Babe Ruth's 1927 visit to Omaha, alongside teammate Lou Gehrig, included an unusual gift

Babe Ruth finished his major league career with a .342 batting average with 714 home runs and 2,213 RBIs. 

This article was originally published in The World-Herald on June 21, 2008.

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Babe Ruth was cooler than Gatsby, more famous than Houdini. He had just hit 60 home runs. When he barnstormed the country in the fall of 1927, strangers lavished him with gifts: gold watches and diamond pins and bronze plaques.

But an egg?

Only Omaha.

The city has celebrated visits over the years from diamond kings like Jackie Robinson and Hank Aaron. But no afternoon in Omaha baseball history compares with the Bambino staring down Lou Gehrig at League Park on Oct. 16, 1927, or the bizarre moment when Ruth laid eyes on his namesake.

History, and the newspapers of that era, failed to mention who got the idea or what eventually happened to the "Babe Ruth of poultry." But two hours before Ruth took the field in front of a packed house, he visited the American Milling company at 29th and B Streets, where his namesake, also known as Lady Amco of Norfolk, had just laid her 171st egg.

"When the Babe arrived at the roosts, a crowd of several hundred persons gathered around, " the Omaha Bee reported. . . . "But this was all routine to the Babe — he wanted to meet the little hen herself.

"'The chick! The chick!' Babe exclaimed when he spotted Superintendent George Danforth with the 'Babe' in his arms. At this point the crowd was tense . . . 'Howdy, chick, ' said the Babe with one of his largest and most inviting smiles."

Ruth was the comedian, Gehrig the wingman. When they rolled into Omaha, they were just one week removed from a World Series sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates. They stood at the peak of their respective careers, the two biggest stars in the nation's biggest sport having just completed two of the best offensive seasons in the game's history.

Envision Tiger playing 18 holes this weekend at Benson Park. It was bigger, much bigger.

Ballplayers in those days didn't shun the public in the offseason. In fact, they supplemented their reasonable salaries with barnstorming money. They toured towns across the country to play in exhibitions, hitting home runs and cracking jokes for show.

Ruth had been to Omaha before; he came in October 1922, stayed at the Fontenelle Hotel and played an exhibition with teammate Bob Meusel.

Five years later, Ruth was even more of an idol, having just set the home run record. He raked in $1,000 for each of 21 stops on the "Bustin' Babe's and Larrupin' Lou's" tour, which stretched from Providence, R.I., to San Diego.

For just $1 that balmy October afternoon, according to The World-Herald, "any amateur fan or fannette may sit in the spacious grand at Barney Burch's park and witness the biggest show since Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey and seven other associated circuses first offered their entire performance under one tent."

The day's meaningful event was the city amateur championship game between Brown Park Merchants and Omaha Prints. But first, Ruth joined the Merchants opposite Gehrig and the Prints for a nine-inning game.

Each started at first base. Each went 2 for 5.

Gehrig singled off Ruth's glove in the third inning, then tripled in the fifth. Ruth launched a ball over the center field fence in the fourth inning. With two on in the seventh, he lashed the first pitch over the right field palisades.

Ruth and Gehrig later fell apart, refusing to speak to each other until Gehrig's dying days. But in '27, they were close friends, competing for headlines and the home run crown. Ruth finished the '27 season with 60, 13 better than Gehrig's 47. The third-best slugger in the league hit just 18.

But home run totals don't reflect their staggering dominance. Ruth-Gehrig, or Gehrig-Ruth, ranked 1-2 in slugging, RBIs, runs, total bases and walks.

No wonder the '27 Yankees, who went 110-44, are still recognized as one of the best teams ever.

Ruth hit .356, with 60 homers (more than any other team in the American League) and 164 RBIs. He walked 137 times. He scored 158 runs. His slugging percentage of .772 is sixth all time. At 32, he had one of his best seasons.

Gehrig: .373, 47 homers, 175 RBIs. Hitting behind Ruth in the lineup, he slugged .765, seventh all-time. His 117 extra-base hits are second only to Ruth's 119 in 1921. He bagged 447 total bases (no one has had more since), including 52 doubles and 18 triples.

"Columbia Lou" was just 24, just 436 games into his streak of 2,130 consecutive, but 1927 was the best season he'd ever have, better even than his Triple Crown year of 1934.

Gehrig won the MVP in '27. Ruth would've challenged, but at the time, a player was allowed to win the award only once — Ruth had won in 1923.

Lee Sinins, creator of the Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia, ranks Ruth's '27 season as the sixth-best offensive season of all time, right behind Gehrig's '27 season. Only Ruth in '21, '23 and '20, and Barry Bonds in 2001 are ranked higher.

At League Park, which stood at 15th and Vinton Streets, Omahans got to see the two go head-to-head. Gehrig took the mound in the seventh after Ruth's second homer. In the eighth, he was nicked for a run on back-to-back doubles. With two on and two out, he intentionally walked a batter to face Ruth with the bases loaded.

Ruth fouled off pitch after pitch, each eliciting a collective gasp from the crowd. Finally, Gehrig struck him out swinging.

Ruth had better luck on the mound, where he spent the last three innings. The former pitcher turned Yankees right fielder informed batters what pitch he was going to throw and still struck out the side. He fanned Gehrig on four pitches.

"A notable feature, " The World-Herald's Archie Baley wrote, "was the zest and spirit with which the two Yankee stars entered the contest, side by side with the amateurs, several of whom showed signs of nervousness and stage fright at appearing in the same lineup with the big boys. The batting behemoths kept up a lively chatter throughout the game, encouraging the hurlers and keeping up the pep of the contest."

In the top of the ninth, Ruth struck out Johnny Rosenblatt, the future mayor. Then he coaxed Gehrig into a popup, slamming the door on a 9-5 victory.

Unsatisfied, he kept pitching to Gehrig until the Iron Horse ripped one over the right field fence.

The heroes gave way at 3:30 p.m. to the amateur championship game. But not before a special presentation.

Lady Amco's owner and the state secretary of agriculture gave Ruth one of her newest eggs. It was tied with a ribbon, lodged in a jewelry box and inscribed "From the Queen of Eggs to the King of Hitters." They sent it to New York, where it was drained and filled with a preservative, "so that the Bambino always can keep a souvenir of his namesake."

Ruth, upon receiving it, grinned, studied it and said, "Looks like an egg for breakfast now."