The Delco Baseball League, which has been around since 1908, is the oldest continuous semi-pro baseball league in the country. The league’s official historian, Kyle Barrett, wrote, “The league has featured such outstanding talents as ‘Home Run Baker’, and baseball executives like Connie Mack. Heck, even the fabled Babe Ruth almost played for the league’s Upland entry.”
In Robert W. Creamer’s book entitle, “Babe: The Legend Comes to Life”, he wrote, “Ruth sent a wire to Frank Miller in 1917, manager of the baseball team that played for the Chester Shipyards in Chester, Pennsylvania, just south of Philadelphia, asking what he would be paid if he left the Red Sox and joined the shipyard’s team (the team was actually the Upland edition of the Delco League and Frank Miller was their manager). Miller immediately sent a representative to Baltimore to talk to Ruth, and they worked out terms for Babe to appear with the shipyard team when it played on the Fourth of July, two days later.”
A Chester Times article that same year entitled, “Frank Miller Helped Ruth”, explained how Upland’s manager Frank Miller was looking for a pitcher to compete with former Philadelphia A’s hurler Chief Bender, who had signed with the Chester Club.
The Times article told a little different story on who met with Ruth and where their meeting took place. However, one thing is certain; Frank Miller tried to lure Babe Ruth away from the Boston Red Sox.
“Late last Thursday night,” reported the Times, “Frank Miller stepped off the train in Boston armed with a satchel of John P. Crozer’s yellowbacks. One hour later, Miller was in private conference with Babe Ruth at his apartment in a residential suburb of Boston. The conference was arranged by telegraph.
“Miller asked Ruth what his salary was in the American League, and after Ruth submitted the figures, Miller said, ‘I will give you the same, and you will only have to pitch once a week.’”
“Give me time to think,’ replied Ruth. Ruth still loyal to manager Jack Barry got his manager on the telephone. The consequence was Johnson, President of the American League, was advised what was going on.
“Miller had returned to Upland, and got in conference with John P. Crozer and Albert R. Granger, president and vice president of the club. A few hours later, Ruth received a telegram stating that including the meeting about the American League salary, the Upland team would pay his wife’s expenses here and pay whatever fine the American League imposed at the end of the season for his jumping to the millionaire circuit.
“Ruth took this telegram to manager Jack Barry and again Ban Johnson was advised. Late Saturday night, the American League head handed out Ruth’s mild punishment.
“Ruth had been fined and suspended for one week by Johnson because of his flagrant attack on umpire Brick Owens. However, the punishment was very lenient because after Miller’s offer, Johnson got scared that Ruth would jump leagues, so he lightened the punishment.
“Upland’s deal to land Babe Ruth never did come to fruition, but it did give the Delco Baseball League plenty of national exposure that began with Home Run Baker.”
However, three years later, Ruth would find himself in Delaware County under some very unusual circumstances.
In 1920, his first season with the Yankees, he drove his big four-door touring sedan on a Yankee road trip to play the Athletics in Philadelphia and then to Washington to meet the Senators. When the game was over in Washington, he drove back to New York.
In the car with him was his wife Helen, a rookie outfielder named Frank Gleich, a second-string catcher named Fred Hofman, and Charley O’Leary, an old infielder who was now a coach under manager Huggins.
Creamer, Babe’s biographer, wrote what happened next, “The trip was a jolly one, with songs, much laughter and occasional stops for sips of bootleg liquor. Babe was driving, which he did with exuberance and not too much attention to minor vagaries of the road. The narrow highway weaved and curved its way into Pennsylvania. It was night, perhaps two in the morning. Ruth was singing at the wheel. He was really letting it all out in the soft summer night.
“Just outside the hamlet of Wawa (Delaware County), near Philadelphia, the road curved sharply. Babe was driving much too fast and could not make the curve. He hit the brakes; the car skidded, spun off the road and turned over. O’Leary and Helen were thrown from the car, Helen onto relatively soft dirt at the side of the road, O’Leary onto its hard surface.
“Ruth squirmed out of the wreckage. Gleich and Hofman were okay. Helen was bruised, her stockings almost torn off, but she was not otherwise hurt. O’Leary, lying on his back in the middle of the road, appeared to be unconscious, possibly dead.
“Except for a headache, he was all right and so were the others, although Ruth had banged his knee and was limping. The five of them walked half a mile down the road to a farmhouse, where they were able to spend the night.
They all made their way into Philadelphia the next day where they saw a newspaper headline that read, “Ruth Reported Killed in Car Crash”. They did get back to New York City where Ruth played for the Yankees the next day.
His stay in Delaware County was short, but those occasional stops for bootleg liquor almost put an end to his career and maybe even his life and the life of those with him.