Bridges to the Past

Bridges to the past

I cherish stories that provide a bridge to the past which is probably why novelist James A. Michener, who penned many historical epics, is my favourite scribe. But photographs can do this as well as books.

One such photo, taken June 5, 1948, is of two men. One of them is a student, a young baseball player named George H. W. Bush who was the captain and first baseman of the Yale University baseball team. The other man though not old was only a few weeks away from his death, and he was a baseball player too. His name was Babe Ruth.

The occasion was Ruth presenting to Bush the original manuscript for the film The Babe Ruth Story as a donation to the Yale Library. The photo was taken at Yale Field in New Haven, Connecticut.

Bush would go on to forge a life of public service and become the 41st President of the United States, while Ruth would become, well, a legend.

I once saw an interview with the senior Bush when he was talking about that photo, and he said he knew he was standing in the presence of greatness.

The photo made it into my book BABE RUTH – A Superstar’s Legacy, and came up in my interview with Ryozo Kato, former Japanese ambassador to the United States and former Commissioner of Nippon Professional Baseball, which are the big leagues in Japan.

Kato was telling me about the enormous impact Ruth had on Japan, and not only with baseball, but culture. He also told me about the Bush family being very big on baseball – he knew them well – and that he himself is a Yale alumnus and that anyone who went to Yale knows about the photograph.

George H. W. Bush provided a connection – a bridge – to Babe Ruth and the past. At the time of the Yale photo he was anything but a young student with limited life experience.

Bush had already returned from active duty during the war where he had been a pilot. In fact, he was the youngest pilot in the United States Navy. He was shot down only to be rescued by a U. S. submarine; the other two members of his flight crew died. Bush would fly 58 combat missions in the war and be awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. He later became a flight instructor.

When he was President he kept a special memento in his desk in the Oval Office – the first baseman’s mitt he had worn for Yale 40 years earlier. And I’m sure the photo with the Babe also occupied a special place in his heart.

Now both men from that photograph are gone.

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