Babe Ruth’s Greatest Practical Joke Happened in Detroit

According to everyone who knew him, Babe Ruth was simply one big kid who loved to have a great time with one huge appetite for beer, broads, hot dogs, and apparently practical jokes.

If there was ever a Hall of Fame for the greatest practical jokers of all time, Ruth would probably have to be one of the first inductees.

Arguably his best prank happened right here in Detroit.

Twelve years ago, former Yankee teammate Bill Werber, shared the following story for Elysian Fields Quarterly.

Ruth’s victim was Ed Wells, a former Tiger hurler who joined the Yankees in 1929.

Following a game at Navin Field, Ruth convinced Wells to join him for a “double date” that evening at a home in a Detroit suburb. Ruth told Wells that the girls loved to drink and that he would buy a bag of oranges for a mix and Wells was to bring a fifth of gin.

When they arrived at the home, Ruth rang the doorbell at the darkened house but instead of being greeted by an attractive female a man came to the door and said, “So you’re the scum who’ve been after my wife” he yelled. “I oughta kill ya.”

With that the angry man pulled out a snub nosed pistol and fired point blank at Ruth.

“I’m hit Ed,” Babe screamed as he collapsed on the porch. “Run, run for your life Ed.”

Wells bolted from the doorway expecting to be shot in the back at any moment. Several hours later the distraught Wells made it back to the Book Cadillac Hotel in downtown Detroit where the Yankees stayed.

Wells was greeted by grim faced teammates who had gathered in the lobby. Tony Lazzeri said to Wells, ‘Babe’s been shot. He’s in bad shape and he’s been asking for you.’

Wells was taken to Ruth’s dimly lit room where the Sultan of Swat was laid out in bed with talcum powder on his pale face and ketchup generously applied to his white shirt. “He’s dying Ed”, Earl Combs said mournfully.

Wells passed out on the spot.

The laughter that followed quickly revived Wells.

According to Werber, “even later we never could persuade Ed of the humor in the situation.”

While Ruth’s “humor” could have boarded on cruelty, his generosity was also boundless.

In his 1992 book “Queen of Diamonds: The Tiger Stadium Story ” authors  Mike Betzold and Ethan Casey shared the following story about Ruth’s kindness one afternoon at Navin Field.

Bill Stevens had taken his son to Navin Field to see Ruth and the Yankees, but the bleachers had sold out. While they were standing in line. The boy started to cry.

A gruff voice behind them said, “What’s the matter Bub?” The boy said “we can’t get any tickets because my daddy got here too late.”

The large man said “who the hell says you need tickets.”

The kid said, “Y-y-y-oure Babe Ruth!”

“That’s right kid” the man said.

Babe Ruth took the father and son through the players’ gate and then told the clubhouse boy, “fit this kid with a suit.” (Ruth reportedly carried a supply of Yankee uniforms in kid sizes.) The father and son sat on the Yankees bench throughout the game. Bill Stevens said his first time up he turned to his kid and said, “I’m gonna hit this one for you Bub.” Ruth hit the ball into the bleachers. At the end of the game the kid was given a ball signed by the Yankee team.

Now that man was cool.

This February 6th marks the Bambino’s 116th birthday, and for the twenty-fourth consecutive year Detroit will celebrate the Babe’s legacy with an unbelievable Babe Ruth Birthday Bash.

For the first time, the Babe Ruth Birthday Bash will be held at Nemo’s Bar in Corktown just a couple of blocks east of the Tiger Stadium site on Michigan Avenue.  The party begins tonight (February 5th) at around 7:00pm.  Nemo’s is located at 1384 Michigan Avenue.

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About Bill Dow

Bill Dow has written numerous articles on Detroit sports history as a regular freelance contributor to the Detroit Free Press sports page, and some of his work has been published in Baseball Digest magazine. He also wrote the Afterword to the latest editions of George Plimpton’s book Paper Lion.