Gill Stadium, 1914: 'Who's this Ruth guy?'
Just less than a year after their visit to Manchester helped draw a crowd of about 14,000 to the grand opening of what is now Gill Stadium, the Boston Red Sox returned.
This visit, however, was very different from the previous one.
The Red Sox who helped open Gill in 1913 were defending World Series champions, and the lineup they started against a team of semi-professional ballplayers from the local Manufacturers League featured all their stars, including ace pitcher Smoky Joe Wood and center fielder Tris Speaker, a future Hall of Famer.
The Boston team that arrived at what was then called Textile Field to face the new local entry in the professional, Class B New England League on Aug. 17, 1914, was coming off a fourth-place finish and kept several regulars, including Speaker, on the bench.
This time, a crowd of less than 2,500 occupied the 3,000-seat grandstand. The bleachers that seated another 2,000 the previous year were unnecessary.
And unlike the previous year, no one in the crowd was excited about the Red Sox' starting pitcher.
Whereas Wood, though injured for part of 1913, was still carrying the luster of a 1912 season in which he won 34 games when he made his appearance in Manchester, the Sox starter for the 1914 exhibition was a rookie who had pitched in only three big-league games.
When the skinny left-hander's name was announced, fans would have been justified in asking, "Who is George Ruth?"
George Herman Ruth was 19 and in his first professional season in 1914, having begun the year with Baltimore of the International League. On July 19, Baltimore sold his contract to the Red Sox, and on July 11, he made his major-league debut, earning the win in a 4-3 victory over Cleveland.
Knocked out of the game by the Tigers early in his second start, on July 16, Ruth had pitched only once since then, in relief, when the Red Sox arrived in Manchester.
The host team — the Manchester Textiles, led by former Red Sox manager Fred Lake and competing at a level equivalent to today's Double-A (the same as Manchester's current professional team, the New Hampshire Fisher Cats) — was hardly overwhelmed.
Helped by a pair of double plays, one of which he started, Ruth worked in and out of trouble throughout the game, allowing 10 hits, including five in the seventh inning, when the Textiles scored both their runs. He walked one and did not record a strikeout.
He did, however, get the win. The Red Sox scored single runs in the fourth and fifth innings and tacked on two more in the seventh, the last scoring on a Ruth sacrifice fly.
The following day, the Manchester Union (predecessor of the New Hampshire Union Leader) reported: "George Ruth, the youthful left hander recently purchased from the Baltimore club, was on the firing line for the Sox and was touched up freely by the home talent, 10 hits being secured off his delivery, five of these coming in the seventh inning when Fred Lake's players scored their brace of runs."
Also on Aug. 18, the Red Sox demoted Ruth to Providence of the International League, where he would spend the next month and a half before making an early October start for Boston.
That would be his last trip to the minors. In 1915, he won 18 games for the Red Sox, winners of that year's World Series. The year after that, he won 23 and the Sox defended their title. He won 24 in 1917 and set a World Series record for consecutive scoreless innings in 1918 as Boston won yet another championship.
In 1919, he shifted his primary focus to hitting and stunned the baseball world by clubbing a record 29 home runs, and no one in Manchester or anywhere else in the baseball-loving world was asking who George "Babe" Ruth was.