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When baseball’s biggest star played in the Upper Peninsula town of Iron Mountain

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Courtesy of the Dickinson County Library
George Herman “Babe”Ruth is pictured here with Nello “Fungo” Tedeschi, one of the pitchers for the opposing local team. Ruth played an exhibition game in Iron Mountain on Oct. 28, 1926, shortly after the New York Yankees lost the world series to the St. Louis Cardinals.

The year was 1926. Legendary baseball player Babe Ruth and his New York Yankees had just lost the World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals in game seven. What was the Great Bambino to do next?

He was going to stop by the Upper Peninsula’s small mining town of Iron Mountain for an exhibition baseball game, of course.

“It was promoted as the greatest baseball attraction ever to be staged in the U.P.,” Troy Henderson, U.P. historian at the Michigan History Center, said. “And promoters of the event were local Iron Mountain grocery store owner George Ziggobauer, and Ned Fox was a manufacturer and a distributor.”

“It’s very possible,” Henderson said, that Babe Ruth was the most famous celebrity to come into town in Iron Mountain residents’ lifetime.

“They declared it a holiday for schools during the game. Employees could leave work to attend the game, so this was a big event in Iron Mountain, with some 3,000 spectators gathered at Athletic Field.”

Of course, the town of Iron Mountain had to pull out all the stops for this event, but Ruth played in games like these quite often.

“It was common for stars like Babe Ruth. It was common for him to kind of crisscross the country. Baseball was very popular in America, not only in the cities, but in the rural areas as well.”

On October 28, 1926, Ruth signed a contract that stated he would play alongside “one of two All-Star teams in the U.P.” The teams were composed of local players from places like Marquette, Crystal Falls, northern Wisconsin and beyond.

“Fungo Tedeschi opened as the pitcher for the opposing team, and he actually struck out Babe Ruth. They would send Babe Ruth to the plate pretty much every inning, disregarding the batting order, but he struck out a second time” Henderson recounted. “And this led to a little bit of grumbling in the crowd; that's not what they wanted to see.”

Ruth eventually got back on track and “showered crowds with home runs,” giving the fans what they came to see.

“Of course, they paid Babe Ruth to come up, but they did not pay the other players across the U.P. They were coming to see Babe Ruth and to see him hit home runs.”

Though no official score was recorded, Henderson believes the event was a big hit.

“Considering people from all over the U.P., well-represented in other areas of the U.P, kind of converged on Iron Mountain, it was definitely considered a success.”

While 1926 may have been the last time a true sports legend visited Iron Mountain, the town was once home to a couple of legends-in-the-making.

“In fact, Tom Izzo, the Michigan State University basketball head coach, came from Iron Mountain, as did Steve Mariucci, who was a former NFL head coach with the 49ers and the Lions and now an NFL commentator. He's also from Iron Mountain, and they were, in fact, friends. They went to school at the same time,” Henderson said.

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Lucas is a senior at Michigan State University studying professional and public writing. He has previously worked as a co-director of editing for VIM, an MSU fashion magazine. An aspiring music journalist, Lucas dreams of getting paid to go to concerts. He is also a screenwriter. When he’s not working, he can be found walking around aimlessly, listening to either punk rock or Kacey Musgraves.
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