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Among the exploits of the great "Babe" Ruth, one of the lesser-known is a little trip he took to Cuba in 1920. Ruth's barnstorming activities in later years are well-chronicled - particularly the "Bustin' Babes/Larrupin' Lou" circuit with teammate Gehrig in 1927 and the Tour of Japan in 1934 - and they have received far more publicity in modern times, but the Cuban visit nonetheless afforded an early, full expression of Ruth's outsized personality.
The Cuban sojourn came about through the efforts of a local businessman, Abel Linares, who wished to publicize the sport of baseball in his native country. Linares offered $10,000 if Ruth, a recently converted pitcher-turned-outfielder who'd clubbed an unheard-of 59 home runs during the 1920 regular season, would participate with John McGraw's New York Giants on that squad's Cuban tour. Terms were struck and the agreement was finalized in September, 1920, with Ruth scheduled to join the tour - which would already be underway - at the end of October.
Baseball hadn't yet developed a wide, passionate following in the island nation. In fact, the games between the Giants and the Cuban teams were scheduled for the morning hours (the venue - Almendares Park - was tied up in the afternoons, when football games took precedence).
The games did generate the hoped-for excitement, although Ruth accounted for just two home runs: reportedly, he thought it better to entertain the crowd by swinging hard and often, even on bad pitches thrown by understandably intimidated hurlers. He did produce a .345 batting average through this approach, but many spectators and Babe Ruth fans were disappointed.
He also faced off against several prominent athletes who'd gained experience in Cuban organizations as well as the American Negro Leagues. In one game, the black Cuban power hitter and future Hall of Famer Cristobal Torriente - who was nicknamed "The Cuban Bambino" - blasted three home runs while Ruth had none. In another, Ruth struck out three times against Jose Acosta, a knuckle-baller who had pitched in 17 games for the 1920 Washington Senators. Yet another contest saw Torriente hit a long home run off substitute pitcher George "Highpockets" Kelly of the Giants; the Cuban team's roster that day included former major leaguers Armando Marsans, Eusebio Gonzalez and Mike Herrera.
Anticlimactic as the trip may have been in terms of home run production, Ruth enjoyed himself. Based at the Plaza Hotel, the Babe spent liberally on dice games, and also had a good time gambling at the Jai Alai Club and the Oriental Park Racetrack. Once his obligation to play ballgames was fulfilled, in fact, he declared a wish to stay on and partake of even more island hospitality; it's said that his wife and secretary, John J. Igoe (both of whom accompanied) strongly opposed this idea.
Presented is the unique, contractual instrument that facilitated the Cuban episode in the chronology of Ruth's incredible legend. Its survival is especially fortuitous, in recognition of the fact that so many fragile paper items perish through the natural course of routine disposal or physical degradation. But the offered element of Ruth's past has endured - its full capacity for fascination marvelously intact.
The contract's single page measures 9" x 13" and bears three horizontal fold lines. The lines exhibit shades of paper loss near the edges, and professional restoration has been administered throughout each furrow (only visible from the back). The "Agreement" is attached to a small green paper backing through two metal grommets, and is not otherwise adhered. The piece reads in full:
"Witnesseth, That Abel Linares of Havana in the Republic of Cuba, hereinafter called the party of the first part, and George H. Ruth, otherwise known as "Babe Ruth", hereinafter called the party of the second part, do mutually agree as follows:-
"The party of the first part agrees to engage the party of the second part to play baseball starting October 31, 1920 and ending with November 4, 1920, at divers [sic] places in the Republic of Cuba, but the party of the second part is not to play in more than ten games in accordance with this agreement.
"The party of the first part agrees to pay the said party of the second part, the sum of ten thousand ($10,000.00) dollars for his said playing of baseball. Two thousand dollars of said amount is to be paid down to the party of the second part upon the signing of this agreement and a certified or cashier's check for balance of eight thousand dollars on some National Bank in the City of New York, U.S.A., in which George H. Ruth, the party of the second part shall be named as payee and said certified or cashier's check shall be delivered to the said George H. Ruth on or before October 20. 1920.
"The said party of the first part is to advance transportation and all expenses, including Hotel charges for the party of the second part, also transportation and all expenses of hotel charges for said second party's wife and his secretary John J. Igoe, are to be paid on or before Oct. 20, 1920.
"Said party of the second part in consideration of the said first party's promises hereinbefore contained, agrees to play baseball in said Cuba as aforesaid.
"In testimony whereof, we do this 7th day of September, A.D. 1920, hereunto subscribe our names and seals.
Then appear the two signatures of the witnesses and the signatures of Abel Linares and "Geo. H. Ruth" in black fountain pen. Ruth's scripting reflects "7" quality with a few tiny areas of bleeding. The other scriptings reflect "7-8" quality. The date of the "7th" has been written in black fountain pen. The contract's paper is about VG/EX in overall appearance.
This is an extremely important, absolutely museum-quality relic, boasting historical implications that include the American major leagues, the Negro Leagues and the sport of baseball's place on the international stage - as well as direct pertinence to the cultural phenomenon that was Babe Ruth.
LOA from JSA.