From that first seven-inning game in 1951 to seven decades later, Babe Ruth League is celebrating its 70th Anniversary in 2021.
The 70th Anniversary will be a year-long celebration, culminating with Babe Ruth League’s World Series events, that will include four Cal Ripken Invitational World Series.
The date was February 9, 1951. A postage stamp cost three cents and 19 cents bought a gallon of gas. Color television was introduced and direct dial coast-to-coast telephone service began.
The place was the historical Yardville Hotel in Hamilton Township, New Jersey, which has been around since 1799.
The event was a gathering of ten local men who believed the future of their community depended upon proper development of young people to talk baseball, but not professional baseball. It was about a problem that existed at the time for boys aged 13 to 15. While there was Little League Baseball for boys under thirteen and organized ball under the umbrella of the American Legion Junior Baseball Program for those over fifteen, boys in the 13-15 age group were left out and caught in a gap. A void. They had nowhere to play. So, these ten men decided to do something about it. They formed the Little Bigger League, a baseball program for boys aged 13 to 15.
Marius D. Bonacci is recognized as the Founding Father of the program, along with the contribution of the following nine men: Samuel M. Welch, Ferdinand J. Wagner, Ed Jones, Ted Jaskek, Cliff Fovour, Boots Snyder, William Dombrowski, Maskill Paxson, and Willard Carson, Jr.
Willard Carson, Jr. served as the President of the first Little Bigger League. Carson was so inspired by the boys playing ball and the crowds showing up to watch them that he wrote about it for the Sporting News. In his article Carson said he was looking for interested parties who wanted to organize baseball leagues and join this new organization. Within a year ninety-eight municipalities across the United States had responded to his offer.
In that first summer, the Little Bigger League operated in two divisions, aptly named the American Division and National Division. Before long word got out and pretty soon more towns wanted to get involved. Sponsors joined in, most notably Coca-Cola and Bottlers of Coca-Cola, who both agreed to help make this a true national movement. The Little Bigger League incorporated and registered as a non-profit organization determined to further the development of American youth through baseball.
And it did.
In 1952, the first World Series tournament for boys aged 13 to 15 was held in Stamford, Connecticut, with teams coming from all over the country and even beyond. There were applications from Puerto Rico, Canada, Cuba, Alaska – it wasn’t a state yet – and from as far away as London and Paris.
Then, in 1954, the Little Bigger League approached Babe Ruth’s widow, Claire, with an idea. They wanted to change the name of the growing, but still fledgling organization, to Babe Ruth League and asked for her permission. She said yes and thought the Babe would have liked that sort of thing. To this day the official program still retains a quote from Claire:
“Babe was a man who loved children and baseball. He could receive no greater tribute than to have a youth baseball program named after him.”
Mrs. Ruth’s most generous of gifts lit the fuse that would ignite Babe Ruth League, Inc.’s growth and development. After all, the name change was only a few short years after Ruth’s death– he had died in 1948 – and the fathers and grandfathers of those boys aged 13 to 15 were still fresh with memories of the great Bambino. And, of course, some of them had even seen him play.
Babe Ruth League, Inc. was very involved with the Babe’s daughter, Julia “Ruth” Stevens until her death in March of 2019 at the age of 102. Julia was inducted into the organization’s International Hall of Fame in 2018. Both she and her son Tom attended many Babe Ruth League events.
Having much success with the 13-15 Division, the next stop up the baseball ladder for young athletes was the Babe Ruth 16-18 division, born in 1966 with continued remarkable success. Babe Ruth Baseball held its first World Series for the 16-18 Division in 1968 in Morristown, New Jersey.
In 1974, the 13-Year-Old Prep League was added. This new division allowed 13-year-old players to make the transition to the regulation size diamond, while competing with peers their own age. In 1982, Babe Ruth League added yet another division to its program, the Bambino Division for players aged 4 to 12.
Babe Ruth League saw a need for a quality national softball program that provided young female athletes with the same enriching athletic experience as its baseball divisions. Therefore, in 1984 Babe Ruth Softball was established, offering divisions for girls ages 4 to 18.
The dawn of a new millennium was the beginning of a new era for Babe Ruth League, Inc. The Bambino division was renamed Cal Ripken Baseball. In fact, Cal Ripken Jr. - baseball’s iron man who broke the consecutive-games record of Lou Gehrig - was himself a player in the Babe Ruth League program when he was a boy. The idea was that the visions and philosophies of Cal Ripken Sr., both as a player and coach, and those of his sons Cal, Jr. and Billy, parallel those of the Babe Ruth League: to provide every youngster with the opportunity to play baseball and to have fun doing so.
Babe Ruth League, Inc. first became involved with Cal Ripken, Jr. through his father, Cal Ripken, Sr., who used to run annual clinics for the organization at Princeton University.
Cal Ripken Baseball consists of a major division for 10-12-year-old players and a minor division for 9- and 10-year-olds. Then there is the Rookie group for seven- and eight-year-olds. This division uses a pitching machine to lob balls at the batter. Finally, the T-Ball division is for the youngest group of all: four-to six-year-olds, and for them the batter hits the ball from a batting tee which is adjusted to the player’s height.
In 2000 the Bambino Buddy-Ball Division for players aged 5-20 who are physically and/or mentally challenged was established. A “buddy” helps the player swing a bat, round the bases, catch a ball.
Beginning with the 2007 season, Babe Ruth League and Cal Ripken, Jr. introduced a, proactive step for youth baseball with the debut of the Cal Ripken Major/70 Division. Cal Ripken Baseball leagues now had the option of offering a Cal Ripken Major/60 program or a Cal Ripken Major/70 program, or both programs, to their young athletes. The Cal Ripken Major/70 Division features a 50’ pitching distance and 70’ base paths. The Cal Ripken Major/60 Division includes a baseball diamond of smaller-than-regular dimensions to accommodate those just learning the game, with a pitcher’s mound that is forty-six feet from home plate and with base paths that are only sixty feet. Since it is at the age of 13 when players are introduced to a regulation-size diamond, the 70’program allows its participants to make an easier jump to the 60-90 field. And for many of these talented youngsters, it allows them to enjoy a game that is more true and better fit for them all the way around. The idea was that they will grow with the game. And they do.
Softball players grow with the game, too. In 2013, of Xtreme Fastpitch debuted to accommodate all softball participants—those who wish to play on a recreational level to those who seek a higher degree of competition to hone their skills with the goal of continuing play into high school and beyond.
Babe Ruth League, Inc. offers an unparalleled, prestigious tournament trail for its participants. A tournament team from each chartered local league enters its district tournament. District winners advance to state-wide competition, with the successful team qualifying for one of eight regional tournaments. The eight regional champions from across the United States and Canada compete in each World Series.
Babe Ruth League, Inc. has grown from its inaugural 13-15 World Series in 1952, to seven baseball and six softball World Series - the Cal Ripken 10-Year-Old, Cal Ripken Major/60, Cal Ripken Major/70, 13-Year-Old, 14-Year-Old, 13-15, 16-18, Softball 8U, Softball 10U, Softball 12U, Softball 14U, Softball 16U and Softball 18U World Series.
The Cal Ripken Major/70 World Series features American and International teams to showcase the global unity and excitement in the quest for a “World Champion.”
In 2018, new Invitational World Series were added to the Cal Ripken Baseball post-season tournament trail.
Other highlights in Babe Ruth League History:
Babe Ruth League, Inc. inaugurated the National Umpires Association in 1982 to assist the local leagues affiliated with the program in improving the umpiring in their games.
In order to educate future World Series sites on hosting a Babe Ruth World Series, the first World Series Training Center was established and hosted by Jamestown, New York in 1986. Van Buren, Arkansas and Longview, Washington have also hosted World Series Training Centers over the years. Jamestown, Van Buren and Longview have a thorough knowledge and timeless understanding of what it takes to host a successful and profitable Babe Ruth World Series.
With a growing crew of successful graduates wanting to pay it forward, 2011 saw the debut of the Babe Ruth League Alumni Association. The purpose of the Alumni Association is to advance the general welfare and support the needs and mission of Babe Ruth League, Inc. and the youth the program serves. The Alumni Association also provides a unique way to stay connected to the Babe Ruth program far beyond the years an individual spends as a player and/or volunteer.
From the Babe Ruth Diamond to the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame
The number of former Babe Ruth League players who are on current Major League rosters, or who have participated on Major League teams, many of them some of the sport’s most recognizable names, is too large to chart. There are several graduates of the Babe Ruth League program who have excelled in the game at its highest level to earn the most esteemed award - induction into the MLB Hall of Fame. They include: Carl Yastrzemski (Class of 1989), Joe Morgan and Jim Palmer (Class of 1990), Rod Carew (Class of 1991), Steve Carlton (Class of 1994), George Brett and Nolan Ryan (Class of 1999), Carlton Fisk (Class of 2000), Eddie Murray (Class of 2003), Paul Molitor (Class of 2004), Ryne Sandberg (Class of 2005), Cal Ripken, Jr. (Class of 2007), Rickey Henderson (Class of 2009), Jim Rice (Class of 2009), Frank Thomas (Class of 2014), Randy Johnson and John Smoltz (Class of 2015), Mike Piazza (Class of 2016), Jack Morris (Class of 2018) and Roy Halladay (Class of 2019).
Babe Ruth Graduate Michael Jordan, one of basketball’s greatest players, was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009. As quoted in his book, THE JORDAN RULES, Michael indicated, “Even now, when people talk about my greatest thrill being the shot against Georgetown to win the NCAA title, I still think to myself that my greatest accomplishment really is the Most Valuable Player Award I got when my Babe Ruth League team won the state baseball championship.”
Kurt Warner, a Babe Ruth Graduate, was inducted into the Football Hall of Fame in 2017. In addition to Warner, they are several outstanding football players who graduated from Babe Ruth League, Inc., such NFL Hall of Famer Troy Polamalu and future Hall of Famers Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski.
Babe Ruth League has also involved famous personalities from beyond the world of sport. Delve into its history and you will see that film and TV actress Rhonda Fleming, who made more than forty films and was a big star in the 1940s and 1950s, was once Treasurer of the Beverly Hills, California league. Legendary entertainer Bob Hope was President of the Toluca, California league for three years in the late ’50s and his wife Dolores was Secretary. Actor Tom Selleck excelled as a pitcher in Sherman Oaks, California when he was a boy. When singer Bruce Springsteen – the Boss – was growing up in Freehold Borough, New Jersey, he too played in the local Babe Ruth league; his song Blinded by the Light with its reference to ‘Indians in the summer’ actually refers to the name of his youth baseball team. Of more recent vintage we have TV host Jimmy Fallon who played Babe Ruth League baseball in Saugerties, New York.
Millions of kids, as well as their families and neighbors, have benefitted from participation in Babe Ruth League, Inc.
Babe Ruth League, Inc., in many cases, has been the first introduction to the game outside of school and backyards, for many kids for many years. There is a timelessness to the program, as it has been passed down from generation to generation. It is a community program to teach kids the basics of the game in a fun and educational environmental, while giving them the opportunity to play in an organized setting.
Above all, Babe Ruth League, Inc. is an organization advocating for healthy and happy youth. Its mission is to make better citizens through proper supervision of regulation competitive baseball and softball in addition to promoting mental and physical development. In adopting rules, in establishing standards and in all planning, the primary consideration is what is best for the participants.
Seven decades after visionary adults started the league and enthusiastic young ballplayers played the first games, Babe Ruth League has grown in size, stature and reputation. In its widely-acclaimed history, it has earned the respect of its peers and is a model organization of which Babe Ruth League participants and an alumni base that numbers in the tens of millions can be proud.
Our year-long celebration will be a reminder about what Babe Ruth League, Inc. is all about. Like putting on that uniform for the first time; learning the basics of the game, making friends, experiencing camaraderie, learning valuable life lessons, and creating memorable moments that will last a lifetime.
WE ARE ONE FAMILY! WE ARE ONE BABE RUTH LEAGUE, INC.! HAPPY 70TH ANNIVERSARY!