7 in Your Neighborhood: Babe Ruth ball an 'Unexpected Chicago' artifact

August 31, 2013 (CHICAGO)

In the visual cornucopia that greets visitors to the Chicago History Museum lies an alcove with an exhibit that changes monthly. This summer, "Unexpected Chicago" features a Babe Ruth-signed baseball, a souvenir from major league baseball's first All-Star game 80 summers ago at Comiskey Park.

"We didn't grab that ball then, somebody else got that ball they sought out Babe Ruth they asked him to sign it," said John Russick, Chicago History Museum. "He signed it, and later they brought it to us after they got a whole bunch of other signatures."

Signatures including White Sox pitcher Ted Lyons, faded now but etched in the South Side grit that welcomed The Babe, and other legends including Lou Gehrig.

Longtime Chicago Tribune sports editor Arch Ward made it happen.

"From the mayor on down, they wanted to have some sporting event that coincided with the Century of Progress World's Fair that was going on at that time marking our 100th anniversary as a city," Ward said.

The hidden gem is a depression-era artifact that connects us to a time when America was down. The drumbeats of war echoed across the oceans and the civil rights movement started to assert itself. Negro League star Rube Foster was determined to hit similar balls with his comrades, an effort that came to life as the first East-West game

"He wanted to say not look it is not just the white teams that are playing and have great baseball in America it is these African American teams too and we are going to put our teams on the same field in the same year that same summer," Russick said.

One little baseball, a link to how a city grew in an extraordinary time.

"The beauty of sports is that they bring us together in ways our neighborhoods might not necessarily do," said Russick. "To have a ball like this that connects us to the East-West game and that connects us to how we are all connected to each other in ways that supersede our skin color. Yeah, they are great things for us to have in our collection."

The ball heads back into the archives next week with the next "Unexpected Chicago" artifact, the court notes of Willie Green, a key witness for the prosecution in the trial of the killers of Emmett Till.

For more information: Chicago History Museum

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