SIOUX CITY | No disrespect to our dearly departed, but I’ve witnessed a few rather wearisome personal appearances by various celebrities from the world of sports, some of whom are no longer with us.
Usually, of course, it’s one of those rubber-chicken dinners, replete with a “speech’’ by the man or woman of the hour. And, those speeches, if you will, generally wind up being a series of name-dropping anecdotes about the remarkable places and things these individuals have been and done.
Sadly, most of these overpriced events tend to veer off into one of two directions organizers might easily have anticipated.
Some of our sports heroes, you see, can’t speak for 20 or 30 minutes, not even extemporaneously, without lapsing into vulgarities they’re convinced will amuse their audience.
Then, too, there are the legendary athletes who can pretty much put you to sleep even faster than any hypnotist or pharmaceuticals known to man.
If it’s a bona fide speech I hope to hear, I’d much rather hear it from one of the many talented public speakers -- inspirational, motivational or simply entertaining and humorous -- who make their living at this very thing.
I guess that’s why it has always impressed me to know how a sports icon like Babe Ruth used to supplement his income, commercial endorsements notwithstanding.
When the former New York Yankees slugger finished up his 154-game schedule and the week or so of World Series action that used to make up the entire post-season schedule, he headed out into the hinterlands of America and -- get this -- played baseball.
Yes, in order to pocket some extra cash, the great Bambino came to places like Sioux City and did a little more of what people flocked to see him do for nearly six months of every year.
What a novel idea. Instead of trying to dazzle an audience as a juggler or a banjo player or a public speaker, Ruth gave the people Babe Ruth, not some lame impersonation of someone he wasn’t.
And, I’ve always enjoyed the stories we’ve continued to run over the years about Ruth and also the great Lou Gehrig, whose popular barnstorming tour of 1927 included an exhibition game here Oct. 18 at the old Stockyards Ballpark. Most recently, my colleague, Barry Poe, reported in March of 2011 on rare home movies that surfaced from a pre-game social gathering in the Jackson Street home of John J. “Jiggs’’ Donohue.
As for the game, itself, I’ve heard countless stories over the years from people who recall skipping school and sneaking into a ballpark that drew an overflow crowd of maybe 10,000 by some estimates, or even 15,000, according to others.
Then, too, I’ve read and related several accounts on Ruth’s visit to Sioux City in 1948, mere weeks before his death on Aug. 16 at the age of 53. The Sultan of Swat flew into our city and, despite the ravages of the throat cancer that would lead to his early demise, consented to some interviews before proceeding on to a public appearance at a youth baseball tournament in Spencer.
You may have seen the story last May, matter of fact, on the eight baseballs Ruth signed on the visit to Spencer bringing $216,000 at an auction in Dallas, Texas.
To my astonishment, though, I’m just now learning of yet another Babe Ruth appearance in Sioux City that just happened to be another barnstorming stop on Oct. 18, 1922, five years to the day before the more widely remembered Ruth/Gehrig extravaganza.
Thanks to Gary Koupal, a Californian with Siouxland roots, I’ve turned up photocopies of clippings on Ruth and another Yankees outfielder, Bob Meusel, headlining a baseball game played at Mizzou Park, Sioux City minor league baseball’s forerunner to the Stockyards Park.
In contrast to the relative fanfare created by the game in ’27, this promotion five years earlier warranted no more than six paragraphs plus the linescore and lineups in the following day’s editions of The Journal.
“Ruth Fails To Get A Homer,’’ read the small headline over a one-column story. A couple of smaller, deck headlines read, “Babe And Meusel Play Very Ordinary Game,’’ and, to my surprise, “700 Attend The Exhibition.’’
Such a paltry turnout for Ruth, then 27, and a talented teammate, Meusel, a 25-year-old who a couple of seasons later led the major leagues in both home runs (33) and runs batted in (138).
With Meusel batting cleanup, the local Olsons Sporting Goods squad scored a 10-5 victory over The Stock Yards, which had Ruth batting third.
One of the reasons Ruth was unable to crank out a home run just happened to be Mr. Koupal’s grandfather, Lou “Laddie’’ Koupal, who was the last of four pitchers employed by the Olsons team that day.
Not to be overlooked, Lou Koupal, a native of Tabor, S.D., signed a professional contract the following year and that led to a 19-year career that included parts of six seasons with four different major league teams -- the Pittsburgh Pirates, Brooklyn Robins, Philadelphia Phillies and St. Louis Browns.
And, if a couple of those teams don’t ring a bell, the Robins were one of several names under which the Brooklyn franchise campaigned over 74 seasons before moving west in 1958 to become the Los Angeles Dodgers. Meanwhile, the American League Browns played 52 seasons in St. Louis, splitting the market with the National League Cardinals all that time, before becoming the Baltimore Orioles in 1954.
Above all, though, the ironic side to much of the above is that one of the most celebrated sports figures of all time, Babe Ruth, managed to make it to Sioux City at least three times, even though he lived most of his abbreviated life in a time when trains were the most prevalent form of mass transportation.