 years, that would endure as the major-league standard for career home runs. Henry Aaron passed it in 1974 and finished with 755. But for more than three decades now, uniform No. 3 -- the Babe's fabled number -- has remained No. 2.
With the Sultan of Surly, Barry Bonds, bearing down on the Sultan of Swat -- he's at 713 -- Warhola and Sciullo set their personal wayback machines to May 1935.
Now 83 going on 84, they reflected on the chilly afternoon when they were in a crowd of less than 10,000, watching a fading legend rip what would be his final big-league hits and play one of his last games. Ruth would retire five days later.
Warhola lived in Oakland, blocks from Forbes Field. Sometimes, he would go to games with a younger brother who wasn't that interested in sports but would become, arguably, as much of an icon as the Babe: Andy Warhol.
Being a Depression child taught Paul Warhola resourcefulness and he made money selling newspapers and peanuts outside the stadium.
The Braves were in town for a three-game series. There were no lights then; all games were played in the afternoon.
Pausing from his papers, Warhola walked over to the press entrance at Forbes, where the players also walked in. He was hoping to meet Ruth en route to the locker room.
"Babe came in with his wife," said Warhola, who once ran a successful scrap-dealing business on the North Side and who, like his pop art pioneer brother, was an artist. "I got his autograph. I had nothing but an old scorecard.
"The next day, he signed another scorecard. There were a couple of other kids there and he signed for all of us. He was really nice about it.
"On the third day, he passed out business cards with his name stamped on them and didn't sign for anyone."
Ruth, a gregarious bon vivant who was generous with kids, might have been in a foul mood that day. That was Sciullo's impression.
When Ruth signed in the offseason, the Braves also designated him as assistant manager to Bill McKechnie, a Wilkinsburg native who had managed the 1925 Pirates to a World Series title.
There was an understanding that McKechnie eventually would be elevated to general manager and replaced by Ruth, whose desire to be a manager had led to acrimonious talks with the Yankees that winter and was a factor in his release.
After a few months with the Braves, Ruth apparently sensed that McKechnie was entrenched as manager.
"It had been written that he was morose and very downhearted," said Sciullo, an attorney from Castle Shannon who retired recently. "He wanted to be a manager, but I don't think he would have been a good one. He was going downhill and had a chip on his shoulder."
Sciullo, who lived in Vandergrift, was able to attend just "three or four games a year." One of those was this series finale.
He likewise had a close encounter with Ruth, but it wasn't as fruitful as those of Warhola.
"He left the game after his home run in the seventh inning," Sciullo said. "I went to the gate after the game to get autographs, but I was sure he was gone.
"Babe comes out, which surprised me. He was wearing a light camel hair coat, with a collar around his neck and a cap. He was looking straight ahead. He was the original sad sack.
"Kids started running up. He doesn't say a word. He was not rude, he didn't push anybody. He just put his head down and walked.
"The kids didn't want to miss other players and broke away from him. But when he got 10 or 15 yards down Sennott Street, I realized he was alone and I might get a chance to talk to him.
"He was going back to the Schenley Hotel. I caught up and walked with him, begging for his autograph, but he didn't say a word. We got to the trolley tracks on Forbes, and I didn't have the guts to harass him anymore.
"He was not a well man that day. He was depressed and glad to get out of Pittsburgh."
Calling his shot
When he was 12, Paul Warhola, 83, of Smock, Fayette County, witnessed Babe Ruth's final three home runs May 25, 1935. Warhola is Andy Warhol's older brother.
Click photo for larger image.Tony Tye, Post-Gazette
Sam Sciullo of Castle Shannon was 13 when he attended the Forbes Field game in which Babe Ruth hit the final three home runs of his career.
Click photo for larger image.
Warhola lives on a farm in Smock, Fayette County. He and his wife, Anne, recently celebrated their 64th anniversary. They have seven children -- one an artist -- and 12 grandchildren.
The scorecards with the Bambino's signatures? Warhola said he put them in a trunk in his family's attic but has no clue as to what happened to them.
Sitting with friends in the first level behind home plate, Warhola was thrilled that May day. He said that when Ruth strode to the plate in the seventh inning, he virtually replicated his fabled "Called Shot" from the 1932 World Series.
"He pointed to a group of old guys clapping for him and said he'd put it over the roof," Warhola said, chuckling.
No. 714 was the first home run to clear the 86-foot roof in right field. Seventeen others would follow over the next 35 years, including seven by Pirates great Willie Stargell.
"You expected home runs to right field there because it wasn't far away," said Sciullo, father of four, grandfather of six. "But I'd never seen one like that."
Sciullo saw the second and third homers that day. He said members of his family and another from Vandergrift had planned to sit in the left-field bleachers, but the other father got a last-minute call to work at the foundry near home and didn't return until shortly before game time. Their entourage missed the first two innings.
Facts and fiction
Ruth had been in Pittsburgh only one previous time, when the Yankees swept the Pirates in the 1927 World Series.
In his Forbes finale eight years later, Ruth hit a two-run homer against Red Lucas in the first inning, then homered, singled and homered against Guy Bush. The Pirates prevailed, however, 11-7.
This was a vindication for Ruth. The last time they had faced one another, Bush hit the Bambino on the right arm with a fastball in the 1932 World Series. Bush also was one of the bench jockeys who heckled Ruth during his "Called Shot" that October.
In his book, "Babe: The Legend Comes to Life," Robert W. Creamer quotes Bush as saying: "I never saw a ball hit so hard before or since. He was fat and old, but he still had that great swing. Even when he missed, you could hear the bat go swish."
That titanic homer was the end of Ruth's workday, so, after crossing the plate, he headed for the showers. That meant going into the Pirates dugout, which provided the only access to both teams' locker rooms.
The Babe, however, paused to relish the moment. He plopped at one end of the bench next to Mace Brown, a rookie Pirates pitcher.
"He said, 'Boy, that last one felt good,' " Brown said in a 1995 interview with Tom Foreman Jr. of The Associated Press. Brown was 86 then; he died in 2002.
This milestone moment also serves as a convergence of fact and fiction. The ball was estimated to travel 600-plus feet, but that has never been verified. Some local residents said it struck a house on Bouquet Street, but Bouquet was in foul territory.
Others have said the ball hit on Joncaire Street, bounced down the steep hill toward Panther Hollow and was chased down by a small group of boys.
Joe Emanuele said part of that second tale is true. He once lived at 334 Joncaire, in a house his parents rented sometime after Ruth's three-homer game. Emanuele said No. 714 struck the roof of that house, deflected into Bouquet and was recovered by a youngster named DeOrio.
"The ball did not go down the hill," said Emanuele, a teacher at Central Catholic and a scout for the Atlanta Braves.
One common account, supported by Sciullo, is that the Bambino's parting shot ended up in the back yard of a house on Joncaire. Dan DiNardo, who owned a construction company, kept materials in that yard.
That ball is in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y. An accompanying card says the ball was donated by Henry "Wiggy" DeOrio, who in 1935 was a boy living in Oakland.
What about Bonds?
Warhola and Sciullo were wide-eyed boys in Oakland the afternoon Babe flourished, unexpectedly, for the final time. They still follow baseball, share similar opinions, but part on Bonds' imminent ascent to No. 2 on the homer list.
"It's broken my heart to see Aaron break the record and Bonds trying to pass him," Warhola said. "But I don't think it's going to mean that much because [of the steroid allegations]."
Said Sciullo: "I thought Bonds, before [the allegations], didn't get the honor he deserved here. We're not an appreciative society."
He and Warhola are in a small society of survivors who witnessed an amazing last hurrah of an amazing player.
First Published May 10, 2006 12:00 am